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admin on May 8, 2008 - 9:32am
Session Roundup: HI, VT, NE, FL
Thursday, May 8, 2008
This session, the Hawaii state legislature made some substantial gains in labor rights, election reform, promoting renewable energy, health care, and a number of other areas, overriding four of the governor's 13 vetoes in the process.
Labor Rights: An important bill passed by the legislature, HB 2974, would enable a union to become the bargaining representative of agricultural workers when it obtains authorization cards from a majority of unit employees without a secret ballot election.
Health Care: The legislature enacted HB 7, which expands the state's prescription drug program, over the Governor's veto.
Clean energy and environment: Many advocates lauded energy policy gains but denounced the land-use bills that passed, including a controversial bill that creates incentives to preserve important agricultural land. The legislature passed:
Election Reform: The state also passed a few bills on voting reform:
Teleheath: The legislature also passed HCR 138, which requests the University of Hawaii's Telehealth Research Institute to form a task force to review the potential expansion of current practices and equipment of Hawaii's telemedicine system.
Government Accountability: SB 868, again enacted with an override of a veto, allows the Legislature to question boards and commissions without getting permission from governor.
There were a few important bills that failed to pass, including:
The Vermont legislative session ended two weeks early with legislators opting not to return for a veto session to try to overturn potential vetoes by the governor. Tough economic times and declining tax revenues left the state in fiscal trouble, yet lawmakers rightly rejected the governor's dangerous proposal to lease the state lottery to a private operator for short-term cash and long-term loss to the state.
Election Reform: The legislature passed the National Popular Vote compact through S. 270, and the bill now sits on the governor's desk. A bill authorizing mobile polling stations for early voting, S. 232, has become law. The legislature failed, however, to override a governor veto on S. 108, which would have allowed instant runoff voting for reelection of US representative and US senator and failed to override, by one vote in the House, S. 278, which would have dramatically strengthened campaign contribution limits.
In a step backwards, the legislature also passed H. 873, which delays tougher standards for water treatment plants that discharge effluents into rivers and streams that flow into Lake Champlain.
Toxic Toys: The legislature took two strong steps forward in protecting children from toxic toys and products by passing:
Domestic Violence: Finally, the state also passed S. 357, which increased penalties for domestic violence and provides for more training for police on domestic violence and more money for prevention programs and services offered to victims.
In the last legislative session before term limits are implemented and many veteran legislators are pushed into retirement, the Nebraska legislature made solid, if relatively small progress, in a number of areas. [solid, if relatively small progress....confusing]
On the Budget,the state faced a tightening belt but made important budget reforms for road funding and school aid.
On Election Reform,the state focused on procedural measures to rein in potential abuses by paid campaign staffs:
On Health Care,the state made some small progress in areas while restricting stem cell research at public facilities:
The legislature made some solid reforms in a number of other areas:
On immigration,the good news was that Governor Dave Heineman's bill, LB 963, to take state benefits away from undocumented immigrants and their children was buried by the Legislature's Judiciary committee in late February, partly because a proposal to revoke in-state tuition proved to be too controversial.
With the voters enacting a $9.3 billion property tax cut in January and a projected $7 billion dollar state revenue shortfall, the largest one year drop in revenue in the state’s history, Florida’s recent legislative session was marked by hard budget choices. With legislative leaders committed to raising no taxes to fill a huge budget shortfall, draconian cuts were implemented in state services.
With an economy and real estate market in crisis, serious environmental concerns, continuing election problems, and the fourth highest rate of any state in residents’ lacking health insurance, legislators either made things worse, failed to act, or merely nibbled around the edges of reform.
Budget Cuts for Children/New Spending for Prisons: Legislative leaders decided to cut services to those most in need and cut spending that will help ensure Florida’s next generation has a prosperous future. At the same time they were taking funding from schools, they decided to spend almost the same amount on prisons.
