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Legislative Session Roundups in UT, WY and KY- and Recovery Plan Resources Update
PSN on April 2, 2009 - 11:12am
Legislative Session Roundups in UT, WY and KY-- and Recovery Plan Resources Update
Thursday, April 2, 2009
Legislative Session Roundups in UT, WY and KY- and Recovery Plan Resources Update
A few legislative sessions have already come to an end this year, so this Dispatch will highlight positive gains, legislative defeats and unfinished business for Utah, Wyoming and Kentucky, along with a section showing new resources to add to PSN's overall Resource Guide for Implementing the Recovery Plan.
Utah Session Roundup
Lawmakers adjourned Utah's 45-day regular session, having spent most of their time balancing the state's nearly $10.9 billion budget . In order to keep Utah out of the red in 2009 and 2010, legislatures had to cut state programs across the board and utilize $561 million from the Federal stimulus package. Despite budget woes the legislature did find time to pass hundreds of pieces of legislation, including the most sweeping changes to the state's liquor laws in 40 years, which eliminated a much criticized system under which customers were required to fill out an application and pay a fee before being allowed to enter a bar. All in all the 2009 legislative session in Utah produced mixed results. Some bills produced small steps forward, but on the whole, the session fell short of creating necessary reform.
Clean Energy and the Environment: This year, Utah legislators introduced a mix of good and bad legislation when it came to environmental protections and clean energy. In the end, the most movement came in the area of renewable energy legislation.
In addition, three non-binding resolutions send strong messages to local governments and utilities that the legislature encourages and wants to remove barriers to renewable energy and energy efficiency across all sectors:
Health Care: In what state advocates see as a good first step to reform health care in Utah, legislators passed H.B. 188. The Utah Health Policy Project viewed the legislation as falling short of comprehensive reform, but characterized it as laying a foundation for broader reforms in the future. The bill, among other things, increases transparency around insurers and brokers, creates limited benefit and 'mandate-lite' packages (COBRA alternative option), increases reporting requirements so that the impact of such changes can be monitored, expands the portal to include defined contribution, and creates a risk adjuster board that will develop a plan for a new risk adjustment mechanism in the defined contribution market and a methodology for implementing the defined contribution market. Some experts have concerns with the limited benefit / high deductible and mandate-free health care plan that is created under the bill, since it leaves the people most unable to pay for medical care or comprehensive insurance with poor coverage. Additionally, H.B. 178 , passed on the last day of the session will add new, local provisions for laid off Utah workers to enroll in COBRA, the federal regulation that allows laid-off workers to keep their workplace-based medical insurance coverage going by paying the entire premium.
Although it did not pass, S.B. 225, which would have removed the 5-year waiting period for legal immigrant children from enrolling in Medicaid or CHIP, had strong legislative support
Immigration: Advocates and legislators failed in delaying the implementation of S.B. 81, an omnibus immigration bill passed last year which would force local law enforcement officials to serve as federal immigration authorities, and which mandates usage of E-verify by state agencies and contractors. S.B. 81 which is set to take take effect in July will cost $1.7 million to implement, not including the cost of potential lawsuits. Additionally, H.B. 64 passed, which will create a joint federal-state strike force to focus on crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, as did a resolution in support of a state-run guest worker program.
On a more positive note, H.B. 208, which would have prevented undocumented students who receive in-state tuition rates from working during college, failed. Other anti-immigrant bills which failed including removing the driving privilege cards issued to undocumented drivers, and denying business licenses to applicants without citizenship documents.
Voting Rights: This session, progressive lawmakers in Utah proposed various bills that would mitigate barriers to voting — including legislation which focused on same day voter registration and advocating for a non-partisan commission to create fair legislative boundaries that are not gerrymandered. Unfortunately, the initiatives actually enacted mostly attacked voting rights, often creating problems where none existed before.
However, one bright note was the passage of S.B. 25 which allows the lieutenant governor to create an online system for voter registration.
Miscellaneous: Legislation was introduced to provide housing relief, ethics reforms and equal rights for members of the LGBT communities. Unfortunately, some of these key reforms were not passed and the legislation that was enacted failed to deliver the comprehensive reform needed.
Housing: S.B. 260, the Housing Relief Restricted Special Revenue Fund, disburses $10 million for the Home Run program which can be used to purchase newly built homes, as well as a more meager $1.8 million culled from the federal stimulus package to go toward counseling services for residents facing foreclosure. Some affordable housing advocates are crying foul, saying that while the grants will assist 1,600 homebuyers, nearly 10 times that number of people—15,000 in Utah—currently face foreclosure, according to a recent study from the University of Utah.
