Legislative Session Roundups in NM, VA, and AR- and WA Passes Legislation to Increase Broadband Access and Adoption

Legislative Session Roundups in NM, VA, and AR- and WA Legislature Passes Legislation to Increase Broadband Access and Adoption

Thursday, April 30, 2009




New Mexico Roundup

A number of progressive reforms were enacted in New Mexico this year.  Green jobs and energy bills were some of the biggest measures that passed, along with a death penalty repeal and an anti-bias law.

Workers’ Rights: Notably, working families won several key bills, including a measure allowing child care providers to gain union recognition, a prevailing wage bill and wage enforcement for all workers including immigrants.

  • Unemployment Insurance:  HB 20 calls for weekly jobless benefits to be temporarily increased by 6.5%.  The higher benefits will run from July 1 through June 30, 2011.
  • Prevailing Wage:  A public works prevailing wage bill (SB 33) passed that requires all businesses with public contracts over $60,000 to pay prevailing wages or face the termination of their contract if found in violation.  
  • Child Care Provider Collective Bargaining:  SB 402 allows collective bargaining for child care providers.  If providers elect to join a union, the bill creates a binding arbitration procedure, grievance process, and a labor-management committee.
  • Wage Enforcement:  HB 489 increases the penalty against employers who violate wage laws, awarding workers triple damages for wages found to be unpaid .

Criminal Justice:  New Mexico became the 15th state to abolish the death penalty after the legislature made HB 285 a defining issue.  Gov. Richardson shifted his position on the issue after advocates discussed the moral imperative and economic benefits of life in prison versus capital punishment. In another win for criminal justice and immigration advocates, a bill to prevent bias-based profiling by police (HB 428) became law. It directs law enforcement agencies to develop policies, procedures and training protocols to prevent profiling from occurring in public interactions with police officers.

Environment, Green Jobs and Energy:  A number of significant renewable energy bills passed in New Mexico.

  • SB 647 allows cities and counties to form financing districts, which could issue up to $2 million in no-interest bonds (from the federal recovery package) to provide loans for residential and commercial property owners to make renewable energy improvements, including solar, wind or geothermal energy systems.  People also could take advantage of federal and state tax credits to cover part of their costs and they can receive rebates on electricity generated by the power system.
  • SB 237 provides individual and corporate income tax credits for renewable energy interests in geothermal, solar thermal, solar photovoltaic and coal-based electric generating facilities.
  • HB 622 allows the state to take advantage of green jobs training money available under the federal Green Jobs Act of 2007. Funding will be targeted for training low-income individuals, veterans, and tribal and rural constituencies among others.  The bill also requires the Higher Education Department and the Public Education Department to develop a state plan for green jobs training programs.
  • SB 318 provides for appropriation of funds from the Job Training Incentive Program for development training in green collar jobs, with two-thirds going to urban communities.
  • SB 288 provides funding to colleges and universities to conduct energy-related research and trainings on alternative energy and energy efficiency to vocational students.  
  • HB 40 stops municipalities from obtaining certain irrigation and agricultural water rights through condemnation by using the power of eminent domain.

Election reform:  The House passed National Popular Vote while the Senate failed to move on it.  Meanwhile, neither chamber moved on Election Day Registration (HB 52), which would make it substantially easier for citizens to participate in the electoral process by registering and voting on the same day.

Immigration:  HB 295 creates a Sonora-New Mexico Commission to work on issues of common concern to the Mexican border state of Sonora and New Mexico. Richardson vetoed SB 21, which would have created a Department of Hispanic Affairs, but agreed to sign an executive order creating an advisory Hispanic Affairs Council.  He also agreed to work with the legislature during the next session to create a Hispanic Affairs Office.

Public Safety:  HB 279 allows victims of identity theft, including electronic identity theft, to obtain an “identity theft passport” from the attorney general's office.  The passport would help victims of identity theft if they are stopped by police.  The new law also allows victims of identify theft to have police and court records expunged so that victims are not punished for someone stealing their name and personal information.

