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admin on July 7, 2008 - 8:39am
Session Roundups: RI, SC, KS, IL
Monday, July 7, 2008
Session Roundups: RI, SC, KS, IL
Contentious sessions in Rhode Island, South Carolina, Kansas and Illinois were marked by veto showdowns with their respective governors and often stalemate on key issues even between chambers in those states.
The Rhode Island General Assembly adjourned after lawmakers reached agreement on a $6.9 billion state budget which, among other things, closes a $422 million deficit for the next fiscal year. Overall the Rhode Island legislative session ended in mix results, with Governor Carcieri vetoing some important foreclosure and environmental legislation. In fact, over a four-day period last week the Republican Governor vetoed 49 of the bills approved late last month before the Democrat-dominated Assembly adjourned. The legislature may, if they choose, hold a special session before January to rescue the swath of bills.
Clean Energy: Additionally, Rhode Island legislators introduced important renewable energy legislation.
Health Care: S2484 is one of eight bills that compromised Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts Healthy Rhode Island Reform Act of 2008. The bill would establish a 5-year strategic plan for the reform and development of initiatives to enhance the systems of chronic care management, primary care, patient self-management, health system technology, and the development and use of outcome measures, reporting requirements and reimbursement systems in Rhode Island””with the goal of statewide participation by 2010.
Budget Reform: S2661 will promote greater public disclosure and transparency for certain tax credits, requiring businesses receiving tax credits or other financial incentives to prove through detailed reporting that they are living up to their job creation promises.
Miscellaneous: Under S2881, the Department of Administration will set up a committee on state employee transportation. The committee’s goal is to develop a plan that gives state employees incentives to reduce vehicle miles driven to work. The committee will consider the implementation of carpool, telecommuting, guaranteed-ride-home, bike-to-work and walk-to-work programs.
S2450 establishes the Community College of Rhode Island 21st Century Workforce Commission. The Commission will recommend specific actions to strengthen CCRI’s position as a key institution in Rhode Island’s effort to create a 21st century workforce prepared for the high-wage job opportunities created by knowledge economy companies.
Blocked Bills: S2059 which would have established annual increases in the state’s minimum wage, every January 1, and tie those hikes to the Consumer Price Index, passed the Senate but did not make it out of the House.
In addition, Governor Carcieri vetoed a number of important bills:
South Carolina’s legislative session was marked by a failure to pass major pieces of legislation such as healthcare and payday-lending reforms, the passage of a regressive immigration bill, and significant time spent on small, controversial measures such as posting the ten commandments in public buildings, “I Believe”? license plates, and outlawing pants worn below the hips. Fixing budget deficits and hiring much needed additional judges were two other important issues that could not get resolved while less consequential legislation was debated. In the end, lawmakers showed how important those small measures were by overriding vetoes of bills like S 577, which increased penalties for attacking a coach in a sports league.
Immigration: South Carolina has the fastest growing Hispanic population in the United States, and immigration is a hot-button issue in the state. This year the legislature enacted, HB 4400, immigration “reform”? legislation which will do nothing to solve the problems faced by workers and will do much to harass immigrants and employers.
Payday Lending: The Senate passed a package of payday lending reforms that were held by a House committee chairman and prevented from receiving a vote by the whole body. The bill, SB 398, would implement a 7-day waiting period after taking out a payday loan, created a registry of borrowers, and barred borrowers from taking out more than one loan at a time. This was a major victory for the lending industry which hired a herd of lobbyists and contributed generously to lawmakers’ campaign funds in order to kill the legislation. Recent figures are not available, but the industry made almost $300,000 in donations to South Carolina officials from 2000 to 2006. This is a small fee to protect the estimated $186 million a year in fees the industry generates in the state.
Gridlock on the top issues dominated Kansas’ legislative session and prevented movement on most significant legislation. This generally played out to progressives favor as the legislative majorities top priorities for the session were misguided immigration policies and granting permits for two coal-fired power plants that the executive branch had previously denied.
