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admin on May 15, 2008 - 9:18am
State Session Roundups: CO, IA, CT, and MS
Thursday, May 15, 2008
This session, the Colorado legislature had three main priorities: health care, education and fixing the transit system. They succeeded in making substantial progress in education, slight progress in health care, and no progress on transit.
Health Care: While the governor originally aimed for enrolling 17,000 more low-income children in the state's health insurance plan, lawmakers were able to provide health insurance to 50,000 children through SB 160, almost triple the governor's goal. Lawmakers also passed HB 1389 to penalize insurance companies that reject valid claims and authorized the Insurance Commission to reject unjustified health-care insurance rates hikes.
Missed Opportunities: Besides the failure of efforts to improve transit infrastructure, the legislature failed to put a measure to repeal the TABOR provisions on the ballot this fall. Misleadingly called the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, the measure has prevented the legislature from making substantial improvements to health care and education and generally led to a significant decline in the state's public services.
The legislature also dropped efforts to raise the severance taxes on oil and gas drilling, which would have raised $200 to $250 million in revenue for the state. The money raised would have been enough to double the state's scholarship fund, implement clean water projects, protect wildlife, invest in clean energy development.
Finally, on a positive note, of the 10 bills introduced to negatively deal with immigration, all except a minor technical measure, were defeated.
In a solid session of achievement, the Iowa legislature made significant progress on expanding health care coverage, expanding public school and pre-K funding, advancing clean energy proposals, protecting veterans and students, taking on foreclosure abuses, expanding workers' rights, and improving the integrity of state ballots. However, the session was marked by a few significant setbacks, including the governor's veto of a major labor rights bill.
Health Care: The signature achievements in Iowa came in advances for health care and public health.
Education: With approval of a $1.3 billion education bill, teachers will receive higher salaries, community colleges will see funding increases, and pre-K funding will be expanded with the goal of universal preschool for every 4-year old in the state by 2010.
Clean Energy: While lawmakers settled for making it merely a goal, not a requirement, for state utilities to derive 25 percent of their energy from alternative fuels in SF 2386, the legislature did make some important progress on clean energy goals:
Workers' Rights: One of the biggest disappointments of the session was that, while the legislature enacted HF 2645 to require all public employees to pay their fair share of the costs of collective bargaining, the Governor gave into rightwing pressure and vetoed the bill. The legislature did enact HF 2194 to end exemptions from the minimum wage for small laundries, construction companies, and health care facilities, and protected whistleblowing employees by approving SF 2281, which expands protection for employees taking legal action or otherwise being a witness in civil proceedings.
Stopping Foreclosure Fraud: HF 2653 was approved to improve consumer rights in regard to foreclosure consultants and foreclosure reconveyances, providing for criminal and civil penalties for abuse of consumer rights.
Veterans: The legislature took a number of actions to help veterans in the state, including funnelling money from new lottery games towards veterans, assuring that every county has a veterans office, and preventing judges from modifying soldiers' child-custody rights because of active duty service.
Students: With HF 2690, the legislature promoted better guidance for students seeking loans to pay for college and millions of dollars were set aside for grants and foregiveable loans for low-income students and others in need. In HF 2197, colleges were also encouraged, although not required as the original draft proposed, to post the titles and book identification numbers of required books 14 days before the start of classes so that students can shop around for the lowest prices.
Voter Protection: With SF 2347, all Iowans will now vote on machines that have paper ballots that can be recounted by hand. Digital machines will be eliminated from the state.
What Wasn't Done: A saving grace of the session was that a stalemate between the two chambers meant that a harmful anti-immigrant bill approved by the House went nowhere in the Senate. Instead, as we documented a few weeks ago, the Iowa Senate approved the far better approach with a bill to significantly crack down on wage abuses by employers which lowers wage standards for all Iowans.
One key reform that failed to advance in the legislature was a "combined reporting" proposal by the Governor to close the loophole that allows multistate corporations to avoid paying much of the state corporate income taxes they owe.
Revenue projections which tumbled from an over $200 million surplus to a $60 million plus dollar deficit quickly changed the tone of Connecticut’s short session and forced the Governor and legislative leaders to abandon promises of increased spending and tax refunds. In the end, the Legislature failed for the first time ever to pass a budget, leaving last year’s two-year spending plan in place. Mayors and non-profit leaders decried the austere plan, which along with the loss of real estate transfer taxes that sunset in June, will spell serious budget woes for cities and towns, many of whom face a foreclosure crisis as well.
Budget woes that prevented needed funding for a host of measures, combined with continued failure to act on other important issues, including ethics reform legislation that has been debated now for five years, lead to a generally pessimistic assessment of the session’s accomplishments. However, the legislature did pass a couple pieces of landmark legislation such as a path-breaking health insurance pooling bill and ambitious limits on greenhouse gas emissions.
Healthcare Insurance Pooling: At the very end of the session, the Connecticut Senate joined the House and overwhelmingly adopted HB 5536, the Connecticut Healthcare Partnership. This groundbreaking 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 municipalities 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 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.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions: Both chambers have passed HB 5600, which will require deep and mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Under the bill, greenhouse gases would be cut by 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 percent below 2001 levels by 2050. These cuts are in line with estimates of what is required to stop global warming. The bill also directs the Connecticut Dept. of Transportation to study expanding high-speed rail, light rail, and freight rail within the state.
Connecticut now joins California, New Jersey, Hawaii, and Washington as the fifth state to adopt mandatory limits on global warming pollution. Given the lack of action on the climate crisis on the federal level, it is essential that other states follow their lead and pass mandatory cuts. The Governor is expected to sign the legislation.
