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From the Dispatch

Even Conservative States Moving Forward on Health Exchanges

Faced with a rapidly approaching deadline for establishing state-based health exchanges under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), more than half of all states — including several with conservative control of their legislatures and governor’s offices — have already taken steps to implement this critical piece of the health law set to come online in 2014, according to a report released this month by the White House. By January 1, 2014, consumers will be able to use exchange as one-stop marketplace to find health care plans that fit their needs and will be able to enroll starting in October 2013. With those dates drawing nearer and nearer, many state legislative sessions are opening with implementation of the exchanges at the top of their priority list.

States Seek to Repeal Broad Anti-Immigrant Laws

As state legislatures begin to pick up speed early in the 2012 session, a growing number of states that passed broad anti-immigrant laws over the past two years are seeing the error of their ways. Citing widespread economic devastation, a dramatically-worsened business climate, and a loss of public support, four states out of the five that passed laws based upon Arizona and Alabama’s flawed models are now seeking to repeal their anti-immigrant laws.

Momentum Builds Across States for Raising Minimum Wage

January has seen the minimum wage emerge as a major issue in 2012 policy debates, with a virtual consensus for raising the wage emerging among all but the extreme conservative fringe. Prominent conservatives from former Massachusetts Governor Willard “Mitt” Romney to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg have come forward urging just that the minimum wage be raised automatically every year. State legislators championing minimum wage increases are also playing a pivotal role in driving the salience of inequality and economic security issues on the national stage.

Protecting Voting Rights on the Front Burner as Election Year Kicks Off

With conservatives continuing to back state efforts to suppress the vote as a critical election year begins, Connecticut officials chose the anniversary of Martin Luther King's birthday last Monday to announce a package of election reforms that would boost voter participation and protect the right to vote. The legislation announced by Governor Dannel Malloy, Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman, and Secretary of State Denise Merrill includes Election Day registration, no-excuse absentee voting, and online voter registration — reforms that have proven successful and popular in a bevy of states.

Montana State Court Rejects Citizens United, Upholds 100-Year-Old Ban on Corporate Money in Elections

A huge victory in Montana last week restored the state’s longstanding ban on corporate political spending on behalf of state political candidates and parties, overturning a lower court’s ruling and flying in the face of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that grants corporations the same free speech rights as individuals.

States Given More Flexibility, Control in Implementing Health Exchanges

In a surprising move, the Obama administration this week ensured that even more of the debate around health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will take place in state capitols instead of Washington D.C. in the coming years. The role of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in determining the shape of state health insurance exchanges changed on December 16th with the release of a bulletin announcing proposed policies that would give states rather than the federal government the authority in choosing a template for the essential health benefits package offered by the exchanges.

ALEC’s Corporate Legislative Agenda Protested

This week, as the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) convened its annual States & Nation Policy Summit in Scottsdale, Arizona, labor, civil rights, and activist groups took advantage of the opportunity to highlight ALEC’s role in advancing conservative legislation on everything from voter ID to SB 1070 copycat bills. National groups such as Common Cause and MoveOn joined the state AFL-CIO, Occupy Phoenix, and others to plan five days’ worth of events during the duration of the conference to highlight the detrimental effects that ALEC-backed policies have had on the economic security of families in both Arizona and states across the country — and to warn about elements of their destructive agenda that may be introduced in coming legislative sessions.

More States Look to Revenue Increases as Budget Woes Persist

Facing another round of deep cuts to health care and education as a result of ongoing revenue shortages caused by the slow economic recovery, and on the heels of a new national survey reporting that most state budgets have now seen spending fall below pre-recession levels, some states are signaling that they will be pursuing more balanced approaches to their budget troubles in 2012 than they have in previous years.

Big Corporations Dodge Federal Income Taxes

As the Occupy Wall Street movement continues to raise awareness about growing economic inequality and unchecked corporate influence over our political system, a new report released last week by the Citizens for Tax Justice and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found that almost 80 of the country’s most profitable companies paid no federal income tax in at least one of the last three years. 

After Big Election Day Wins, State Legislators Meet to Plan Policies for the 99% in 2012

Progressives scored major victories at the ballot box this month as voters from every corner of the nation loudly and decisively rejected the overreach of right-wing legislatures and governors in 2011 — including attacks that took place this year on workers, voting rights, reproductive rights, and immigrants. As 2012 legislative sessions inch closer, progressive state legislators from across the nation are already planning to capitalize on this momentum. Last week, a national group of progressive lawmakers met to strategize on how to turn the tide in 2012 by advancing state policies that support the 99%.