Volume XX, No. 6
February 20, 2012
The next issue of Capitol Journal will be available on March 5th.
Democrats presently lead the presidential contest while Republicans are ahead in the battles to control Congress and a majority of statehouses. If these trends continue, the nation faces four more years of divided — and divisive — government.
GOP still holds edge in state and congressional races
Republicans reached a milestone two years ago when they won control of the U.S. House of Representatives, gained a majority of governorships and captured more state legislative seats than at any time since the long-ago November day when Herbert Hoover was elected president. Entering this year's election cycle, the GOP hoped to parlay its 2010 breakthrough into even greater victories. Polls and pundits gave Republicans a strong chance of winning the U.S. Senate and a decent one of regaining the White House. Abetted by favorable redistrictings after the 2010 census, the GOP also sought to cement its House majority and expand control of the nation's statehouses.
Seven weeks into the year, some of these Republican ambitions have been muted. Barack Obama's re-election chances have improved, aided by an uptick in the economy and a contentious battle for the Republican presidential nomination. Public regard for Congress has reached an all-time low, encouraging retirements on both sides of the political aisle. Court challenges to congressional and legislative redistrictings in Texas and North Carolina — and probably Florida — have clouded GOP expectations in the states. Although Republicans could still sweep the board in the 2012 elections, their path to victory has become more difficult. Here, starting with the states, is the latest outlook, based on interviews, analyses and public opinion surveys:
Statehouses remain the brightest prospect for Republicans, who have a 29-20 edge in governorships, with one independent. Only 11 gubernatorial elections are scheduled in 2012, eight of them in states in which Democrats hold the governorship. Compounding the Democrats' predicament, the three GOP governorships are in the safe Republican states of Indiana, North Dakota and Utah. North Carolina, where a Democratic incumbent is retiring, leans Republican. Three other states with Democratic governors — Montana, New Hampshire, and Washington — are ranked as toss-ups by both the Charlie Cook and Stuart Rothenberg political reports. Democrats may have an opportunity in Wisconsin, where Republican Gov. Scott Walker faces a likely recall election this summer.
In 2010, Republicans won more state legislative seats (and chambers) than at any time since 1928, the heady year before the stock market crash signaled the Great Depression. Going into this year's elections, Republicans control 59 legislative chambers, Democrats 36, with three ties. Unicameral Nebraska, nominally non-partisan, is Republican in practice. Compilations by Tim Storey of the National Conference of State Legislatures show there are currently 3,979 GOP state legislators, compared to 3,317 Democrats. (At the Republican high-water mark in 1928, GOP legislators numbered 4,00l) For the most part, GOP-controlled legislatures in 2011 proceeded cautiously on legislative redistricting, protecting marginal incumbents instead of trying to expand their majorities. But Republicans may have overreached with redistrictings in North Carolina, Florida and especially Texas, where the new congressional and legislative district boundaries have been challenged under the Voting Rights Act.
A tangled Texas court case is unlikely to upset GOP control of the Legislature but could determine the outcome of up to three U.S. House districts. A larger question for Republicans at the state level is whether they can preserve their success in the midwestern bastions of Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin where GOP governors and legislators have taken an aggressive stance against public employee unions. The unions have pushed back and in 2011 won a referendum in Ohio that struck down a legislatively approved ban on collective bargaining by public employees. Unions have also taken a leading roll in the campaign to recall Gov. Walker. Legislative chambers in the region where power could change hands include the Minnesota House, where Republicans hold a 72-62 edge, and the Iowa Senate, where Democrats hold a 26-24 majority.
Scattered across the country are other legislative chambers where slight shifts could change partisan control. These include the New York Senate, where Republicans have a two-vote margin, and the Colorado House, where they hold a one-vote edge. Democrats hold a one-vote margin in the Nevada Senate. Southern historians have a particular interest in the legislative elections in Arkansas, where Democrats control the Senate by five votes and the House by 10. Two decades ago Democrats controlled every southern legislature, but Republicans now dominate this conservative region in which large majorities of whites support the GOP while corresponding majorities of African Americans vote Democratic. The GOP broke through in 2010 and again in the 2011 elections in Mississippi and Virginia, leaving Arkansas as the last state of the old Confederacy with a Democratic majority in any state legislative chamber.
On paper, Republicans are well positioned to win the U.S. Senate, where Democrats hold a 53-47 majority (including two independents who caucus with them) and even more to hold the U.S. House, where the current Republican margin is 242 to 193. Including states where there is no election, the website RealClearPolitics lists 47 Senate seats as safe for Republicans and 45 for Democrats. Eight seats are listed as tossups, six of them now represented by Democrats. If Republicans hold tossup seats in Massachusetts and Nevada, they would need to win only two Democratic seats to control the Senate. Remember, however, that two years ago Republicans also seemed poised to take over the Senate before nominating weak Tea Party candidates in Delaware and Nevada. Jennifer Duffy, who analyzes Senate races for the respected Cook Report gives Republicans an edge but not a lock. In a February evaluation she wrote that the "Democrats' best hope is to recruit first-tier challengers in Massachusetts and Nevada, then work hard to retain as many of their own seats as possible and hope for a little luck."
