Volume XX, No. 10
April 2, 2012
The next issue of Capitol Journal will be available on April 9th.
Although Republican lawmakers around the country have followed Indiana in proposing right-to-work bills, similar success has been hard to find.
Right-to-work measures not catching on
When Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) signed HB 1001 in February — making the Hoosier State the 23rd overall and the first since Oklahoma a decade earlier to adopt so-called "right-to-work" legislation that allows workers to avoid paying union dues even if a union bargains on their behalf — many observers speculated that other states with GOP-dominated legislatures would soon follow suit. But while Republican lawmakers across the country have introduced right-to-work measures, similar success has been elusive.
According to State Net, at least 16 states have introduced right-to-work bills this year, including New Hampshire, where on March 14 the House endorsed such a measure for the second straight year. Gov. John Lynch (D) vetoed the 2011 legislation, HB 474, and has vowed to do the same if this year's bill, HB 1677, gets to his desk. That does not bode well for its supporters: The 198-139 tally in the House is far from the two-thirds majority needed to make it veto-proof.
Minnesota Republicans, meanwhile, are pushing their right-to-work measure as a constitutional amendment, which must be approved by voters. But the proposals (SB 1705 and HB 2140) have sparked a mild intraparty feud. The Senate bill cleared the GOP-controlled Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, but has stalled in the Senate Rules Committee, also controlled by Republicans. The House bill, meanwhile, has stayed locked down in the Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee. Although Republicans hold majorities in both the House and Senate, legislative leaders have refused to bring the bills to their respective floors for a vote.
Many ascribe that reluctance to the bruising political brawls that anti-union efforts sparked last year in Ohio and especially Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker (R), Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch (R) and four GOP Senators face a recall vote this spring. In private, some Gopher State Republicans have expressed concern that a right-work-amendment could ignite a similarly strong backlash from the state's strong Democratic base, not something they relish in a year where every legislative seat is up for election.
Their hesitation has led SB 1705 author Sen. Dave Thompson (R) to accuse his colleagues of political cowardice.
"It's not about the policy," Thompson told The New York Times on March 20. "There is a tremendous fear of the political ramifications — it boils down to that, nothing more or less."
Thompson and approximately a dozen lawmakers from both chambers have continued to push the issue, holding a recent press conference in which they implored Senate Majority Leader David Senjem (R) to bring SB 1705 to the Senate floor. Senjem was not moved.
"We have no plans to do it at this point," Senjem told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "I don't think the votes are there."
That explanation wasn't satisfactory for Minnesota Sen. Dave Hann (R), who responded, "There's only one way to find out. And that's to bring it to the floor."
A similar intraparty conflict is shaping up in Michigan, where Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has strongly discouraged lawmakers from sending him a right-to-work bill this year. Snyder called such legislation divisive, saying right-to-work "is an issue that may have its time and place, but I don't think it is appropriate for Michigan in 2012." Michigan has several right-work bills already pending, including SB 120, which would allow local governments to establish their own right-to-work zones, and SB 729, which would establish the law for unionized school employees.
But Snyder's concern is for more than just what his fellow Republicans will do. He recently implored union activists to drop their own efforts to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot this fall that would permanently bar right-to-work legislation in the Wolverine State. The governor told the Detroit Free Press he is opposed to the union effort for the same reason he is against right-to-work legislation.
"My concern is that could start a whole divisive atmosphere of other people trying to put right-to-work on the ballot, a whole bunch of things like that, and that would distract from the good things we've got going on," Snyder said.
It isn't clear yet whether Snyder will get his wish with lawmakers, but organizers for the ballot measure insist they will not stand down, citing 80 pending or already approved bills from the last few years they say are anti-union.
"That just underscores the need for it," said Zack Pohl, a representative for We Are the People, one of the many labor groups behind the ballot drive, which must obtain 320,000 valid signatures by July 9 to get the measure onto the November ballot. "We fully expect more attacks from Legislature politicians and corporate CEOs."
That stance is sure to create just the scenario Snyder says he wants to avoid, as business leaders have said they will respond with their own counter-measures.
"We would rather not have this right at all," Michigan Chamber of Commerce Rich Studley told the Free Press, "but it would just be wrong for labor leaders to assume that there won't be active opposition."
Back in Indiana, the battle over its right-to-work law is also far from over. The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150 has filed suit in federal court, saying the law violates both the state and U.S. constitutions. Attorney General Greg Zoeller, meanwhile, told the Indianapolis Star he will vigorously defend the law.
But while the court battle may just be starting, the public relations battle has never abated. Last week, the head of MBC Group, a business analytics company that Gov. Daniels recently held up as an example of how the right-to-work law is already growing Hoosier State businesses, said the law actually had nothing to do with the company's expansion. Company president Eric Holloway said MBC had been planning the expansion for a while and the law "was not going to affect our decision one way or another."
Daniels did not offer a comment, but earlier claimed that more than two dozen companies are considering moving to Indiana because of the law, and three others have already committed to doing so. Labor leaders, however, pounced on the revelation. In an email to union supporters, the Indiana AFL-CIO cited the MBC claim in its efforts to rally opposition against right-to-work lawmakers in the November elections.
"While it's not shocking, it's disappointing that our officials would stoop to this level in order to deceive the public which they are supposed to represent," the message said.