Health Care:  The state enacted a few smaller health reforms, while failing to grapple with larger issues of coverage debated in previous sessions:

  • HB 293 protects health information and allowing for the release of aggregate health data.
  • HB 438 states that Medicaid recipients must pay a premium (based upon income) for requesting emergency medical services when a hospital does not deem them necessary.
  • SB 129 provides that pharmacies must disclose the current retail price of a prescription drug upon the request of a consumer or the Attorney General.
  • SB 178 clarifies the responsibilities of New Mexico in regards to committing adults to psychiatric care, establishing guidelines for involuntary committing of mentally disabled adults and requiring a hearing within a week for involuntarily committed adults and
  • SB 278 creates and allows for the usage of electronic medical records and clarifies individual rights and privacy protections.

Transparency:  The session saw a number of gains in transparency in government operations:

  • HB546 creates a searchable, online database of state contracts starting Jan 1, 2010.  The new law requires administration agencies to create a database of contracts valued at more than $20,000.
  • HB 393 / SB 737 mandates that legislative conference committees (where differences on the budget and other issues are hammered out) be open to the public and news media.
  • HB 598 requires government agencies to respond to electronically-filed requests for information.

Housing:  SB 342 will protect home-buyers from predatory lending by establishing state licensing requirements for mortgage originators and regulate certain lending practices, including adjustable rate home loans.

Aid to Families:  SB 137 excludes certain benefits and revenue sources as individual income when determining legal guardian eligibility for New Mexico public assistance and TANF programs.  It also grants the Secretary of Human Services some flexibility in determining income eligibility and creates bonus incentives for individuals who are able to leave the TANF program. 

Domestic Partnership:  A proposal allowing domestic partnerships failed in the Legislature although it was backed by Gov. Richardson. The measure would have given certain same-sex or opposite-sex unmarried couples the same legal protections and benefits as married couples. Supporters will bring it up again next session, and notably, the Catholic Church in New Mexico might tolerate or even support the measure in an anticipated special session later this year, a move that is causing considerable consternation in some sectors.

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Virginia Roundup

Virginia made steady gains in the environment and clean energy, acted to further clean up payday lending practices, and used federal stimulus funds to ward off deeper cuts to vital programs like health care, education and public safety.  However, the conservative-dominated House blocked a measure to expand the state's unemployment benefits - which are among the most meager in the country - and cost the state an additional $125 million in federal stimulus funds to the state.  The Governor vetoed expansions of the death penalty and bills allowing licensees to carry concealed weapons in bars, although the legislature overrode one of the vetoes that would have prevented retired law enforcement officials from being able to carry a concealed weapon in eateries.

Unemployment Benefits and the Federal Stimulus:  Even though the legislature rejected Gov. Kaine's proposal to increase unemployment benefits with the help of $125 million in federal stimulus, the Governor is considering a special session for the legislature to reconsider the proposal, given rising unemployment rates and the fact that Virginia's jobless benefits are among the most limited in the country.  In a disheartening and callous move, one conservative lawmaker who owns a shipbuilding company and recently laid off 45 workers, voted against the expanded benefits.

Budget and Stimulus:  Virginia passes its biennial budget in even-numbered years, but continued declines in tax revenue forced the legislature to consider cuts to health care, public safety and education programs. Softening the blow, the federal stimulus package helped to prevent an additional $800 million of spending reductions to key areas like Medicaid, education, and the state workforce.

Health Care and Public Health:  The legislature passed and the Governor endorsed a statewide ban on smoking in bars and restaurants with exceptions for establishments with separate ventilated rooms, patios and private clubs.  According to the Washington Post, the number of tobacco-related deaths each year in Virginia exceeds 9,000 and the total annual cost associated with treating the ill effects of smoking is $2.08 billion. Medicaid alone spends $401 million each year on health care costs related to smoking. Unfortunately, legislators defeated the Governor's proposal to increase the cigarette tax to 60 cents per pack, keeping it at one of the lowest levels in the country.  Also, lawmakers passed a bill allowing insurance companies to offer health plans exempt of state coverage mandates to small groups who have not offered coverage to employees in the past six months.  This measure, while potentially enabling insurers to offer cheaper plans, will mean those plans do not provide adequate coverage for health care needs - resulting in "health insurance" in name only.

