Volume XX, No. 5
February 13, 2012
The next issue of Capitol Journal will be available on February 20th.
With unemployment still a major problem across the nation, lawmakers are taking a look at legislation to stop employers from barring the unemployed from even applying for a job.
States, feds ponder efforts to protect unemployed in hiring
According to the old joke, the best way to get a bank to loan you money is to show you don't need it. These days, employment rights advocates claim the same principle applies to the job market, and it is no laughing matter. With employers often overwhelmed by a flood of applicants for a single position, many have turned to a new wrinkle to winnow the field to a manageable size: requiring job seekers to already be working for someone else.
This scenario first came to light in May 2010 when local media outlets in Atlanta reported that a job posting from consumer electronics giant Sony Ericcson, which was moving its corporate headquarters there, specifically noted it would not accept applications from anyone who was currently unemployed. With national unemployment figures then hovering at over 10 percent, the story immediately drew national attention. Sony Ericcson quickly backpedaled, saying the posting was simply a mistake and removed the ad from circulation. But employment rights advocates contend that it was far from a singular event, and say that such restrictions have become commonplace across numerous industries around the nation.
The National Employment Law Project (NELP), a New York City-based nonprofit advocacy group that studies the labor market, says a survey of postings on four of the nation's largest online job listing sites — CareerBuilder.com, Indeed.com, Monster.com and Craigslist.com — over a four-week period in March and April, 2011 found more than 150 ads that excluded unemployed applicants. The ads covered a spectrum of employment fields, from IT professionals and scientists to air conditioning technicians and nursing directors. In a report on the survey issued last July, NELP concluded that finding exclusionary ads across such a breadth of job postings suggests that the practice "could be far more extensive" than even what the survey indicated. If so, they say, it could mean even worse news for workers desperate to find new employment.
"With the U.S. still dealing with record unemployment, particularly long-term unemployment, this kind of discrimination has a huge negative impact on people," says Maurice Emsellem, Policy Co-Director for NELP's California office. "Except for some very specific situations, [being unemployed] doesn't do anything to measure a person's real qualifications for a job, so why is it even being considered?"
A growing number of lawmakers are asking the same question. Last Year, New Jersey became the first state to bar employers from excluding the currently unemployed from applying for an openly listed position. According to State Net, a handful of states this year, including California (AB 1450), Michigan (HB 4675), Arizona (HB 2660), Ohio (HB 424 and SB 261) and New York (SB 5151) have pending legislation that would also bar the practice. Similar bills have been introduced in Congress (HR 1113, HR 2501 and SB 1471) and the District of Columbia (B 486), and President Obama included a prohibition on excluding the unemployed in hiring in the jobs bill he proposed last fall. In March, 2010, President Obama also signed legislation that grants employers a tax credit for hiring people who have been out of work for at least 60 days.
All of the pending measures are currently in committees. One, DC B 486, received first reading approval last Tuesday and is set for another vote at the Council's next meeting in March.
Although the unemployed are not currently a protected class, as are women, minorities, and the elderly, Donna Ballman, an employment law attorney in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, says keeping out-of-work people from applying for jobs could create a disproportionate "adverse impact" on some minorities, which often have higher unemployment rates than the general population.
But Randy Coffey, a partner in the Kansas City office of Fisher and Phillips LLP, a national management-side labor and employment law firm, says that argument "doesn't stand up to legal scrutiny." He notes that federal discrimination law enacts a rigid burden of proof in such cases, and that very little real data exists to show that "a rough tool" like unemployment screening is disproportionately harming anyone.
"I don't think this is a significant issue at all," he says, noting that in over two decades of practice he has not had a single client who excluded the unemployed from the hiring process. "All we've really heard is a lot of anecdotal evidence. These bills are a solution in search of a problem."
California Assemblywoman Beth Gaines (R), who sits on the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee, is also skeptical. In an email to SNCJ, Gaines said that while she is reserving final judgment on CA AB 1450 until more analysis has been done, she has strong reservations about its premise and worries it could harm the state's already struggling economy.
"I am worried that this bill will handcuff employers, chill their desire to hire, and continue the horribly high unemployment of our state," she wrote, adding that the bill appears to give Golden State employers "the back of the hand."
Ballman, however, argues that automatically cutting off unemployed workers from potential jobs is not only "not in the public interest," it doesn't make good business sense.
"You'd think in a climate with huge unemployment rates that employers would realize they're eliminating a large segment of qualified candidates, but HR is slow to change its practices, even in a recession," she says.
Whether any other states, D.C. or the federal government follow New Jersey's lead is yet to be determined. But in recent years, some states have pushed to limit employers from another practice that employee advocates contend disproportionately harms the poor and the unemployed: the use of an applicant's credit history in the hiring process. The Society of Human Resource Management says approximately 60 percent of all companies now review credit histories as part of their pre-employment screening. The bulk of those, 47 percent, do so only for specific jobs while the remaining 13 percent do the review for all of their applicants.
Federal law requires job applicants to give a potential employer written approval to review their credit history. But advocates say most applicants are too desperate for work to say no. And with so many people having lost jobs in the Great Recession, the chance of foreclosures, bankruptcies, repossessions or other credit-damaging problems showing up on those reports is higher than ever.