It will take more than luck for the Democrats to win the U.S. House. RealClearPolitics lists 214 seats as safe Republican and 172 safe Democrat with 49 tossups. Republicans need only four of the tossups to reach the 218 mark necessary for control of the House. Democrats have been cheered by a National Journal poll showing Republicans leading 48-37 percent on a generic congressional ballot and helped by redistrictings in California and Illinois, which together could give them as many as a half dozen seats. Nevertheless, says David Wasserman, who analyzes House races for the Cook Report, "the structural impediments to a Democratic majority continue to pile higher." He notes that seven current Democratic members are guaranteed to lose because they are running against each other as a result of redistrictings, which have also endangered six other Democratic incumbents. Furthermore, Republicans are favored to win five of the 20 seats in which Democrats are retiring while losing only one of 15 seats in which there are GOP retirements.
"Add it all up, and Democrats actually need to pick up roughly 35 to 40 GOP-held or newly created districts in order to claw back to 218 seats," wrote Wasserman. This may not be an impossible hurdle but it is a daunting one.
Overlaying all these elections is the impact of the presidential race, which has moved in Obama's direction. A mid-February poll by Pew Research found the president ahead of Mitt Romney by eight percentage points and of Rick Santorum by 10 points. But the Democrats are no more assured of winning the presidency than Republicans are of wining Congress. Presidential elections are determined by electoral votes, and the margin here is close. Obama leads in states having 217 electoral votes and trails in states with 181 electoral votes, with 140 electoral votes in the tossup category.
Although Obama's re-election would not necessarily translate into statehouse or congressional victories, Tim Storey observes that "it matters what happens at the top of the ticket," especially in tossup states where the presidential race will mostly be waged. In these dozen or so states, both parties will wage an expensive and fierce campaign to turn out voters who are likely to support the entire ticket. In a few of these states — notably Colorado, Iowa, and Nevada — at least one legislative house is so closely divided that even a slight boost from the top could make the difference. "Slight" is the operative word. The last two times an incumbent president was re-elected — Bill Clinton in 1996 and George W. Bush in 2004 — the winning party gained an average of just seven House seats.
It's early, of course. My late esteemed editor at The Washington Post, Richard Harwood, regularly warned reporters: "Twenty-four hours is a long time in the life of a politician." Much could change between now and November. All that can be safely said is that Democrats presently lead the presidential contest while Republicans are ahead in the battles to control Congress and a majority of statehouses. If these trends continue, the nation faces four more years of divided — and divisive — government.
— By Lou Cannon
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, PR, RI, SC, SD, TN, US, UT, VA, VT, WA, WI, WV, WY
States in Recess: DE, PA
Special Sessions in Recess: DE "b"
States Currently Prefiling or Drafting for 2012: LA
States Projected to Adjourn: NC
States Adjourned in 2012: NM
Letters indicate special/extraordinary sessions
— Compiled By DENA BLODGETT
(session information current as of 02/16/2012)
Source: State Net database
Bird’s eye view
Obesity taxes not catching on
Fourteen states proposed new excise taxes on soda last year, according to a report released in October by the Tax Foundation. The bills would have taxed soda at a considerably higher rate than the measures already in place in four states, Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. In some cases the proposed measures would have raised soda prices by as much as 264 percent. But unlike in 2010, when soda tax legislation was hotly debated in several states — and passed in West Virginia — last year's measures gained little traction. In addition to the soda tax bills, four states also sought to tax candy in 2011, with similar results.
Budget & taxes
SODA TAXES FIZZLE: Two years ago, when concern over obesity, especially among children, had states from California to New York debating excise taxes on soft drinks, it appeared as though they might become the new sin taxes of choice and follow the pattern of alcohol and cigarette taxes, now imposed in every state. But only one state, West Virginia, ended up passing a soda tax in 2010. And none of the soda tax bills that were proposed in fourteen states last year got much traction at all. (See Bird's eye view: "Obesity taxes not catching on.")
Nearly half of the states tax soda at a higher rate than other food products, according to a report issued last January by the Bridging the Gap Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. But in most of those states, soda is merely excluded from the sales tax exemption for food. Only four states — Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia — actually impose an excise tax on soda specifically. And no state currently taxes soda at the one-cent-per-ounce level public health researchers say would be required to reduce its consumption significantly, although a number of states tried to do so last year.
