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Landmark Land Use Bill to Cut Sprawl and Carbon Emissions

Landmark Land Use Bill to Cut Sprawl and Carbon Emissions

Thursday, September 4, 2008

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Growing-Economy

Landmark Land Use Bill to Cut Sprawl and Carbon Emissions

Marking the largest change in California land use laws in a generation, the California legislature has approved SB 375, a bill which promotes both affordable housing and less sprawl in the state.  In a coalition as landmark as the legislation itself, affordable housing advocates, the building industry, environmentalists, and local governments came together to endorse legislation that will encourage more compact development along transit corridors.  The legislation's key feature is to integrate what are now three separate planning processes -- regional development, affordable housing and transit development -- into a synchronized system.  This is considered a critical step in achieving California's goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as established in 2006 through AB 32.

Key Features of SB 375 include:

  • Transportation and planning:  The California Air Resources Board (CARB) will set regional greenhouse gas reduction targets, which will then be incorporated into each region's Regional Transportation Plan (RTP).

  • Housing Planning:  Local jurisdictions' share of regional affordable housing will become aligned with the land use plan.

  • Anti-Sprawl Incentives:  New developments that follow transportation planning needs will get quicker approval under state environmental review systems.  Local governments will also have regulatory and other incentives to encourage more compact new development and transportation alternatives.

The bill was supported by the California League of Conservation Voters (CLCV) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) who were elated over passage and have now turned their attention to Governor Schwarzenegger, who must sign the bill for it to be enacted.  Tom Adams, CLCV Board President, said “SB 375 is not just another example of California’s national environmental leadership. That the cradle of car culture is the first to tackle the global warming problem of long commutes is a watershed moment.”?

California's SB 375 is building on a range of smart policies, from inclusionary zoning to financial incentives for higher density communities, in order to better coordinate state planning and local municipal zoning while also promoting more affordable housing and smarter, more environmentally sustainable growth in California.

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Valuing-Families

Health Insurance Regulation Advances in California

To address the misuse of health insurance premiums, legislators in California recently passed tougher standards regulating how insurance companies use premiums.  The law is designed to put teeth into the basic expectation that health insurance premiums paid by families and businesses should be used by insurance companies for actual medical care.  Sponsored by State Senator Sheila Kuehl, legislators passed SB 1440, which creates a "medical loss ratio" of 85% - or "care share" - requiring insurance companies to spend at least 85-cents of every premium-dollar on actual medical care.  Governor Schwarzenegger has yet to act on the bill, but the legislation was amended at his request to exempt new plans from the 85% threshold for the first two years they are available, signaling that his signature is likely.

The unfortunate reality is that many insurance companies rarely meet this standard.  In a survey of state insurance regulators conducted earlier this year, Families USA found instances where insurance companies spent a mere 60% of premiums in the individual market on medical care, using the rest for profits and administrative expenses - including staff charged with knocking insured people off the insurance roles.  

The California legislation builds on similar legislation in other states.  New Jersey has a "care share" requirement of 75% for the individual and small group markets.  If less than 75-cents of every premium dollar is spent on direct medical care, an insurer must issue the difference in refunds to their members.  Families USA reports that insurers have refunded policyholders $11.6 million since the early 1990's.  Minnesota has a tiered loss ratio, setting different levels for the large group, small group, and individual markets.  A bill introduced this session in Pennsylvania, HB 2005, would also set a standard similar to California's for the small group market.

Creating a Stronger Standard: "Medical loss ratios", or "care shares", are important regulations to ensure families and small businesses are getting value for their premium payments.  An even stronger measure than the California bill can be found in Massachusetts Senate Bill 593, sponsored by State Sen. Patricia Jehlen.  The care share legislation, titled An Act Relative to Promoting the Efficient Use of Health Care Revenues, would set a 90% standard and include other forms of income that are derived from premiums paid, including insurers' investment income.  A 2006 report from the Health Reform Program at the Boston University School of Public Health found that some Massachusetts insurers were spending 91% of total revenues on medical care for group plans, indicating that a 90% threshold is quite attainable for the market.

With skyrocketing insurance company profits and reserves, state lawmakers should ensure that our health care dollars are being used for actual medical care, rather than profits and shareholder dividends.  Additionally, stronger standards can encourage health insurers to increase efficiency and reduce administrative waste.  Despite, or perhaps because, the US lacks a coordinated health care system that achieves coverage for all Americans, our administrative costs - as a share of total health care spending - are 30% to 70% higher than in countries with public/private universal systems.  There is clearly room for improvement, particularly considering that within the US system, administrative expenses for private insurance are two and a half times as high as for public programs.

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Research Roundup

Despite the good news that New Orleans survived Hurricaine Gustav, the unfortunate reality, as a new report by PolicyLink details, is that working families there still do not have access to affordable housing three years after Katrina.  Rental housing is in especially short supply, with only 2 in 5 affordable damaged rental units being repaired or replaced with recovery assistance.

The Economic Policy Institute has released its 2008-2009 edition of The State of Working America, one of the most comprehensive analyses of the American economy and labor market that exists.  Key facts include how the business cycle this decade failed to deliver the jobs of past cycles and how inequality in life expectancies continues to expand.