But does a poor credit history mean the applicant is destined to be a bad employee, or is likely to steal? Coffey says no, but notes that employers are looking for red flags that could mean a potential worker is a poor risk, such as "debt to income ratios, or patterns of spending to income that might indicate something odd is going on." Employers say a person's credit history also shows a lot about the applicant's sense of responsibility, regardless of whether the job requires handling money.
But New York City-based employment discrimination attorney Piper Hoffman says this is an argument that is truly anecdotal.
"Credit checks are irrelevant to hiring decisions," says Hoffman. "There are no studies showing that credit histories are predictive of anything relevant to job performance."
Worse, Hoffman says, a bad credit report can keep unemployed workers from pulling themselves out of their financial problems.
"Credit checks deny employment to those who may need it most," she says. "Employers that use credit checks in their hiring decisions perpetuate a vicious cycle that keeps people with low incomes mired in money troubles."
As with unemployment screening, lawmakers have taken up the argument in greater numbers in recent years. Since 2007, seven states — California, Connecticut, Maryland, Hawaii, Oregon, Illinois and Washington — have barred employers from using credit histories in the hiring process, with exceptions for certain positions, such as those which include managing money.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 34 similar bills are slated to appear in 19 states and the District of Columbia this year. Ballman believes those measures and others designed to end unemployment screening could have a good chance for success.
"With states trying to cut the number of people collecting unemployment," say says. "It makes pure fiscal sense to ban this type of discrimination."
— By RICH EHISEN
The Week in Session
States in Regular Session: AK, AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, FL, GA, HI, IA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KY, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, NE, NH, NJ, NY, OH, OK, OR, PA, PR, RI, SC, SD, TN, US, UT, VA, VT, WA, WI, WV, WY
States in Recess: DE
Special Sessions in Recess: DE "b"
States in Reconvened Session: NC
States Currently Prefiling or Drafting for 2012: LA
States Projected to Adjourn: NM
Letters indicate special/extraordinary sessions
— Compiled By AMY LARSON
(session information current as of 02/10/2012)
Source: State Net database
Bird’s eye view
State party affiliations trending Republican
The number of states leaning Republican doubled in 2011, according to a Gallup survey of 350,000 adults from all 50 states. The number of states Gallup classified as "solid Democratic" — where the number of respondents who said they identified with the Democratic Party exceeded the number who said they identified with the Republican party by 10 percent or more — dropped from 29 to 11 since 2008, while the number of "solid Republican" states rose from four to 10. The number of states classified as "lean Democratic" and "lean Republican — where one party's advantage in party affiliation is between 5 percent and 10 percent — increased by one and six, respectively. Combining those figures, Democrats have an advantage of 5 percent or more in 18 states and Republicans have that advantage in 17 states, with party affiliations in the remaining 15 states, classified "competitive," within five points of each other.
Budget & taxes
STATES REACH FORECLOSURE DEAL WITH BIG BANKS: After more than a year of negotiations, federal officials, attorney's general of 49 states and five of the nation's largest banks agreed last week to a $25 billion settlement that could provide relief to more than 1 million struggling homeowners and help stop the downward slide of the housing market.
Under the agreement, which grew out of an investigation by state attorneys general into allegations that mortgage servicers had evicted homeowners with false or incomplete loan documents, five banks — Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Ally Financial — will write down the principal on about a million underwater loans by $17 billion. The banks will also pay $5 billion to states as compensation for foreclosure improprieties, about $1.5 billion of which will go directly to individuals whose homes were foreclosed on between 2008 and 2011 as a result of some operational problem, such as lost paperwork. In addition, the banks will be required to adhere to tougher loan and foreclosure standards.
Every state signed on to the settlement deal but Oklahoma. Its Attorney General Scott Pruitt said he thought the scope of the agreement went beyond what was allowed under state law, so he negotiated a separate settlement for $18.6 million, the same amount the state would have received if it had gone along with the multi-state deal.
"Oklahoma is fortunate to have a stronger housing market and economy than many other states that are struggling," Pruitt said. "This settlement will provide damages to those Oklahomans who did fall victim to unfair and unlawful misconduct of mortgage servicing companies, while not exceeding the appropriate role and authority of state attorneys general."
Some of the states in the national settlement will receive far less modest amounts. For instance, California, the state with the highest number of foreclosures, will get $12 billion. And Florida, No. 2 on the foreclosures list, will receive $7.6 billion.
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan called the deal a "big victory for those who were harmed the most." The Department of Justice said it was the largest multi-state agreement since the tobacco settlement in 1998, in which the major tobacco companies agreed to pay the states $105 billion and change their advertising policies.
But some said the foreclosure deal isn't nearly big enough. With one in five American homeowners underwater by an average of $50,000 each, there's nearly $700 billion of negative equity flooding the housing market, 28 times the amount of last week's settlement.
"This is a very small drop in a very big bucket," said Jordan Estevao of the National People's Action, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group. "It does not go nearly far enough."
But Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, said it might not be necessary to erase all of the nation's negative equity in order to turn the market around. Reducing the percentage of foreclosed homes by even a small amount, he said, could be enough to place a floor under home prices.