But making headway on any form of soda tax has become a challenge. This year will likely become the fourth in a row that Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D), a former Coca-Cola executive, has proposed and failed to make soda and candy subject to his state's sales tax.
"The chances of moving it through the legislature have been very slim," said Patrick Tigue of Community Catalyst, a nonprofit organization that supports soda taxes," and this year looks like it promises to be no different."
One reason for the loss of momentum on soda taxes is that the environment in many states has become hostile toward taxes in general. The soft drink industry has also aggressively opposed such measures, even managing to engineer the repeal of Washington's soda tax in 2010.
"The excise tax is discriminatory, it's regressive, it singles out one industry," said Chris Gindlesperger, director of communications for the American Beverage Association. "It's government digging into the grocery cart of people."
Recent scientific research hasn't helped the pro-soda tax movement either. One recent study, for instance, showed per-capita soda consumption fell 16 percent between 1998 and 2010, suggesting consumers might be moving away from soda even without a tax incentive. Another study found that when price increases do spur adolescents to reduce their consumption of soda, any resulting reduction in their caloric intake is offset by an increase in the consumption of other foods and beverages.
Still soda taxes' fall from favor may only be temporary. Tigue said there's still strong support for the taxes in public health circles. And even Gindlesperger said the issue is likely to re-emerge in 2013, after the election season is over. (STATELINE.ORG, TAX FOUNDATION, BRIDGINGTHEGAPRESEARCH.ORG)
GOOD AND BAD NEWS FOR STATES IN OBAMA BUDGET: States would receive $350 billion in short-term stimulus funding and $475 billion in highway funding under the budget proposed by President Obama last week. And states would receive a good chunk of that money — $50 billion for transportation, $30 billion to modernize schools and $30 billion to hire first-responders and teachers — immediately.
But Obama's spending plan wasn't all good news for states. For one thing, it would reduce the tax breaks for high-income earners who buy municipal bonds.
"This could raise borrowing costs [for municipal issuers] because you have to make up for the tax equivalent cost," said Richard Ciccarone, a managing director at McDonnell Investment Management.
The bond market was relatively unphased by the proposal, however, with skepticism apparently widespread about the likelihood of the budget wending its way through Congress with the tax measure intact.
"I think everybody assumes it's dead on arrival," said Parker Colvin, managing director at Stone & Youngberg in San Francisco.
Potentially more troublesome for states is that the budget proposal also calls for payment innovations and other reforms of Medicaid, Medicare and other health programs intended to save approximately $364 billion over the next decade.
"Medicaid spending is now the single largest and fastest growing expenditure in most state budgets," said David Adkins, executive director/CEO of The Council of State Governments. "Any cuts to the program at the federal level will only cause state budget gaps to grow. It is likely federal Medicaid cuts will trigger state budget reductions in discretionary areas such as higher education, which will result in higher tuition rates, actions directly at odds with the president's budget priorities." (COUNCIL OF STATE GOVERNMENTS, REUTERS, STATELINE.ORG)
FL SENATE EXECUTES PRISON-PRIVATIZATION PROPOSAL: The Florida Senate reinforced its long-standing reputation for independence last week when nine Republicans, rejecting arguments that for-profit prisons would save tax dollars and increase efficiency, joined a dozen Democrats in voting down the state's massive prison-privatization plan. The 21-19 vote means the state will not proceed with what would have been the single largest expansion of prison privatization in U.S. history, encompassing 27 prisons and other facilities in 18 counties. Senate leaders said the decision will force the state to cut education and health care funding by $16.5 million, the amount privatization was projected to save in the first year. (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES)
BUDGETS IN BRIEF: Congressional negotiators approved an economic plan last week that extends the federal payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits. A vote on the $150 billion plan was expected as early as last Friday (WASHINGTON POST). • The aforementioned payroll-tax holiday agreement reportedly does not include an extension of the tax break that allows residents of seven states that don't impose an income tax — FLORIDA, NEVADA, SOUTH DAKOTA, TENNESSEE, WASHINGTON and WYOMING — to deduct state sales taxes from their federal income tax returns in lieu of the state income tax deduction residents of other states receive (STATELINE.ORG, SEATTLE TIMES).
— Compiled by KOREY CLARK
Politics & leadership
COURTS REJECT AMBITIOUS PENSION REFORMS: A pair of district courts have ruled that recent public pension reforms in Arizona and New Hampshire boosting the share current workers must contribute toward their retirement are unconstitutional.
The courts ruled that both states broke their contracts with public employees because the contracts guarantee those workers will not have to pay more for benefits once they are hired unless they receive better benefits in return.
"The state has impaired its own contract," concluded Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Eileen Willett. "By paying a higher proportionate share for their pension benefits than they had been required to pay when hired, [state workers] are forced to pay additional consideration for a benefit which has remained the same."