Ethics: S.B. 162 prohibits retiring or defeated politicians from using leftover campaign cash for personal expenses. In the past, vague Utah laws have mandated that a candidate may keep any leftover campaign money as a kind of parting gift. Some observers worry that S.B. 162 still may leave loopholes for politicians looking to cash in on their hard-campaigned-for dollars. S.B. 156 requires disclosure of gifts over $10 and meals of more than $25, with the exception of events in which an entire caucus, task force, committee or legislative body is invited to dine. "This is a good disclosure bill," said Rep. David Litvack, D-Salt Lake City. "However, I don't think we're going far enough in terms of what the public wants" -- namely a gift ban. Similarly, H.B. 345 which many thought would prevent former Utah lawmakers from returning to the legislature as a paid lobbyist for one year is now being interpreted by the Lieutenant Governor's office as saying that former lawmakers are allowed to return to the state house if they do so on behalf of themselves or for a business with which they are associated, unless the "primary activity" of the business is lobbying or governmental relations. This loophole has frustrated the bill's sponsors and advocates. Additionally, the state failed to pass a bill that would have established an independent ethics commission to monitor state-level public officials.
Equality: Despite citizen support, far right lawmakers voted down a package of bills, entitled the Common Ground Initiatives introduced into the legislature with the goal of offering certain equal rights to members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community.
Wyoming Session Roundup
Despite a budget surplus of $257 million, Wyoming lawmakers failed to act substantively on big issues like health care reform, prison reform, and development of a coordinated energy policy, as WyoFile.com reports in its end of session recap. Still, progressives made important gains in workers' compensation, health insurance regulation, and beat back an anti-gay "defense of marriage act", a voter ID initiative, and an anti-choice measure. However, lawmakers failed to expand health care for kids and, most regrettably, passed laws making it easier for people convicted of domestic violence to regain their gun ownership.
Steps Back and Opportunities Missed:
Bad Bills Defeated:
Kentucky Session Roundup
This year was Kentucky's short session lasting only 30 days. Like most states, patching a budget shortfall consumed much of the session. Lawmakers were able to agree to a set of spending cuts and revenue increases that will fix the budget in the first year of their biennial spending plan. The expectation is that the governor will call the legislature back in for a special session this summer to work out year two. While recent sessions have been marked by partisan acrimony and end of session chaos, both problems moderated significantly this year allowing more work to get done. The result was that lawmakers generally gave the session good reviews, though many key issues still failed to be resolved.
Taxes and Budget - Kentucky has dealt for years with a structural mismatch between spending and revenues. This year the state was facing a deficit of almost half a billion dollars. These current budget woes are expected to get even worse as the state's revenue continues to deteriorate. The growing fiscal problems have brought the state's tax problems to the fore and at least two tax overhaul plans are being proposed by lawmakers from both parties, to possibly be taken up during a special session. Proposals to increase gambling through video lottery terminals are also gaining traction after years of defeat in the legislature. In the regular session an essentially stop-gap measure was passed that combined modest, across-the-board budget cuts [4 percent cuts to state agencies and 2 percent to universities] with increased consumption taxes. Increased taxes on tobacco and alcohol will raise over $150 million per year.
Education - Having undertaken significant education reform almost 20 years ago, the state enacted the first major revision of the policies adopted then. The major assessment test is being revamped and brought more into line with new teaching standards [SB 1, summary]. The tests will also be shorter, more focused, and designed not just for aggregate data collection, but actual tracking of individual student development. The plan had the strong support of the Kentucky Education Association and was hailed by the governor as an important first step in a top-to-bottom review of education in the state. Criminal Justice - Kentucky has one of the highest prison growth rates in the country, having risen just under 40% between 2000 and 2008. This year the state prison budget is approaching half a billion dollars. However, the state is responding on several fronts with smart changes to sentencing and corrections policy, and there appears to be more on the way from both the governor and the legislature. Unfortunately things could deteriorate into chaos if money isn't found to fill a $4.7 million gap in the state public defender office budget.
Other Significant Legislation Passed
Major Initiatives Unfinished
Recovery Plan Resources Update
The following are additional resources that expand the ongoing resources listed in PSN's Resource Guide for Implementing the Recovery Plan, including new resources on education, health care, clean energy and transportion, broadband, unemployment and training, expanding the safety net, and criminal justice.
