Volume XX, No. 9
March 19, 2012
The next issue of Capitol Journal will be available on April 2nd.
GOP presidential candidates say they are anxious to overturn the Affordable Care Act. But Republican state lawmakers are torn between defeating what they call "Obamacare" and making the law work.
Repeal 'Obamacare' or help it succeed?
Republican presidential candidates and GOP members of Congress are eager to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that President Obama pushed through Congress on a party-line vote in 2010. But their Republican counterparts in the nation's statehouses are torn between resisting what they call "Obamacare" and making it work.
"The sands in the hourglass are slipping away across the country," Alabama State Rep. Gregory D. Wren (R) recently told The New York Times.
Wren, co-chair of the health reform task force of the National Conference of State Legislatures, was referring to the narrowing window available to states for creating the health insurance exchanges that are a centerpiece of the federal law. The exchanges would be online supermarkets in which uninsured individuals could shop for a health plan. As envisioned, government subsidies and competition among insurance companies would make the health plans offered on the exchanges more affordable than current plans. Through these exchanges and expansion of Medicaid, the federal-state plan that provides health care for the poor, the Obama administration hopes to insure 30 million of the approximately 50 million Americans who lack health insurance.
The states, however, face a practical problem; if they fail to present a plan to set up the exchanges by Jan. 1, 2013, the law allows the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to create federal exchanges over which the states would have no control. Wren cited this prospect, opposed by governors of both parties, in introducing HB 245, a bill to set up an Alabama exchange. But in a pattern repeated in several Republican-controlled states, the bill stalled because Gov. Robert Bentley (R) wants to wait until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of the health care legislation. The high court is scheduled to hold three days of hearings on the law beginning March 26, with a ruling expected by July 1.
There's a case to be made for waiting. But as various foes of the ACA, including Republican Gov. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania, have pointed out, waiting also entails risks. Setting up the exchanges is no easy matter, and the plans states are required to submit by the Jan. 1, 2013, deadline are supposed to include a standardized application form and a consumer-friendly online presentation. HHS on March 12 issued a 642-page document providing guidance for the states on the exchanges and granting flexibility on the minimum requirements of a health plan.
Even so, setting up the exchanges will take time. Massachusetts and Utah, the two states with functioning exchanges under state laws, took nearly a year to make them operational. The Massachusetts exchange started in 2006, as the product of a law proposed by then-Gov. Mitt Romney who as the leading Republican candidate for president now promises to repeal the federal law, which was largely modeled after his Massachusetts plan.
The Obama administration has given states financial incentives to create exchanges; HHS has doled out $600 million to 34 states that have done preliminary spadework plus a $1 million planning grant to every state. A dozen states and the District of Columbia have fully embraced the federal law with laws or executive orders creating state exchanges. California, the first to implement the federal law by creating the California Health Benefit Exchange, is especially advanced. If the Supreme Court invalidates the federal law, California is positioned to launch its own health care system should Gov. Jerry Brown (D) and the Legislature decide they want one. At the other extreme, a dozen states, notably Texas and Florida, have refused to spend their own money — or accept federal funds — to build the exchanges. Several other states, like undecided voters, don't know which way to turn. Most have taken small steps and are running in place until the court rules.
There is a partisan overlay to this activity or lack thereof. With the exception of Nevada, the states that have done the most to implement the exchanges are governed by Democrats, and the states that have done the least have Republican governors. But many Republicans are conflicted. In Michigan, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder proposed an exchange that stalled in the Republican-controlled House. In Wisconsin, Republican Gov. Scott Walker issued an executive order creating an exchange and then, under pressure from conservatives, canceled his order. In Pennsylvania, Gov. Corbett, opposes the health reform law while following the Boy Scout maxim of being prepared. He has accepted $34 million in federal funds to build an exchange.
Republicans such as Gov. Corbett and Rep. Wren believe that states that wait until the Supreme Court rules are fooling themselves. If the law is upheld, they will have to scramble to meet the Jan. 1, 2013 deadline. It's also possible — perhaps likely — that the exchanges will survive a ruling that strikes down the most disputed element of the 905-page law: a requirement that all uninsured Americans purchase health insurance. Legal analysts disagree about whether the high court will find this mandate constitutional, but most doubt that the court will invalidate the entire law.
Insurance companies, divided during the congressional debate over the law, prefer state to federal regulation and generally support creation of the state exchanges. "We hope the law is ruled constitutional in its entirety," said Tom Epstein of Blue Shield of California, a large non-profit insurer that has long favored state exchanges. Insurers will benefit if the law is upheld because they will receive federal subsidies for people who purchase health plans through an exchange.