Environment and Energy: Governor Kaine won approval of several environment, transportation and energy-related measures that are part of his Renew Virginia initiative.  These include:

  • SB 1248 provides cost recovery for investments in energy efficiency made by electric utilities.  This helps to correct existing finance rules which make it more profitable to construct new plants instead of investing in energy efficiency.
  • SB 1339 sets the goal of raising the state's renewable energy portfolio to 15% by 2025.  The bill also allows utilities to set "dynamic electric rates" which encourage consumers to reduce electricity use during peak hours.  The bill will also increase reimbursement rates for private renewable energy systems that send surplus renewable energy back into the electric grid.
  • SB 1186 reforms the Virginia Biofuels Production Incentive Grant Program to incentivize the creation of non-food-based biofuels.
  • $20 million was set aside to continue efforts to combat pollution caused by agricultural runoff.
  • And, lawmakers passed HB 2019 and SB 1398 to link transportation development and land use planning across the state.  Specifically, the state will establish standards for coordinating transportation investments and land use planning, and consider alternative transportation systems as the state modernizes its transportation infrastructure.

Public Safety:  Lawmakers agreed on a ban on texting while driving, although a driver can only be charged if pulled over for a different reason. Beyond that, the session overwhelmingly involved the Governor vetoing bad criminal justice and public safety bills:

  • While many states are restricting or eliminating the death penalty, the Virginia legislature voted to expand the types of convictions eligible for capital punishment to include accomplices to murder and people convicted of killing fire marshals and auxiliary police personnel.  Fortunately, Gov. Kaine vetoed the bills and the legislature did not override his action.  
  • The Governor also vetoed a bill that would have allowed people with licenses to carry a concealed handgun into a bar.  The veto was sustained.  
  • Also sustained were vetoes of a bill that would have exempted active duty military personnel or members of the Virginia National Guard from the state's "one-gun-a-month" law on purchases of handguns and a bill that would have regulated and potentially limited localities from commending gun buyback programs. 
  • Conversely, legislators overrode the Governor's vetoes of a bill that would allow retired law enforcement officials to carry a concealed weapons into a bar and a bill allowing on-line completion of the concealed weapons safety test.

Unfortunately, the legislature failed to pass legislation closing the gun show loophole, meaning anybody can buy a gun at a gun show from an unlicensed dealer without first undergoing a background check.

Elections:  The state did make some minor adjustments to election law:

  • After years of voters complaining about being turned away at the polls for wearing a campaign t-shirt under an overly strict interpretation of the state's electioneering statute, a provision was passed that will allow voters to wear clothing that endorses a specific candidate in polling places.  
  • HB 1881 was enacted to allow military and overseas voters receive their absentee ballot by email. The completed ballot must be returned by mail.
  • SB 993 and HB 1712 will conform Virginia's absentee ballots with federal requirements and allow ballots to be returned until polls are closed.

Unfortunately, legislators defeated the governor's priority election reform legislation, early voting, at the beginning of the session.  Gov. Kaine tried again with a less expansive bill that passed the Senate at the end of the session but died in the House.

Immigration:  Notably, the number of anti-immigrant bills in Virginia decreased from 110 introduced last session to 6.

  • Of these, only two passed: HB 2580 allows local law enforcement to arrest and detain immigrants with prior arrest convictions who are waiting to be transferred into federal custody, and HB 2473 classifies libraries as places where loitering is not permitted, impacting day laborers who may gather near public libraries in search of work.
  • In terms of positive legislation, HB 2016 relates to human trafficking and expands abduction to include abduction with the intent to subject the person to forced labor or services.  Intimidation is redefined to include withholding a person's passport or like documents.  The bill also adds four new RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) crimes.

Local leaders believe that Gov. Timothy Kaine has been a leader in convincing the state that prominent anti-immigrant legislation poses a risk to Virginia’s image as business friendly.  Advocates still worry however that once federal immigration reform is reintroduced, the issue will reignite at the statehouse.

Broadband:  To build the state's broadband infrastructure, lawmakers passed HB 2665 to create the Broadband Infrastructure Loan Fund.  The legislation aims to support broadband projects undertaken by local governments.  The program will prioritize projects where private industry will operate and maintain the broadband systems, projects where private involvement results in cost savings, and projects that serve two or more local governments and underserved areas. While passage of the bill indicates Virginia's recognition of the economic and social benefits of broadband deployment, many details need to be sorted out in the implementation of the bill before advocates can judge the true implications of the initiative.

The legislature also passed HB 2423 creating the Broadband Advisory Council to advise the Governor on policy and funding priorities to expedite deployment and reduce the cost of broadband access in the Commonwealth.