NCSL has a summary on the extent of Legislative Authority over Recovery Funds:
ProPublica has charts showing how How Stimulus Spending and Unemployment Match Up and how Stimulus Infrastructure Funding Short-Changes States With High Unemployment.
A few new key sites help track state transparency on recovery funds:
The U.S. Department of Education provides a number of key resources:
The U.S. Health and Human Services Department has a website outlining the Medicaid Grant Award Process for approximately $15 billion in grant money, along with a map to look up Medicaid funding on a state-by-state basis. The Department of Labor outlines changes to COBRA Continuation Assistance under ARRA.
Families USA has a detailed policy brief on implementing the new CHIP reauthorization bill, including using the new funding, the rules requiring states to spend those funds within three years or lose them, performance bonuses available to states that effectively cover the lowest-income children in their states, grants for outreach and translation services, along with other program details.
Clean Energy and Transportation Investments
The Department of Energy has a Funding Opportunity Guidance Document for energy efficiency and conservation block grants and guidelines for state energy program funds, while the EPA has a Brownfield Job Training Assistance Grants Requests for Applications. See also the Federal Highway Administration ARRA Information, including implementing grant guidance, apportionment tables, and Q&A and the Department of Transportation Overviw on ARRA.
The Apollo Alliance highlights principles for implementing the Recovery Plan in ways that move America towards a sustainable economy and shared prosperity, including the Apollo Alliance statement of principles highlighting the need for energy security, job creation and job training opportunities, as well as statements by the New York City Apollo Alliance and the California Green Stimulus Coalition. This powerful article by the Apollo Alliance's President, Jerome Ringo, explains how state leaders can use federal recovery funds to spur green economic growth with quality jobs that spread benefits throughout all levels of society, while ensuring contractor accontability and a growth plan that is sustainable at increasing scales.
With $50 billion available for rebuilding roads, bridges, railways and ports, a report by PolicyLink and the TEN Network highlights how communities can invest those dollars to revitalize distressed areas, improve health outcomes, promote job growth and access for disadvantaged communities, and assure that all stakeholders participate in decisions. It includes key Recovery Act provisions and funding streams and provides access to online tools for further information.
Alternatives for Community and Environment (ACE) is part of a broad coalition effort by Environmental Justice advocates which has a statement on environmental justice and the stimulus and resources related to greening the recovery process.
The Department of Commerce has an Overview of ARRA, including broadband provisions
Unemployment and Training
HUD has information ARRA housing provisions and funds available.
A report by the Direct Care Alliance outlines ways to use Recovery Plan funds to make long-term investments in upgrading direct care jobs through improved wages, education and funding innovations such as wellness funds and research to improve care for consumers. A related PHI fact sheet emphasizes how improving direct care jobs drives economic growth.
The Phantom Recovery - For many families, hard times did not begin with the current financial and economic crisis but, as this report by the Pew Research Center details, is rooted in the fact that inflation-adjusted median household income has remained below its 1999 peak during the whole "recovery" of the early part of this decade.
Three useful reports on transit and energy issues facing the states:
A few health care reports:
Two key reports on the 2008 election, covering who voted and what they experienced.
Washington’s Working Women: Not equal yet - This Economic Opportunity Institute report details how women's average monthly earnings have become more unequal since 1990, workplace standards still fail to accomondate working parents, and the need for legislation like paid family leave, paid sick days, and affordable childcare to help women achieve equality in the workplace.
New Jersey's Blue Ribbon Panel on Immigrant Integration - A panel of New Jersey civic, business, and academic leaders issued comprehensive policy recommendations for New Jersey on how to more successfully integrate immigrants into the state including strategies on language access, in-state tuition, worker protections, New Americans initiatives, and public safety. The groundbreaking report is the first time that a New Jersey entity has been charged with examining state issues relating to immigration.
Community Colleges: A Route to Upward Economic Mobility - This report by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis finds that community colleges open up opportunities for many students who would never have attended a traditional four-year institution. But there are long-term negative effects on earnings for those who start out at a two-year community college versus those who start at a four-year school.
Utah Session Roundup
Wyoming Session Roundup
2009 General Session - House and Senate Legislation
Kentucky Session Roundup
3 Steps Forward
2 Steps Back
The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:
Nathan Newman, Interim Executive Director
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