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Ranking the States on Online Disclosure of Govt Contracts, Subsidies and Lobbying

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Immigration Conference Call Today

The Progressive States Network will be hosting a conference call today with key state legislators and advocates to discuss legislative strategy on immigration for the 2008 session. The call will accompany a strategy paper PSN released this week to highlight politically smart legislative ways to respond to anti-immigrant attacks and the network of organizations available to support humane immigration legislation at the state and local level.

The call will be today at 4pm EST.

Please RSVP at http://tinyurl.com/3b6tm2.

Increasing-Democracy

BY Nathan Newman

Ranking the States on Online Disclosure of Govt Contracts, Subsidies and Lobbying

In the age of Google, citizens expect to be able to find core information on the Internet about government operations, but as a major new report being released today highlights, most states are failing on public transparency.

The report, The State of State Disclosure: An Evaluation of Online Public Information About Economic Development Subsidies, Procurement Contracts and Lobbying Activities, was prepared by Good Jobs First, which has been bird-dogging government giveaways of taxpayer money to corporations for years. The report surveyed state government websites and ranked them in three areas of transparency: government contracts, economic development subsidies, and lobbying disclosure. 

While a few states have good public disclosure policies -- although none are perfect -- the sad reality is that the majority of states rated an F for failure in Good Jobs First rankings. Some states had pretty graphics and little data, while many others had only partial information online. 

  • Who were the standout states with the highest overall rankings for online transparency?  Connecticut, Indiana, Nebraska, New York and Missouri.
  • And which were the bottom-of-the-barrel in failure of disclosure?  New Hampshire, South Carolina, Alabama, and (bringing up the rear) Wyoming.

In the report, Good Jobs First has links analyzing each state's disclosure practices here:
http://www.goodjobsfirst.org/news/article.cfm?id=338

While some states do a decent job on listing public contracts and lobbying activity, the biggest failure among almost all states is a lack of online information about which companies are getting economic subsidies from state governments. Even when states do disclose the existence of such deals, they often list only projected costs without listing projected benefits, making it impossible for taxpayers to even start to evaluate if they are worth the money handed out by economic development offices.

The good news is that states are increasingly enacting disclosure laws, the most recent example being New Jersey which just approved a new law to create company-specific reporting about individual deals and a "Unified Development Budget" to track total state spending on such subsidies.

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Valuing-Families

BY Adam Thompson

Insurers Drop Coverage: One Person's Fraud is Another's Day Job

Highlighting how insurance companies put profits before decency, disclosures in a court proceeding reveal Health Net pays employee bonuses based on how many policyholders are dropped from coverage and how much money is saved. The Los Angeles Times revealed this scandal after a hairdresser sued HealthNet when her coverage was canceled after she began post-surgical chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer. 

Between 2000 and 2006, Health Net avoided paying $35.5 million in medical expenses by dropping at least 1,600 people from the insurance rolls. During that time, the company's senior analyst in charge of cancellations was rewarded with more than $20,000 in bonuses based, in part, on achieving goals for canceling policies. Of course, Health Net appealed to the judge to keep this information secret, arguing that it was "proprietary information and could embarrass the company."

Regulators Getting Tough on Insurers Illegally Canceling Coverage: While California state law forbids tying any compensation for claims reviewers to their claims decisions, Health Net's lawyers tried to argue the law did not apply in this case because the bonuses were paid to an underwriter, not a claims reviewer. However, regulators in California are finding abuse and fraud across insurance companies, including Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Blue Cross which was recently acquired by the for-profit insurance giant Wellpoint. The state is developing new rules to better regulate rescission policies and protect policyholders.

While most states have some sort of process to appeal a denial of coverage for a particular benefit or an entire policy, it is clear in the case of California insurance companies that more action is needed to prevent illegal rescissions before they occur. This is particularly prevalent in the individual insurance market where insurers have more flexibility to cancel coverage for applicants because of health status or to "look back" decades into an insured's medical records to look for a medical event, however mundane or irrelevant, that was undisclosed on an insurance application. 

Connecticut lawmakers this year wrote into law An Act Concerning Postclaims Underwriting to create broad protections against unfair cancellations by requiring notification to insured individuals that it is pursuing a policy cancellation and to provide the consumer with its reasons for doing so. In addition, the insurer must prove that a patient knowingly made misstatements or withheld information during the application process and receive state approval before a policy can be rescinded. Lastly, policies cannot be rescinded more than two years after the policy began.

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Growing-Economy

BY J. Mijin Cha

Bold Plan for Carbon Tax Introduced in Portland, OR

Portland, Oregon city officials introduced a bold new plan that would require energy efficiency measures in each new home built. The plan would impose a carbon fee on builders for each new home that is not extremely energy efficient and also require an energy efficiency report be done by home inspectors as part of every existing home sale. The plan would also pay cash rewards to developers who built buildings that save at least 45% more energy than the Oregon building code would require. The City Council will start public hearings on the plan in January.

