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Austin Guest on August 6, 2009 - 3:12pm
Legislative session roundups in Tennessee and Missouri
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Tennessee Session Roundup
For the first time since Reconstruction, Republicans held control of both legislative chambers. However, the moment was fleeting. At the start of this year's session, Republican Representative Kent Williams seized the Speakership from his GOP colleagues, who had a one seat majority, by teaming up with the House Democrats, who elected him Speaker. The Tennessee Republican Party responded by banishing Speaker Williams from the Party, although he says he remains a Republican.
In other budget news, showing that small steps can yield big strides, lawmakers enacted S.B. 395 which requires vending machines on state property to use energy-efficient lighting. The step will save the state $438,000. Yet, not all cost-savings initiatives are worth it. In a move the Tennessee Disability Coalition reports as "devastating," the budget eliminates by late 2010 the Family Support Program, which provides assistance to households caring for family members with developmental and intellectual disabilities.
Unemployment: Lawmakers also enacted legislation increasing unemployment insurance by raising the taxable wage base to $9,000 from $7,000 and adopting a
0.6 percent premium charge. The law will enable the state to draw down
$141 million in stimulus funds. Other steps taken in order to receive
the federal funding increase included changing the number of hours for
eligibility for part-time workers from 32 to 20, and increasing
payments to applicants with dependents. The law contains triggers for
higher premiums if the state’s unemployment funds go down to insure
Health Care: The state took a number of positive steps on health care although, they deferred action on a number of highly publicizing and debates measures. Most positively, the state took action on:
Lawmakers deferred for study many bills concerning insurance coverage: Autism Equity, this bill would require insurers to cover care for autism spectrum disorder for patients up to 16 years of age, including coverage for speech, occupational, behavioral and other therapies; Prescription Drugs, this bill would prohibit insurers from limiting or denying continuity of coverage for prescription medications if the drug was being used by the patient at the time of renewal, and if the medication was previously covered by the insurance policy; and, Hearing Aid Coverage, this bill would require a certain annual benefit for hearing aids for insureds to age 24. And despite a report by the American Cancer Socity showing Tennessee failing to act on
measures to reduce cancer rates and improve access to cancer care,
lawmakers put off a measure that would have created a comprehensive
colorectal screening program for the underserved and required insurers
to cover such screenings.
Family Planning: In a swipe at Planned Parenthood and other private family planning providers, lawmakers enacted legislation to require the state to exhaust all public family planning services
before funding care provided by private agencies. The bill also
removes specific reference to consultation and coordination
with Planned Parenthood affiliates in the development of family
planning programs that are administered by the state.
Elections: By refusing to go along with the House, the Senate effectively upheld a 2008 law mandating all Tennessee counties to obtain new voting machines with a "paper trail" in time for the 2010 elections. Elsewhere, lawmakers enacted H.B. 1421 to allow e-mail notifications of a transfer of voter registration and to allow a voter to request an absentee ballot application via e-mail.
Immigration: Lawmakers enacted S.B. 1745, which requires the Departments of Labor and Education to establish and monitor a grant program called the "We Want to Learn English Initiative" to encourage immigrant integration into local communities. This was largely due to the efforts of groups like the Tennessee Immigrant Rights and Refugee Committee. Unfortunately, other chaptered measures were more negative, including:
Missouri Session Roundup
The Missouri legislature adjourned after delivering approximately 160 bills to Governor Nixon.
Budget: The Missouri legislature passed a $23 billion operating budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, plus a two-year $600 million capital improvements budget that includes various projects funded with federal stimulus money. Governor Nixon used the line-item veto to cut $22.8 million from the operating budget and $82.2 million from the capital improvement budget. For specific initiatives vetoed click here. The Governor also placed on hold an additional $325 million of expenditures since the state faces declining revenues.
Stimulus: Missouri is set to receive over $10 billion in federal stimulus funds, with $1.3 billion being used to fill key holes in depleted state coffers and to increase spending on education over last year despite a 7% overall budget cut. The ARRA funding includes:
Tax: On a positive note the Senate did not pass HJR 36, a proposed constitutional amendment that, if enacted and ratified by Missouri voters, would have replaced the state’s individual and corporate income taxes and the state's sales and use tax, with a flat tax on sales of goods and services, shifting the tax burden onto low-income and working families. The Senate also rejected a separate set of House bills to lower the top income tax rate and expand deductions benefiting richer taxpayers.
Jobs: The legislature enacted H.B. 191, a bipartisan jobs bill that was one of Governor Nixon’s top legislative priorities. The legislation expands the Quality Jobs Program, expands the Missouri BUILD (Business Use Incentives for Large-Scale Development), and provides funding for pre-employment training activities under the state's Job-Training Program. The bill also eliminates the franchise tax for more than 16,500 Missouri small businesses, or 82 percent of all businesses that owed or paid this tax last year.
Environment: The 2009 legislative session was a mixed bag for environmental issues.
On a positive note S.B. 228 failed. This bill would have repealed the Construction Work in Progress (CWIP) ban. The CWIP law currently prevents utilities from passing on the costs of construction of major power plants (including nuclear plants) to ratepayers during the construction phase. In addition, H.B. 647, which also was not passed, would have permitted companies that self-report environmental spills and other incidents to receive immunity from prosecution. It would also have kept these incidents out of the public records. Unfortunately, legislators failed to pass S.B. 430, an omnibus green energy bill, that if enacted would have created and modified provisions pertaining to environmentally sustainable practices. The following is a list of some of the issues introduced in the legislation:
The Complete Streets legislation, H.B. 642, which also was not enacted, would have required the Department of Transportation to consider non-motorized and transit users in transportation projects.