Arizona and New Hampshire are among 10 states that targeted pension reforms at current employees last year; most other states took the safer legal route of focusing solely on new hires. And although a district court ruling in one state isn't binding in another, the legal arguments used in Arizona and New Hampshire could be used to challenge the pension changes elsewhere. Lawsuits are already pending in several other states, including Florida, Nebraska and New Jersey.
New Hampshire Sen. Jeb Bradley (R), who led the pension reform effort in his state, said unless lawmakers come up with a fix that is acceptable to the court, state worker layoffs will be unavoidable.
"Between the cost of employee health care and retirement benefits, it will be impossible to deliver the services people expect from the state," he said. "There has to be a willingness by employee labor groups to accept changes or the public is going to change it for them through diminished job openings."
Bradley added that policymakers "have to stick to their guns to preserve the reliability of the retirement system. We're going to keep after it in New Hampshire and I suspect other states will."
But Robert Klausner, an attorney in Florida who specializes in public pension law, proposed an alternative approach: negotiating with the public employee unions, like Vermont did in 2010, getting workers to agree to retire later and pay more for their benefits by offering them a larger pension check.
"A deal everyone makes doesn't end up at the courthouse," Klausner said. (STATELINE.ORG, MIAMI HERALD)
NV SENATOR RESIGNS TO RUN FOR SENATE? Last week, Nevada Sen. Sheila Leslie (D) resigned her seat, reportedly the safest Democratic seat in Northern Nevada. But the freshman senator has no intention of leaving the chamber, where Democrats held an 11-10 majority before her announcement. Instead, she plans to challenge Republican up-and-comer Sen. Greg Brower for the seat he was appointed to last year as the replacement for former Sen. Bill Raggio, in Senate District 15, where voter registration is evenly divided between the two parties.
"I'm probably the first person to give up a safe seat to run for a split one," Leslie said. "This will be one of those rare things in Nevada politics: a truly competitive race."
Evidently, Leslie bought a house last year that ended up in District 15 under new court-drawn district maps. But she only decided to move into it after her party failed to recruit a candidate to run against Brower. There will likely be less of a problem filling her seat, with both Assemblyman David Bobzien (D) and Assemblywoman Debbie Smith (D) considering running for it.
"After much thought, I have decided to move to the new Senate District 15," Leslie said in a written statement. "I believe my resignation is required, as I cannot live in two Senate districts at the same time. While this decision was difficult, I intend to be a candidate in my new neighborhood and hope to return to the state Senate later this year."
Sen. Michael Roberson (R), who is heading up the Republicans' effort to take control of the chamber, responded curtly to the news.
"Desperation makes people do crazy things. I wish Senator Leslie well with her de facto retirement from politics," he said.
Brower's response was a bit more diplomatic.
"At first I thought it was a joke," he said. "It just seems so bizarre. But, I'm confident, having lived in this district off and on for a long time and knowing the people in the district that what the constituents want in a legislator is someone who is a pragmatic problem solver, not someone who is all about partisan politics and partisan advantage. I think that contrast will be clear."
Leslie isn't a complete stranger to the district either, however. It includes much of the Assembly district she served for six terms. (LAS VEGAS SUN)
VOTER ROLLS RIDDLED WITH INACCURACIES: Approximately 24 million active U.S. voter registrations — about one in eight — are either invalid or inaccurate, according to a new report by the Pew Center on the States. Among other things, Pew found that 1.8 million deceased individuals are registered to vote, and 2.75 million people are registered in more than one state.
One major reason for the discrepancies, election officials say, is that Americans move around a lot, and they rarely notify the local election office when they do. States don't typically share such information with other states either.
"The assumption, I would think, is that they would do the courtesy of letting the other states know that if you're registered with a new state, [the old registration] would no longer apply," said Ben Skupien a registered voter in Virginia who said, given the number of times he's moved over the years, he's probably registered to vote in half a dozen states.
But several states, including Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Utah and Nevada, are trying to do something about the problem. They are launching a pilot program to share more voter information and other data in an effort to make their voter rolls more accurate.
"What this system will do is it will take in data from the states who choose to participate, specifically motor vehicles data and voter registration data, and it will be matched, along with some data that many states use already, like national change of address data from the Postal Service," said David Becker, director of election initiatives for Pew, which organized the project.
Becker said he hopes the program will be implemented in time for the November elections. (NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO)
POLITICS IN BRIEF: A quarter of CALIFORNIA's 53-member Congressional delegation could be newcomers next year as a result of at least six retirements and strong contests in 10 other districts. In the past decade, only one of the state's Congressional seats has changed hands between Democrats and Republicans in the course of 255 elections (NEW YORK TIMES). • Police in Topeka, KANSAS found several homemade bombs in a pickup truck with specialty military license plates parked near the Statehouse last week. The police said they arrested the owner of the vehicle in a publicly-accessible underground tunnel connecting the Capitol with an office building (LAWRENCE JOURNAL-WORLD). • COLORADO House Republicans dropped their ethics investigation of Rep. Laura Bradford, concluding there was no evidence she was intoxicated when she was stopped by police for a traffic violation near the Capitol on Jan. 25. Bradford, in turn, dropped her plan to leave the Republican Party, jeopardizing its 33-32 House majority (DENVER POST).