In states like Minnesota, lawmakers and business leaders are all keeping a close eye on how the events in Indiana, Michigan, New Hampshire and elsewhere are unfolding. Charlie Weaver, head of the Minnesota Business Partnership, told the New York Times the ongoing push for a right-to-work law felt risky, noting fear that a voter backlash could return control of the Legislature to Democrats.
"So you get this, but what if you also get devastatingly bad legislation for growing jobs for the next two years? Then what?" Weaver said. "We just aren't sure whether this is a politically wise thing to do or not."
(STATE NET, NEW YORK TIMES, INDIANAPOLIS STAR, ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, DETROIT FREE PRESS, CBS ST. LOUIS, STAR TRIBUNE [MINNEAPOLIS], CONCORD MONITOR, CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR)
— Compiled by RICH EHISEN
The Week in Session
States in Regular Session: AK, AL, AZ, CO, CT, DE, HI, IA, LA, MA, MD, ME, MN, MO, MS, NE, NH, OK, PA, PR, SC, TN, VT
States in Recess: CA, DC, IL, KS, KY, MI, NC, NJ, NY, OH, US
States in Special Session: VA "a", WA "c"
Special Sessions in Recess: DE "b"
States Adjourned in 2012: AR, FL, GA, ID, IN, NM, OR, SD, UT, VA, WA, WI, WV, WY State Special Sessions Adjourned in 2012: FL "b", WV "a"
Letters indicate special/extraordinary sessions
— Compiled By OWEN JARNAGIN
(session information current as of 03/29/2012)
Source: State Net database
Bird’s eye view
Right to work bills stalled in states
Sixteen states have introduced 36 bills this session seeking to restrict unions from collecting dues from all workers at unionized companies, including non-members, according to State Net's legislative database. At least seven already have at least some form of a right-to-work law on their books. Indiana has been the most active on the issue, introducing five measures, one of which — HB 1001 — was enacted, making the state the 23rd in the nation to pass a right-to-work law. However, four right-to-work bills failed to make it through the West Virginia Legislature before it adjourned last month. And although one of the four measures introduced in New Hampshire has been passed by its house of origin — HB 1677 — Gov. John Lynch (D) has threatened to veto it as he did similar legislation last year.
Budget & taxes
PENSION SANCTITY MAY BE TESTED IN CA BANKRUPTCY: Financially troubled Stockton, California is currently in mediation with its creditors to determine whether it will file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy. The bankruptcy process is typically a collective one in which the creditors of the distressed entity negotiate a plan under court supervision to share the losses equitably, more or less; some creditors may stand more toward the front of the line than others.
But the California Public Employee Retirement System, the nation's largest public pension system, doesn't appear willing to stand in that line at all. It claims the state Constitution bars any reduction in pension obligations even in cases of severe fiscal distress.
"They will probably say it's a statutory right and it can't be changed by a bankruptcy court," said James E. Spiotto, a Chapter 9 specialist at the legal firm of Chapman & Cutler. "I think it's still subject to some question."
Under Chapter 11 bankruptcy, private companies can completely divest themselves of their pension obligations if they're able to convince a bankruptcy court it's the only way they can restructure. In such cases, the federal government, which insures most company pensions, assumes obligation of the debt. But there is no such federal backstop for municipal pensions. And since cities have managed to avoid bankruptcy until recently, there is no real precedent for how those pensions will fare under Chapter 9.
CalPERS doesn't seem inclined to allow a Chapter 11-like precedent to be established in California, however. When the city of Vallejo, declared bankruptcy in 2008, it fully expected to renegotiate its retirement plans along with everything else that was on the table.
But CalPERS warned the city's finance director at the time, Robert V. Stout, that under state law public pensions could never be decreased.
"They made it quite clear that they take that law very seriously," Stout said.
CalPERS also told the city that if the bankruptcy court ruled that federal bankruptcy law superceded the state's pension laws, it would appeal.
"We interpreted that as, 'If we try, they'll fight us through the courts forever,'" Stout said.
He and the city's lawyers opted to cut city services, gut the public retiree health plan, add a 1 percent sales tax and cut bond payments. But the city made all of its pension contributions throughout its three-year bankruptcy.
"We never shortchanged CalPERS," Stout said.
Even if the same thing happens in Stockton, however, bankruptcy lawyers say the legal issues are going to be addressed somewhere soon.
"There are a bunch of cities in bad shape, and pensions are part of the problem," said David A. Skeel Jr., a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania. "If you have a string of Chapter 9's, I don't think every one of them is going to say, 'This enormous obligation can't be touched.' I think one of them is going to take the plunge." (NEW YORK TIMES)
STUDY CASTS DOUBT ON COST SAVINGS OF 'MEDICAL HOMES': Advocates of "medical home" programs — which aim to reduce costly hospital visits by improving primary care — insist they can potentially save states and the federal government billions of dollars in Medicaid costs.
"The more we invest in the program, the more it saves," said Dr. Allen Dobson, who has led North Carolina's medical home program for over a decade. "It's like compound interest."
A study last year by the actuarial firm Milliman found that North Carolina's medical home program reduced Medicaid spending by nearly $1 billion between fiscal years 2007 and 2010. Much of that money was re-invested in the program.
Federal health officials are so sold on the medical homes concept that they've offered to cover 90 percent of the bill for states that test a variant of it called "health homes" for patients with multiple chronic conditions, including mental illness, starting in 2013. At least 41 states are already testing medical home programs, which originated in the 1960s as a means of improving care for children with asthma. The programs generally rely on patient education, electronic record-keeping and more personalized care to improve the quality of life for the chronically ill and help the healthy prevent illness. The assumption has been that they might also cut health care costs by reducing the number of emergency room visits, hospital readmissions, and expensive tests and procedures.
