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admin on June 16, 2008 - 8:37am
Session Roundups: ME, MN, MO, OK
Monday, June 15th, 2008
With a last minute deal to close a billion-dollar deficit, Minnesota had a good session that would have been a landmark one -- if the Governor had not vetoed more bills (34!) this session than in any other since World War II.
The Budget Deal: The deficit was dealt with through a combination of budget cuts, draining much of the rainy-day fund, and closing a corporate loophole. $355 million in cuts to health and human services means state universities will probably be seeing tuition hikes, hospitals will be losing reimbursements, and courts will be cutting back on hours. A tax break for businesses with overseas operations was restricted, raising over $100 million. And half a billion was taken out of budget reserves.
Transit: The other key fiscal decision of the session was the approval of a $6.6 billion transit bill, HF 562, to fund roads, bridges and mass transit over the next ten years, approved with an override of the Governor's veto. The bill included a 5-cent gas tax increase -- the first one in twenty years --, the ability for counties to raise local sales taxes to fund joint transit projects, and a $1.8 billion bonding program. The final budget deal also included $70 million for additions to the St. Paul-Minnesota light rail line.
Health Care: While more far reaching health reform was stymied in the face of the Governor's vetos, the state approved SF 3780 to extend coverage to 12,000 more Minnesotans by covering of families earning up to 275% of the poverty line. The bill also gives patients more information on the cost and quality of care, offers incentives to providers to cut costs and improve quality, and increases outreach to encourage more people who qualify for coverage to sign up. The state also approved the Insurance Standards of Conduct bill, SB 2822, to collect damages from insurance companies who deny coverage without a valid cause.
Veterans: The state created new tax breaks for veterans and members of the military, including a $750 credit for long-term and disabled veterans and a doubled credit for time spent overseas. The state also enacted legislation to protect military families from facing adverse employment actions at work, including protecting their right to attend military family events. Military and other overseas voters were also given the right to request and receive their absentee ballots electronically.
Clean Energy: The legislature enacted a few key energy bills this sessions, including:
Telecom: The omnibus energy bill, SF 3337, included provisions for the state to map where gaps exist in access to internet broadband, while SF 1918 establishes an Ultra High Speed High-speed Internet Task Force to develop a plan, including possible legislation, for achieving ultra high-speed Internet in the state.
While the above bills are significant, they are almost dwarfed by the progressive agenda approved by the legislature but vetoed by Gov. Pawlenty. The list of vetoed policies include:
With Gov. Pawlenty bowing to corporate interests ranging from the insurance industry to predatory lenders to toxic toy producers in vetoing all these bills, what could have been a historically great session for Minnesota working families became merely a decent one.
Overview: Maine lawmakers addressed a $190 million shortfall with unfortunate cuts to education and health care services for low-income and indigent Mainers, but fortunately continued to support the state's health care reform efforts. Lawmakers also passed a minimum wage increase from $7 to $7.50 over two years, strong protections for children from toxic chemicals, legislation to combine the state and county corrections systems while capping property taxes that will fund the new system at 2008 levels, and a model cable franchise agreement that municipalities can use to negotiate local video franchises.
Health Care Reform: Despite measurable success and continued efforts at compromise, Maine's first-in-the-nation 2003 Dirigo Health Reform initiative continues to be opposed by the health care industry and big business interests. With a Robert Wood Johnson study of health insurance trends showing Maine's success in stemming the tide of rising uninsured rates, and reforms saving the Maine health care system more than $190 million over the past year, the Legislature took action to build on that success.
Cable Video Franchising: Lawmakers passed a model cable franchise agreement (LD 2133) that municipalities can use to negotiate local video franchises. The legislation will smooth-out the franchising process, institute strong community and consumer protections, and specify the issues municipalities should negotiate. The legislation will make the local franchising process much easier, reducing the justification for a statewide franchising agreement, which would limit local power and hurt consumers. The legislation was supported by the Maine Municipal Association, PEG, Common Cause, Community Television Association of Maine, and the state public advocate office.
Toxic Toys: The state passed a toxic toys bill (LD 2048) that requires the continual testing of toys and other consumer products and requires the use of safer alternatives when available. The bill also allows the state to participate in an interstate clearinghouse to share information on toxics and promote safer chemical use.
Green Buildings: Lawmakers also passed a statewide uniform building and energy conservation code (LD 2257 ), which some believe will help spur redevelopment on many of Maine's depressed main streets and replaces rules that varied from town to town.
Other Bills Enacted: The State also created tighter drivers' license rules to meet the Federal REAL ID requirements, tighter legislative ethics rules requiring greater financial disclosure and allowing citizens to file ethics complaints, and authorized $160 million in bonds for roads and bridges.