Another criticism of the deal is that it lets the banks off too easy. In fact, concern that the settlement would give banks too broad a release from their misdeeds was reportedly one of the main issues that held up negotiations for so long. But the agreement will evidently apply only to foreclosure practices, such as "robo-signing," evicting homeowners after only a cursory look at their loan documents. States will still be able to go after the banks for other practices that contributed to the mortgage crisis, like securitizing risky mortgages.
New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman also negotiated the freedom to pursue a lawsuit against MERS, an electronic mortgage registry at the center of the robo-signing controversy. And California Attorney General Kamala Harris appears to have won her state the right to seek sizeable monetary damages from the banks for the losses the state's pension funds sustained as a result of mortgage-based securities.
The settlement will also not prevent states from pursuing the banks for criminal wrongdoing associated with the collapse of the housing market.
"While today's agreement resolves certain civil claims based on mortgage loan servicing activities, it does not — it does not — prevent state and federal authorities from pursuing criminal enforcement actions," said U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder.
The most immediate concern about the settlement, however, is that it is likely to trigger a new wave of foreclosures. Banks had slowed the pace of foreclosures while they were negotiating on the settlement. Last year, the number of new foreclosure filings was down 34 percent, according to RealtyTrac. As a result of last week's agreement, banks are expected to start trying to clear their foreclosure backlog.
"All of this will result in more foreclosure pain in the short term as some of the foreclosures that should have happened last year instead happen this year," said Daren Blomquist, a vice president at RealtyTrac. The firm is projecting about a million foreclosures this year, 25 percent more than in 2011.
But that short-term pain may ultimately make the long-term recovery of the housing market possible.
"The best thing about the settlement, frankly, is that it will be done," said Stan Humphries, chief economist at Zillow Inc., a Seattle-based company that provides home-sales data. "The shadow of the settlement hung over the market for a year now." (NEW YORK TIMES, BLOOMBERG, LOS ANGELES TIMES, CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR, ASSOCIATED PRESS, KOCO.COM [OKLAHOMA CITY])
SURPRISE SURPLUS IN MI: Michigan has been in an economic downturn for over a decade, with revenues that have either declined or been mostly flat every year but one since 2000. Billions of dollars in shortfalls have forced the state to close prisons, eliminate government departments and cut funding for everything from crime laboratories to zoos. In the words of one former state budget director, "we were so far down that the floor looked like up to us."
But last week the state received some surprising news: it has a $457 million surplus. And revenues have grown, not a lot, but still grown.
"After a decade of declining revenues, it's pretty doggone good news," said John E. Nixon, the state's current budget director. "Things have turned."
Nixon attributed the state's improved fiscal situation to the uptick in the economy, as well as recent tax reforms engineered by Gov. Rick Snyder (R), which include the replacement of a business tax with a corporate income tax that is expected to save local businesses $1.5 billion annually.
The unexpected news has nearly every department, agency and interest group in the state clamoring for a share of the cash. The attorney general, for example, wants funding for 1,000 new police officers to replace some of the 3,200 cut over the past decade, and school officials want to offset cuts that have laid off teachers and closed schools.
But it doesn't look like those things are going to happen any time soon.
"A lot of people want us to backfill the cuts we made last year, and we're not doing that," Nixon said. "We're not going to have a record recovery here — we're going to have a long, drawn-out recovery."
Not everyone approves of that approach, however.
"If you're talking about putting it in a rainy day fund, it's raining," said Peter Spadafore, the assistant director of government relations for the Michigan Association of School Boards. (NEW YORK TIMES)
BUDGETS IN BRIEF: PENNSYLVANIA Gov. Tom Corbett (R) has proposed a $29.14 billion budget for fiscal 2012-2013 that holds to his campaign pledge not to raise taxes and addresses an anticipated $500 million revenue shortfall with sharp spending cuts. Those cuts include a 30 percent reduction in payments to Penn State, Pittsburgh and Temple universities and a 20 percent cut in funds to the state's 14 public universities, the elimination of cash grants for the poor, and cuts to medical assistance and county-operated human services programs. "We will not spend what we do not have," the governor told lawmakers. "We will not raise taxes" (STATE NET). • ILLINOIS Gov. Pat Quinn (D) said he wants to cut Medicaid spending by $2 billion to help close the state's $12 billion projected budget deficit (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES). • MAINE Gov. Paul LePage (R) has proposed cutting 65,000 adults from his state's Medicaid rolls and ceasing payment of room and board for 2,000 people who live in group homes to close the $220 million hole in the state's biennial Medicaid budget (STATELINE.ORG). • OKLAHOMA Gov. Mary Fallin (R) has proposed a budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 that includes a $1 billion income tax cut (TULSA WORLD). • LOUISIANA Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) proposed a package of business incentives last week that includes a constitutional amendment that would grant a property tax break of up to 10 years to certain types of businesses — including corporate headquarters, renewable energy companies and "destination health-care facilities — with the local governing body's approval. The governor said the tax break could generate 10,000 jobs over the next five to 10 years (TIMES-PICAYUNE [NEW ORLEANS]).