But a study published this year in The Journal of Managed Care, which reviewed 14 evaluations of 12 medical home programs, including North Carolina's, found that that only one provided statistically significant evidence of cost savings. And that 23 percent savings on a high-risk group of Medicare patients was offset by cost increases for patients who were healthier.
Deborah Peikes, the lead author of the Journal of Managed Care study, said that doesn't mean there's no value to medical homes.
"My sense is that the medical home model is really promising," she said. "Some interventions have been able to reduce the number of hospitalizations and improved some health outcomes. But whether the program saves money is another question."
She said medical homes that focus on patients with complex health conditions, like the federally subsidized health home program, are likely to realize the greatest cost savings. (STATELINE.ORG, AMERICAN JOURNAL OF MANAGED CARE, COMMUNITY CARE OF NORTH CAROLINA)
PROPERTY TAX SETTLEMENTS COSTING NJ BILLIONS: More than 87,000 New Jersey homeowners and businesses filed property tax appeals in 2011, nearly four times as many as in 2007. With most properties in the state not having been assessed since the collapse of the housing market, municipalities have been dealing with the onslaught largely by settling. And they've been paying a hefty price for it: The settlements cost them $3.8 billion in tax revenues last year.
The flood of appeals is showing no signs of abating this year or in the foreseeable future.
"We've seen people at the counter continuously," said East Brunswick Finance Director L. Mason Neely. "Have you seen any major change in the housing market? Until we do, this is something we're going to have to deal with." (STAR-LEDGER [NEWARK])
PROGRESS ON VA BUDGET: There was movement on — but still not complete resolution of — Virginia's budget standoff last week. The deadlock was broken after Senate Democrats agreed to divorce their effort to obtain more power in the chamber — which is split 20-20 between Democrats and Republicans but effectively controlled by the GOP because of Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling's (R) tie-breaking vote — from the budget process.
"It's not out the window, but it's not part of this," Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D) said of the Senate control issue. "This strictly has to do with financing state government and where the priorities ought to be."
The Senate then proceeded to pass an $85 billion spending plan that provides hundreds of millions of dollars in additional funding for schools, health care and transportation, including $300 million for a Metrorail extension to Dulles Airport, on a 35-4 vote.
"After a long, arduous partisan process, I'm relieved we passed a budget with a bipartisan vote," said Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment (R).
Now, negotiators will have to hammer out a compromise between the Senate budget and the version approved by the House in February. (WASHINGTON POST)
BUDGETS IN BRIEF: Last week, ILLINOIS became the first state to offer online lottery ticket sales, which netted $15,000 on the first day. At least 20 other states are considering online lottery sales or other Internet wagering, in the wake of the Justice Department ruling clearing the way for it last year (USA TODAY, NBC CHICAGO). • The MARYLAND Senate voted last month to raise income taxes on residents who earn $500,000 or more per year. The measure headed to the House, which has indicated receptiveness to the idea (BALTIMORE SUN). The Census Bureau reported last month that state and local government tax revenues rose for the ninth straight quarter. But the 2.1 percent increase in the fourth quarter was the smallest since the end of 2010 (BLOOMBERG). • WASHINGTON Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) signed a transportation budget last month. But the $800 million in new spending is a far cry from the $3.6 billion over 10 years she called for in January (OLYMPIAN). • ALABAMA Treasurer Young Boozer warned last week that the state's prepaid college tuition program will go broke in about three years without a major influx of additional funding. The Prepaid Affordable College Tuition plan currently holds about $347 million in investments, but it is paying out about $100 million in tuition per year (BIRMINGHAM NEWS). • More than 20,000 CALIFORNIA public school teachers have received pink slips informing them they may not have a job in the fall. The layoff notices are only preliminary, however, based on districts' estimates of how much money they'll have next year, which is largely contingent on the outcome of a tax proposal scheduled for the November ballot (SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE). • A proposed constitutional amendment in IDAHO to require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature for any tax increase, fee hike or reduction of a tax break, died in the House last month. The measure — HJR 1 — actually garnered a 37-33 majority in the chamber but not the required two-thirds vote needed to pass (SPOKESMAN-REVIEW [SPOKANE]). • The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled 5-4 that states cannot be sued for monetary damages for failing to give an employee time off for an illness under the Family and Medical Leave Act. The plurality opinion of the court was that the self-care provision of the FMLA is different from the family-care provisions of the law upheld by the court in 2003 in that there is no "widespread evidence of sex discrimination or sex stereotyping in the administration of sick leave" (NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO). • Job growth is picking up in the four states hit hardest by the housing bust: ARIZONA, CALIFORNIA, FLORIDA and NEVADA. The states, which are all tourist and retirement meccas, are benefiting from an uptick in travel as a result of the improving economy and an increase in the flow of retirees to Sunbelt states after a slowdown in that trend during the downturn, according to Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics (USA TODAY). • NEW YORK Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and legislative leaders reached a tentative agreement on a $132.6 billion state budget last week, setting the stage for the state to meet its perennially missed March 31 budget deadline for the second year in a row (DEMOCRAT AND CHRONICLE [ROCHESTER]).
— Compiled by KOREY CLARK
Politics & leadership
SUPREME COURT TAKES UP 'OBAMACARE': Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard three days of oral arguments in a pair of cases that will determine the fate of the Obama administration's signal legislative achievement, the Affordable Care Act.