And what if the Supreme Court rejects the mandate requiring purchase of health insurance while leaving the rest of the law intact? It's been widely forecast that such a ruling would sound the death knell for Obamacare, as it would remove the principal financing source for subsidizing the exchanges and the expansion of Medicaid. But a mandate may not be the only recourse. Kim Belshe, a high-ranking health care official for two previous California governors, suggests that insurance companies, aided by federal subsidies, could induce the uninsured to purchase health insurance by offering low-priced plans during their annual open-enrollment months. Belshe is now a director of the California Health Benefit Exchange, whose executive director, Peter Lee, calls the mandate "just one tool in the kit" of reforming health care. Although it's a tool he wants, Lee says that "a revolution in health care" will continue in any case. This revolution, if that is what it is, is driven by the costs of health care, which are more expensive in the United States than in any other industrialized nation in the world.
The American people, like their representatives, have been divided on the merits of the federal health care law ever since it was passed. A recent Gallup Poll found that 45 percent of Americans thought the law a "good thing" and 44 percent "a bad thing." (Interestingly, a vast majority — 72 percent — believes that requiring individuals to purchase health insurance is unconstitutional.) Because of this division, the political debate over health care is likely to continue no matter what the Supreme Court decides. It is also likely that insurance exchanges will proliferate, with or without the mandate. Gov. Corbett and Rep. Wren are right in saying that it makes good sense for the states to be prepared.
— By Lou Cannon
The Week in Session
States in Regular Session: AK, AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, DE, GA, HI, IA, ID, IL, KS, KY, LA, MA, MD, ME, MI, MN, MO, MS, NE, NH, NJ, NY, OH, OK, OR, PA, PR, SC, SD, TN, US, VT, WI, WV, WY
States in Recess: NC
States in Special Session: VA "a", WA "c"
Special Sessions in Recess: DE "b"
States Projected to Adjourn: WV
States Adjourned in 2012: AR, FL, IN, NM, OR, UT, VA, WA, WY Letters indicate special/extraordinary sessions
— Compiled By OWEN JARNAGIN
(session information current as of 03/15/2012)
Source: State Net database
Bird’s eye view
Construction employment up in majority of states
Construction employment rose in 28 states and held steady in two others between January 2011 and January 2012, the best showing since 2007, according to the Associated General Contractors of America. The trade group's analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that Pennsylvania had the biggest net gain in jobs during that period — 13,000 — but North Dakota had the largest net percentage increase, at 16.1 percent. Tennessee was No. 2 in both total jobs and percentage, 12,500 and 12.0 percent, respectively. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Florida lost the most jobs — 21,500 — while Alabama had the largest percentage decline, 9 percent.
Budget & taxes
WV COMMITS TO PAYING DOWN PENSION DEBT: West Virginia's unfunded pension liability — estimated at $10 billion last year — is one of the highest per capita in the nation. But the state became a standout on the issue in a very different way last month when lawmakers approved legislation proposed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) — SB 469 — dedicating $30 million per year in personal income tax revenues to help pay down that pension debt.
"We've struggled for the last three or four years to find a solution," Tomblin said. "Now, as far as I know, we're the first in the country to address it."
Public pension analysts supported that claim.
"While many states struggle with similarly low funded ratios, only West Virginia has implemented a plan to bring the funded ratio of such a large accrued liability to 100 percent," said Lisa Heller, a senior analyst at Moody's Investor Service, echoing three others who said they knew of no other state that had devoted tax revenue to that end.
States have focused instead on shrinking their unfunded liabilities. Over the last three years, nearly every one has reduced retirement benefits for public employees. (STATELINE.ORG, STATE NET)
US SENATE PASSES TRANSPORTATION BILL: On a 74-22 bipartisan vote, the U.S. Senate passed a new transportation bill last week (US SB 1813) that would keep federal funding flowing to states for another two years.
The $109 billion plan would change some transportation processes and increase funding by redirecting money currently allocated for the clean up of leaks from underground fuel tanks and by eliminating tax credits for paper makers. But it would make no major changes in the primary source of federal transportation funding: the federal gas tax. The chamber overwhelmingly rejected proposals that would have allowed states to raise money by commercializing rest stops along interstate highways, and phasing out the gas tax and turning over responsibility for transportation funding to the states.
The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) still praised the senators for their work.
"Their bipartisan approach," the group's executive director, John Horsley, said in a statement, "helped set a path forward for this bill that not only provides a greater degree of funding certainty for states, it also establishes reforms that will streamline project delivery, consolidate programs and improve performance reporting and accountability."
With less than two weeks to go before the current federal transportation program expires, the U.S. House still has to approve its own transportation bill, vote on the Senate plan or pass another short-term highway funding bill, as Congress has done eight times since 2009. (STATELINE.ORG)
PROPERTY TAX REVENUES ON DECLINE: Cities, counties and school districts collected $436 billion in property taxes in 2011, about 20 percent more than in 2006. But last year's total was just 1.2 percent more than the year before — and actually .9 percent less after adjusting for inflation — according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Property tax collections haven't fallen below the rate of inflation since 1995. And they haven't dropped below inflation-adjusted, prior-year levels — which could conceivably happen if the current downward trend continues — since the Great Depression.
