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John Bacino on April 21, 2008 - 9:48am
State Session Roundups: MD, WV, IN, GA, KY & ID
Monday, April 21st, 2008
State Session Roundups: MD, WV, IN, GA, KY & ID
As additional sessions finish up around the country, state legislatures have ended up accomplishing radically different amounts in the same sessions.
Some states accomplished some impressive gains, while others, as this Dispatch will outline, ended in stalemate or gave into special interest pleading and killed important legislation.
Maryland enacted path-breaking legislation in a number of areas, while making strong incremental gains in many others -- even as it achieved more mixed results on eliminating toxins from toys and on consumer credit protections.
Budget: Like most states, Maryland faced a budget deficit, one as high as $1.7 billion, but as we discussed last week, it distinguishing itself by making up much of the shortfall through tax increases on the wealthiest residents to increase tax equity. However, Maryland is not out of the fiscal woods yet. Part of the state's deficit plan hinges on voter approval of slot machines in November.
Home Foreclosures: Maryland took bold steps to stem the foreclosure crisis, making the most egregious mortgage schemes subject to criminal prosecution, extending foreclosure timetables for 15 to 150 days, and banning prepayment penalties and other transactions in which homeowners are tricked into signing over their houses to third parties.
Health Care: Health care saw important gains in 2008. Lawmakers enacted the Kids First Act (HB 1391), which, as we wrote in a LegAlert to lawmakers urging its passage, will help the state's 130,000 uninsured children obtain health insurance coverage by first requiring the state to notify families whose children are eligible but not yet enrolled in existing health care programs, an estimated 90,000 uninsured children. Additionally, as the Coalition reports, despite a budget deficit, the state kept its promise to expand Medicaid for adults without children.
Elsewhere, the legislature passed several bills to better regulate pharmacy benefits managers (PBMs), who manage prescription drug benefits in health plans. The bills await the Governor's signature - HB 419, HB 120, HB 580, HB 343, HB 257.
Environment: As Environment Maryland detailed, the environment and clean energy made out quite well this session. Highlights include:
Some missed opportunities were HB 712, which would have created timelines for adopting clean energy policies and a cap on global warming pollution in the state, and HB 1416, which would have halted a new highway system pending an analysis of its impact on global warming.
Maryland achieved mixed results in other areas important to families, achieving equality for all, and ensuring democratic integrity.
During West Virginia's 60-day regular session, the state legislature made some incremental steps for encouraging smart growth and energy efficiency and protecting families, but failed to make progress in other key environmental and worker's rights areas. Disastrously, the state approved HB 447, which opens the door to privatization of the state's transportation system.
To promote Energy Efficiency and Alternate Energy, the legislature passed:
The legislature also passed SB 467, which reauthorizes the Dam Safety Rehabilitation Revolving Fund.
To promote broadband, the Governor on April 10th signed into law, HB 4637, which creates a broadband development council, requires mapping high speed Internet services, and requires any new service that relies on state money to be at least 600 kilobits per second - three times the FCC's definition of high speed.
In order to better Protect Families, the legislature approved:
To promote Electoral Reform, the House also passed HCR 79 to study the feasibility of adopting election day registration and approving SB 514 to permit electronic mail absentee voting
In Indiana, the main focus of the session was a debate on a tax plan that limited property bills for homeowners, while shifting many local responsibilities to the state budget.
While education advocates worry the bill will undermine school funding and that the increase in sales taxes will offset any property tax savings for most working families, there were at least a few provisions designed specifically to help lower-income residents:
A green buildings bill, HB 1280, that would have mandated all renovations, additions and new buildings funded through public works dollars to be certified as Energy Efficient failed and proposed increases in mass transportation investments didn't succeed.
One advantage of the focus on Gov. Daniel's tax plan is that right-wing initiatives got sidelined, including an anti-immigrant bill, school voucher programs, a proposal to amend the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage, and a bill to allow pharmacists to deny customers prescriptions to birth control pills that might induce abortions.
Continuing its tradition from last year of inter-party venom and rancor, the Georgia legislature deadlocked on many key issues, even as the House Speaker denounced the Lt. Gov and the Governor dismissed the House Speaker as engaging in "tirades." Most major issues were left unaddressed, although corporate interests managed to do quite well for themselves in the session.
On one hand, the broad deadlock saved state residents from House Speaker Richardson's stated goal to eliminate all property taxes, which would have plunged local government into crisis, and the legislature rejected a proposal for private school vouchers.
Instead, the legislature enacted a few modest achievements:
On the other hand, the legislature largely failed to deal with two looming crises, the deteriorating trauma care across the state and traffic gridlock paralyzing commutes.
Even as legislators gridlocked on these key issues, they did make time to pass a slew of corporate tax giveaways, so many in fact that the Chamber of Commerce declared the session "our most successful and productive, far exceeding our hopes and expectations."
The Georgia Budget Policy Institute identified over $200 million in special interest tax breaks rammed through the legislature, from exemptions of machinery from sales tax to cuts in energy taxes by business to timber industry tax breaks to film industry credits.
The worst industry giveaways of the session were in the area of health care.
The legislature also weakened the independence of the statewide public defender system through HB 1245, by making its director a political appointee of the Governor.
In a session The Courier-Journal called "the worst legislative session in modern memory," the legislature failed to address major pension and tax reform demands and achieved only modest reforms in other areas.
The state approved its $19 billion budget to guide spending for the next two years, but additional legislation was mostly modest.
The legislature did approve a $1.2 million per year, 26% increase in funding for the state's Connect Kentucky program to improve high-speed Internet services in the state, but Gov. Beshear vetoed the plan.
On the positive side, the rancorous session assured that agreement was not reached on initiatives to prevent public universities and other government agencies from providing health insurance to unmarried domestic partners, on a bill totarget undocumented immigrants, or on an anti-abortion proposal to require doctors to provide ultrasound images to women seeking abortions.
Idaho had an unusually long session, but the majority of lawmakers judged that very little was accomplished, and the most pressing issues were left to be dealt with another day. This was largely due to ever decreasing revenue projections which destroyed any chance of Governor Butch Otter's ambitious spending proposals gaining the support of the legislature. Perhaps that was not the worse outcome given the regressive aspects of some of that spending.
The Governor began the session by proposing $200 million in spending to repair Idaho's roads and bridges -- but with little or no funds for public transportation projects. Legislators did reject many of the governor's priorities, including the Legislature's restoration of 90% or the funding for substance abuse treatment which the Governor tried to completely eliminate, an override supported by even some of the most conservative members of the body.
One important initiative did manage to make it through - the broadband Idaho Education Network, which will connect public schools in the entire state with each other and with universities to leverage and distribute educational resources.
Incremental progress was made on a few fronts as bills were passed that:
Major issues that were put off include attempts to deal with overcrowded prisons though, fortunately, an effort to bring privatized prisons to the states was not taken up. Budget language trimming Idaho retirees from the state medical benefits plan also failed to garner much support.
3 Steps Forward
2 Steps Back
Young Elected Officials National Convening
The largest gathering of young progressive elected leaders in the country will meet. On April 23rd, PSN's Policy Director, Nathan Newman, will be participating in two training sessions, one on building progressive tax structures at the state and local level and a second on immigration reform.
Good Jobs First Conference
May 7th & 8th
Registration is now open for Good Jobs First's national conference on May 7 and 8 near BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, located between Baltimore and Washington, DC. Come meet the nation's top campaigners, researchers and experts on economic development accountability and smart growth for working families.
The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:
Nathan Newman, Policy Director
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