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Legislative Roundups: VT, NV & AL

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Legislative Roundups: VT, NV & AL

Conference Call

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.

RSVP using this link.

Legislative Roundup

Vermont

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:

  • Creating the Vermont Telecommunications Authority (HB 299) and approving a $40 million bond to spread cell phone and high-speed internet access throughout the state by 2010.
  • Promoting public health by stopping bus idling in front of schools.
  • Expanding education funding and funding several studies to review cost-drivers in the system, as well as increasing subsidies for Pre-K programs.
  • Banning discrimination against transgender people by adding gender identity as a class protected under the state's civil rights law.

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.

Legislative Roundup

Nevada

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:

  • SB 422 enacted new rules that require the state to compile an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions, although the provision of the bill that would have required mandatory emissions reduction was removed.
  • AB 115 increased staffing at the state Division of Environmental Protection to regulate and monitor mercury emissions.
  • AB178 creates a net metering system that allows customers generating renewable energy to pump surplus power into the power grid and draw on credits later, while also banning the sale of low-efficiency light bulbs by 2015.
  • SB 347 encourages schools and other public entities to use renewable energy such as wind and solar, while creating new residential incentives for energy conservation by requiring utility companies to evaluate energy consumption for residential properties.
  • AB 396 restricted the power of Homeowners' Association from restricting members from installing solar panels or other insulation measures to promote energy efficiency.
  • The state also fixed overgenerous tax breaks previously offered to "green" buildings.

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.

Legislative Roundup

Alabama

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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Masthead

The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:

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

Suggestions

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

John Bacino
Editor, Stateside Dispatch

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