What is happening is that the devaluation of housing prices is only now beginning to be reflected in American homeowners' property tax bills because of complex laws in most states forestalling property tax declines during economic downturns.
"People say, 'Hey, my house value went down. How about my tax bill going down?' But it doesn't work that way," said Robert Ross, chief assessment officer in McHenry County, Illinois, part of the metropolitan area of Chicago.
Property tax assessments in that state are based on a formula that takes into account home values going back as far as seven years. Public schools in the state, which have had to cut 3.3 percent of their workforce — 270,000 employees — since July 2008, are going to be hit particularly hard.
"We're doing everything we can to save classroom teachers," said Alexandra Nicholson, superintendent of West Northfield School District 31, which gets almost all of its revenue from property taxes. (USA TODAY)
BUDGETS IN BRIEF: Acknowledging the realities of the volatile stock market and weak investment climate, the board of the CALIFORNIA Public Employees Retirement System, the largest public pension fund in the nation, voted 9-1 last week to lower its assumed average annual rate of return a quarter of a percentage point, to 7.5 percent. The reduction will raise the state's pension costs by $167 million (LOS ANGELES TIMES). • NEVADA Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) said last week that in order to avoid further cuts to education and other services, he will seek another extension of the 2009 increase in payroll, sales and car registration taxes in his budget for the next biennium. He extended the sunset date of those levies last year after a state Supreme Court decision threw into question more than $600 million in local government funds he had planned to use to balance the budget (LAS VEGAS SUN). • OREGON lawmakers convened in special session last Monday in an effort to pass a budget addressing the state's $1 billion budget gap, which they failed to do in the 60-day session that ended on March 9, as well as in a 17-day special session last December. They will also consider a $1.2 billion plan to stimulate jobs through school construction, community and environmental cleanup projects across the state (OLYMPIAN). • WYOMING lawmakers approved and Gov. Matt Mead (R) signed legislation — SB 82 — eliminating the state's $2 cap on ATM fees, which was the only such limit in the country. Proponents said the fee wasn't enough for many small businesses to cover the costs of operating the machines, especially in rural areas (CASPER STAR-TRIBUNE, STATE NET). • OHIO Gov. John Kasich (R) unveiled a mid-term budget plan that would provide a $500 million-per-year income tax cut by increasing oil and gas taxes. The proposal also calls for $1.74 billion in construction projects, including $675 million for schools (CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER). • VIRGINIA ended its 2012 legislative session March 10 without passing a state budget, reportedly due in part to a partisan standoff over committee assignments. Work on the $85 billion, two-year spending plan will recommence in a special session on March 21 (WASHINGTON POST). • Despite signs of an improving economy, the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities projects that states will face a combined $47 billion budget gap in the fiscal year that begins in July. But that figure is less than half the shortfall states confronted a year ago and less than a third of the $191 billion gap three years ago (WALL STREET JOURNAL).
— Compiled by KOREY CLARK
Politics & leadership
LAWMAKERS ALLOWED TO CHANGE VOTES IN SEVERAL STATES: When members of California's Assembly hit the campaign trail this year touting their votes on various bills, what they say may be only half true. The state is one of 10 that allow lawmakers to change their votes on bills after they have passed or failed. The practice doesn't change the outcome of the original votes, but it allows lawmakers to take political cover from, or, alternatively, take credit for, certain votes on their official record.
The practice is used liberally in California's Assembly. In the first two months of this year alone, members employed it over 400 times. (In the state's Senate, only legislative leaders can add their votes after a bill has passed or failed, but they rarely do.)
Some of the state's most prolific users defend the practice, saying they often don't have enough time to read legislation before it is voted on and they also use the option tactically. Members will occasionally hold off on voting for a colleague's bill until they see if that colleague has voted for their legislation, said Assemblyman Tony Mendoza (D).
"Sometimes it's very political," he said.
Mendoza, who has added his vote to bills after the original tally 17 times this year, the sixth-highest amount in the Assembly, said another reason he often waits to add votes is because lawmakers make changes right up until the last minute.
"Some bills, I don't even want to vote on. I don't like them," he said. "Sometimes you don't feel good about it, but the author wants you to add on to it because it makes it look good when it goes to the Senate side."
Peter Scheer, executive director of the California-based First Amendment Coalition, said those who add votes "might as well be absent."
"Your vote is superfluous. It's worse than superfluous, because you're only adding it when it's safe, and you're wasting your constituents' time."