— Compiled by KOREY CLARK
Politics & leadership
AZ TAKES AIM AT UNIONS: There are a group of anti-union bills moving through the Arizona Legislature that could make the labor laws passed in Wisconsin last year look tame by comparison. Three of the bills impose restrictions on how unions collect dues and how workers are paid for union activities. A fourth bans collective bargaining for all public employees, even police and firefighters, who were exempt from Wisconsin's collective bargaining restrictions.
"It seems as though those employees or at least the unions that represent them don't care what the burden is on the taxpayer as long as they get theirs," said Sen. Rick Murphy (R), who is sponsoring the bills.
Nick Dranias of the Goldwater Institute, a Phoenix-based conservative think tank that helped draft the bills, said workers in the public sector in Arizona receive about 6 percent more in salary and benefits than those in the private sector.
"You're not in government, you know, to collect a fat paycheck," he said. "You're in government to serve. And if you get paid reasonably, that's nice, but the moment you feel the need to organize collectively and create laws like collective-bargaining laws that give you special privileges to negotiate and extract compensation not seen in the private sector, you've gone too far."
Brian Livingston, executive director of the Arizona Police Association, acknowledges the state's police — 80 percent of whom belong to a union — have better benefits and retirement plans, but he says they deserve it.
"By the time we retire, we know that most of us will not live beyond what the average private citizen does," he said. "And I'm speaking specifically about public safety, the rigors of our occupation, the hazards of our occupation take a lifelong toll on our longevity."
Senate Minority Leader David Schapira (D) clearly isn't happy about the bills.
"These bills are clearly the most anti-worker, anti-middle class, anti-union bills in the history of the country," he said.
He added that the bills were being considered purely because union leaders tend to support Democrats over Republicans.
"These are people that the Tea Party leadership at the State Capitol in Arizona disagree with, and so they're punishing them and that's the purpose of these pieces of legislation," he said.
Sen. Murphy counters that unions are a political problem in that they have too much power over the elected officials they negotiate with.
"When the unions are the ones who are disproportionately influencing those elected officials, the elected officials are very rarely on the side of the taxpayers in those negotiations," he says.
And his position is likely to be the one that carries the day, just as it did in Wisconsin. Republicans outnumber Democrats 2-to-1 in the Arizona House and by an even wider margin in the Senate. (NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO)
CA BULLET TRAIN PROJECT DERAILED AGAIN: According to documents filed this month, the California High-Speed Rail Authority paid one of the largest public relations firms in the country $161,103 last year to try to persuade the Legislature to approve $2.7 billion in funding for the rail authority's bullet train project.
That sum is a drop in the bucket in relation to the hundreds of millions of dollars spent each year on lobbying in the state. But the rail authority is a state agency. And the fees it paid Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide to lobby state lawmakers were generated by issuing debt, which will probably end up costing the state — which is facing a $9 billion budget deficit — about $300,000 with interest.
"That is appalling to me. I've never heard of such a thing," said Quentin Kopp, the rail authority's former chairman, who retired last March. "That's nonsense, absolutely nonsense. It's embarrassing."
It's actually not uncommon for government agencies to hire lobbyists. Cities and states frequently contract people in Washington to lobby for federal legislation or funding on their behalf. It is unusual, however, for a state agency to use state funds to lobby another state government entity. In fact, the state's Fair Political Practices Commission said it doesn't have rules governing the practice.
Still, some lawmakers say it isn't right.
"It just doesn't pass the smell test," said Assemblyman Jerry Hill (D). "That's not a good use or a valid use of the taxpayers' money. I would not approve of that nor condone it."
Outgoing rail authority CEO Roelof van Ark issued a statement defending the lobbying services as a "vital need" and pointing out that all of California's major transportation entities "have legislative representatives in Sacramento, including VTA [Valley Transportation Authority] and BART [Bay Area Rapid Transit]." His statement neglected to mention, however, that VTA and BART are not state agencies and don't pay their lobbyists through the state budget.
This isn't the first time the bullet train project has suffered a public relations derailment. In December, a newspaper report revealed the project wouldn't create anywhere near the 1 million jobs political leaders had been claiming it would. And a month earlier the rail authority released a business plan pushing back the project's completion date by 14 years and tripling its estimated cost from the $40 billion voters approved in 2008.
"It's been one deception after another," said Sen. Doug LaMalfa (R), who has introduced a bill to let voters reconsider the project. (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS)
DYSFUNCTION RETURNING TO NY? During the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), which began last January, New York state government has been virtually — almost unrecognizably — free of the dysfunction that has plagued it for years. But the chaos of the past may soon be returning to Albany.
Cuomo has threatened to veto the Legislature's new Senate districts, claiming they're heavily gerrymandered. And Senate Republicans, who are desperate to hang on to their slender majority in the chamber despite the fact that there are 2 million more registered Democrats than Republicans in the state, are threatening to hold up key items on the governor's 2012 legislative agenda, including pension reform and legalized casino gambling, if he does so.
"The idea is for the Senate GOP to pressure Cuomo into accepting its Senate district lines by threatening disruptions that would end the governor's ability to claim that he's changed the climate of Albany by making government function well," said an unnamed Senate Republican source.
