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Reducing the Mortgage Crisis, Abolishing the Death Penalty, & the Passenger's Bill of Rights

Reducing the Mortgage Crisis, Abolishing the Death Penalty, & the Passenger's Bill of Rights

Thursday, December 13th, 2007

http://www.progressivestates.org/dispatch

Conference Call: Privatization

Today at 1pm EST the Progressive States will be holding a conference call on bringing transparency to privatization by state governments.

The call will focus on findings from a new report (discussed in this Dispatch) being released by Progressive States that highlights that, despite many high-profile failures of big privatization projects by state governments, few governments have established effective accountability standards and almost none even effectively measure what percentage of their budgets go to private contracts.  

The call will encourage best practices on collecting better data on privatization by state governments and making more information available on the web. Good Jobs First, which recently released a study ranking states on the degree of online transparency in government contracting, will speak on the call, in addition to a legislator from Texas and representative from AFSCME.

For conference call info, please RSVP at: http://snipr.com/privatize

Growing-Economy

BY J. Mijin Cha

States Taking Steps to Reduce Mortgage Crisis

Even before President Bush announced a deal to freeze sub-prime interest rates, California's Governor Schwarznegger announced its deal with four major subprime lenders to freeze interest rates at the initial, lower rate. Considering that foreclosures on homes doubled in the third quarter of this year and could increase even further next year, there is an urgent need for states to take action. Recent state action includes:

  • Minnesota and North Carolina are the latest states to ban pre-penalty payments. Thirty-five states regulate pre-payment penalties and eleven states ban pre-payment penalty on broad categories of mortgage loans.

  • Massachusetts enacted laws requiring borrowers to be counseled before taking out big loans and requiring lenders to be licensed.

  • Illinois set up Homeowner Outreach Days that bring mortgage loan provides, local housing assistance groups and state agencies together in one place where homeowners can set up one-to-one meetings with lenders and attend workshops.

  • Several states have set up free foreclosure hotlines where borrowers can reach counselors who can help with loan modifications, including ColoradoConnecticut, IndianaIowa , Massachusetts , New Hampshire, and New Mexico. Colorado's hotline received 3,000 calls during its first two weeks. A national foreclosure hotline has also been set up and has been inundated with calls.

As we wrote earlier this year, federal law already severely restricts what states can do to combat predatory lenders, and state officials are condemning new bills introduced at the Federal level to combat predatory and subprime lending practices which, backed by the Mortgage Bankers Association, would further preempt state agencies from pursing certain actions against lenders. Preserving state options is critical, since as Mike Shea, executive director of Acorn Housing emphasizes, "It's states and private class action lawsuits that have been able to curtail some of the abuses of predatory lending" in recent years. 

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Increasing-Democracy

BY J. Mijin Cha

New Jersey Looks to Abolish Death Penalty

This week, the New Jersey Senate voted to abolish the death penalty in the state, moving closer to becoming the first state to do so since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated it in 1976. The bill now moves to the Assembly, where it is expected to pass, and Governor Corzine, a staunch opponent of the death penalty, has said he would sign the measure into law.

New Jersey is not the first state to recently move towards repealing the death penalty. Last year alone legislatures in Maryland, Montana, Nebraska and New Mexico have debated bills to repeal death penalty statutes, but each measure failed. In 2004, the New York Supreme Court struck down the state's death penalty as unconstitutional and the Kansas Supreme Court voided its death penalty laws. In 2000, Illinois' then Republican Governor George Ryan imposed a moratorium on the state's death penalty, which continues today. Maryland's Governor also imposed a moratorium on executions in 2002, but just days after his inauguration, Governor Erlich lifted the moratorium in 2003 and Maryland executed its first individual after six years in 2004.

Death penalty cases are far more expensive than sentencing people to life without parole. A recent report found that New Jersey spends about $253 million on its death penalty while not executing a single individual since 1976, when the death penalty was reinstated.  New York has spent more than $200 million on its death penalty system, also without any executions. Florida would save $51 million per year by punishing all first-degree murderers with life in prison without parole.

Not to mention that to date, according to the Innocence Project, several people on death row have been exonerated by post-conviction DNA evidence. And, a recent report analyzing polling results, found that the public is losing confidence in the death penalty due to the risk of executing the innocent, the fairness of the process, and the inability of capital punishment to act as a deterrent. In New Jersey, by a margin of 52 to 39%, voters say they would prefer to drop the death penalty in favor of life in prison without parole for those who are convicted of first degree murder.
The U.S. bears the dubious distinction of being the only developed country that still kills people for committing crimes.  Maybe it's time we gave up that title.

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Increasing-Democracy

BY J. Mijin Cha

Airlines Fight Implementation of Passenger's Bill of Rights

Airline performance has steady declined and so far this year, almost 30% of flights were delayed, canceled or diverted. In response, the New York State legislature overwhelmingly passed a customer bill of rights, that, among other things, requires airports to provide passengers with food, water, fresh air, power and working restrooms on any flight that has left the gate and been on the tarmac for more than three hours. Despite the fact that it seems absurd that airlines have to be told to provide basic necessities for passengers held hostage aboard flights, the airline industry has filed suit in federal court to try to block the law from going into effect. 

According to the attorney for the airline industry, there is no need for the provisions to be legislated. However, in the last year alone, there have been several incidents of passengers stranded on board for over 8 hours. The latest Bureau of Transportation Statistics found that between January and October of this year, over eight thousand flights had taxi-out times longer than two hours. Taxi-out time is the time between when an airplane pushes back from the gate and when the airplane actually takes off. 

Jet Blue Airlines, the carrier who kept their passengers onboard on the ground for 11 hours at JFK in February, voluntarily adopted a Customer Bill of Rights that compensates passengers for ground and departure delays in wake of the disaster.  Also in response to the February crisis, federal versions of a Passenger's Bill of Rights were filed, with the Senate version providing more rights for passengers then the House version.

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Research Roundup

The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), one of the most prominent anti-immigrant groups, is funded by racist foundations and has ties to white supremacist groups through its key staff members, according to a new report, FAIR: Crossing the Rubicon of Hate, by the Southern Poverty Law Center. SPLC argues that reporters in the media should stop taking a hate group like FAIR seriously as a reputable mainstream commentator on the immigration debate. 

Many workers depending on 401(k) retirement accounts may face a bleak future, according to a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).  According to GAO projections, 401(k) plans will replace only about 22% of career earnings, with 37% of workers reaching retirement with zero plan savings.

In Lifelong Learning: New Strategies for the Education of Working Adults, the Center for American Progress emphasizes that with an aging population, the United States need to focus on policies to help adults already in the labor force increase their educational attainments. The report recommends incentives for employers to help finance skill training, strengthen educational tax incentives for individuals themselves, encourage more flexible programs aimed at working adults at postsecondary institutions, better use of technology to encourage English-language proficiency, and market these programs to adults needing the help.

Today, the Bell Policy Center is releasing an issue brief on labor management partnerships benefit both the public and private sectors, highlighting case studies on how to make them work. The brief includes recommendations for the Colorado state government in implementing such a partnership with state employees following Gov. Bill Ritter's November 2nd executive order allowing such partnerships. 

Since 2001, the United States have lost nearly 3 million manufacturing jobs, with job losses concentrated in the Midwest and East Coast, according to a brief by the Economic Policy Institute.


Please email us leads on good research at research@progressivestates.org

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The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:

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

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

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