— Compiled by KOREY CLARK
(02/16/2012 - 03/08/2012)
New Hampshire Special Election
House District Hillsborough 10
Michigan Special Election
House Districts 29 and 51
Georgia Special Runoff
House District 107
Ohio Primary Election
US House (All)
GREGOIRE, CHRISTIE TAKE OPPOSITE TACK ON GAY MARRIAGE: Calling it "one of my proudest moments," Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) signed legislation (SB 6239) last Monday that made the Evergreen State the seventh to legally endorse same-sex marriage. Just days later, lawmakers across the country in New Jersey endorsed SB 1, a bill that would make the Garden State number eight. But Gov. Chris Christie (R) made it clear he would not be following his colleague's lead, instead promising to "take swift action" to veto the measure.
Christie has been adamant in his opposition to the bill, saying he preferred to let voters decide the matter via a referendum. But lawmakers in the Democrat-controlled Legislature were just as adamant in pushing the bill through. The Senate endorsed the measure 24-16 last Monday, while the Assembly followed suit on Thursday by a 42-33 margin, one vote more than needed to enact the bill. Christie, however, was not swayed, calling the votes merely "a good bunch of theater." He also rejected the idea that Democrats could muster a two-thirds majority to override his expected veto.
"They won't get enough votes to override it, they know that and I know that," he said. "They know it's not going to happen."
An override will undoubtedly be a challenge, with three additional votes needed in the Assembly and six more in the Senate. But presuming a swift veto, lawmakers will have almost two full years to get them. If not, what happens from there remains unclear. Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D) has indicated he would not bring a referendum measure to a vote.
Gregoire, meanwhile, has offered to discuss the issue with her gubernatorial counterpart, sending Christie a letter in January offering to explain how she came to change her own views on gay marriage. In 2007, Gregoire signed SB 5336, legislation to create domestic partnerships. She signed additional measures in 2008 and 2009, each adding more rights and responsibilities for gay couples, but resisted endorsing actual marriage until this year.
"I have been on a personal journey, because while I am governor, I am also Catholic," Gregoire wrote in her note to Christie. "I've reached a point where I have found my place."
Christie's office could not confirm last week that the governor had read the letter, or even if he had received it. But Gregoire continued to pressure him from afar.
"Sometimes the majority doesn't always protect the minority," Gregoire told CNN in regard to voter referendums. "We were elected to make decisions."
Similar legislation (SB 241) has also been introduced in Maryland, where Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) has made legalizing same-sex marriage one of his priorities, and Illinois (HB 5170), where Gov. Pat Quinn (D) said he wants to study the issue more before deciding what he will do if a bill gets to his desk. (STATE NET, BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK, STAR-LEDGER [NEWARK], BERGEN RECORD, WASHINGTON GOVERNOR'S OFFICE, SEATTLE TIMES, DAILY HERALD [SPRINGFIELD])
VA SENATE REJECTS MCDONNELL EDUCATION REFORM: The Virginia Senate narrowly rejected SB 438, Gov. Robert McDonnell's (R) proposal to overhaul how the Old Dominion manages teacher and principal contracts. The House approved its own identical measure, HB 576, earlier in the week, but that bill is also now expected to be voted down. McDonnell's plan would have phased out the state's current system of giving teachers automatically renewing contracts, which essentially granted them tenure. In its place, McDonnell wanted to give teachers and principals who had passed their probationary period a three-three contract that was not automatically renewable, but based on performance evaluations, including student test scores. The new system would have been applied to new hires, with teachers already on continuing contracts, about 90 percent of the current teacher workforce, staying on that system. A McDonnell spokesperson said the governor will push lawmakers reconsider the measure. (RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH, STATE NET)
BESHEAR UNVEILS GAMBLING AMENDMENT: Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D) unveiled a proposed constitutional amendment last Tuesday that would allow up to five racetrack casinos in the Bluegrass State. The proposal would allow two additional casinos at other sites. The measure, SB 151, listed several potential uses for the revenue the casinos would generate, including education and local government, along with help for the horse industry. Lawmakers will have to endorse the proposal with a three-fifths majority in each chamber to send it to voters, who would ultimately have to approve the amendment for it go into effect. Beshear said good arguments could be made for and against increased gambling, but that it should ultimately be up to voters to decide. (COURIER-JOURNAL [LOUISVILLE], CBSNEWS.COM).
