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Making College Affordable for All

The benefits of a post-secondary degree are plentiful.  For example, an employee with a four year college degree earns 60 percent more than a worker with only a high school diploma. Paying for college, however, has become a daunting task and strain for many American students and families.  The cost of higher education across the country is rapidly increasing, at almost double the rate of inflation, outpacing increases in financial aid and many families ability to pay.  The combination of these factors result in too many students being unable to earn or complete their degrees due to financial constraints.

Bills that Made a Difference in 2008

Even with many states having short sessions, the 2008 state legislative sessions have already had some impressive milestone victories for families and communities across the country.  This Dispatch covers a few of the key issue victories this year -- and points out that states are still taking the lead on issue after issue.  Most of the bills highlighted became law, while a few, falling short of final passage, were innovative enough and showed enough movement to promise greater things for 2009.

State Pension Funds to be Invested in State Job Creation in Florida

Florida Governor Charlie Crist recently signed an economic stimulus plan for the state that redirects $1.95 billion of the state's pension fund into direct investments in Florida's economy. The amount is limited to 1.5 percent of the state's pension money, but even that limited percentage can add up to massive investments in jobs for the state's residents.

In creating the program, legislators and the Governor pointed to the success of similar programs in other states, particularly the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS), the nation's largest pension fund. A recent study found the California fund's in-state investments had fed an estimated $15.1 billion into in-state economic activity in 2006 and created 124,000 jobs, more jobs than the construction or motion picture industries.

Eliminating Health Disparities, Achieving Equity

In 2000, the World Health Organization ranked the US health care system 37th in the world despite spending more than any other country.  In 2007, according to the US Census Bureau, the US ranked 42nd in life expectancy. If you are a person of color, a low-wage worker, non-English speaking, or live in a low-income community, the picture is much worse.  For instance, the life expectancy for African-Americans is 73.3 years, five years shorter than it is for whites.  For African-American men, it is 69.8 years, just above averages in Iran and Syria, but below Nicaragua and Morocco.

Maine Senate Enacts National Popular Vote

On April 2nd, the Maine Senate passed a National Popular Vote bill, LD 1744, that would guarantee that the Presidential candidate who receives the most votes in all 50 states wins the Presidency.  The bill is an interstate compact, which would take effect only when states possessing a majority of the membership of the Electoral College (that is 270 of 538 electoral votes) enact similar statutes.

Washington House Passes Public Financing for Local Offices

In the wake of a bitter 2004 Governor's election and state Supreme Court races that took in more money from third-party groups than any other high court campaign in the country, Washington State's House took the first step toward public financing by passing HB 1551. Introduced by Senator Joe McDermott, HB 1551 allows cities, counties, and other jurisdictions to provide local candidates with government financing.  The bill only allows local taxes to be tapped for the public campaign accounts and the public funds cannot be used for campaigns for state offices or school boards.

New Jersey Raises Standards for Hate Crimes and Safe Schools Laws

With only 10 dissenting votes, the New Jersey Legislature has made the state's hate crimes and anti-bullying laws two of the strongest in the country. S2975 is notable for its unequivocal inclusion of transgender people in the state's hate crimes law, becoming the 12th state to do so, and for stronger anti-bullying measures in its safe schools law. 

NJ: Raising Tolls & Keeping the Money for the Public - Unlike Privatization Ripoffs

After discussing the possibility of privatizing major state highways last year, New Jersey Governor John Corzine instead made a proposal earlier this month that called for significant increases in tolls that would provide nearly $30 billion to decrease state debt and invest in state transit projects. Unlike rhetorical promises around privatization money in other states, this plan actually laid out how money would get raised. 

California Upholds Free Speech Access to Malls for Labor Boycotts

On December 24th, the California Supreme Court gave a major Christmas present for labor rights, affirming that under California law, union members in a mall could distribute handbills calling for a consumer boycott of one of the mall's tenants. The decision, Fashion Valley Mall v. NLRB, built on an earlier state high court decision in 1980 that deemed malls to be a "public forum" where the public had free speech rights. The recent decision extended that principle to active labor boycotts -- a critical tool for labor to get its message out to consumers.