Monday, June 11, 2007
Legislative Roundups: VT, NV & AL
Tomorrow, Tuesday, June 12th at 4:00pm EST, Progressive States Network will be hosting a call specifically for state legislators to brief you on the current happenings on federal trade, how these deals are affecting the states and what state legislators can do to oppose it.
US Senator Sherrod Brown (Ohio) will be giving a report from Washington DC and will be joined by representatives from labor, environmental and public interests groups.
In Today's Dispatch:
Following up on the comprehensive health care reform, Catamount Health, enacted in 2006, Vermont turned its attention to prescription drugs and the drug companies. Vermont passed a sweeping drug pricing law  (SB 140) that reforms and restricts the exploitive marketing tactics of drug companies to physicians. The bill awaits a decision by the Governor.
The legislature raised the minimum wage for tipped employees  and indexed the new wage to inflation. Vermont is the only state where the legislature - as opposed to a ballot initiative - indexed its regular minimum wage to inflation, so it's admirable that the legislature now made sure tipped workers also won't suffer wage loss due to inflation.
Vermont also made progress on many other issues as well, including:
The largest lost opportunity may be on clean energy, as the Vermont Governor vetoed a climate change energy bill  because he opposed a tax on the state’s nuclear power plant. The bill would have committed the state to using renewable energy for 25% of the state’s needs by 2025 and expanding the reach of the state’s Efficiency Utility to work to reduce fossil fuel consumption at homes and businesses.
Despite partisan stalemate over a number of issues, the Nevada legislature made serious reforms in education, clean energy, and open government this session.
In a major education bill, the legislature passed an increased budget  that, among other things, increases per-pupil spending by 13% over two years, funds after-school programs, provides incentive pay for teachers in at-risk schools and hard-to-fill subject areas, adds full-day kindergarten to 63 schools, and creates 29 "empowerment schools", where principals and teachers have a greater say in how the school is run.
The Nevada legislature also passed a raft of clean energy and environmental  legislation:
To promote more open government , the legislature expanded open meeting rules to apply to the state Tax Commission to bring greater scrutiny of large corporate tax breaks and require government bodies to make requested public records available within five business days.
On criminal justice issues, the legislature expanded "good time" credits to encourage the release of more than 1200 inmates in the next two years. The legislature also changed the treatment of mentally ill people convicted of crimes by restoring a "guilty but mentally ill" plea abolished in a previous session and maintaining treatment for inmates released from state hospitals.
The legislature restricted payday loans  and banned balloon payments and extensions at the end of the loan term. The bill also banned collection action against families of military personnel who are deployed in combat.
While more comprehensive health care reform is needed, the legislature did pass a prescription drug card program , which lets all residents acquire the cards for free and secure a roughly 20% discount on drug prices.
In a year where a Montana state leader let loose an expletive-laden tirade  against his Governor, Georgia budget negotiations had political leaders at each others' throats , and a Texas House fought to dethrone an autocratic Speaker , Alabama seems to have taken the crown for most dysfunctional legislature after a Republican State Senator punched a colleague  from the majority Democrats on live television, launching videos that became a YouTube sensation .
The punch reflected the broader dysfunction  of a session where the minority worked to block most substantive progress and that some legislators themselves described as one of the "worst sessions" they'd seen in twenty-five years.
One of the few real winners from the session was education, where the legislature approved a $1 billion bond issue to improve schools, along with pay raises for teachers, but there was no tax relief for the working poor , no campaign finance reform and no progress on a host of other issues which died in the ensuing stalemate.
Sadly, one of the few successful initiatives this year was a subsidy package to attract a ThyssenKrupp steel plant , a total state and local package of $811 million in state subsidies for just 2000 jobs. This is on top of other special industry-specific transit projects that are draining  already crimped infrastructure budgets. Incredibly, the subsidy deal included an agreement by the state to oppose any state legislation seeking to stop global warming emissions in the state -- and extend the company an exemption from such legislation if passed.
Between personal dysfunction on the state Senate floor and corporate giveaways at the bargaining table, it was hardly a stellar year for Alabama.
Eye on the Right
Today a study in the hypocrisy brought to the absurd:
As you might expect, Robert Bork, the onetime failed Supreme Court nominee and conservative jurist is a vocal proponent of limiting plaintiff awards via state tort law. He even allowed his "strict constructionist" stance to bend in order to accommodate state tort limits that he himself said "may once have been clearly understood as beyond Congress's power."
That's why it comes as such a surprise that Mr. Bork would sue the Yale Club  of New York City for $1 million and punitive damages after he fell while scaling their treacherous dais. Perhaps he's only opposed to lawsuits against corporations that manufacture dangerous products, but not against well endowed non-profit groups with dangerous interior design.
Either way, we hope Mr. Bork quickly recovers his health, his wits, and
perhaps a new sense of compassion for those who are injured as a result of corporate negligence.
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