GOVERNORS IN BRIEF: The INDIANA Supreme Court ruled that Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) does not have to testify under oath in a $400 million lawsuit the Hoosier State filed against IBM Corp. after he canceled a state contract with the company. The ruling reversed a lower court's ruling that said Daniels would have to honor a subpoena calling for his testimony (INDIANAPOLIS BUSINESS JOURNAL). • MICHIGAN Gov. Rick Snyder (R) and Attorney General Bill Schuette (R) have vowed to block a proposed casino in downtown Lansing. The governor and AG sent a letter on Feb. 7 to Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians chairman Joe Eitrem saying they would "take whatever steps are necessary to prevent the opening of the proposed casino, and if the Tribe persists in these efforts, it does so at its own risk." Lansing city officials say they will continue to pursue the casino (LANSING STATE JOURNAL). • UTAH police charged a man with multiple felonies last week after he threatened to assassinate Gov. Gary Herbert (R). The man, who has a long criminal history, was charged with felony counts of drug and weapons possession, along with a misdemeanor count of threatening elected officials (DAILY HERALD [PROVO]). • The administration of VERMONT Gov. Pete Shumlin (D) has unveiled a plan to create five specialized opiate treatment "hubs" and a support system for community providers who treat addicts. State officials said the plan could be carried out without any additional state tax dollars and over two years would provide treatment to nearly 2,000 more opiate addicts than last year's caseload of 3,415 (BURLINGTON FREE PRESS). • NEW JERSEY Gov. Chris Christie (R) defended his decision to order flags lowered to half mast in honor of the late pop singer and Garden State native Whitney Houston, who died Feb. 11. Christie received emails opposing the decision, with some claiming the singer's history of substance abuse made her unworthy of such an honor. Christie countered by saying, "What I would say to everybody is there but for the grace of God go I." Christie ordered flags flown at half-staff at state government buildings on Saturday the 18th, the day of the funeral services for Houston at the Newark church she sang at as a child (ASSOCIATED PRESS).
— 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 VIRGINIA Senate approves SB 597, so-called "Amazon" legislation that would require online retailers with a brick-and-mortar presence in the Old Dominion to collect state sales tax on their sales. It has moved to the House (RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH). • The VIRGINIA Senate also endorses SJR 3, a constitutional amendment that would bar governments from taking private land for anything other than public use. The House endorses its own similar measure, HJR 3, the same day. Each bill is now in the other chamber (ROANOKE TIMES). The WASHINGTON Senate approves SB 6120, which would bar the use of chlorinated Tris in children's products. Tris is used as a fire retardant but critics contend it causes cancer. The measure is now in the House (NEWS TRIBUNE [TACOMA]). • The NEW HAMPSHIRE House approves HB 1666, gut-and-amend legislation that would require lawmakers to approve any union contract entered into by the state. It is now in the Senate (CONCORD MONITOR). • The WISCONSIN Senate approves AB 290, legislation that would overturn a Badger State law that bars home beer makers from transporting their products away from their homes. The Bill, which would also exempt home brewers from permit requirements and taxes as long as they don't make more than a specified amount or sell any beverage they make. It moves now to Gov. Scott Walker (R) for review (STATE NET, LACROSS TRIBUNE). • The SOUTH DAKOTA House approves HB 1273, which would prevent the sale of loose-leaf incense to those under 21, restrict the quantity that shops could sell, label each product's ingredients and warn buyers of the potential health effects of abuse. It moves to the Senate (ARGUS LEADER [SIOUX FALLS]).
CRIME & PUNISHMENT: The FLORIDA Senate rejects SB 2038, which would have privatized all or parts of 27 Sunshine State prisons and work camps, the largest such prison privatization proposal in U.S. history (MIAMI HERALD). • The ARIZONA House and Senate unanimously approve HB 2356, which adds seven chemicals to the list of banned synthetic chemicals used to make a cocaine-like drug sold as "bath salts." It moves to Gov. Jan Brewer (R), who is expected to sign it into law (ARIZONA REPUBLIC). • IOWA Gov. Terry Branstad (R) signs SB 93, which increases the penalty for domestic abuse cases that involve choking someone to up to a year in jail. The previous law allowed only a 30-day sentence (QUAD-CITY TIMES [DAVENPORT]). • MICHIGAN Gov. Rick Snyder (R) signs a package of bills (HB 4920, 4921, 4922, 4923 and 4924) that collectively allow communities to enact and enforce local ordinances targeting "super drunk" drivers, those with a blood alcohol content .017 or higher (DETROIT FREE PRESS). • Still in MICHIGAN, Gov. Snyder signs HB 4284 and HB 4745, which together make it a felony punishable by up to two years in jail and a $5,000 fine for protesting or otherwise disrupting a funeral or memorial service (MICHIGAN GOVERNOR'S OFFICE).