Cuomo, however, has said he won't be bullied even if that means the return of dysfunction to New York state government.
"The Senate Republicans are threatening a return to the chaos of past years, and the governor is, in effect, threatening chaos as well," said another unnamed source, who added, "the governor may have a bad few months if there is a disruption, but it is the Republicans who are running for re-election in November and must answer to the voters, not the governor."
Senate Republicans have suggested a way to avoid the chaos, however: a constitutional amendment outlawing gerrymandering in the next redistricting cycle in 2022 in exchange for Cuomo's acquiescence to their map this year. Cuomo has said publicly he'd be willing to consider that. But privately he and others have been wondering if they can trust Senate Republicans, given that nearly all of them reneged on a pledge they made to a reform group two years ago to establish an independent redistricting committee if they regained the majority they lost in 2008.
"The view is the Republicans lied once, so why should they be trusted when they say they'll pass a constitutional amendment outlawing gerrymandering in 10 years?" asked an administration source. (NEW YORK POST)
SUSPECTED DUI COULD ALTER PARTY CONTROL OF CO HOUSE: A routine traffic stop last month could shift party control of the Colorado House.
On Jan. 25, Denver police pulled over state Rep. Laura Bradford (R) after she allegedly made an illegal turn a few blocks from the Capitol. Although officers reportedly smelled alcohol on Bradford's breath and suspected her of being intoxicated, they issued her a traffic citation and sent her home in a taxi.
Bradford has admitted to having three glasses of wine the night of the incident, but she denies being drunk and also said she asked for no special treatment from police because she is a legislator, a claim they have corroborated. But despite that and also the fact that the Colorado Constitution actually contains a little-known provision granting lawmakers "in all cases except treason or felony" immunity "from arrest during their attendance at the sessions of their respective houses, or any committees thereof, and in going to and returning from the same," Bradford's GOP colleagues have distanced themselves from her. And House Speaker Frank McNulty (R) has ordered an ethics investigation of the incident.
Those actions — and the GOP's treatment of her even before last month's traffic stop — have Bradford thinking about leaving the party and becoming an independent.
"I'm frustrated by the lack of the support, not just over the last five days but during last session too," Bradford said. "I don't always vote my caucus. I vote my district. There's been a lot of arm-twisting and scolding."
If she goes through with the switch, the partisan composition of the House would change from 33-32 in favor of the Republicans to 32-32-1, potentially opening the door for a Democratic speaker (STATELINE.ORG, DENVER POST)
POLITICS IN BRIEF: The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down CALIFORNIA's 2008 voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, concluding that it serves no purpose other than to "lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians." Legal experts said the court's 2-1 ruling was narrowly written to limit its scope to CALIFORNIA and possibly avoid review by the U.S. Supreme Court (LOS ANGELES TIMES). • INDIANA Secretary of State Charlie White lost his job last week after being convicted of six felonies: three counts of voter fraud, two counts of perjury and one count of theft, each of which carries a sentence of six months to three years in prison. But White was planning to ask the judge to reduce the convictions to misdemeanors at sentencing, which would not only allow him to avoid prison but also reclaim his job (INDIANAPOLIS STAR). • SOUTH CAROLINA Gov. Nikki Haley (R) is supporting legislation in the House that would require employers to inform workers they don't have to join a union, allow workers in a union to quit and stop paying their dues without being subject to a waiting period, increase the civil penalties for violating the state's right-to-work law, and force unions to disclose their staff's salaries and other financial information. Democrats, who are in the minority in both chambers, say much of that agenda is unnecessary because the state already has some of the toughest anti-union laws in the country (STATELINE.ORG)
— Compiled by KOREY CLARK
(02/09/2012 - 03/01/2012)
Maine Special Election
Senate District 20
Oklahoma Special Election
House Districts 1 and 71
Senate Districts 20 and 46
New Hampshire Special Election
House District Hillsborough 10
Michigan Special Election
House Districts 29 and 51
CT, AL GOVS PITCH EDUCATION REFORMS: Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) and Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (D) unveiled education reform proposals in their respective State of the State speeches last week. But while their proposed measures generally drew positive responses, critics also questioned how the governors plan to pay for them.
Bentley's proposals included passing legislation to allow publicly-funded charter schools in the Heart of Dixie, issuing a dollar-for-dollar tax credit to teachers that pay for classroom supplies out of their own pocket and the creation of a "teacher's cabinet" made up of teachers, administrators, school board members and parents to advise him on education issues.
Alabama is currently one of nine states that do not allow charter schools, something Bentley vowed to change.
"We are going to pass public charter school legislation in Alabama because our children and parents, and yes, teachers deserve a choice," he said.
Democratic lawmakers indicated they would resist the charter school plan, questioning how the governor will pay for them when the state Education Trust Fund faces an expected $150 million spending cut.
"I have heard a lot of these speeches before, and I have heard the wind blow before," said Rep. John Robinson (D). "I don't know where the money for charter schools will come from when we don't have enough for regular schools."
State schools superintendent Tommy Bice also questioned how Bentley's proposals would be paid for.
"(The governor's) obviously got something I'm not aware of yet," he said.