Payday Lending:  Attempting to close a loophole on new payday lending regulations that became effective on January 1st, lawmakers passed a bill requiring payday lenders to choose between offering payday loans or open-ended loans, but not both.  Open-ended loans are less regulated than payday loans and more likely to leave consumers with unlimited fees.

Civil Rights:  Lawmakers failed again to pass legislation outlawing workplace discrimination by state and local governments based on sexual orientation.  While both Gov. Kaine and former Gov. Warner have authored executive orders establishing this protection for state workers, the law would prevent those policies from being overturned by a subsequent governor.

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Arkansas Roundup

Like most states, this year Arkansas faced a budget shortfall, yet there was enough money from previous surplus years to make balancing the budget much less painful than in most places.  The majority of the noted achievements relate to taxing and budgeting, though some important gains were made in other areas, principally in education and health care.  However, the majority of progressive gains were incremental.

Tax and Budget:  The state's $4.5 billion spending plan for the upcoming year was balanced with $100 million from the state's surplus funds.  Additionally, taxes were raised on tobacco products.  At the same time the sales tax on groceries was cut by a third and the tax on manufacturer's utility bills was cut three-fourths of a percent.  The governor has warned that next year hard choices will have to be made to keep the budget in balance.

  • 56-cent Tobacco Tax Increase:  The state is raising the tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products to raise $72 million to fund health care improvements, including a statewide trauma system, an increase of substance-abuse treatment, expanded access to children's health insurance, and support for community health centers.  Arkansas is one of only a few states that lack a statewide health system; the state also lacks a level one trauma center.
  • Sales Tax Decreases:  Lawmakers reduced the state sales tax on groceries by a penny (from three cents) and on manufacturers’ utilities by three-fourths of a cent.  The state also passed an exemption for raw products sold at farmers' markets from state sales tax.  Back-to-school sales tax holiday killed in House committee.
  • Lottery Board Established:  After a voter referendum was passed last year establishing a state lottery with proceeds going to college scholarships, legislators created a nine-member board to operate lottery games under legislative oversight, established a sliding scale to fund scholarships according to lottery revenues, revamped the scholarship application process, and set criteria students must meet to qualify for the awards.
  • State Unemployment Law Changed:  Unemployment rules were changed so the state can qualify for $59 million in federal stimulus funds to support out-of-worker Arkansans.
  • Economic Development Incentives:  The state authorized a 15% rebate on production expenses of at least $50,000 for film and TV production.  Meanwhile, a bill to grant 20% tax credits on construction and renovation in downtown business improvement districts was defeated in the Senate and opposed by the Governor because of the estimated $10 million cost.  
  • Capital Gains Tax Cuts Defeated:  The House passed a bill to cut $42 million in capital gains taxes that died in the Senate after the Governor's office intervened.

Health Care:

  • Assist Teachers with Insurance Premiums:  Legislation was passed to cover $15 million of increases in insurance premiums for school teachers.
  • Children's Health Insurance Expanded:  The eligibility for the ARKids First children's health insurance program was expanded to include families making up to 250 percent of the federal poverty line.
  • Campus Smoking Bans:  Smoking on state-supported college and university campuses will be prohibited beginning on Aug. 1.

Reproductive Rights:  Reproductive freedom suffered significant losses this session with the passage of a ban on "late term abortions" for women, even those suffering significant health risks from birth.  As well, an Emergency Contraception bill by Sen. Joyce Elliot to require health care providers to offer emergency contraception to rape survivors was sidelined by conservative groups like the Arkansas Family Council. 

Criminal Justice: The state saw some encouraging reforms and movement on criminal justice issues, as well as a big step back for genetic privacy:

  • DNA Databank Expansion:  Expanding DNA collection beyond those that have been convicted or even officially charged with a crime, Arkansas will now begin collecting DNA from individuals merely arrested on suspicion of capital murder, first-degree murder, kidnapping and sexual assault in the first and second degree.  As noted in a recent Congressional Research Service report, and highlighted in a New York Times article, expanding DNA collection to those not even charged with a crime raises serious Fourth Amendment concerns and is a step only a few states have ventured to take given the real possibility of a successful court challenge.
  • Drug Court Expansion:  Funding was directed for the positions needed to start 10 juvenile drug courts throughout the state.  Additionally, $1.5 million in cuts for adult drug courts were replaced with money from the tobacco settlement.  The bills' sponsor, Sen. Bill Pritchard, indicated that there are 1,800 people in adult drug court treatment instead of in jail and they are functioning members of their families and society.
  • Protecting Children:  $15 million in additional funding for the Division of Children and Family Services will go to hire an additional 100 workers.  The dollars are targeted to child abuse prevention.
  • Prisoner Re-entry:  The Senate unanimously passed a bill to study prisoner reentry policies, but it died in the House 42-31.  This was another bill sponsored by Sen. Elliot that addresses a critical issue.  The tremendous need for better re-entry policies is being recognized nationwide, and the benefits of model policies include significant budget savings as well as improved outcomes for released prisoners.