While lawmakers in at least nine other states also allow vote-changes or adds, they appear to do so less freely. In some cases, that's due at least in part to policy changes. Last June, after North Carolina House Speaker Pro Tempore Dale Folwell (R) asked if he could change his vote on a controversial consumer finance bill from yes to no two weeks after it had passed, House Speaker Thom Tillis instituted a new policy allowing vote changes only within 24 hours of the original vote in "an effort to protect the sanctity of the voting process," his spokesman said. And until about 10 years ago, Ohio representatives were allowed to change their votes by the end of the day, like their counterparts in California. But the House made a rule change because the practice had become so widespread that it was difficult to keep track of the vote totals. Now in order for a lawmaker to change his or her position, the House must vote to reconsider the entire bill, something that rarely happens. (ASSOCIATED PRESS, ABC NEWS)
DOJ REJECTS TX VOTER ID LAW: The U.S. Justice Department has rejected Texas' new voter ID law, concluding the state failed to prove the law would not discriminate against minority voters, as it is required to do under the Voting Rights Act because of its past record of discrimination.
"According to the state's own data, a Hispanic registered voter is at least 46.5 percent, and potentially 120 percent, more likely than a non-Hispanic registered voter to lack this identification," Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez stated in a letter to Texas Elections Director Keith Ingram. "Even using the data most favorable to the state, Hispanics disproportionately lack either a driver's license or a personal identification card issued by DPS, and that disparity is statistically significant."
Reaction to the decision broke along partisan lines.
"The DOJ has no valid reason for rejecting this important law, which requires nothing more extensive than the type of photo identification necessary to receive a library card or board an airplane," said Gov. Rick Perry (R). "Their denial is yet another example of the Obama administration's continuing and pervasive federal overreach."
U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D), however, said the Justice Department's decision was not political but rather "calculated on the data the state sent them."
It will now be up to a federal court in Washington to decide if the law can take effect. But it is unlikely to do so before the state's May 29 primary. (HOUSTON CHRONICLE)
SC LT GOV RESIGNS: South Carolina Lt. Gov. Ken Ard (R) resigned last week after pleading guilty to seven counts of violating the state's campaign finance laws. Ard evidently funneled $75,000 of his own money into his 2010 election campaign through friends and reported $87,000 worth of donations he didn't actually receive to make it appear he had more financial support than his opponents, a tactic his main primary challenger, Orangeburg attorney Bill Connor, says worked.
"That first quarter fundraising was critical in showing the big donors in the state who had the support on their side," Connor said.
Ard was spared prison but sentenced to five years' probation, a $5,000 fine and 300 hours of community service. His resignation also forced Glenn McConnell (R) to give up his post as Senate president pro tempore — considered the most powerful in the state — and assume the largely ceremonial, part-time job of lieutenant governor, as required by the state's Constitution. (POST AND COURIER [CHARLESTON], STATE [COLUMBIA], TIMES AND DEMOCRAT [ORANGEBURG])
PA PASSES VOTER ID LAW: Pennsylvania has become the ninth state in the past year to enact a strict voter ID law. Both chambers of its Legislature passed HB 934 last week with only Republican votes, and the bill was signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett (R) hours later.
Supporters argued the bill was necessary to ensure the integrity of the electoral process. Opponents, who vowed to challenge it in court, decried it as a "voter suppression bill," which will impose particular hardship on elderly, minority and handicapped voters, and a thinly veiled attempt to enhance Republican chances of defeating President Barack Obama in November. (STATE NET, CBS NEWS)
POLITICS IN BRIEF: Jurors in ALABAMA have found VictoryLand owner Milton McGregor and five other defendants, including Sen. Harri Anne Smith (I), not guilty on all counts in the retrial of the state's high profile government corruption case. When the case was tried last summer, jurors deliberated for a week before returning not guilty verdicts on some charges but saying they were hopelessly deadlocked on others (BIRMINGHAM NEWS). • VERMONT Secretary of State James Condos (D) is calling for a criminal investigation of an undercover video released via the website of a conservative activist purportedly showing individuals using the names of other people — including one who is deceased — to obtain ballots for elections in the state, including this year's presidential primary. The crime of voter fraud in VERMONT is punishable by a fine of up to $100 and up to a year in jail, Condos said (BURLINGTON FREE PRESS). A judge in WISCONSIN struck down the state's voter ID law (WI Act No. 2011-23) less than a week after another judge temporarily blocked it. Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen (R) said he will appeal the decision, but it complicates plans for officials who were hoping the law would be in effect for the state's upcoming April 3 presidential primary (GREEN BAY PRESS-GAZETTE). • The NEW HAMPSHIRE House approved a "right-to-work" bill that would prohibit collective bargaining agreements from requiring all workers to pay union fees. The 198-139 vote on HB 1677, however, is far short of the two-thirds majority that would be needed to override a likely veto by Gov. John Lynch (D) (UNION LEADER [MANCHESTER]). • NEW JERSEY lobbyists spent a record $73.2 million last year, including $15.2 million on mass media advertising, according to the state's Election Law Enforcement Commission. The spending constituted an 11.2 percent increase over 2010 (NEW JERSEY NEWSROOM).