EDUCATION: The KENTUCKY Senate approves SB 109, which would allow local school districts to raise their dropout age to 18. It moves to the House (BOWLING GREEN DAILY NEWS). • The MINNESOTA House approves HB 1770, which would require Gopher State teachers to pass a basic skills test before obtaining a teaching license. It is now in the Senate (BRAINERD DISPATCH, STATE NET). • The INDIANA House refers SB 89 to the Rules Committee, effectively killing a bill that would have allowed Hoosier State public schools to teach creationism alongside evolution in science classes (INDIANAPOLIS BUSINESS JOURNAL). • The WASHINGTON Senate approves SB 5895, which would require Evergreen State teachers to be evaluated on eight criteria, including student test scores. The measure moves to the House (SEATTLE TIMES). • COLORADO Gov. John Hickenloooper (D) signs HB 1001, which, among several things, requires 50 percent of teacher evaluations to be based on student test scores (DENVER POST). • The OREGON Senate approves SB 1555, which would require Beaver State school employees to report incidents of intimidation, harassment and cyberbullying. Districts would also have to have an anti-bullying policy that identifies a "remedial action" for employees who fail to make a report. It moves to the House (STATESMAN JOURNAL [SALEM]).
ENERGY: PENNSYLVANIA Gov. Tom Corbett (R) signs HB 1950, which, among several things, imposes a fee on Marcellus Shale drilling operations in the Keystone State. The measure allows local governments where drilling takes place to determine if they will charge the fee (PATRIOT-NEWS [HARRISBURG].
ENVIRONMENT: The VIRGINIA Senate defeats SB 26, legislation that would have stripped from game wardens police powers and the authority to check hunters and fishermen for licenses (FREE LANCE-STAR [FREDERICKSBURG]). • The WISCONSIN Senate approves SB 368, which would, among many things, create a two-tiered construction permit system for companies wishing to build on environmentally sensitive wetlands and require applicants to submit mitigation plans for damage caused to those wetlands. It is now in the Assembly (LACROSSE TRIBUNE).
HEALTH & SCIENCE: The IOWA House and Senate approve SF 2086, which would allow Hawkeye State officials to resume periodic inspections at care facilities for the disabled. Lawmakers ended the inspections in 2010 as a cost cutting measure. The bill now moves to Gov. Terry Branstad (R) for review (STATE NET, DES MOINES REGISTER). • The WASHINGTON House approves HB 2228, which would allow Evergreen State pharmacies to redistribute donations of unused prescription drugs. The measure, which also requires pharmacies to inspect the drugs and verify that they are not tainted or modified before giving them away again, moves to the Senate (OREGONIAN [PORTLAND]).
IMMIGRATION: The NEW MEXICO Senate approves SB 235, legislation that would continue to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver's license, but would restrict it to a one-year term. The measure moved to the House, which had earlier passed HB 103, a bill that would have barred undocumented immigrants from obtaining a license. Neither measure cleared the other chamber before the legislative session ended on Thursday, killing them both for the year (SANTA FE NEW MEXICAN).
SOCIAL POLICY: WASHINGTON Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) signs SB 6239, legislation making the Evergreen State the seventh to legalize same-sex marriage. WASHINGTON joins MASSACHUSETTS, CONNECTICUT, IOWA, NEW HAMPSHIRE, VERMONT, NEW YORK and the District of Columbia in legally endorsing same-sex nuptials (SEATTLE TIMES).* The NEW JERSEY Senate and Assembly approve SB 1, which would legalize same-sex marriage in the Garden State. It moves to the Assembly (STAR-LEDGER [NEWARK]). • The VIRGINIA House approves HB 1, which would define "personhood" as beginning at conception. It moves to the Senate (WASHINGTON TIMES). • Still in VIRGINIA, the Senate approves SB 6, legislation that would require welfare recipients to pass a drug test before receiving benefits. The measure moves to the House (STATE NET, WASHINGTON POST). • The OKLAHOMA Senate approves SB 1433, which would also define life as beginning at conception. It moves to the House (OKLAHOMAN [OKLAHOMA CITY]). • The KENTUCKY Senate approves SB 103, which would require a physician performing an abortion to first conduct an ultrasound exam on the woman seeking the procedure and attempt to show her the image of the fetus. It moves to the House (COURIER-JOURNAL [LEXINGTON]). • The UTAH House approves HB 88, which would prevent mothers from getting preferential treatment during child-custody disputes. The measure now moves to the Senate (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE). • The WASHINGTON House approves HB 2330, which requires health insurers that cover maternity care to also cover abortion procedures. It moves to the Senate (NEWS TRIBUNE [TACOMA]).