Labor: H.B. 1075 will allow Missourians to take advantage of a provision in the federal economic stimulus act extending the period for which people can receive jobless benefits. The National Employment Law Project estimates the bill could allow Missourians to receive an additional $150 million of unemployment benefits through the end of 2009. Also included in the bill are unemployment law changes that could let Missouri tap into an additional $133 million in federal stimulus money.
HJR 37 an anti-Employee Free Choice Act resolution, which would have forced the public to vote on an constitutional amendment to restrict the right for workers to choose union representation by majority sign-up, was not enacted.
Immigration: Unfortunately, Missouri passed H.B. 390, which prohibits undocumented students in colleges and universities from receiving financial aid, provides for verification of lawful presence, and specifies which public benefits pertain and do not pertain to undocumented immigrants. It also requires state contractors to provide affidavits attesting to participation in a federal work authorization program; and requires state contractor employees on public works projects to complete a construction safety program.
Access to Health Care: S.B. 306, the Show Me Health Plan, a cost containment and access bill, was not enacted. According to the League of Women Voters of Missouri, this legislation was a serious effort to accommodate the health care needs of low income, uninsured workers and families. For a detailed analysis of the legislation click here. Lawmakers also failed to pass S.B. 167. This bill would have required health insurance coverage for Autism Spectrum Disorders.
In a positive, albeit small step, lawmakers enacted H.B. 218. This legislation will maintain eligibility for the state high risk pool for people whose private premiums are greater than 200% of the average premium in the state. If the legislation had not been passed, the eligibility level would have risen to premiums 300% higher than the average, which is grossly unaffordable. H.B. 231, which applies federal COBRA insurance continuation standards to group health insurance policies sold to employers, was also enacted.
Education: S.B. 291 is a lengthy bill dealing with a number of issues relative to elementary and secondary education. The bill established the Teacher Choice Compensation Package for the St. Louis City School District. This will allow for teachers to choose performance-based salary stipends instead of tenure. Some of the other provisions in the legislation include:
One piece of higher education legislation that was not enacted but caused some passionate discourse was S.B. 390. The legislation would have changed how state scholarship money is distributed through the Access Missouri program. Under the current system, eligible students who go to private universities can receive as much as $4,600 a year. Meanwhile, students attending public four-year universities can receive $2,150. The proposed bills would set the maximum award at $2,850 a year for both private and public university students.
Democracy: Two constitutional amendments that would have harmed democracy in Missouri were thwarted this legislative session. HJR 10, a proposed constitutional amendment to change the way appellate judges are chosen, passed the House but not the Senate. Had the Senate approved the legislation it would have appeared on the November 2010 ballot. Many worried that this legislation would inject politics into Missouri's judicial selection process, which is a national model for impartial selection of judges. HJR 9, another proposed constitutional amendment, which would have required voters to show a government-issued photo ID at the polls before they could cast a ballot, did not pass either the House or Senate. Unfortunately, S.B. 59 which would have allowed any eligible voter to cast a ballot at a central voting location in his or her district, with the advance voting period beginning the third Wednesday before an election, was killed by proponents of voter ID who were willing to block widely popular electoral improvements because their divisive legislation failed.
Housing: H.B. 382 should provide some protection from predatory mortgage lending practices. Beginning July 31st of next year, mortgage brokers must register with the Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System and Registry, which will issue the broker a unique identifier that must be clearly displayed on all official paperwork. Renters will be provided increased protection when their landlords enter forclosure thanks to the enactment of H.B. 836. Under the new law, tenants of a residential property must be given written notice when the property has been foreclosed. If the new owner plans to seek possession of the property, the current tenants must be given at least 10 days from the date of notice to vacate the premises.
An International Comparison of Small Business Employment - Contrary to popular perceptions, the United States has a much smaller small-business sector (as a share of total employment) than other countries at a comparable level of economic development, according to this new Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) report. The report highlights how high health insurance costs and uncertain access discourages small business formation and self-employment in the United States compared to other nations.
The Plastic Safety Net: How Households are Coping in a Fragile Economy - This Demos survey finds that in the first nine months of the recession, three-quarters of low- and middle-income households reported using their credit cards to cover essential living expenses, with nearly half of all households surveyed reporting medical expenses as the chief factor. The report emphasizes how stagnating wages have fed dependence on debt for most households and the need for policies that raise wage standards, especially for low-wage workers, and address issues like health care and unemployment insurance modernization to ease families' financial burdens.
Supporting women in poverty and during pregnancy
Two new comprehensive reports on implementation of election reform in the states:
Addressing health equity, insurance exchanges, structuring "play-or-pay" requirements for employers, and health care for immigrant children:
Studies on addressing both early learning and building vibrant neighborhoods for successful schools:
Port Trucking Down the Low Road: A Sad Story of Deregulation - The costs of trucking deregulation decades ago is highlighted in this Demos report in examining port trucking, as highway safety has diminished, public health from emissions has been endangered, and health services have been burdened as low-wage drivers lose employer-provided health care. The report recommends the end of the misclassification of truckers controlled by larger companies as independent contractors and new standards for diesel emissions and highway safety.
It's Getting Hot in Here: Texas Weatherization Assistance Program Provides Relief to Low-Income Families and Creates Jobs for the New Economy - This report from the Center for Public Policy Priorities highlights how the federal ARRA recovery act has provided weatherization funds for 25,000 to 30,000 new low-income homes, cut their utility bills and increased the value of their homes while creating new jobs.
Missouri Session Roundup
3 Steps Forward
2 Steps Back
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