Environment: In a move that had reverberations around the country, last fall the state’s top environmental regulator turned down applications for two coal-burning power plants in Holcomb, Kansas because of the carbon dioxide emissions. This was the first time in the country that a state regulator had denied a permit based on this factor, citing the Supreme Courts decision that carbon dioxide is a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, which the states enforce. A court in Georgia recently revoked a permit for a coal-burning plant for the same reason.
The decision created an uproar in the coal industry and the Legislature, where granting the permits was the leaderships top priority. However, this legislative action was counterbalanced by polls showing strong support of 70% among Kansans for blocking the plant permits. The issue dominated the legislative session, but in the end, the Legislature failed by as little as one vote to override vetoes of three separate bills that would have overturned the decision. Governor Sebelius has now created the Kansas Energy and Environmental Policy group (KEEP) to make recommendations for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the state. Unfortunately, the same bill that creates KEEP also allows nuclear plant construction costs to be passed on to electricity ratepayers.
Immigration: The Kansas House this year voted to gut an anti-immigrant bill, SB 329, added provisions to severely punish employers exploiting undocumented immigrants by violating state wage laws and cracked down on misclassification of independent contractors. The inclusion of strong pro-worker provisions resulted in an impasse with the Senate's purely anti-immigrant version, killing a legislative priority of anti-immigrant advocates, but delighting immigrant advocates.
Elections: The legislature made a couple very minor improvements in the state’s election practices.
Pre-K: Partly due to a state Supreme Court judgment demanding greater school funding equity, preschool programs were one of the few to receive additional funding, leading to the Governor launching a new "P-20 Education Council" to coordinate education and workforce development from pre-K through college.
Healthcare: For another year Kansas failed to move forward with significant healthcare reform. This happened in spite of the Legislature having directed the Kansas Health Policy Authority to make recommendations for increasing the health of people in the state. The main recommendations were to ban smoking in public places and increase the tax on cigarettes to boost subsidies to cover low-income Kansans. None of the significant recommendations passed into law. This is in spite of the Governor’s strong lobbying and the fact that Kansans’ overwhelmingly support access to care, and are willing to pay for it. One bill that did pass, SB 365, tasks a collection of executive agencies with developing a statewide long-term care strategy, including the provision of home and community-based services. This process will also involve stakeholders and advocates.
With a regressive legislative agenda from the majority, the Kansas legislative session was noted by the bad policies defeated and the inability to subvert the governor’s groundbreaking moves on global warming. With the people of the state giving strong support to basic progressive change in healthcare and the environment things appear to be heading slowly in a positive direction.
Running for the US Senate representing Illinois in 1858, Abraham Lincoln said, "A house divided against itself cannot stand." In present-day Illinois, animosity between Democratic leaders - Governor Rod Balgojevich and Speaker Michael Madigan - may bear this out. The hostility between the two men, who are not on speaking terms, is the result of fierce disagreements over past and current budget provisions and a federal investigation into gubernatorial appointments and campaign donations. The Speaker recently sent a memo to Democratic legislative candidates with talking points concerning when and how to bring impeachment proceedings against the Governor. The breakdown in communication has clearly effected the state's business.
Public Transit: A sales tax increase was enacted in the Chicago area to increase funding for public transit agencies, including a proposal inserted by the Governor to allow senior citizens to ride public transportation for free.
Health Care: Lawmakers passed a five-year plan that will provide $640 million annually in state and federal funds to hospitals that serve a large number of Medicaid patients. The Governor's efforts to expand access to FamilyCare for 147,000 parents and caretakers, which subsidizes health care for families, through an emergency order after the legislature refused to go along with his proposal in 2007 were dealt a final blow by a state appellate court.
Campaign Finance: Lawmakers have sent HB 824 to the Governor to curb "pay-to-play" contracting - where state officials award contracts to campaign donors. The law bars people with state contracts worth more than $50,000 from contributing to the official who awarded the contract - or to the politician's opponent in an election year. Despite passing without a single no vote, Governor Blagojevich has suggested he may re-write the legislation, which supporters say could derail the entire effort. As we wrote previously, the bill is the result of years of corruption and comes amid a federal investigation into campaign donations and contracts awarded by the Governor.
3 Steps Forward
2 Steps Back
The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:
Nathan Newman, Policy Director
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