— Compiled by KOREY CLARK
(03/15/2012 - 04/05/2012)
Illinois Primary Election
US House (All)
New York Special Election
Assembly Districts 93, 100, 103 and 145
Senate District 27
District of Columbia Primary Election
Council At-Large Districts and Wards 2, 4, 7 and 8
US House (All)
Maryland Primary Election
US House (All)
Oklahoma Special Election
House District 71
Senate District 20
SNYDER SPARS WITH DETROIT OVER FINANCIAL RESCUE: Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has offered Detroit a way to avoid having a state-appointed emergency manager take over the troubled city's finances. But that proposal, which would strip the mayor and the city council of most of their power and place the city's future in the hands of a state financial advisory board, has not gone over well with Mayor Dave Bing (D) or other city officials.
Under the proposed consent agreement, Bing and the Detroit City Council would report to a nine-member board consisting of State Treasurer Andy Dillon, one person selected by the governor, one person selected by the state treasurer, two people selected by the mayor, three people jointly appointed by the mayor and council selected from a list of six candidates provided by the governor, and one person selected by the council. Snyder and Bing would jointly recommend a new city chief executive officer, chief operating officer and human resources director, with the board having final say over who is selected. The board would also have final authority over the city's financial decisions.
In a statement, Bing said he was "tremendously disappointed" in the proposal, which he said "does not represent the spirit of partnership needed between the city and the state to resolve the city's financial challenges." Bing also decried what he said was the proposal's requirement that the city waive its ability to contest any aspect of the agreement.
"It forfeits the electoral rights of the citizens of Detroit guaranteed by the democratic process," he said.
But Snyder said he has grown tired of waiting for the city to devise its own plan for dealing with a $197 million budget shortfall that will soon leave it unable to pay its bills.
"For several months, I have made very clear through my discussions with the mayor that the best possible outcome would be for the city to develop its own, workable plan to address this financial crisis," he said in announcing the plan. "Over time, it has become increasingly clear that may not come to fruition. If the city cannot implement its own recovery plan, to address both short- and long-term problems, a consent agreement is the next best option."
Snyder compared his proposal to one implemented in New York City in 1975 when the city faced bankruptcy. That entity, the New York State Financial Control Board, stayed in place until 1986.
"Did you hear about the mayor or the City Council complaining about New York City having a financial board that was signing off things, that went on for decades?" he said. "I don't think you heard a word about it, because it just worked."
Detroit City Council members were also vocal in their opposition to Snyder's proposal, with some threatening legal action to kill the deal if it were to move forward. Councilwoman JoAnn Watson said the proposal was "outrageous" and would entail Detroit "consenting to [its] own demise."
"Who puts a noose on their own neck?" she asked.
But the governor called Detroit officials' resistance to change a "cultural challenge" that must be overcome if the city is to avoid going broke. He gave them until March 27 to either sign off on his deal or come up with a better one on their own. Not doing so, he said, will likely necessitate bringing in an emergency financial manager.
"We're running out of time," Snyder said. "And you have to have somebody on the other side to agree on something." (DETROIT FREE PRESS, POLITICO, DETROIT NEWS, NEW YORK TIMES)
CUOMO GETS PENSION REFORM WIN: The New York Legislature has given Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) much of the public employee pension reform package he wanted. Empire State lawmakers last Thursday endorsed reforms that include offering new, non-unionized state workers making less than $75,000 a year a 401(k)-style plan rather than the traditional pension given to current workers. The bill (SB 6735) also raises the state employee retirement age to 63 (from 62) and will require most workers to up the amount they contribute toward their pension from the current 3 percent to as much as 6 percent for the highest earners.
Cuomo, who had previously threatened to not sign off on a state budget — possibly shutting down the state government — unless lawmakers acted on his reform package, praised the Legislature's action.
"Without this critical reform, New Yorkers would have seen significant tax increases, as well as layoffs to teachers, firefighters and police," he said in a statement.
But while Cuomo got most of what he wanted, he also made some significant concessions. The governor had asked for the 401(k)-style plans to apply to all new workers, and he also wanted major changes to pensions for New York City police and firefighters, neither of which was part of the final package lawmakers endorsed in the wee hours last Thursday morning. Even so, officials said the changes they did endorse should save state and local governments over $80 billion over the next 30 years. Over $21 billion of that will come in New York City, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) called the measure "real reform" that "does not hurt any of our current employees or any of our current retirees."
But the measure also enraged union leaders, who called it an attack on the middle class. Danny Donohue, president of the state's largest public worker union, the Civil Service Employees Association, accused the governor of shoving reforms "down the throat of state legislators fixated on their own self-preservation."
"This deal is about politicians standing with the 1 percent — the wealthiest New Yorkers — to give them a better break while telling nurses, bus drivers, teachers, secretaries, and laborers to put up and shut up," Donohue said after the vote.
