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John Bacino on July 23, 2007 - 9:02am
Monday, July 23, 2007
Legislative Roundups: NJ, NY, SC, TN
In Today's Dispatch:
As summer deepens, more sessions are ending or going on hiatus. These write-ups on New Jersey, New York, South Carolina and Tennessee include some stirring accomplishments, some large missed opportunities, and some downright terrible decisions by lawmakers.
New Jersey has a year-round session and has taken a break for the summer
beginning at the end of June with the legislature set to reconvene after the
November 2007 elections. Before the summer recess, New Jersey made major gains
in a number of areas, including:
The state also expanded the Neighborhood Revitalization Tax Credit program to encourage redevelopment of low and moderate income neighborhoods, while increasing school aid. (S 2095) This was combined with a $2 billion property tax cut that provided tax credits and rebate checks for more than 95 percent of the state’s homeowners, but did not address a looming structural deficit facing the state. (S 20)
The state’s proposed paid leave bill, which would give 12 weeks of paid leave at $502 per week, did not go through before the summer recess. And the summer recess started on a low note, as two veteran Democrat state senators were indicted, charged with fraud and corruption, and accused of illegally using their offices for personal gain and defrauding taxpayers.
The New York State legislative session ended up being one of high hopes due to a new governor-- and largely mixed results as many needed reforms were stalemated.
On the positive side, the state did achieve signature gains in the area of children's health care and public school spending.
The state also made inroads in a number of other areas as well:
Environmental gains were limited this session and while the State Assembly approved a gay marriage bill, nothing was passed in the Senate.
Many observers gave the session very low grades for failure to address campaign finance reform, paid family leave, broader health care reform, congestion pricing rules to lower gridlock in New York City and a range of other issues. While there seems to be a backroom deal in the works to hold a special session to address a few of these concerns, even that kind of dealmaking reflects the dysfunction of the state legislative system.
A spirited session began in January with a $1.5 billion surplus greeting lawmakers and ended with legislators overriding 228 vetoes by Governor Sanford, vetoes which would have stymied some of the most notable gains made in the state.
Legislators were able to uphold:
Other gains include:
The legislature also enacted the largest tax cut in state history and reformed the Department of Transportation (including requirements that projects be approved based on taking account of traffic congestion, accidents and environmental concerns). They unfortunately modified the state's workers' compensation law by, in part, making it more restrictive for workers.
There were also some missed opportunities and welcome failures. Unfortunately, lawmakers failed to classify crimes committed against people because of their sexual orientation as hate crimes and failed to agree on how to use the revenue of a proposed 30-cent cigarette tax increase. South Carolina has the lowest such tax in the country, at 7-cents per pack. However, lawmakers fortunately failed to agree whether women seeking abortions should be required to view ultrasounds, as Senate Bill 84 advocated, or just be given the opportunity, as proposed in House Bill 3355.
Tennessee passed a remarkable
bills on immigration, the worst being a law that eliminates Tennessee’s
driving certificate program, effectively eliminating 50,000 undocumented
immigrant drivers who had previously demonstrated the ability to drive safely.
The legislature also gave the Governor authority to negotiate an agreement
with the federal government to train Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers as
immigration agents, which could be problematic if it increases the practice of
Eye on the Right
As the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) comes up for reauthorization in Congress, the Right is working fervently to quash any expansion of the program. What's wrong with health care for children, you ask? Conservatives know that each successful expansion of SCHIP proves the viability of government health programs. Contrast that to voters' experience in the private health insurance arena and suddenly health care for all gains more public support. So the right-wing is grasping at straws to offer market-based alternatives that would funnel more money into the same failing system.
3 Steps Forward
2 Steps Back
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