Other Important Reforms
Missed Opportunities and Unfinished Business: The legislature failed to renew the real estate conveyance tax, critical for funding local governments, although both the Governor and legislative leaders now say they will bring the legislature back for a special session to prevent the loss of revenue for municipalities. The legislature may also return for a special session to enact ethics reforms they failed to deal with.
As with last year, the Senate approved a paid sick days bill, while the House failed to act before time ran out on the session. SB 217 would have provided up to 52 hours of paid sick leave per year for employees working at businesses with a total of at least 50 employees. The legislature also failed to act on HB 5723, which would have included gender identity and expression within state civil rights protections.
In spite of a short session and the rapidly deteriorating budget picture, Connecticut lawmakers were able to pass some significant reforms. However, important legislation with strong support didn’t make it all the way to final passage. Hopefully a special session will allow a chance to complete this unfinished business.
While the Mississippi Legislature adjourned its regular session in April after approving a $5 billion budget, lawmakers will be back in the Capitol soon for a special session to address unresolved legislation, including Medicaid funding woes and keeping the Department of Employment Security open. With a session dominated by attacks on immigrants, multiple attempts to suppress voting, and giveaways to state utility companies, the positive accomplishments of the legislature during the short 2008 legislative session were limited.
Educationwas one priority for state legislators this session with HB 513 authorizing full funding for the state's public schools, the first time such legislation has passed in a non-election year.
Ethic reformswere passed to hold politicians and judges more accountable to the public.
On the other hand, the bad bills debated and passed by the legislature consumed the session:
Bad energy legislation: SB 2793 gives utility regulators the power to authorize gradual rate increases for customers as Mississippi Power plans a new continuously-operating, clean coal-burning plant. Previously, the Public Service Commission allowed utility companies such as Mississippi Power to increase rates to recoup building costs only when it "flips the switch" on new plants. This bill not only puts an unfair burden on Mississippi rate payers to fund a plant that will also serve other states, but is a step backwards for environmentalist.
Voter Suppression: Mississippi was embroiled in debate over an ever-changing omnibus election law bill all session. Against the backdrop of a scandal where one election official, acting without authorization, purged approximately 10,000 voters from the rolls in a single county, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann lobbied hard for legislation that would de-register any voter who did not vote in the upcoming presidential election. He also supported HB 969, which would have greatly expanded the disenfranchisement of felons in the state. In the end, the only bill that passed, SB 2510, merely authorized a study of election law to be completed by the end of the year, allowed curbside voting by physically disabled voters, and slightly tightened absentee ballot procedures. There was also a strong push for a voter ID bill, which eventually died when the House refused to take it up. Without a doubt it has been a year of struggle for supporters of voting rights in Mississippi, but their efforts have paid off as they were able to thwart a series of attacks on voters in their state.
Missed Opportunity on Toxic Toys: Governor Barbour also vetoed a bill to protect children from lead in toys. HB 1240, passed by the state's legislature, would have required that any manufacturer who sells children’s toys that do not adhere to federal standards could be in violation of the Mississippi Consumer Protection Act. It also says the state attorney general should keep a running list of toys that are found to be defective.
The Union Advantage: Unionization raises the wages of the typical low-wage worker by 20.6 percent, according to a new report by the Center for Economic & Policy Research (CEPR), which includes state-by-state data on gains from unionization for workers in all income brackets.
Costs of War: Highlighting the costs of the Iraq War, the Center for American Progress has developed an interactive map that shows what each state is suffering in lost investments in jobs, health care and clean energy. The projected cost of the war for taxpayers in a large state like Texas are $54 billion, but even a state like South Dakota is losing out on over $1 billion.
Errors in E-Verify: In Know Your Rights about Basic Pilot/E-Verify, the National Immigration Law Center emphasizes that the government databases upon which Basic Pilot/E-Verify relies contain errors that may affect employees, especially because in practice many employers do not follow program rules.
Breastfeeding at Work: In a new policy brief, the Sloan Work and Family Research Network highlights recent legislative activity on breastfeeding at work and policies that protect the rights of mothers by promoting ways to diminish taboos associated with breastfeeding in public and sanctioning employer discrimination against breastfeeding workers.
Tough Job Market: Facing a tough job market, new college graduates are seeing lower average hourly wages, health insurance coverage, and retirement benefits compared to 2001, as highlighted by a graphic snapshot from the Economic Policy Institute.
Young Peoples' Views on the Economy: The generation of young people born in the 1980s and 1990s (so called "millenials") are far more progressive on a host of issues than previous generations. The Center for American Progress has released a report that outlines how 18 to 29 year-olds believe that the government can be a force for good in the economy, and that increased investments in healthcare, education, and other areas are necessary to ensure strong and sustainable economic growth.
Easing Burden of Road Taxes: In the The Road Less Taken: Creating Fairer Taxes, As Well As Better Highways, Virginia's Commonwealth Institute highlights that using increased sales, gas, and titling taxes to pay for new highways creates a far higher tax burden on working families than wealthier Virginians. The Institute argues that the state can offset that burden by making its Earned Income Credit refundable and creating a refundable sales tax credit.
Health Care: There were a number of recent reports and resources on health care:
Same Day Registration: Demos has released a new report outlining the successful campaign for same day registration in North Carolina.
3 Steps Forward
2 Steps Back
The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:
Nathan Newman, Policy Director
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