Lawmakers also passed AB 9526, a constitutional amendment that would create a bipartisan redistricting commission after the 2020 Census. The deal was another compromise for Cuomo, who had campaigned on a vow to not sign off on any legislative maps unless they were drawn by an independent body. But he gave way on that in exchange for lawmakers agreeing to the constitutional amendment and a backup law that grants the governor significantly more control over the maps if they fail to endorse the amendment in the necessary two years in a row. (NEW YORK TIMEs, DEMOCRAT AND CHRONICLE [ROCHESTER], REUTERS, ALBANY TIMES UNION)
GOVERNORS IN BRIEF: VIRGINIA Gov. Robert McDonnell (R) said he would try again next year to convince lawmakers to go along with his request to hike the Old Dominion's transportation infrastructure funding. Lawmakers last week scrapped his proposal to divert $100 million from core services to transportation (WASHINGTON POST). • UTAH Gov. Gary Herbert (R) Officially announced his plans to seek another term (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE). • Former MAINE Gov. John Baldacci (D) said he would not seek the Senate seat of the retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-MAINE). Baldacci had been considered a strong possibility to run for Snowe's seat, but he said he could not commit himself to another six years in Washington D.C. after his current term as a contract worker with the Dept. of Defense expires (BANGOR DAILY NEWS). • Current MAINE Gov. Paul LePage (R) revealed a plan to consolidate the state's four Department of Health and Human Services offices down to two, with a third being reorganized. The measure will be officially introduced to lawmakers this week (BANGOR DAILY NEWS). • NORTH CAROLINA Gov. Bev Perdue (D) said she believes the natural gas drilling practice of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," could be done safely in the Tar Heel State as long as it is regulated and drillers pay fees that will cover the cost of inspectors for the drilling operations. Perdue said the practice would create jobs and "help America and North Carolina be globally competitive" (NEWS & RECORD [GREENSBORO]). • RHODE ISLAND Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I) unveiled a seven-bill pension reform package to help local cities and towns struggling with skyrocketing pension costs. The measures include allowing cities and towns to halt cost-of-living increases if the plan is less than 60 percent funded, a new cap on pensions for employees who retire with a work-related disability and a requirement that local pension plans be no more generous than state pensions. Lawmakers must approve the proposals for them to take effect (ASSOCIATED PRESS).
— Compiled by RICH EHISEN
Here are some of the topics you will see covered in upcoming issues of the State Net Capitol Journal:
- The Amazon tax
- Child protection
- Election year politics
BUSINESS: The IOWA Senate approves SF 2275, legislation that would legalize Internet poker in the Hawkeye State. Under the proposal, casinos would manage the games, allow people to establish accounts and deposit money to use for online wagering. The bill has moved to the House (DES MOINES REGISTER, STATE NET). • Still in IOWA, the House endorses HF 2399, which would require dealers purchasing more than $50 in scrap metal at a time to pay with a check or by electronic funds transfer so police have a way by which to track the theft of copper and other metals. It is now in the Senate (QUAD-CITY TIMES [DAVENPORT]). • WISCONSIN Gov. Scott Walker (R) signs AB 450, legislation that would create a one-year pilot program to give people on unemployment a chance to take part-time training jobs with employers that could lead to full-time work. Participants will receive an additional $75 per week in unemployment benefits. • The MISSISSIPPI Senate endorses a trio of bills related to the microbrew beer industry: SB 2878, which would permit the amount of alcohol by weight in beer to be raised from 5 percent to 8 percent; SB 2370, which would allow the brewing of beer with greater than the current cap of 5 percent alcohol by weight; and SB 2600, which would allow microbreweries to offer samples of their offerings. All three measures are now in the House for review (HATTIESBURG AMERICAN). • NEBRASKA Gov. Dave Heineman (R) signs LB 780, which raises the current production limit for microbreweries from 10,000 to 20,000 barrels annually (STATE NET, LINCOLN JOURNAL STAR). • WYOMING Gov. Matt Mead (R) signs HB 87, which creates a state regulatory board to oversee the growing sport of mixed martial arts (STATE NET, CASPER TRIBUNE).
CRIME & PUNISHMENT: The MISSOURI House approves HB 1220, which would require the Show Me State Corrections and Social Services departments to start a two-year test program to provide transportation for children and a caretaker to visit their mothers in prison. It is now in the Senate (NEWS TRIBUNE [JEFFERSON CITY]). • VIRGINIA Gov. Robert McDonnell (R) signs HB 279, which would require first-time DUI offenders to install an ignition interlock on their vehicle. Old Dominion law already requires repeat offenders to install the Breathalyzer devices, which prevent a person from starting the car if they have ingested alcohol (STATE NET, WASHINGTON POST). • The WISCONSIN Senate approves SB 104, a bill that would allow judges to order GPS monitoring for people who violate restraining orders. The measure moves to Gov. Scott Walker (R) for review (STATE NET, LACROSSE TRIBUNE).