Questions also abounded in Connecticut, where Malloy proposed sweeping changes to the state's teacher tenure system. He also proposed adding 500 preschool seats in at-risk areas and setting up a "Commissioner's Network" that would have the Constitution State become a temporary trustee to oversee the worst-performing schools. Malloy's budget proposal calls for an additional $128 million for education, including $50 million in aid to local schools that agree to adopt specific reforms.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero (R) said Malloy's education proposals "took a lot of guts" as they were sure to spark an outcry from his Democratic base, but noted they would likely resonate with most residents. But he was also less optimistic than Malloy about the state's finances. The governor had originally projected a $438 million surplus in the next fiscal year, but has since revised that to only $1.6 million.
"It's all based on the fact that we've turned the corner in being a state that doesn't have an economic crisis," he said. "I wish he was right, and I hope he's right, but all the indices now are that he's not." (NEW YORK TIMES, HARTFORD COURANT, MONTGOMERY ADVERTISER, ASSOCIATED PRESS)
KASICH CALLS FOR 'WAR ON THE SLAVE TRADE' IN OH: Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) said he wants to declare "war on the slave-trade business" in the Buckeye State. In his annual State of the State speech, Kasich said the state will enlist the help of overland truckers, train more law enforcement officers and create an around-the-clock intelligence center called "the Hub" to assist troopers when they make traffic stops. He said statistics indicate that approximately 1,000 Ohio children have been forced into the sex trade. The average age of those victims, he said, was just 13.
"It's hard for me to even think about this," he said. "My girls (twins Reese and Emma) are 12. Could you imagine somebody snatching your daughter and somebody forcing them into prostitution at 13 and 14 years of age?" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH)
BEASHEAR WANTS COORDINATED DRUG RESPONSE: Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D) said he wants lawmakers to make sure that fighting prescription drug abuse doesn't get overlooked as they deal with the state's other pressing problems. The governor called prescription drug abuse "a scourge" that kills 80 state residents a month. Beshear joined Attorney General Jack Conway (D), House Speaker Greg Stumbo (D) and Senate Majority Leader Robert Stivers II (R), in pushing for pending legislative initiatives to the problem, including HB 4, which would limit Oxycontin and other powerful painkillers to no more than 30-day allotments and SB 42, which would require that pain management clinics be owned and operated by doctors licensed in the Bluegrass State. (BOWLING GREEN DAILY NEWS)
GOVERNORS IN BRIEF: The UTAH House gave final approval to a measure (SB 39) that would allow the governor the power to hire and fire the Beehive State Commissioner of Higher Education and the president of the Utah College of Applied Technology. The measure has moved to Gov. Gary Herbert (R) for review (DESERET NEWS [SALT LAKE CITY]). • HAWAII Gov. Neal Abercrombie (D) signed HB 608, which grants $1.5 million in emergency state funds to the Queen's Medical Center in Honolulu to ensure the Aloha State's only liver and kidney transplant program stays in operation. The measure also sent $300,000 to the National Kidney Foundation of Hawaii to maintain its chronic kidney disease management program (HAWAII GOVERNOR'S OFFICE, PACIFIC BUSINESS NEWS). • OKLAHOMA Gov. Mary Fallin (R) issued Executive Order 2012-02, which bars the use of tobacco products on all state-owned and leased properties and in all state-owned and leased buildings and vehicles. Fallin, who made the announcement during her State of the State address, drew groans from some audience members when she revealed she was also closing a designated smoking room for lawmakers at the Capitol (OKLAHOMAN [OKLAHOMA CITY]). • Lawyers for ARIZONA Gov. Jan Brewer (R) filed an opening brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in her appeal of a ruling that blocked enforcement of the most controversial sections of SB 1070 (2010), the Grand Canyon State's controversial immigration enforcement law. The high court will hear arguments in the appeal on April 25 (ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES [PHOENIX]). • SOUTH CAROLINA Gov. Nikki Haley (R) signed SB 258, legislation creating an Inspector General's Office in the Palmetto State. The new position will be empowered with subpoena power to investigate fraud, waste and abuse in all state agencies (THE STATE [COLUMBIA], STATE NET).
— Compiled by RICH EHISEN
Here are some of the topics you will see covered in upcoming issues of the State Net Capitol Journal:
- CA Redevelopment
- Child protection
- Election year politics
BUSINESS: The IDAHO House unanimously approves HB 405, legislation to ban the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors in the Gem State. The measure, which would also ban the sale of e-cigarettes in vending machines, is now in the Senate (IDAHO STATESMAN [BOISE], STATE NET). • ILLINOIS Gov. Pat Quinn (D) signs SB 1830, which relieves small, rural cemeteries from strict regulations that, among several things, required cemetery owners, managers and customer service employees to be licensed and undergo continuing education courses. The new law exempts Prairie State cemeteries that are family-owned, less than three acres in size or haven't had a burial or entombment in 10 years (QUAD-CITY TIMES [DAVENPORT]). • The MISSOURI House gives second round approval to HB 1219, legislation that would require fired workers who claim discrimination or other adverse decisions to prove in court that discrimination was the "motivating factor" rather than just a contributing factor to their dismissal. It faces another vote before it can move to the Senate (COLUMBIA MISSOURIAN). • The UTAH House approves HB 263, a bill that would allow spouses that have to quit their jobs when the military transfers a husband or wife would be able to collect unemployment benefits. It moves to the Senate (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE). • The SOUTH DAKOTA Senate Judiciary Committee kills SB 136, which would have barred the use of foreign orders or judgments in Coyote State civil courts (RAPID CITY JOURNAL).
