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Austin Guest on July 30, 2009 - 11:25am
Legislative Session Roundups in Hawaii, Florida, and Texas
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Hawaii Session Roundup
A contentious atmosphere during the general session lingered into a special session as legislators overrode a record total 38 of 53 vetoed bills by Gov. Linda Lingle. Despite the budget shortfall of over $600 million (estimates differ) for 2010 and 2011, legislators were able to enact a number of highly progressive reforms including a majority signup bill, strengthening workers comp and family leave policies, requiring large parking lots to have dedicated electric vehicle spaces with charging stations, and reviving basic universal health insurance for children.
The main tax increase enacted applied to those earning more than $150,000 filing singly, $300,000 filing jointly, and $225,000 filing as head of household (HB1747). The legislature also raised taxes on hotel rooms from 7.25 percent to 9.25 percent (SB1111); those who are selling property over $2 million, and second homes and investment properties of any price (HB1741); and cigarette and tobacco sellers (HB1175 and HB895). Gov. Lingle allowed a bill cutting back the state's high tech tax credit to become law without her signature -- which will save the state $120 to $150 million over the next two years. The Senate attempted to revive the Internet sales tax, but it didn't make it past the House. Of note, the Governor signed a bill that imposes a 5% pay cut and salary freezes for elected officials and top staff.
Stimulus funds were used for solar home heaters for low-income families, increased TANF funding (HB1264), and amended for greater access to unemployment insurance in line with ARRA requirements (SB 94).
Unfortunately, HB 643 was enacted, which authorizes the Contractors License Board to suspend, revoke, or refuse to renew a contractor's license for employing a worker on a public work project who is ineligible under federal law to work in the United States.
Housing: The state budget bill addresses the need for more affordable housing by providing $30 million for the Rental Housing Trust Fund and $20 million for the Dwelling Unit Revolving Fund to assist in the development of low-income rental units and housing projects.HB 200 approved money for the Hawaii Public Housing Authority to tackle the repair and maintenance backlog. SB1218 (override) allows the commissioner of financial institutions to regulate, license, examine, and enforce laws regulating mortgage loan originators.
Education: SB1665 (override) enhances the workforce development capacity of Hawaii's community colleges by establishing a skilled worker and business development center to provide workforce training to meet the rapidly evolving needs of both employers and employees. Appropriates Reed Act funds.
Criminal justice: SB539 (override) renames the intake service center division of DPS to the reentry intake service centers and directs the reentry intake service centers to work closely and collaborate with the furlough programs in each county, the Hawaii paroling authority, and the correction program services division to ensure that the reentry needs of inmates are being met. It also establishes an oversight committee and reentry commission.
Energy and Environment: In a significant move, the legislature enacted HB1464 which will require establishment of energy-efficient portfolio standards; implementing those standards in public buildings; electricity-cost disclosure in the sale of residential property; establishment of a “Building Energy Efficiency Revolving Loan Program”; the use of renewable energy by electric utilities; and more assistance by government agencies in the development and permitting of renewable energy projects. Other key bills enacted include:
Missed opportunities: A number of key bills just barely missed passage this session:
Florida Session Roundup
Florida’s 2009 legislative session was dominated by extreme fiscal stress and a leadership crisis. While May 1st marked the official end of the 60-day legislative session, lawmakers had to extend the regular session by a week in order to reach an agreement on the budget.
Budget: Despite an earlier pledge against raising taxes, Republican Gov. Charlie Crist recognized the extremity of the fiscal crisis and signed Florida's $66.5 billion budget, including more than $5.6 billion in stimulus dollars — including money for one-time expenditures, like road construction -- and approximately $2 billion in higher taxes and fees. Much of the new revenue comes from a $1-a-pack cigarette tax and higher fees on driving licenses and motor vehicle tags.
Stimulus: Unlike some other Governors, Gov. Crist expressed no reluctance to accept stimulus money. However, he faced significant opposition from the state's Republican-controlled legislature. For example, while Gov. Crist supported accepting the unemployment insurance funds provided by the Recovery Act, the House and Senate failed to pass S.B.516 and H.B. 1333, the proposed unemployment insurance modernization legislation. As a result, Florida will reject approximately $443 million that could have been added to the state's diminishing unemployment insurance trust fund, although the legislature did agree to SB 810, among other provisions, which creates temporary state extended benefits and will extend unemployment benefits for 250,000 Floridians.
On July 15th, Gov. Crist received an update from his stimulus working group. According to the group:
Election: Civic engagement groups spent much of the session trying to fight off attacks on voting rights and the state campaign finance reform system:
Health Care: A number of reforms made moderate gains in access to health care in the state:
Labor: HJR 1013 which would have amended the constitution to oppose majority sign-up in union elections and to maintain the secret ballot for elections for public office or ballot measures, only passed the House. The legislation was introduced in opposition to the federal Employee Free Choice Act legislation.
Education: Florida students suffered both setbacks and a few minor gains this session:
Energy: Much to the relief of environmentalist , H.B.1219 which was approved by the House, was not taken up by the Senate. If enacted the bill would have lifted Florida's ban on off-shore drilling and given the governor and Cabinet authority to issue leases for drilling between 3 and 10.5 miles off the coast. Lawmakers did enact H.B. 167 which enables the Florida Energy and Climate Commission (FECC) to develop and manage the Energy-efficient Appliance Rebate Program. The FECC estimates Florida will be eligible to receive at least $18 million in federal funds to implement the rebate program. The Florida Legislature also allocated $150,000 for Fiscal Year 2009-10 to the FECC for the purpose of administering the rebate program.