The second annual Speedmatters.org survey, which measures Internet speeds of users nationwide, shows that the United States continues to lag behind other industrial nations, ranking 15th in the percentage of residents who have broadband access.

When you compare parental leave between industrialized nations, a new report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) finds that the U.S. ranks 20th out of 21 when it comes to the total length of leave guaranteed to a two-parent couple.  And with no federal paid leave laws, the U.S. ranks dead last, since every other industrialized nation offers some form of paid leave to new parents.

Americans overwhelmingly support requiring employers to provide a minimum number of sick days for employees, according to a new survey by the National Opinion Research Center.  77% indicate that having paid sick days is "very important" for workers and fully 86% favor a law that guarantees paid sick days for all workers.

The Drum Major Institute's Survey on the Middle Class shows supermajority support for a range of issues, from guaranteed health care to stronger union rights to foreclosure prevention.

In Staying Afloat in Tough Times, the National Center for Children in Poverty highlights some of the ways that state-level policy can help families both avoid and cope with economic hardship, including work supports such as child care, income supports such as tax credits, and asset development programs to help low-income families plan for the future.

Voters Unite published Vendors are Undermining the Structure of US Elections, which outlines the significant damage being done to our democracy by the widespread privatization of our election systems.

FairVote has released the first in a series of reports surveying the uniformity of election administration practices in swing states.  The report examines ballot and machine distribution, ballot design, and campus polling places in Missouri and what guidelines are used, if any, in assessing needs for each election.


Please email us leads on good research at research@progressivestates.org

Eye on the Right: Conservative Computer Security Expert Blows the Whistle on Lack of Ballot Security

Those who have followed the growing controversy over electronic voting machines are well aware that, as we have highlighted, these machines are a direct threat to our elections for multiple reasons.  First, all machines and source codes that have been examined by computer scientists have proven to be highly insecure.  Second, these machines have broken down and lost votes in every national election in which they have been used.  And third, Premier Election Systems (formerly “Diebold”?) has recently admitted that in fact there is a “critical programming error”? in their machines that can affect vote totals.  Critics have charged that at least two statewide races have been stolen and even Robert Kennedy Jr. has laid out the case for computer fraud in the 2004 presidential election

Adding credence to these charges, Stephen Spoonamore, a computer security expert who has examined electronic voting technology, lays out facts on how elections can be stolen in a recent interview.  A life-long Republican, Mr. Spoonamore’s political credentials are impressive and include work for Rudy Guliani, Michael Bloomburg and John McCain.  He is also the former CEO of Cybrinth, an international computer security firm, and has spent time as an international election monitor.  Due to the efforts of members of the grassroots election integrity community and specifically the folks at VelvetRevolution.us, a video of an interview by Spoonamore with a major network that was never shown on television is available.  The interview video, posted here, is a must see.  The following quotes give an idea of the gravity of his indictments.

Spoonamore: “They’re stealing elections...”?

“All code needs to be inspected by external auditors, all processes need to be validated by external ”¦ the same way we do banking systems.  Do credit card systems get defrauded?  Yes, to the tune of two and a half percent.  Two and a half percent is a major amount if you are dealing with a vote”¦  That level of background fraud, we can’t get it below that point, it is just too hard.  Do you want to have a system in place where there is a permanent background of electronic voting fraud at two and a half percent?  ”¦ I don’t.  Paper ballots please.  That is the only thing that can be secure.”?

As far as a remedy, Spoonamore puts himself solidly in the camp of those who demand the use of paper ballots, optically scanned with robust post-election audits.  His computer fraud expertise makes him confident when claiming that no other system is reliable enough for running our or any countries' elections.  Other groups promoting paper ballots and other ballot security measures include Robert Kennedy Jr.'s new initiative No Voter Left Behind, Voter Action, Voters Unite, Black Box Voting, and Election Defense Alliance.

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Resources

Landmark Land Use Bill to Cut Sprawl and Carbon Emissions

CA SB 375
California Progress Report - Biggest Land Use Bill in California in 32 Years Goes to the Governor
California League of Conservation Voters - Better Planning, Fewer Emissions
Progressive States Network - Coordinating State and Local Municipal Land Use Policies

Health Insurance Regulation Advances in California

Families USA - Medical Loss Ratios: Evidence from the States
Progressive States Network - Insurance Reforms to Ensure Fairness and Access to Coverage
Mass-Care - Care Share Legislation
Boston University Health Reform Programs - Health Care for All Will Require Cost Containment

Eye on the Right: Conservative Computer Security Expert Blows the Whistle on Lack of Ballot Security

Progressive States Network - Election Integrity - How We Lost it and How States are Getting it Back
Velvet Revolution
Voter Action
Voters Unite
Black Box Voting
Election Defense Alliance

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The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:

Nathan Newman, Policy Director
Caroline Fan, Policy Specialist
Julie Schwartz, Policy Specialist
Christian Smith-Socaris, Policy Specialist
Adam Thompson, Policy Specialist
Austin Guest, Communications Specialist
Marisol Thomer, Outreach Coordinator

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