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States Apply Pressure to Allow Voter Registration Drives in Veterans' Facilities

The federal Department of Veterans Affairs for months has been embroiled in a controversy over its prohibition on voter registration drives in veterans' facilities.  Now 10 Secretaries of State and the Attorney General of Connecticut have stepped into the maelstrom, demanding that the VA reverse its policy.  Late last month, Connecticut Secretary of State Susan Bysiewicz and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal attempted to register voters at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in West Haven.  They were prevented by staff from registering voters inside the facility, but they were able to register a dozen veterans as they were leaving.  One newly registered voter is 92-year-old WWII veteran Martin Onieal.

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.

States Still Leading Feds on Minimum Wage

With food and gas prices rising rapidly, low-wage workers can at least welcome an increase in the federal minium wage to $6.55 per hour scheduled to go into effect on July 24th.  Even better, a number of states will also be increasing their minimum wage rates even higher than the federal rate:

New Families USA Report Shows Lack of State Consumer Protections in Individual Health Insurance Market

The Right, including Presidential candidate John McCain, wants every American to purchase their health insurance in the individual market, where a mere 5% of non-elderly Americans currently get their coverage.  As a new Families USA report makes clear, this would expose Americans to even more volatility than they currently experience in accessing health care and health insurance.

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.

The New Voter Suppression and the Progressive Response

Voter suppression is growing rapidly in America today.  Over half of states now have voter ID requirements more stringent than that required for first time voters in federal elections.  Several states are clamping down on voter registration drives or are considering proof of citizenship requirements.

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.

Connecticut House Approves Healthcare Partnership

On Wednesday night, the Connecticut House passed a simple, yet far-reaching bill to offer small businesses and municipalities better, more affordable health insurance.  The Connecticut Healthcare Partnership, HB 5536, allows small businesses and municipalities to join the state employee health insurance plan.  This is significant because small employers, towns, employees and their families will be able to join forces with and benefit from the bargaining power of the 200,000 member-strong state employee pool.

Voter Registration: Steps States Can Take to Help Voters Register and Keep Them Registered

Maintaining accurate voter rolls and ensuring that all eligible voters who register to vote actually make it onto voting rolls are two of the most important functions of election administration.  If an eligible voter cannot vote because his name doesn't appear on the voter roll used in an election, the problem will not be addressed by the federal guarantee of a provisional ballot.  Such a ballot cannot register a person to vote, it can only preserve a ballot in the case the voter rolls at the precinct are mistaken or the

Focus on Prescription Drug Reform

$287 billion -- that is how much the U.S. spent on pharmaceuticals in 2007, representing a significant driver of health care costs.  While spending on hospital and physician care surpass spending on prescriptions, drugs still account for 14% of all health care expenditures. Combine this with polls that show 70% of Americans believe the drug industry puts profits ahead of people, and it's no wonder that in 2008, at least 540 bills and resolutions are being considered by states across the country to reduce prescription drug prices, ensure the quality of medications covered by public and private health plans, and reduce the undue influence of pharmaceutical industry marketing - which itself tops out at $30 billion each year.