EDUCATION: The IDAHO House approves SB 1308, which would give terminated Gem State teachers three years to transfer their sick leave benefits when finding new employment. Current law allows only one year. The measure moves to Gov. Butch Otter (R) for review (IDAHO STATESMAN [BOISE], STATE NET]). • Still in IDAHO, the House approves HB 632, which would require schools to develop protocols for removing youth athletes from competition when exhibiting signs of a concussion. An injured athlete would not be allowed back into competition until cleared by a doctor. The bill is now in the Senate (STATE NET, IDAHO STATESEMAN [BOISE]). • SOUTH DAKOTA Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) signs HB 1234, an education reform measure, which among several things, creates a new evaluation system for teachers and administrators based in part on student performance. The law also creates an incentive pay system for teachers, offers scholarships to teachers in training and bonuses for math and science instructors, while phasing out teachers' continuing contract rights (RAPID CITY JOURNAL). • IOWA Attorney General Tom Miller (D) issues the opinion that online schools are legally allowed to operate in the Hawkeye State. Miller says the online courses are legal as long as the curriculum is taught by a properly licensed teacher and students enrolled in the course are supervised (DES MOINES REGISTER). • The IOWA House approves HF 2380, a bill that would, among several things, require yearly evaluations for school teachers, a test for graduating high school seniors and an extra hour of class time each day for kids in state-funded preschool programs. The measure moves to the Senate (RADIO IOWA, STATE NET). • The KENTUCKY House Education Committee fails to move HB 336, which would have linked harassment based on sexual orientation, race and other characteristic to the Bluegrass State's anti-bullying law. The inaction effectively kills the measure for this year (COURIER-JOURNAL [LOUISVILLE]). • WEST VIRGINIA Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) signs SB 221, legislation that requires in-service training for teachers and principals include at least two hours of suicide prevention education each school year (CHARLESTON GAZETTE). • The WISCONSIN Assembly passes SB 237, which would require Badger State schools to teach students that abstinence is the only reliable way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. It moves to Gov. Scott Walker for review (LACROSSE TRIBUNE).
ENVIRONMENT: The ARIZONA Senate approves SB 1332, a bill that would require the federal government to relinquish control of public lands in the Grand Canyon State. The measure, which opponents claim is unconstitutional, is now in the House (ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES [PHOENIX]). • The WISCONSIN Assembly approves SB 411, which would create a hunting season on wolves in the Badger State. It moves to Gov. Scott Walker (R) for review (ASSOCIATED PRESS, MADISON.COM, STATE NET). • The IDAHO Senate approves HB 464, which would prohibit cities and counties from enacting ordinances that make it impossible to drill for oil and gas. The bill moves to Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter (R) for review (IDAHO STATESMAN [BOISE]). • A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rules that Congress acted legally when it removed Northern Rockies wolves from protection under the Endangered Species Act last spring. Opponents had sued to block wolf hunts in states like WYOMING, MONTANA and IDAHO. The plaintiffs are considering further appeals (BILLINGS GAZETTE).
HEALTH & SCIENCE: The INDIANA House and Senate give final approval to HB 1149, which would bar smoking in all public buildings except for bars and casinos. The measure moves to Gov. Mitch Daniels (R), who is expected to sign it into law (STATE NET, JOURNAL AND COURIER [LAFAYETTE]). • The MISSOURI House approves HB 1193, legislation that would direct the state health department to develop a means of monitoring prescription medications. It has moved to the Senate (STATE NET, NEWS TRIBUNE [JEFFERSON CITY]). • The MARYLAND Senate approves SB 559, which would bar Old Line State residents from smoking in a vehicle with a passenger under 8 years old. The bill has moved to the House (STATE NET, BALTIMORE SUN). • The MICHIGAN Senate approves a trio of bills that collectively require health insurance companies to cover some treatments for autism. The measures, SB 414, SB 415 and SB 981, are now in the House (STATE NET, DETROIT NEWS).
SOCIAL ISSUES: The KENTUCKY House approves HB 200, which would create an outside statewide panel of experts to review deaths of children in order to better track those that result from abuse or neglect. The measure moves to the Senate (COURIER-JOURNAL [LOUISVILLE]). • The MAINE House and Senate indefinitely postpone ME I 3, a citizen initiative that would legalize same-sex marriage in the Pine Tree State. Lawmakers' rejection sends the proposal to voters this November (STATE NET, BANGOR DAILY NEWS). • The MICHIGAN House approves HB 5134, which would require a woman seeking an abortion to undergo an oral screening to determine if she has been coerced into ending the pregnancy. It moves to the Senate (STATE NET, DETROIT FREE PRESS). • Still in MICHIGAN, the House endorses HB 5181, which outlines civil damages a woman can receive if she has been coerced into having an abortion. It also moves to the Senate (ASSOCIATED PRESS). • The MISSISSIPPI House approves HB 1390, a bill that would require doctors at the Magnolia State's lone abortion clinic to be certified in obstetrics and gynecology and have privileges to admit patients to local hospitals. It is now in the Senate (STATE NET, HATTIESBURG AMERICAN). • The WISCONSIN Assembly approves SB 92, legislation that would bar private health insurance providers from offering abortion coverage in policies sold through a health insurance exchange. The measure moves to Gov. Scott Walker (R), who is expected to sign it into law (STATE NET, LACROSS TRIBUNE). • The NEW HAMPSHIRE House approves HB 1659, which would require women to wait 24 hours before having an abortion and be exposed to detailed information about the state of the fetus when the procedure is performed. House lawmakers also endorsed HB 1679, which would bar late term or "partial-birth" abortions, and HB 1723, which would change the state's parental-consent law for minors seeking abortions, extending the 48-hour time period for the judicial process to be resolved to two business days. All three measures move to the Senate (UNION LEADER [MANCHESTER]).