Education:  Arkansas has been working to improve its education system for many years after the state Supreme Court ruled that the state was not living up to its constitutional obligation to provide an adequate education to Arkansas students.  This year the state passed several additional reforms:

  • SB 889 strengthens monitoring of school poverty funding.
  • HB 2164 reforms the Commission on Closing the Achievement Gap. 
  • SB 943 expands access to school performance and improvement data. 
  • HB 2163 allows the Arkansas Department of Education to intervene in under-performing school districts faster. 

Environment and Clean Energy:   However, as Rep. Kathy Webb put it, "I think that the utilities put every single thing they had into fighting [commission recommendations]" and all but one major initiative failed to pass.

  • The failed measures included two key recommendations: HB 1903 to established an energy savings goal for utilities and a Renewable Energy Portfolio, HB 1851, which would have required electric utilities to purchase some energy from renewable sources. 
  • One measure recommended by the Global Warming Commission that did pass is HB 1663 by Webb, which calls for a 20 percent reduction in energy use in state buildings by 2014 and a 30 percent reduction by 2017.  
  • Lawmakers also passed bills to extend a legislative task force on sustainable building design and practices (SB 440); create a design program for sustainable buildings (SB 746, SB 747, SB 921); create an alternative energy commission (HB 1796); and license electric autocycles for street use (HB 1902).
  • A new tax credit was created for people who provide a conservation easement (HB 1577).  It is aimed at protecting wetland and riparian areas around streams that are a critical habitat for many species.  The bill received the backing of 30 to 35 environmental entities and passed out of both chambers without a dissenting vote.

Good Government Reforms:

  • National Popular Vote: The House passed the National Popular Vote Compact, but action was not taken in the Senate.
  • Political Advertisements:  HB 1019 requires disclosure of the sponsor of paid broadcast political electioneering advertisements.
  • Lobbyist Meal Restriction:  Legislation will bans lobbyists from paying for lawmakers' meals or drinks when the lobbyists are not actually present.

Immigration:  HB 799 to allow undocumented graduates from an Arkansas high school to pay in-state tuition at public colleges in the state did not pass the Senate, and was recommended for study in the Interim Committee on Education at the end of the session. It was not introduced in the House. Unfortunately, HB 1860 , which shortens the period that drivers licenses for immigrants are valid, was signed and enacted.

Other Legislation of Note:

  • Foster Care Transitional Planning:  SB 359, by Sen. Sue Madison, provides that every child transitioning from foster care due to reaching maturity shall be "provided the opportunity to be actively engaged in the planning of his or her future."  The bill details a number of requirements for the state in helping foster children obtain health care, housing, employment and additional education; as well as providing them with records held by the state and essential documents such as birth certificates and social security cards.
  • Tax Refund Loans:  HB 2203 requires anyone offering so-called “advances” on tax refunds to disclose to the customer any fees that apply, and that the customer is receiving a short-term loan and may have to pay extra fees if the refund is late.  The law also prohibits certain practices, such as requiring a consumer to enter into a loan agreement in order to complete a tax return.
  • Consumer Report Credit Freeze:  HB 1037 authorized a consumer to freeze their credit report in the event of identity theft.

With a relatively productive session, lawmakers in Arkansas are feeling positive about their work this year.  Usually they wouldn't return to session until 2011, but a 2008 constitutional amendment requires the Legislature to hold a fiscal session in even-numbered years, the first of which will convene next February under rules adopted this year.  Before leaving for the year senators elected Sen. Paul Bookout, as Senate president pro tem for the 2011 session.  Legislators also gained some notoriety this session for their expanded use of digital communications.