On day one the court took up the issue of whether it should even be considering a challenge to the ACA at all. The court should not do so until the provision of the act requiring Americans to carry health insurance or pay a penalty takes effect in 2014, argued Washington D.C.-based lawyer Robert Long, the amicus curiae, or friend of the court, appointed to make that case, presumably because no one else was willing to.
Long based his argument on the Anti-Injunction Act, a 19th-century statute intended to protect the government's revenue stream by prohibiting lawsuits against taxes until the levies actually take effect. The act "imposes a pay-first, litigate-later rule" that "applies to essentially every tax penalty in the Internal Revenue Code," Long said, adding, "There is no reason to think Congress made a special exemption for the penalty" for failing to obtain health insurance.
The justices didn't seem to show much sympathy for Long's argument. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for instance, questioned the notion that the insurance penalty was a tax.
"This is not a revenue-raising measure, because, if it's successful...nobody will pay the penalty," she said.
The temperature in the courtroom warmed up considerably on day two, when the justices turned to the central issue of the ACA challenge: the constitutionality of the so-called "individual mandate." The court's four more liberal justices — Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — showed their support for the law, while the more conservative members — Antonin Scalia, Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. — showed their opposition, as expected. Although Justice Clarence Thomas didn't ask any questions, he is believed to oppose the law as well.
So all eyes were on the court's swing vote, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who had some pointed questions and comments for the Obama administration's lawyer, Solictor General Donald B. Verrilli Jr.
"Can you create commerce in order to regulate it?" he asked Verrilli in the opening minutes of the hearing. Later he told the lawyer, "You are changing the relationship of the individual to the government."
While it was noted that Kennedy is often difficult to read, his line of questioning on the whole was said to be skeptical, suggesting that a 5-4 ruling striking down the law's individual mandate was a distinct possibility.
The real surprise, however, came on day three when the court considered the severability of the ACA, or more specifically the impact striking down the individual mandate would have on the rest of the law. The conventional wisdom has been that if the mandate went, a couple of other provisions, such as the requirement that insurance companies must provide coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions, would probably have to go too, but the rest of the law would remain intact.
The conservative majority, however, gave the impression they were considering throwing out the law in its entirety.
"One way or another, Congress is going to have to reconsider this," Justice Antonin Scalia, an appointee of President Reagan, said at one point. "Why isn't it better to have them reconsider it in toto?"
Justice Ginsburg, the court's senior liberal, appealed for a more modest approach, saying the justices should undertake a "salvage job" rather than a "wrecking operation." But she was in the minority.
Even fellow liberal Justice Breyer said the court wasn't well suited to editing the rest of the law if the individual mandate falls.
"I would stay out of politics," he said. "That's for Congress, not us."
Justice Scalia put it more humorously when he asked an administration lawyer: "You really want us to go through these 2,700 pages?" He added, "Is this not totally unrealistic? That we're going to go through this enormous bill item by item and decide each one?"
Justice Kennedy also expressed reluctance to the idea of invalidating just the individual mandate, concerned about the economic impact that would have on the insurance industry. Doing so would be "a more extreme exercise of judicial power...than striking the whole," he said.
Later in the day the court reconvened to weigh the argument of Florida and 25 other states that the ACA's expansion of Medicaid amounted to coercion because of the implication that refusing to participate could cost them their current Medicaid funding.
The court's liberal bloc was baffled that states would have a problem with an expansion that was being funded almost entirely by the federal government.
"It's just a boatload of federal money for you to take and spend on poor people's health care," said Justice Kagan. "It doesn't sound coercive to me, I have to tell you."
Chief Justice Roberts actually seemed inclined to agree on that point, asserting the court's decision on the Medicaid expansion issue should take into account the fact that the states have willingly accepted federal aid "since the New Deal."
"It seems to me that they have compromised their status as independent sovereigns because they are so dependent on what the federal government has done," he said.
A ruling on all of the issues related to the two cases — National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, No. 11-393, and Florida v. Department of Health and Human Services, No. 11-400 — is expected in June. (WALL STREET JOURNAL, NEW YORK TIMES, WASHINGTON POST, STATELINE.ORG, CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR, LOS ANGELES TIMES)
AUTHORS OF 'STAND YOUR GROUND' LAW STAND GROUND: After the shooting of 17-year old Florida resident Trayvon Martin last month, plenty of Democrats in the state were saying "We told you so" and calling for the repeal of the state's "stand your ground" law. The law passed the Senate unanimously in 2005, but House Democrats warned it could have severe unintended consequences.
Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith wasn't part of the Democratic chorus then or now.
"I did not believe then, and I still have a real concern why we should put a duty to retreat on a victim. If you were genuinely defending yourself, why did you have to retreat when you were not the perpetrator?"
A former prosecutor who cosponsored the stand your ground legislation as a state senator, Smith said he couldn't see how the law could be used to defend George Zimmerman, the volunteer neighborhood watchman accused of shooting Martin.
"I've tried and defended stand your ground cases, and I've prosecuted murder cases," he said. "This individual [Zimmerman], as I understand the facts, moved the ground toward the confrontation. That's not a stand-your-ground defense. Unless there are facts that I'm not aware of, I think you'll see an arrest made.... It's hard to believe that someone was not arrested that night."