Missouri's legislative session was largely a repeat of last year - the best that can be said is that some particularly bad bills failed to pass. Unfortunately, others did. The state passed a particularly regressive immigration bill, but failed to take action on voter ID legislation. Beyond those issues the session mostly played out as a swan song of the corporate giveaway-focused tenures of Governor Matt Blunt and House Majority Leader Rodney Jetton. Blunt (who is under federal investigation -- his father, U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt also has ethical issues) withdrew from his re-election race and Jetton is being forced out by term limits, creating a woeful lack of accountability. This situation, combined with the majority's fear that this may be the last year while they remain in control of all three branches of state government, created a seriously hostile climate for progressive reformers.
Immigration: The most hotly contested and debated bill this session was the omni-bus immigration bill that passed on the last day. The bill is a stew of right wing anti-immigrant provisions, including deputizing state highway patrol to enforce immigration laws, mandatory immigration checks for all arrestees, suspending the licenses of businesses that hire undocumented workers, implementing the federal e-verify system that is know to have serious reliability problems, so-called "sanctuary city" proscriptions on municipalities choosing not to pursue immigration enforcement, and the bill even codifies federal prohibitions on public benefits for undocumented workers in state law.
Some members of the legislature fought the bill fiercely, and its passage seemed unsure just days before the session ended. At the very tail end of the debate, Sen. Tim Green took advantage of his colleagues' weariness and the time winding down on the session to add an amendment that penalizes companies for misclassifying workers as independent contractors. This provision applies to all workers and is the only part of the bill that will actually help workers in Missouri, a state with a small population of undocumented workers.
Gutting Campaign Finance Reform: Missouri became one of only a half dozen states to remove all limits on campaign contributions for state elected officials. As a supposed reform of the currently dysfunctional system that allows unlimited contributions to donors who set up personal PACs, the legislative leaders decided to broaden the loophole to include everyone. Given the multiple ethics scandals that the top leaders of the state have suffered under, it is a bit surprising that this would be the legislatures response. The bill was almost killed by an amendment that would have prohibited fundraising in the capitol, but the amendment failed by a few votes.
Voter ID: Lawmakers seemed poised to pass a very strict voter proof-of-citizenship law that was attempting an end run around a state supreme court decision that invalidated the state's previous voter ID law. However, in the final weeks of the session local and national activists initiated a vigorous grassroots campaign against the law that brought the bill to a halt.
The rest of what the session produced was a potpourri of bad policy, special interest favors, and marginal gains.
Their were very few notable reforms:
In the end much didn't get done:
Several bad measures failed to pass as well:
Its been several years in a row that bad policies have been foisted on the people of Missouri by their government while lawmakers and the governor pass legislation that either serves their individual interests or those of their and corporate supporters. The two hopeful aspects of this story are that some lawmakers and activists have managed to kill several terrible legislation, a majority of lawmakers are up for re-election, and the people have a great opportunity to seek more progressive representation in the fall.
The Oklahoma State Legislature adjourned late Friday, May 23, a week earlier than constitutionally-mandated. Lawmakers closed the session with an agreement on a $7.1 billion state budget for the next fiscal year. Overall the short 16 week session led to a mix bag of results.
Education: Legislators showed a commitment to education by passing a bill that earmarks $2.3 billion for schools, a $185 million increase over last year. This includes a $3,000 across-the-board pay raise for all state teachers.
Ethics: Lawmakers also passed a significant ethics reform bill, HB 2196, which bans lobbyists from making campaign contributions during a legislative session. The bill prohibits contributions from lobbyists to legislators - both incumbents and challengers - from the start of legislative sessions to five days after adjournment.
Infrastructure Improvements: Legislators also passed a $475 million bond package largely dedicated to infrastructure improvements. A majority of the bond funding is earmarked to help with the state’s roads and bridges. The bond package, however, also includes $100 million in state matching funds for the endowed chairs programs at Oklahoma’s colleges and universities. Additionally, $25 million will go to the Oklahoma Conservation Commission to repair and replace flood control dams in rural Oklahoma, $25 million for the construction of a low-water dam project on the Arkansas River in Tulsa, and $25 million to help finish construction of the Native American Cultural Center in Oklahoma City.
Healthcare: HB 3060 provides for the establishment, operation and maintenance of a public umbilical cord blood bank and establishing an education program for maternity. Unfortunately, legislators were unable to pass healthcare legislation which would have mandated health insurance coverage for autism diagnosis and treatment.
On a positive note, some negative bills were not passed, including voter identification provisions and an attempt to mandate English as Oklahoma’s official language.
Further, Governor Henry once again vetoed a "tort reform" bill, HB 2458, which would have undercut consumer rights and gutted corporate accountability for injuries to the public.
3 Steps Forward
2 Steps Back
The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:
Nathan Newman, Policy Director
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