POTPOURRI: The OREGON House approves HB 4045, a bill that would prohibit government agencies from disclosing the names of people with permits to carry concealed handguns. It is now in the Senate (STATESMAN JOURNAL [SALEM]). • The WASHINGTON House approves HB 2211, which would allow adult adoptees in the Evergreen State to access their birth certificates unless a biological parent has filed an affidavit to the contrary. It is now in the Senate (STATE NET, OLYMPIAN).
— 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: 334
Number of Intros last week: 5,123
Number of Enacted/Adopted last week: 662
Number of 2012 Prefiles to date: 7,336
Number of 2012 Intros to date: 47,517
Number of 2012 Session Enacted/Adopted overall to date: 2,918
Number of bills currently in State Net Database: 150,895
— Compiled By DENA BLODGETT
(measures current as of 02/15/2012)
Source: State Net database
Once around the statehouse lightly
FIRST FREEDOM FRIES AND NOW THIS: With immigration such a contentious issue across the nation, one Mississippi lawmaker is bound and determined to make a point. As the Hattiesburg American reports, Rep. Steve Holland has introduced a bill that would rename the Gulf of Mexico the "Gulf of America." But before you go thinking Holland is taking the whole "America, love it or leave it" mantra to a new extreme, the Magnolia State lawmaker says he doesn't really want to change the Gulf's name at all. His real aim, he says, is to mock the wave of anti-immigration bills sweeping across some states. Even so, his bill has spawned a wave of its own, with folks across the Twitterverse offering up their own new monikers. Some of the more clever suggestions to date include the Gulf of Archie Manning, Gulf Lundgren and, of course, the Gulf of BP.
GEORGE CARLIN LIVES: If you are a teacher who swears up a blue streak in front of your students, it might be time to ditch the Grand Canyon State. As the Arizona Daily Star reports, some lawmakers are courting legislation that would require teachers — from kindergarten to the state university system — to keep their in-classroom language to that deemed acceptable by the Federal Communications Commission. Meaning no cussing or other words the FCC might say are obscene. Bill sponsor Sen. Lori Klein says the measure is a response to complaints she has heard about teachers "talking smack" in class. Under her proposal, foul-mouthed teachers would first get a suspension; a third verbal mishap earns a pink slip. Of course, local school districts might have a few foul words of their own at the idea of the state telling them once again how to run their classrooms.
NO DOG IN THIS FIGHT, OR VICE-VERSA? Idaho state Rep. JoAn Wood pitched her colleagues last week on the merits of naming the cattle-herding blue heeler the official state dog. To buttress her point, she brought one of the blue-hued hounds along with her. After all, who could possibly resist when Fido is right there wagging his tail and making puppy eyes at you? The answer, apparently, was Wood's fellow lawmakers. As the Idaho Statesman reports, the proposal met up with the state's long-standing rivalry between cattle ranchers and sheep farmers. While the pro-cow crowd was fine with naming the heeler the Gem State's top dog, sheep aficionados were dead set against it. One lawmaker even lamented having lost sheep to rogue dogs, including the heeler, saying he thought the state "ought to have a nice gentle dog like Lassie." Ultimately, the sheep folks won out, as the House State Affairs Committee muzzled the proposal for this year.
SOMEPLACE AWFUL STRAIGHT AHEAD: Some conservatives have long looked at Massachusetts with a scornful eye, what with the whole universal health care thing, same-sex marriage, strict gun laws and a penchant for high taxes and all. As reported by Foster's Daily Democrat, a few New Hampshire lawmakers in fact believe the Bay State is so out of whack that they recently pushed legislation to have signs saying "Warning: Massachusetts Border 500 Feet" placed on roads leading to their neighbor to the south. Supporters said they wanted good old Granite State folks to know they were about to enter someplace very different than the bastion of freedom they were used to. Sadly for them, the House rejected the measure last week, saying it was both unfriendly and impractical.
— By RICH EHISEN
In Case You Missed It
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.
In case you missed it, the story can be found on our Web site at http://www.statenet.com/capitol_journal/02-13-2012/html.
In our Feb. 6 issue, we listed Florida as one of four states that have made no progress toward creating a health care exchange. That information came directly from an AP report, and should have been noted as such. We also understand that some efforts are underway in Florida to create an exchange, though not one under the auspices of the Affordable Care Act.
In our Feb. 13 issue, the line in our Bird's eye view text on party affiliation, "The number of states Gallup classified as "solid Democratic" - where 10 percent of respondents or more said they identified with that party -" should have read, "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.
We regret the errors.
Editor: Rich Ehisen
Associate Editor: Korey Clark
Contributing Editor: Cynthia McKeeman and Art Zimmerman
Editorial Advisor: Lou Cannon
Correspondents: Richard Cox (CA), Lauren Davis (MA), Steve Karas (CA) and Ben Livingood (PA)
Graphic Design: Vanessa Perez Design