CRIME & PUNISHMENT: The ARIZONA House approves HB 2018, so-called "Caylee's Law" legislation that makes it a felony for a parent, grandparent, guardian or caretaker to fail to tell law enforcement if a child is missing for at least 24 hours. Violators would face up to 18 months in state prison. It moves to the Senate (EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE [MESA]). • The NEBRASKA Legislature approves LB 415, which makes it a crime to smuggle cigarettes, money or cell phones into Cornhusker State prisons. Violators face up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. The bill moves to Gov. Dave Heineman (R) for review (LINCOLN JOURNAL STAR, STATE NET). • The WEST VIRGINIA Senate approves SB 191, which would expand the availability of protective orders to any victim of sexual violence, stalking or harassment. Current law grants protective orders only to victims who live with their attacker or who are related to them. It moves to the House (CHARLESTON GAZETTE, STATE NET). Still in WEST VIRGINIA, the Senate approves SB 222, which makes it a crime to prevent someone from calling 911. It moves to the House (STATE NET).
EDUCATION: U.S. education officials grant 10 states — COLORADO, FLORIDA, GEORGIA, INDIANA, KENTUCKY, MASSACHUSETTS, MINNESOTA, OKLAHOMA and TENNESSEE - waivers from the strictest tenets of the federal No Child Left Behind law. The waiver relieves states of a mandate that all students to be proficient in reading and math by 2014, but requires them to provide a viable alternative (STAR-LEDGER [NEWARK]). • The SOUTH DAKOTA Senate approves SB 25, which would create a new school achievement and financial accountability system to judge performance to replace those required under the No Child Left Behind law. It has moved to the House (RAPID CITY JOURNAL). • The UTAH Senate approves SB 31, a bill that would cap class sizes at 20 students in kindergarten and at 22 students in first, second and third grades. Classes that exceed that size would require teachers' aides, known as paraprofessionals. It moves to the House (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE).
ENERGY: The NEW HAMPSHIRE House approves HB 648, which would limit local and state governments' use of eminent domain to take private land for electronic transmission lines. Under the measure, which now heads to Gov. John Lynch (D) for review, eminent domain would be allowed only if the land is deemed crucial to the state's power needs (UNION LEADER [MANCHESTER]). • The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission approves plans to build the first U.S. power plant in three decades. The plan allows the Southern Co. to build two new nuclear reactors at its current nuclear power facility in GEORGIA. No nuclear plant has been built in America since a partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island plant in PENNSLVANIA in 1979 (REUTERS).
ENVIRONMENT: The NEW MEXICO Environmental Improvement Board votes to repeal the rules governing the state's cap-and-trade program, designed to lower greenhouse gas causing emissions. Supporters of the plan say they will appeal the Board's decision to the state appellate court (SANTA FE NEW MEXICAN). • The PENNSYLVANIA House and Senate approve HB 1950, which among many things, imposes an annual fee on Marcellus Shale drilling operations. The measure moves to Gov. Tom Corbett (R), who is expected to sign it into law (PITTSBRUGH POST-GAZETTE).
HEALTH & SCIENCE: VIRGINIA Gov. Robert McDonnell (R) re-signs 2011 SB 1062, a bill that requires Old Dominion health insurers to cover autism for children ages 2 to 60. The measure requires companies to pay for specialized treatment as well as occupational, speech and other therapies for children, with a maximum benefit of $35,000 each year. McDonnell originally signed the measure last year but state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) determined the bill's language needed correction (WASHINGTON POST).
IMMIGRATION: The NEW MEXICO House approves HB 103, which would repeal the state law that allows undocumented immigrants to get driver's licenses. The measure moves to the Senate (SANTA FE NEW MEXICAN).
SOCIAL POLICY: The WASHINGTON House approves SB 6239, which would make the Evergreen State the seventh to legalize same-sex marriage. The bill goes now to Gov. Christine Gregoire (D), who is expected to sign it into law this week (ASSOCIATED PRESS). • The GEORGIA Supreme Court strikes down as unconstitutional a Peach State law that criminalizes assisted suicides in which someone advertises or offers to assist in a suicide and then takes steps to help carry it out. The court said the measure violated the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech (ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION). • The VIRGINIA House approves HB 62, which would bar state funding for poor women seeking abortions in cases in which a baby would be born with an incapacitating deformity or mental deficiency. It is now in the Senate (STATE NET, WASHINGTON TIMES). • Still in VIRGINIA, the House approves HB 189, legislation that would allow faith-based adoption agencies to deny placements based on religious beliefs, including opposition to homosexuality. It moves to the Senate, which endorsed its own version of the measure, SB 349 (REUTERS, STATE NET).