POTPOURRI: The KANSAS House approves HB 2353, which would allow Sunflower State residents to carry guns into most public buildings. The measure, which would exempt universities, hospitals and nursing homes, has moved to the Senate (STATE NET, KANSAS CITY STAR). • The ILLINOIS House approves HB 5099, which would prohibit hand-held cell phone use while driving near an emergency scene. It moves to the Senate (STATE NET, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES).
— 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: 173
Number of Intros last week: 3,998
Number of Enacted/Adopted last week: 1,361
Number of 2012 Prefiles to date: 9,465
Number of 2012 Intros to date: 63,854
Number of 2012 Session Enacted/Adopted overall to date: 7,687
Number of bills currently in State Net Database: 167,200
— Compiled By OWEN JARNAGIN
(measures current as of 03/14/2012)
Source: State Net database
Once around the statehouse lightly
NO GO FOR TOTO: Toto may have gained everlasting fame as Dorothy's favorite pooch, but even the mighty Wizard of Oz didn't have enough pull to make him the official Kansas state dog. As the Kansas City Star reports, the Sunflower State House Standing Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources last week declined to hear HB 2513, which would have bestowed that honor on the cairn terrier, the breed that played Toto in the classic 1939 MGM musical. Although the advocacy group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals threw a winged monkey into the mix by opposing the measure — the group feared that its success would further the state's notorious puppy mill problems — advocates say the bill's demise had more to do with election year politics. But fear not, Toto lovers. Bill author Rep. Ed Trimmer says he will click his heels three times and try again next year.
NOT SUCH A SWIFT MOVE AFTER ALL: Political types are fond of the ubiquitous "I want to spend more time with my family" excuse whenever they step away from the fray for a bit. As often as not, the stated desire for family life is in reality a mere reboot for some other political effort. That was clearly not the case, however, for Oregon House candidate Jack Swift...or, more accurately, "former candidate." As the Portland Oregonian reports, Swift recently dropped out of the race, citing "extreme marital distress." That torpor apparently stemmed from the fact he had not bothered to discuss his candidacy beforehand with Catherine Swift, his wife of 52 years. Ms. Swift made it clear she was not happy with the idea of him trundling off to Salem, and that was that. Mr. Swift says he did learn something from it all: "I guess one should check one's support before opening one's mouth."
WHO IS THAT MASKED MAN? To the folks at the Newark, New Jersey Goodwill Rescue mission, the scruffy fellow looking for a place to sleep was just another of the countless number of homeless that dot America's urban landscapes. But as the Columbus Dispatch reports, the down-and-out fellow was actually New Jersey Senator and former Gov. Richard Codey, who was researching alleged discrimination against the mentally ill at Garden State homeless shelters. Codey, sporting a fake beard and tattoo and dirty clothes, said he perused over 20 shelters before finding one that would take him in. But his biggest challenge was still to come: the shower call. Codey said he was "terrified" that a shower would undo the hours of work his team did applying his makeup, including tobacco stains on his teeth and broken blood vessels on his skin. Alas, he made it through the evening without blowing his cover, though he did end up with a painful sore hip from sleeping on a bedroll on the floor.
AND DROP THE PONY EXPRESS TOO: Once upon a time, train travel was the fastest way to get around the U.S. But even then, delays were inevitable, prompting Idaho lawmakers to pass a law requiring Gem State train stations to let others down the line know when a train was running behind. Even more specific, they had to do so via the telegraph. That device has of course been long overtaken by vastly more advanced technology. The law, however, remains on the books, though perhaps not for long. As the Idaho Statesman reports, lawmakers have sent Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter legislation that would finally declare the telegraph to be obsolete. This is where an acid-tongued wag would make some crack about needing to do the same for some lawmakers' thinking. Thankfully, nobody like that is around.
— By RICH EHISEN
In Case You Missed It
Nearly a decade ago, observers claimed the debate over supply-side economics to be over. But now, the theory known as "trickle down economics" under President Ronald Reagan is enjoying a resurgence in the states.
In case you missed it, the story can be found on our Web site at http://www.statenet.com/capitol_journal/03-12-2012/html.
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