Rep. Dennis Baxley (R), another sponsor of the 2005 stand your ground bill, made the same case in an interview with MSNBC's Tamron Hall.
"There's nothing in this statute to protect people who are pursuing and confronting other people," he told her.
When Hall asked Baxley about crime statistics showing justifiable homicides were up in Florida, Baxley said that was just one statistic.
"And in fact, that statistic is coupled with another statistic," he said. "That is the fact that we've had a dramatic drop in violent crime since this law has been in effect."
Violent crime has, in fact, dropped significantly in the state since 2005, 14 percent by the Tampa Bay Times' calculations. But the Times also found that violent crime also declined 12 percent in the five years before the stand your ground law took effect. And crime rates have been dropping nationwide over the past decade in spite of the recession, which experts have attributed to everything from the reduction in the amount of cash people keep on hand because of debit cards to the positive example President Barack Obama is setting for African-American youth.
Baxley told PolitiFact Florida he didn't think the law he sponsored was the only reason for his state's drop in crime.
"I don't want to claim all the effect," he said. "But in public policy, if you make changes, and things go in a positive direction, you're grateful. So I don't want to say we caused all of it, but I do think that it helped." (TAMPA BAY TIMES, POLITIFACT FLORIDA)
POLITICS IN BRIEF: Four months after losing his seat in a recall election, former ARIZONA Senate President Russell Pearce is running for the Senate again. Pearce announced he will seek the seat in the state's new legislative District 25 (ARIZONA DAILY STAR [TUCSON]). • WISCONSIN ended its legislative session with a 30-plus-hour filibuster by Assembly Democrats in protest of a bill (SB 275) that would have dissolved the Milwaukee Area Technical College board. The impasse finally ended after Republicans agreed to allow the reappointment of the board's current members (ASSOCIATED PRESS, POST-CRESCENT [APPLETON]). • The GEORGIA Senate passed a bill (SB 469) last month that would create the "high and aggravated" misdemeanor of "conspiracy to commit criminal trespass." The measure, which would prohibit mass pickets that block movement in and out of places of employment, appears to be directed at Occupy Atlanta protesters (STATELINE.ORG). • COLORADO Democrats are calling for the removal of Secretary of State Scott Gessler because of his opposition to a bill (SB 109) that would have reclassified voters listed as "inactive-failed to vote" as active voters, allowing those signed up to receive mail ballots to get them for the 2012 election, which had drawn bipartisan support from county clerks and lawmakers. Gessler characterized the measure, which died in the House, as "radical surgery on elections administration" months before a presidential election, but Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio declared, "If [he] is unwilling to fulfill his duties as a non-partisan election officer, the people of Colorado should consider all avenues necessary to remove him as Secretary of State" (DENVER POST).
— Compiled by KOREY CLARK
(03/29/2012 - 04/19/2012)
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
Minnesota Special Election
Senate District 20
Arizona Special Primary
US House District AZ 08
CUOMO WILL ORDER HEALTH INSURANCE EXCHANGE: Frustrated that lawmakers could not agree on how to set up a federally-mandated state health insurance exchange in the recent budget agreement, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said he will soon create one himself.
"The Legislature has declined to include a health exchange in the budget, so we will set it up by executive order," Cuomo said.
New York has so far received $88 million from the federal government to pay for establishing an exchange. But in spite of steady pressure from Cuomo, Senate Republicans would not go along, citing their opposition to federal health care reform. The Obama administration has given states until January 1, 2014 to put together their own exchanges or face having one operated by the federal government. But with the U.S. Supreme Court hearing arguments last week on the law's constitutionality, many states have set aside measures to do so. Some observers said the uncertainty of the law's survival was the key factor in the Senate GOP's willingness to push back against popular Cuomo.
Early last week, Cuomo seemed to be leaning away from using a gubernatorial directive, which he acknowledged would be subordinate to legislative action. But that apparently changed after it became clear that Senate Republicans were not going to be swayed. If he follows through, the Empire State would become the fourth to set up an exchange via gubernatorial order, following Rhode Island, Mississippi and Indiana. But it is also still unclear how much power such an order would have on its own.
Blair Horner, vice president for advocacy for the American Cancer Society of New York, said his group was pleased that Cuomo was pushing ahead to create the exchange, but that advocacy groups like his would be watching closely to see what the order actually entails.
"The devil, of course, is in the details," he said.
Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos meanwhile reiterated his opposition to both the insurance exchanges and the federal Affordable Care Act, but said he would not oppose the governor's order if and when it comes.
"The governor has the right to issue executive orders," he said. "If someone wants to sue him, fine. But I do believe he has the right to issue an executive order." (ALBANY TIMES-UNION, DEMOCRAT & CHRONICLE (ROCHESTER), BUFFALO BUSINESS FIRST)
WISCONSIN SETS RECALL ELECTION DATES: The Wisconsin Governmental Accountability Board last Friday voted unanimously to order a recall election for Gov. Scott Walker (R). The board certified over 900,000 recall petition signatures, far more than the 540,000 needed to force the election to move forward. The Board set May 8 for the primary, with the general election scheduled for June 5. Walker is the first Badger State governor to face a recall election. Only two other governors — North Dakota Gov. Lynn Frazier (R) in 1921 and California Gov. Gray Davis (D) in 2003 — have been recalled from office. (NEW YORK TIMES, ASSOCIATED PRESS)
DETROIT, SNYDER INCH CLOSER TO FISCAL AGREEMENT: The Detroit City Council is expected to vote as early as Monday on a revised consent agreement with state officials that would prevent Gov. Rick Snyder (R) from appointing an emergency manager to handle the city's financial crisis. Under the latest proposal, Mayor Dave Bing and the City council would retain their power, but create a financial advisory board to help guide the city away from insolvency. It would also give the state the right to appoint the emergency manager if the city fails to comply with the fiscal reform spelled out in the proposal.