Broadband: Lawmakers enacted S.B. 2626 which, among other things, authorizes the Florida Department of Management Services to engage in activities related to assessing the need for broadband Internet service in the state, planning for such service, and encouraging the statewide deployment of such service. In a related note, Governor Crist vetoed H.B. 7093 which would have provided exemption from public records requirements for proprietary business information obtained from a telecommunications company or broadband company by the Department of Management Services.
Veteran Benefits: Florida lawmakers enacted a handful of bills that benefit the states' veterans, including:
Texas Session Roundup
The Texas legislature only meets once every two years, and this year there was enough drama, both real and fabricated, to last until they reconvene in 2011. The biggest story by the end of the session was the minority parties ability to kill voter ID legislation in the House by "chubbing" or running out the clock by meticulously debating non-controversial legislation. The need to prevent the disenfranchising ID bill has the unfortunate consequence of killing much good legislation. And the primary reason there was good legislation to pass in the House was the big intrigue from the beginning of the session - the election of a compromise speaker with minority party support, replacing long-time speaker and conservative stalwart Tom Craddick.
Criminal Justice: Generally Texas has been moving in a more progressive direction on criminal justice policies in the past few year, that trend continued at a measured pace this session.
Voter ID: The session started and ended with pitched battles over voter ID. To begin the session the Senate voted to exempt voter ID from its rule that requires a 2/3rds vote to end debate. Having unleashed the nuclear option, a photo ID bill quickly passed that chamber. However, prospects were not clear in the closely divided House even though the bill had passed that chamber in recent sessions. The committee chairman in charge spent much of the session trying to craft a compromise bill that Democrats would support. In the end that failed and a bill requiring photo ID or two non-photo ID to vote was sent to the floor late in the session. That is when the chubbing began, with minority party members debating every bill for the full ten minutes to wind down the clock. In the end voter ID didn't come up for a vote. But the insistence of the majority leadership of pressing on with the bill meant that perhaps hundreds of worthy bills didn't get a vote. Hopefully they will get the message that the right to vote is fundamental to our freedom and prosperity and committed advocates within and outside the legislature will continue to fight to preserve it. On another note, there was a solid election integrity bill passed into law that institutes common sense procedures for handling and testing electronic voting machines.
Doctors Speak Out for Health Reform - "Health Care Reform: 450,000 Doctors Can't be Wrong" - The American Academy of Family Physicians and Herndon Alliance have produced a video featuring family doctors speaking out for reform. The doctors’ voice for health care reform is an important one for the public to hear. In this video, doctors discuss the challenges they face in providing quality of care imposed by the status quo. Doctors affirm that the reform being discussed is in the best interest of America's families and physicians: that it will help provide for quality care at affordable costs.
“I spend 40 percent of my time away from my patients doing paperwork and getting prior authorizations,” said Jim King, MD, a family physician in Selmer, Tenn. “We need to start taking the barriers that are between me and my patients away.”
Visit "Health Health Care Now" to learn more about and work with this campaign of more than 450,000 doctors advocating Congress to act on bold, comprehensive health reform - including a call-in effort to your congressperson - Heal Health Care Now.
New reports from Families USA on the health care reform bills moving through Congress:
Reports on the recovery plan and the fiscal crisis in the states:
Show Us the Stimulus: An Evaluation of State Government Recovery Act Websites - This Good Jobs First report, including Summary Scores and Rankings for each state, examines the quality and quantity of disclosure by official state websites on the many ways ARRA funding is flowing through state governments to communities, organizations and individuals. Six states (MD, CO, WA, WV, NY and PA) scored 50 or better for their main ARRA site while the top states in reporting highway spending were MD, WA, CO and NE.
Two new reports on the minimum wage:
Health Care Premiums Run Amok: The Cost of Doing Nothing About the Health Care Crisis - Health care costs are expected to grow 71 percent over the next decade, finds the Center for American Progress in this study, which will in turn drive premium increases for health insurance, unless significant reform of our health care system is undertaken.
The Transportation Prescription: Bold New Ideas for Healthy, Equitable Transportation Reform in America - Looking at the intersection of transportation, health and equity, this report by PolicyLink and the Prevention Institute argues that encouraging and funding healthy and environmentally responsible transportation options like buses, light rail, subways, biking, and walking in low-income communities and communities of color can expand health care access and lower health disparities.
Reshaping the Advocacy Direction on Poverty Reduction: Bridging Individual and Community Strategies - This study by the Child and Family Policy Center and the Northwest Area Foundation argues for state level policies combining enhancing job skills for low-income individuals with promoting economic development and revitalizing poor neighborhoods as the key to addressing poverty.
New Americans in the Buckeye State - The Immigration Policy Center has compiled research which shows that Ohio's immigrants, Latinos, and Asians are an integral part of the state's economy and tax base. With 4% of the state's population, the purchasing power of Ohio's Asians totaled $7.1 billion and Latino buying power totaled $6.1 billion in 2008, while Asian-owned businesses in the state generated sales and receipts worth more than $5.1 billion annually and Latino-owned businesses generated $1.3 billion in 2002.
Defending Human Rights: Abortion Providers Facing Threats, Restrictions, and Harassment - This first installment of a video series by the Center for Reproductive Rights documents the real stories of abortion providers, clinic employees and patients who have faced harassment and blockades at clinics, even as the threat of murder hangs over their heads in the wage of the killing of Dr George Tiller in Kansas.
Losing by Degrees: Rising Costs and Public Disinvestment in Higher Education - This Economic Opportunity Institute report highlights how cuts in state funding and corresponding tuition hikes in Washington State are likely to drive down applications from low-income and minority students despite increased financial aid; and middle-income graduates are taking on more debt to pay for school- harming the long-term economic competitiveness of the state.
Hawaii Session Roundup
Florida Session Roundup
Texas Session Roundup
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