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Washington State Legislature Passes Legislation Aimed at Increasing both Access and Adoption of Broadband

With the passage of  HB 1701 the Washington State legislature once again demonstrated its understanding that when combating the digital divide states must not just address access issues, but must also focus on dealing with the barriers to broadband adoption by individuals.  In addition to hoping to increase high-speed Internet access for residents, businesses, educational institutions, public health and safety services, local governments and community organizations, HB 1701 also lists a menu of the types of digital inclusion programs that should be implemented in Washington State.  By addressing both access and adoption barriers directly Washington State hopes to ensure that all residents can be active participants in our 21st century digital society.  According to Jonathan Lawson, Executive Director of Reclaim the Media, "connecting all our communities with fast broadband is a compelling public need -- to allow everyone to take part in our digital democracy, culture and economy.  This new legislation clears a path for us to follow towards that goal." 

Broad Coalition in Support:  The bill originally sponsored by Representatives HudginsHasegawa and McCoy and incorporating amendments championed by Senators Kohl-Welles and Kastama was supported by a broad coalition of advocates, such as the Communication Workers of America (CWA), the Communities Connect Network and carriers and includes investments in digital training and inclusion programs. According to CWA's Washington State Council Political Director, Gail Love, "the broad coalition of organizations that lobbied on behalf of HB1701 has not always viewed issues from the same perspective.  However, on HB1701, we found common ground.  Bringing high-speed broadband accessibility to the residents of Washington will enhance their lives socially and economically and will bring jobs and new business to our region."   

Capitalizing on Recovery Funds: The legislation was drafted, in part, so that the state could capitalize on the  approximately $7.2 billion in the ARRA earmarked for broadband initiatives.  Since the stimulus money is a primary funding source for certain provisions in the bill, the manner in which the NTIA and RUS decide to disperse their funds will impact the actual implementation of HB 1701. 

Aside from authorizing the Governor to take steps to carry out the purposes of the broadband provisions in the ARRA, HB 1701 has three major provisions:  a data collection and mapping initiative, the establishment of the Community Technology Opportunity Program, and the reconstituting of the state's high-speed Internet working group.  

Collection and Mapping of Access and Adoption Data:  HB 1701 designates the Department of Information Services (DIS) is the eligible entity in the state to apply for funds under the federal Broadband Data Improvement Act.   In addition, the bill directs DIS to develop a map of where broadband services are and are not currently available in Washington State and to "work with other agencies to identify the communities most in need of new or additional broadband Internet services."  Specifically, the legislation states that depending on the availability of federal or state funding, the department may develop an interactive web site to allow residents to self- report whether high-speed Internet is available at their residence and at what speed; may conduct a detailed survey of all high-speed Internet infrastructure owned or leased by state agencies; and is authorized, through a competitive bidding process, to procure a geographic information system map detailing high-speed Internet infrastructure, service availability, and adoption.  The department may either contract for and purchase a completed map from a third party or work directly with the federal communications commission. 

One concern advocates voiced regarding the bill is that data collected from private providers will be considered 'proprietary' information and therefore not accessible to the public.  Advocates in the state and nationally argue that such an approach lacks transparency, leaves the public unable to verify the collected information, and public policy researchers unable to access the date necessary to study which broadband policies are most effective.  On a positive note, however, the legislation does establish an important accountability and oversight structure to ensure that there is transparency in the bidding and contracting process and full financial and technical accountability for any information or actions taken by a third-party contractor creating the map.  In addition, the department may prepare regular reports that identify the geographic areas of greatest priority for the deployment of advanced telecommunications infrastructure and a detailed explanation of how federal funding for broadband mapping, deployment, or adoption will be or has been used.  

Digital Inclusion:  The legislation recommits Washington State to addressing broadband utilization barriers by moving the Community Technology Opportunity Program (CTOP) under the Department of Information Services.  The CTOP uses a competitive grant program to encourage broadband adoption in low-income and underserved areas of the state.  Initiatives facilitated by the program include Internet adoption, training, and skill-building opportunities; access to hardware and software; digital inclusion and digital media literacy; development of locally relevant content; and delivery of vital services through technology.  The CTOP will also provide organizational and capacity building support to community technology programs throughout the state.  According to Betty Buckley, executive director of Communities Connect Network, a national leader in promoting digital inclusion programs and creating state demand-side policy, "HB 1701 takes another significant step forward in building the policy framework for how our state will ensure digital inclusion for all.  Passing this bill in the current economic climate speaks volumes about the strength of the multi-faceted broadband coalition we’ve build here in Washington State." 