In a statement, Deputy Mayor Kirk Lewis praised the proposal.
"Of critical importance to Detroiters, this agreement preserves Charter and executive and legislative powers, including allowing the mayor to hire his own executive staff, and outlines specific support from the state," he said.
The proposal would also require the city to adopt a three-year budget, create a Project Implementation Office and hire a project manager who would monitor and facilitate financial reforms. That person would report to Bing, who called the proposal "a significant milestone in addressing the city's financial crisis."
It also calls for Detroit officials to reopen recently ratified contracts with the city's 48 labor unions, something Bing had steadfastly opposed. But Snyder has contended that the recently ratified union contracts don't offer the city sufficient savings on long-term liabilities such as post-retirement health care. The new proposal would offer a single union agreement template that would cover all city workers, including police and fire personnel. It would also do away with pensions for new workers in favor of a 401(k) plan.
Snyder has until April 5 to reach an agreement with the city, after which state law allows him to appoint an emergency manager. (DETROIT NEWS, CHICAGO TRIBUNE, DETROIT FREE PRESS)
HERBERT SIGNS ALL BUT TWO BILLS THIS SESSION: Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) finished acting on the final bits of legislation sent to him by lawmakers this year. Overall, Herbert signed 475 of the 477 bills that reached his desk, 99.6 percent. His only vetoes were of a controversial abstinence-only sex education measure (HB 363) and a measure that required school districts to use bond revenues to fund seismic studies of existing buildings (HB 414). That bill may yet become law: Herbert said he opposed it only on technical grounds and suggested he would sign it if lawmakers made specific changes. (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, STATE NET)
O'MALLEY LATEST TO SEEK PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS: The Maryland House last Monday endorsed legislation pushed by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) that would make it state policy to seek out private partners to build, operate and maintain most public assets, including roads, bridges, schools and government buildings. Such privatization efforts — long the sole province of conservative lawmakers — have been taken up recently in several Democrat-controlled states, including California and Illinois, in the name of job creation. The measure, HB 576, is now in the Senate Committee on Budget and Taxation.
The agreements, known as PPPs or P3s, have become popular among states in recent years as a more cost-effective way to build infrastructure the state might not otherwise be able to afford. The Maryland Department of Transportation in fact already has the authority to enter into a P3 agreement. If HB 576 becomes law, that authority would also be granted to the state Department of General Services, which is responsible for virtually all state building and construction projects.
But the measure also has elements not normally seen in P3 agreements, notably a requirement that private enterprises pay living wages, ensure minority business involvement and put in place other labor-friendly protections.
That ensured support from the Democrats' union base, but did not sit well with Old Line State Republicans. Republicans and even some Democrats were also outraged at another provision that would ensure speedy legal proceedings for partnership participants by allowing their legal appeals to be heard on an expedited track before the Court of Special Appeals, the state's intermediate appellate court. Del. Luiz Simmons (D) told the Capital Gazette of Annapolis that the provision would turn the state into "a banana republic" where lawmakers "routinely interfere with the judicial process on behalf of special friends and special interests."
Another significant issue is the likelihood the bill would circumvent a recent decision by a court-appointed special master that requires the O'Malley administration to produce thousands of documents justifying the decision to move forward on an eight-city-block development in Baltimore that will replace numerous state office buildings housing thousands of state employees. The administration contends the buildings are in disrepair and in some cases unsafe. Critics say the state is likely to pay vastly more in per-square-foot rent than the going rate for currently vacant office space. (CAPITAL GAZETTE [ANNAPOLIS], WASHINGTON POST)
GOVERNORS IN BRIEF: A federal judge ruled last week that MAINE Gov. Paul LePage (R) had the authority to remove a mural from the state Department of Labor. In dismissing a lawsuit seeking to force LePage to return the mural — which depicts the history of the state's labor movement — U.S. District Judge John A. Woodcock said the governor's actions constituted "government speech" (BANGOR DAILY NEWS). • COLORADO Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) said he expects to soon order a temporary ban on controlled burns by government agencies in the Centennial State. The governor's comments came after farmers and ranchers lost control of a series of controlled burns in Jefferson County intended to clear off hundreds of dead trees and help preserve a state watershed (DENVER POST).
— 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
- The ACA at the Supreme Court
- Election year politics
BUSINESS: The IDAHO House approves SB 1373, which would bar state and local Gem State governments from requiring union labor on public works projects. It moves to Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter (R) for review (STATE NET, IDAHO TRIBUNE). • WISCONSIN Gov. Scott Walker (R) signs SB 466, legislation that allows Badger State landlords to immediately dispose of property left behind by evicted tenants (STATE NET, LACROSSE TRIBUNE). • The MISSISSIPPI House approves SB 2878, a bill that would allow the amount of alcohol by weight in beer to be raised from 5 percent to 8 percent. It is now with Gov. Phil Bryant (R) for review (CLARION-LEDGER [JACKSON]). • UTAH Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signs SB 41, which bars Beehive State tanning salons from allowing minors to use a tanning bed without written permission from a doctor or without a parent present (UTAH GOVERNOR'S OFFICE). • Still in UTAH, Gov. Herbert signs HB 187, which bars people from taking unauthorized photos or video of agricultural operations. Violators face up to a year in jail (UTAH GOVERNOR'S OFFICE, SALT LAKE TIBUNE). • ARIZONA Gov. Jan Brewer (R) vetoes HB 2757, which would have legalized digital billboards in the Grand Canyon State (ARIZONA REPUBLIC [PHOENIX]). • The PENNSYLVANIA Senate approves SB 790, legislation that would allow Keystone State residents to have domestic wines shipped directly to their homes. The measure now moves to the House (STATE NET, PATRIOT-NEWS [HARRISBURG]).