Portland's proposal is one of the boldest in the nation. States and communities are increasingly approving "green building" rules, as we detailed earlier this year, and there are already some carbon taxes in place:

  • In 2006, residents of Boulder, Colorado approved the nation's first carbon tax on electricity.  The tax is based on the number of kilo-watt hours used with revenue from the tax going to renewable energy and energy efficiency programs. 
  • Even before Boulder passed their carbon tax, Aspen, Colorado revised their building codes in 2000 to give owners of new homes a choice: either install renewable energy features like solar panels or pay a mitigation fee of up to $100,000, based on how much carbon dioxide the home would generate. 
  • New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg called for a national carbon tax at the United States Conference of Mayors.

According to the Carbon Tax Center, taxing carbon dioxide emissions will reduce emissions in two ways: one, suppliers of electricity and fuel will reduce carbon content of their energy because of economic motives and two, end-use energy users (i.e. consumers) will choose lower-carbon products and activities to minimize their exposure to the carbon tax. Not to mention that earlier this year, polling found that 82% of Americans thought that the "polluter must pay", that is the more a company pollutes, the more tax it should pay. 

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Valuing-Families

BY Nathan Newman

Gov. Spitzer Backs Down on Driver's License Proposal

New York Governor Elliot Spitzer announced he was dropping his proposal to provide drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants, conceding to the vociferous Senate Republican opposition and wild rhetoric that Gov. Spitzer noted "equated minimum-wage, undocumented dishwashers with Osama bin Laden."

Many supporters agreed the proposal was the right policy but that Spitzer had not properly laid the groundwork before introducing it, thereby giving an opening to opponents. There was strong support for his proposal from former New York police chief William Bratton (who now heads Los Angeles), from Clinton and Bush counter-terrorism czar Richard A. Clark, and from other public safety and anti-terrorism leaders who saw bringing new immigrants out of the shadows as a way to strengthen security. Unfortunately, that support was not highlighted until after the right-wing had begun ginning up hysteria.

Despite the hysteria, a significant number of states continue to provide drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants with none of the ill effects promised by opponents. New jurisdictions continue to debate providing identification, with the city of San Francisco becoming the newest government to approve identification cards for all cities residents regardless of immigration status.

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Research Roundup

A study of Indiana's voter ID rules finds that many registered voters in Indiana lack the required photo identification required under the law, meaning legally qualified voters are being disenfranchised.  The report by the Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity and Race finds that African Americans, the elderly, less educated, and lower-income voters are disproportionately disenfranchised under the law.

In a series of reports, the Brookings Center on Children and Families examines economic mobility in America.  While two out of three Americans have higher incomes than their parents, the Brookings Center found most of the gain was due to families having two earners. A separate report found that mobility differed dramatically between the races, with black adults being far more likely to be poorer than their parents than whites.

As states crackdown on various forms of predatory lending, some critics claim working families will miss the access to easy debt.  But after North Carolina cracked down on payday lending, a new report by the North Carolina Commissioner of Banks finds that lower-income families don't miss the payday loan shops and overwhelmingly think they are better off with them gone.

In what is said to be the first study to compare standardized scores across countries, the American Institutes of Research found that while the test scores of American eighth graders in most states do better than similar-age students in Europe but that even in the best-performing states like Massachusetts, students are underperforming students in Singapore and other Asian countries.


Please email us leads on good research at research@progressivestates.org

Resources

Ranking the States on Online Disclosure of Govt Contracts, Subsidies and Lobbying

Good Jobs First - The State of State Disclosure: An Evaluation of Online Public Information About Economic Development Subsidies, Procurement Contracts and Lobbying Activities

New Jersey Development Subsidy Job Goals Accountability Act

Progressive States Network - Reforming Failed Tax Subsidies

Insurers Drop Coverage: One Person's Fraud is Another's Day Job

National Conference of State Legislators - Comprehensive Consumer Rights Statute Citations

Kaiser Family Foundation - State Health Facts, Patients' Rights: External Review

CT Act Concerning Postclaims Underwriting

Bold Plan for Carbon Tax Introduced in Portland, OR

Progressive States Network - Green Building: Energy Conservation from the Ground Up

Carbon Tax Center

A Community Takes Charge: Boulder's Carbon Tax

The Oregonian: City Unveils Carbon Tax Plan

Gov. Spitzer Backs Down on Driver's License Proposal

Progressive States Network - A Sensible Approach to Immigrant Drivers' Licenses in New York

Major Cities Chiefs Statement on Immigration - Police chiefs statement on need for separation of local law enforcement and federal immigration enforcement

New York Coalition for Immigrants' Right to Driver's Licenses - Equal Access for All Communities

National Immigration Law Center - Driver's Licenses for All Immigrants: Quotes from Law Enforcement

National Immigration Law Center- Immigrants & Driver's Licenses: Resources for Advocates

Masthead

The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:

Nathan Newman, Policy Director
J. Mijin Cha, Policy Specialist
Adam Thompson, Policy Specialist
John Bacino, Communications Associate

Please shoot us an email at dispatch@progressivestates.org if you have feedback, tips, suggestions, criticisms, or nominations for any of our sidebar features.

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