Expressing the impact of the budget choices on Florida’s residents, Rep. Kelly Skidmore noted, “The healthcare and education cuts cost us money, they cost us lives, they cost us jobs, and they cost us our future.”?
Healthcare Expansion in Name Only: While the legislature passed a budget that dramatically decreased healthcare spending on those least able to afford care, and removed the safety net for people suffering from catastrophic illnesses including transplant patients, they also passed a minimum benefits health insurance program that will emphasize primary care but leave little coverage for specialists and lengthy hospital stays. The plan also exempts insurers who provide the plan from the state's 50 coverage mandates, potentially leaving consumers vulnerable and without needed care in the event of a medical crisis. With all of the otherwise mandated procedures and specialist care and prolonged hospital stays exempted from coverage, the new minimum benefits insurance may not be worth the lower price it will cost.
Debating Hot-Button Social Issues: Without much to spend, many lawmakers spent considerable time and brought emotionally charged floor debates on politically potent issues that did not address the true needs of Floridians.
Environmental measures were the one Session Highlight: The legislature made progress on a few key environmental bills, but many were compromised or their implementation delayed.
Some Issues See Minor Reform or Partial Victories: While there were a host of missed opportunities, minor reforms were achieved on a few issues. Lamentably, some of these reforms were very limited in scope and these partial victories were no where near what is needed to meet the many challenges facing the state.
Faced with a precipitous falloff in revenue, lawmakers decided to fund prisons over schools and waste considerable time on issues that will not improve the lives of Floridians. On almost every issue, lawmakers failed to take the bold steps necessary to deal with mounting challenges.
Connecticut passes first-in-the-nation health care bill
Early Tuesday morning, the Connecticut Senate joined the House and overwhelmingly adopted HB 5536, the Connecticut Healthcare Partnership. The legislation will open up the state employee health plan to municipalities, small businesses and non-profits. Pooling small groups with the state employee plan, which has more than 200,000 members, will generate significant bargaining power and enable small employers and municipalites to negotiate better insurance rates. As we've written previously, while more than 20 states allow similar pooling of state and municipal workers, Connecticut would be the first to allow small businesses to join the plan at such a large scale.
As we wrote in a op-ed published by the Connecticut Post, this pooling of public and private sector employers and employees is unprecedented and will help Connecticut, which is known as the insurance capitol of the world, to wring more affordable rates and better quality insurance coverage from the insurance industry. Advocates in Connecticut are now putting pressure on Governor Jodi Rell to sign the bill, although she has already indicated plans to veto this forward-thinking legislation.
Incumbent Advantages: In Advantage, Incumbent, the National Institute on Money in State Politics found that 92 percent of incumbent state legislators were re-elected and that 84 percent of all winning legislative candidates raised more funds than their opponents.
U.S. Lagging on Maternity Leave: In a new snapshot, the Economic Policy Institute highlights that out of 19 comparable countries, the United States provides the fewest maternity leave benefits in both length of leave and paid time off.
Progressive Youth: In the The Progressive Generation, the Center for American Progress finds that a majority of 18- to 29-year-olds, so-called Millenials, are far more progressive than older generations, with this group far more supportive of government-provided health care, increased spending on education and government services, and more pro-labor. And this group is politically active and voting in increasing numbers.
Racial Disparity in Drug Sentencing: Despite the fact that whites and blacks use drugs at roughly equal rates, large racial disparities exist in arrests and imprisonment for drug offenses, according to two new reports, one published by the Sentencing Project and the other published by Human Rights Watch. Because of these racial disparities, black men are nearly 12 times as likely to be imprisoned for drug convictions as adult white men.
Early Education: A new report from CLASP and Zero to Three finds that less than 3 percent of babies and toddlers who are eligible for Early Head Start are reached at current federal funding levels. A number of states are promoting innovations to expand their reach and state profiles of Kansas and Iowa highlight two innovative programs.
3 Steps Forward
2 Steps Back
The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:
Nathan Newman, Policy Director
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