CRIME & PUNISHMENT: The IOWA House and Senate approve HF 2390, which would allow those who download pornographic images of multiple children onto their computer to be charged separately for each image. It moves to Gov. Terry Branstad (R) for review (DES MOINES REGISTER). • GEORGIA Gov. Nathan Deal (R) signs SB 370, which bans the sale or possession of all forms of synthetic marijuana in the Peach State. The law takes effect immediately (ATHENS BANNER-HERALD). • INDIANA Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) signs SB 1, legislation that allows Hoosier State residents to use deadly force to resist police that illegally enter their residence (COURIER-JOURNAL [LOUSIVILLE]). • ARIZONA Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signs SB 1184, legislation that bars state or county jails and prisons from shackling pregnant inmates or detainees while they're being transported for delivery, or during labor, delivery or postpartum recovery (STATE NET, ARIZONA CAPITOL TIMES [PHOENIX]). • NEW YORK Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signs SB 6733, legislation requiring anyone convicted of a misdemeanor or felony crime to provide authorities with a DNA sample (ALBANY TIMES-UNION). • The IDAHO House and Senate give final approval to SB 1303, which would create a "three strikes" penalty for animal cruelty convictions and make it a felony to organize cockfighting events accompanied by drugs or gambling. The measure moves to Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter (R) for review (STATE NET, IDAHO STATESMAN [BOISE]). • The KENTUCKY House approves SB 3, which would limit consumers to 7.2 grams per month of medications containing pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient in illegal methamphetamine. The bill, which would also limit users to no more than 24 grams annually, has returned to the Senate (COURIER-JOURNAL [LOUISVILLE]).
EDUCATION: The ALASKA Senate approves SB 9, which would require most Last Frontier State students to stay in school until age 18. It moves to the House (ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS). • UTAH Gov. Gary Herbert (R) vetoes HB 363, which would have allowed Beehive State schools to opt out of teaching sex education. Those that continued would have been required to teach that abstinence is the only sure way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE. • FLORIDA Gov. Rick Scott (R) signs SB 98, which allows school districts to create policies that authorize students to deliver "inspirational messages" at public events. Opponents have threatened legal action to block the law (TAMPA BAY TIMES). • IDAHO Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter signs HB 481, which eliminates the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in the Gem State (IDAHO STATESMAN). • The TENNESSEE House and Senate give final approval to HB 368, which would bar state and local education officials from prohibiting teachers from challenging evolution in their classrooms. It moves to Gov. Bill Haslam (R) for review (TIMES FREE PRESS [CHATTANOOGA]). • NEW JERSEY Gov. Chris Christie (R) signs AB 2709, which creates a $1 million fund to help Garden State schools pay for state mandated anti-bullying programs (STAR-LEDGER [NEWARK]). • The ARIZONA Senate approves HB 2349, which would bar students from using medical marijuana on college and university campuses. It is now with Gov. Jan Brewer (R) for review (EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE [MESA]). • The MISSOURI House approves HB 1337, which would require all Show Me State high school students to receive CPR training in order to graduate. It moves to the Senate (NEWS TRIBUNE [JEFFERSON CITY]). •
ENVIRONMENT: The MARYLAND Senate approves SB 236, legislation that would require counties to create four land development tiers, each with different rules for managing septic systems. The measure has moved to the House (BALTIMORE SUN, STATE NET). • UTAH Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signs HB 148, a measure that demands the federal government cede to the state control of approximately 22 million acres of public lands in the Beehive State. The law gives the feds until Dec. 31 2014 to comply (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE).
HEALTH & SCIENCE: The NEW HAMPSHIRE Senate approves SB 409, which would legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes in the Granite State. The bill moves to the House (UNION LEADER [MANCHESTER]). • INDIANA Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) signs HB 1149, which bars smoking in all Hoosier State workplaces. The law, which exempts casinos and bars, takes effect July 1 (STATE NET, EVANSVILLE COURIER & PRESS). • UTAH Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signs SB 208, which makes the Beehive State the fifth to join the so-called interstate "Health Care Compact" that would replace Medicare and Medicaid with a block grant to the states. GEORGIA, OKLAHOMA, TEXAS and MISSOURI have also signed on to the measure, which must be approved by Congress (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE). • WASHINGTON Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) signs HB 2319, which creates a health insurance exchange in the Evergreen State in compliance with the federal Affordable Care Act (SEATTLE TIMES). • A federal court orders FLORIDA officials to include autism therapy for children covered under the Sunshine State Medicaid program. U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard called the coverage "an imperative" and ordered the state to begin paying for it immediately (MIAMI HERALD).
IMMIGRATION: UTAH Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signs SB 144, which requires non-attorney "immigration consultants" to be registered with the state (UTAH GOVERNOR'S OFFICE).
