As the middle class remains under sustained attack in state legislatures, media attention is increasingly turning to the corporate interests orchestrating a national spread of industry-written bills seeking to weaken state economies, strip workers of their rights, suppress voter turnout, and capitalize on the politics of division and fear – all in pursuit of private profit. In a spate of recent reports, specific scrutiny is being focused on the role of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in allowing corporations access to influence state laws that benefit their bottom lines at the expense of the economic security of families.
At the same time that unemployment remains at historic highs, creeping back up to nine percent last month as more Americans who had given up looking for work return to the job market, corporations are lobbying hard in Washington, DC for free trade deals that will make it easier for them to send more jobs overseas.
Several states have seen lawmakers take a cynical and economically-damaging approach to revenue shortfalls by slashing unemployment insurance (UI) for those hit hardest by the downturn. Driven by flawed right-wing ideology, Florida legislators recently approved an extreme measure that not only undermines the economic security of Floridians, but also threatens recovery in a state that is already deeply affected by the lasting impacts of the recession and currently has an unemployment rate that is hovering around 11 percent, the third highest in the nation.
On Tuesday, President Obama reiterated his hope for comprehensive immigration reform in a speech delivered in El Paso, Texas. Yet while federal reform remains stalled, many states have continued to push forward with advancing common sense approaches to immigration policy. In just the last few days alone, there has been a flurry of positive activity as states reject the destructive politics of scapegoating and division exemplified by Arizona’s SB1070 in favor of pragmatic solutions that will grow their economies and keep their communities safe.
As voter ID legislation continues to be rammed through state legislatures across the country, conservatives are celebrating passage of these bills, intended to suppress turnout among traditionally progressive constituencies, as a victory. However, no one is actually winning – not minority, low-income, and other historically disenfranchised voters who will be disproportionately affected by the new laws, and certainly not already-squeezed state budgets forced to find millions of dollars to make these bills a reality
This past week, the Connecticut Legislature took a solid step towards fiscal stability by approving a $40.1 billion budget that includes progressive measures. Despite several elected officials across the states opting to rely predominantly on cuts and failing to either invest in communities or support the middle class, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy's insistence on "shared sacrifice" has stood in bold contrast to flawed right-wing budget policies.
The conservative wing of the U.S. Supreme Court has again preempted state laws designed to protect American consumers. In yet another ruling that favors large corporations at the expense of working-class families, the Supreme Court held last week that state laws cannot override “unfair” arbitration provisions. The decision, AT&T v. Concepcion, will have devastating implications for millions of consumers because it unilaterally favors clauses imposed by corporations where consumers do not have a say. Described as the “biggest ever” ruling on class action suits, is another blow to people who want to collectively address a problem, and to states who want to find a fruitful way of addressing issues that are potentially unfair to the average consumer.
This session, right-wing officials have been peddling costly, inefficient, and socially damaging prison privatization schemes. Several states, including Louisiana, Florida, and Ohio, have considered proposals to hand over the operation and management of prisons to private entities.
As the Nevada legislative session draws to a close, two bills protecting transgender individuals passed the Senate and now head to a favorable vote in the Assembly. Senate Bills 368 and 331 passed 13-8 and 11-10 respectively, both outlawing transgender discrimination in housing and public accommodations. A third bill, Senate Bill 180, failed 10-11, and would have designated violence based on gender identify or expression a hate crime.
Faced with the lasting effects of the Great Recession on state revenues, governors and legislators across the country have spent much of the 2011 legislative session proposing unpopular and economically destructive cuts to education, health care, and other critical services in state budgets. In many states, cuts to services that largely affect working families have been accompanied by unpopular tax giveaways to millionaires and big businesses – trickle-down policies mirrored in the proposed federal budget for fiscal year 2012 authored by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), which would privatize Medicare while extending tax breaks for the super-wealthy.