Reconstituting the state's high-speed Internet working group:  The law allows for the continuation of the high-speed Internet working group, under the new title, the Council on Digital Inclusion.  As the council's new name denotes, the group will now focus on broadband adoption, not just deployment issues.  The Council on Digital Inclusion will have representatives from government, educational, public health and industry sectors, and will advise DIS and further strategize about expanding broadband deployment and adoption across the state.  

More Resources

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National Popular Vote Signed into Law in Washington

Washington has become the fifth state to pass the national popular vote (NPV) compact when Gov. Gregoire signed the legislation on Tuesday.  61 electoral votes, 23% of the 270 needed to achieve a national popular vote are now committed to the compact.  Washington joins Maryland, New Jersey, Hawaii, and Illinois as members of the compact.  This is the first state to pass NPV into law in 2009 after having passed one chamber each in New Mexico, and Arkansas, which are now adjourned, and Oregon, Nevada, Vermont, and Colorado where the bills are being considered in the second chamber.

NPV has now passed into law on both coasts and in the heartland.  Additionally, legislative chambers in every region, and in states of every size, have endorsed NPV.  PSN's recent Dispatch covers the continuing focus of the presidential election campaigns on a few battleground states, and the negative impacts this has for our democracy and progressives in particular.  Washington, of course, has been a national leader in government reform and accountability and this is another instance of the voters coming first in the Evergreen State.

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Research Roundup

Access to Democracy: Identifying Obstacles Hindering the Right to Vote - Women's Voices Women's Vote has compiled a very comprehensive guide to the disparate laws that control access to voting in the states, with a focus on their disenfranchising effects.  The report includes data on the current voting rules for all states, and the appendices are a particularly handy resource.

Unusually Bad and Getting Worse - This week's report on GDP growth highlights that the United States is mired in an unusually bad and steep recession, far worse as this Economic Policy Institute Snapshot shows than the average of recessions since World War II. See chart at right.

Why Aren’t We There Yet? - With women in the United States still earning only 78 cents for every dollar a man earns, this Center for American Progress report highlights the losses from pay discrimination to women over their lifetimes, from pay to benefits.  The report emphasizes that it's not just the career women choose that leads to this pay discrimination but that discrimination persists within the same careers and professions.

New Health Care Reform Strategies:

  • Changes in Children’s Health Legislation Can Reduce Harmful Impact of Documentation Requirement  - The Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009 (CHIPRA) enacted in February contains several provisions to reduce the harmful impact of Medicaid’s citizenship documentation requirement, which has caused many eligible citizen children to lose or be denied coverage since its 2006 enactment.  This Center for Budget and Policy Priorities report highlights what states can do to implement these changes.

Sales Tax Decline in Late 2008 Was the Worst in 50 Years: Early Data for 2009 Show Further, Sharp Drop in Tax Revenues for Most States - State tax collections for late 2008 dropped by 4 percent nationwide--with dips in 41 states-- with the drop in state sales taxes being the worst in a half-century, according to the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government.

Realigning Resources for District Transformation - This report by the Center for American Progress highlights how states can take advantage of recovery act funds to advance a strategic agenda to align and fundamentally restructure their use of resources to improve academic achievement for all students.

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Washington State Legislature Passes Legislation Aimed at Increasing both Access and Adoption of Broadband

House Bill 1701
Increase Technology Literacy and Inclusion

Reclaim the Media

Community Connect Network

New PSN Resources

Iowa State Senator and PSN Board Member Joe Bolkcom shares his experience pushing for progressive initiatives on wage standards, election reform, anti-war resolutions, and integrative immigration policy, as well as a the promise of state legislators using their growing ranks to form a national coalition for change. (Videography by Greg Gagnon)


The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:

Nathan Newman, Interim Executive Director
Caroline Fan, Immigration and Workers' Rights Policy Specialist
Julie Schwartz, Broadband and Economic Development Policy Specialist
Christian Smith-Socaris, Election Reform Policy Specialist
Adam Thompson, Health Care Policy Specialist
Julie Bero, Executive Administrator and Outreach Associate
Austin Guest, Communications Specialist
Marisol Thomer, Outreach Coordinator

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