SOCIAL ISSUES: The ARIZONA Senate rejects HB 2625, a bill that would have allowed employers to cite religious reasons for refusing to provide coverage for birth control for their workers (EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE [MESA]). • UTAH Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signs HB 461, which imposes a 72-hour waiting period for a woman seeking to have an abortion (UTAH GOVERNOR'S OFFICE). • Still in UTAH, Gov. Herbert signs HB 155, which requires residents that receive cash assistance through Utah's Family Employment Program to be screened for illicit drug use. Those testing positive will be required to undergo treatment or lose their benefits (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE). • Also in UTAH, Gov. Herbert signs HB 316, which extends the waiting period for obtaining a divorce in the Beehive State to 90 days (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE. • The IDAHO House Committee on State Affairs says it will not hear SB 1387, a bill that would have required a woman seeking an abortion to first undergo an ultrasound, killing it for the year (IDAHO STATESMAN [BOISE]). • The NEW HAMPSHIRE House approves HB 1659, legislation that requires a woman to wait 24 hours before having an abortion. The bill moves to the Senate (CONCORD MONITOR).
POTPOURRI: The IDAHO House and Senate give final endorsement to SB 1274, a bill that would make it illegal to send, read, or write text messages while behind the wheel of a car. It moves to Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter (R) for review (IDAHO STATESMAN [BOISE]). • MAINE Gov. Paul LePage (R) signs HB 1212, a bill that allows state workers to store concealed weapons in their locked vehicles while at work (STATE NET, BANGOR DAILY NEWS). • The MICHIGAN Senate gives final approval to SB 291, which would repeal a Wolverine State law requiring anyone riding a motorcycle to wear a helmet. It moves to Gov. Rick Snyder (R) for review (LANSING STATE JOURNAL).
— 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: 50
Number of Intros last week: 1,689
Number of Enacted/Adopted last week: 1,527
Number of 2012 Prefiles to date: 9,812
Number of 2012 Intros to date: 67,312
Number of 2012 Session Enacted/Adopted overall to date: 10,102
Number of bills currently in State Net Database: 162,182
— Compiled By OWEN JARNAGIN
(measures current as of 03/29/2012)
Source: State Net database
Once around the statehouse lightly
DROPPING THE BIG ONE: Tired of what they view as attacks on their reproductive rights by lawmakers stuck in the Stone Age, angry women are fighting back via the thoroughly modern tool of social media. Known as "sarcasm bombing," women have taken to posing bluntly detailed questions about their, uh, "lady issues" on the Facebook pages of lawmakers and governors that support harsh new limits on abortion or other women's health benefits. As the Kansas City Star reports, "bombers" recently saturated Gov. Sam Brownback's site with a plethora of such questions and comments, but he is far from the only target. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who signed legislation that requires a pre-abortion procedure that some abortion advocates equate to sexual assault, and Virginia Rep. Ryan McDougle, who each supported similar legislation in the Old Dominion, have also been "bombed."
TAKING THE PLUNGE: Some people talk the talk; others walk the walk. You can safely place Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley in the latter category. As the Michigan Governor's Office reports, Calley was recently asked to help raise money to support the Special Olympics...by jumping into a large pool of very cold water set in front of the Capitol steps in Ann Arbor. Calley went along, though he might not have if he knew organizers would deem the 37 degree air temperature to be not chilly enough, prompting them to add ice to the pool beforehand. Undaunted by the frigid temps, Calley performed a perfect cannonball to the cheers of a raucous crowd. He did not, however, stick around for a victory lap, hopping back out practically before the enormous splash he created had come back to earth.
IF YOU CAN'T LAUGH AT YOURSELF: Give Texas Gov. Rick Perry some credit too. After a disastrous presidential campaign that even his friends would call humbling, nobody could have blamed him for heading back to the Lone Star State to lie low for a good long while. But as the Texas Observer reports, Perry instead took to the stage at the Gridiron Club in Washington D.C. last week to address a room full of (gasp!) reporters and poke fun at himself and a gaggle of fellow Republicans. He called the brief stint he enjoyed at the top of the GOP polls "the three most exhilarating hours of my life," adding that "the weakest Republican field in history kicked my butt." He also took a good natured swipe at former President Bush, who preceded Perry as Texas governor, saying his favorite part of the Bush presidential library "was the petting zoo."
THE BOSS HAS A MESSAGE FROM THE BOSS: Members of Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration received an interesting bit of reading last week. As the Washington Post reports, O'Malley was enthralled enough with an interview of rock music legend Bruce Springsteen, a.k.a. "The Boss," in The Rolling Stone to email copies to his Cabinet members and agency heads. The gov highlighted several passages, including one where the Jersey-born rocker laments the nation's widening income disparities and hyper-partisan political landscape. O'Malley, a musician in his own right who still occasionally plays in a Celtic rock band, says Springsteen is both a musical and political inspiration. Alas, O'Malley can't quite match the dedication of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who claims to have seen Springsteen in concert over 100 times. The AP also reports that Christie has asked his idol to play a concert in Atlantic City to bolster the Garden State's newest casino. No response yet from Springsteen.
— By RICH EHISEN
In Case You Missed It
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.
In case you missed it, the story can be found on our Web site at http://www.statenet.com/capitol_journal/03-19-2012/html.
The director of the California Health Benefit Exchange was incorrectly identified in the Cannon Perspective article in the Apr 23 SNCJ. His name is Peter Lee.
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