POTPOURRI: The VIRGINIA Senate approves SB 323, which would abolish the Old Dominion's current limit of one handgun purchase per month. The measure moves to the House (TIMES-DISPATCH [RICHMOND]). • The WEST VIRGINIA Senate approves SB 211, legislation that makes sending or reading text messages while driving a primary offense for which offenders can be ticketed by police. The measure, which also makes talking on a hand held cell phone while behind the wheel a secondary offense, moves to the House (CHARLESTON GAZETTE). • The KENTUCKY Senate endorses SB 75, which would allow Amish buggies to use reflective tape rather than an emblem for slow-moving vehicles. Under current Bluegrass State law, the Amish must use a state-mandated bright orange safety triangle on their horse-drawn buggies. The measure moves to the House for review (LEXINGTON COURIER-JOURNAL). • The OHIO House approves HB 14, which would end the labeling of pit bulls as "vicious dogs." The measure is now eligible to go to Gov. John Kasich (R) for review (COLUMBUS DISPATCH).
— Compiled by RICH EHISEN
In The Hopper
At any given time, State Net tracks tens of thousands of bills in all 50 states, US Congress, and the District of Columbia. Here's a snapshot of what's in the legislative works:
Number of Prefiles last week: 685
Number of Intros last week: 8,364
Number of Enacted/Adopted last week: 103
Number of 2012 Prefiles to date: 7,002
Number of 2012 Intros to date: 42,394
Number of 2012 Session Enacted/Adopted overall to date: 2,256
Number of bills currently in State Net Database: 146,654
— Compiled By OWEN JARNAGIN
(measures current as of 02/09/2012)
Source: State Net database
Once around the statehouse lightly
THE BIBLICAL PAY SCALE: Eve wondered why teachers tend toward the lower end of the pay scale? Ask Alabama state Sen. Shadrack McGill. According to the Times-Journal of Dekalb County, McGill recently noted that teaching is "a calling from God," and paying teachers more money would violate "a Biblical principle," leading to a whole mess of people going into it just for the lavish income. But McGill wasn't done there. Oh, no he wasn't. He opined further that while the Bible wants teachers to forgo a bigger salary, a 61 percent pay raise that Heart of Dixie lawmakers voted themselves in 2007 — and have been loathe to surrender ever since — was absolutely necessary to make sure said pols would not take bribes. To summarize: Teachers wanting more money to educate kids is bad; paying lawmakers more money so they won't take even more cash in the form of illegal bribes is good. Got it.
DON'T FLIP YOUR LID PEOPLE: Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder would like government to ease up on the red tape and regulations. He made the point during his recent State of the State speech by skewering a Wolverine State rule requiring outhouse users to put the seat down when they're done. The comment drew a nice chuckle. It also got a few chippy folks all lathered up over the seeming silliness of such a thing. But as the Lansing State Journal reports, no such requirement actually exists. The state Department of Environmental Quality in fact says its rules require only that outhouse openings be covered when not in use. A DEQ spokesman further noted that "over-analyzing a joke usually reduces its humor value and obscures the broader point." Snyder noted he already knows to put the toilet seat down, saying he answers to "a higher authority at home." Meaning, of course, First Lady Sue Snyder.
SUGAR AND SPICE...LOTS OF SPICE: Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is nothing if not a good sport. As the Chicago Sun-Times reports, Quinn was appearing on a Chicago radio show last week when the host dared him to accept the "Cinnamon Challenge," meaning swallowing a spoonful of the spice at one gulp. Succumbing to what he later called "a weak moment," Quinn accepted the challenge and deftly gobbled it down, followed right away by a big swig of water. WGN-AM's Jonathon Brandmeier hailed the gov's success, shouting, "I bow before you!" Afterward, Quinn celebrated by hoarsely croaking out his personal catchphrase, "The will of the people will be the law of the land." He did note, however, that he wouldn't be replicating the stunt any time soon.
SILENCE IS GOLDEN...OR IS THAT BLUE? Few things can silence New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whose loquacious, confrontational style is legendary. So it was news last week when Christie chose not to address the crowd at a rally for the newly-minted Super Bowl champion New York Giants at MetLife Field in Jersey. After all, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg had joyously emceed a similar event in the Big Apple earlier in the day. But as the Newark Star-Ledger reports, Bloomberg had also not very publicly picked Met Life's "other" inhabitant, the New York Jets, to beat the G-Men when they met during the regular season on Christmas Eve. The Giants not only won that one, they did not lose again the rest of the regular season or in the playoffs. Christie said he chose not to speak because the celebration was "about the team, it's not about me." As if that ever stopped him before.
— By RICH EHISEN
In Case You Missed It
Taking redistricting out of the hands of lawmakers is supposed to take some of the politics out of the process. But recent incidents in states with independent redistricting commissions suggest that's not the case.
In case you missed it, the story can be found on our Web site at http://www.statenet.com/capitol_journal/02-06-2012/html.
Editor: Rich Ehisen
Associate Editor: Korey Clark
Contributing Editor: Cynthia McKeeman and Art Zimmerman
Editorial Advisor: Lou Cannon
Correspondents: Richard Cox (CA), Steve Karas (CA), Linda Mendenhall (IL), Lauren Davis (MA) and Ben Livingood (PA)
Graphic Design: Vanessa Perez Design