Volume XX, No. 11
April 9, 2012
The next issue of Capitol Journal will be available on April 16th.
We won't know until June whether the Supreme Court will uphold or strike down the Affordable Care Act. But regardless of what the High Court decides, several states are still poised to move ahead with their version of health reform.
Fate of health reform may end up in states' hands
The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court already know the likely fate of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, now known by supporters and detractors alike as "Obamacare." On March 30th, the justices met privately in a wood-paneled conference room on the court's main floor and, in keeping with court procedure, cast preliminary votes on the constitutionality of the law, wrapping up a week that began with three days of oral arguments. Although their official ruling isn't expected until June, many legal analysts now believe that based on the conservative majority's line of questioning during last month's hearings some or all of the law will be struck down. Either of those actions would undoubtedly halt the implementation of the law's mandated reforms in many states but actually might not change things all that much in others.
The states generally fall into two camps on how to proceed in light of the court's pending decision: those that intend to continue with implementation of the act's provisions as though they are still in effect and those taking a wait-and-see approach. The former group consists in part of Republican-led states that have opposed the health reform law but have moved ahead — grudgingly — with implementing its provisions, such as the requirement that states set up an insurance exchange where consumers can comparison-shop for policies by 2014.
Nebraska is one such state that isn't allowing the tenor of last month's oral arguments keep it from sticking to that timeline.
"Nebraska's position remains consistent," said the state's insurance commissioner, Bruce Ramge. "The best course of action is to plan and design, because it would be premature to make a final decision on a health insurance exchange until the Supreme Court issues an opinion."
It is the states in this group, however, that are most likely to change course on health reform if the ACA is overturned.
"We're prepared to stop at any time, or to consider moving forward," said Seema Verma, a health-policy consultant for Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R).
Even if the entire act is struck down, however, insurance exchanges might live on in some form in these states. The exchanges are one of the most popular elements of the law. States — including both Nebraska and Indiana — have already claimed about $730 million in federal money to help set them up.
"Some states would like to see an exchange survive despite any decision from the Supreme Court that might invalidate it," said Alabama state Rep. Greg Wren (R), who chairs a health reform task force for the National Conference of State Legislatures. "That's an opportunity for states to get into a state-specific plan to look at the small group marketplace."
States would be free to create their own exchanges if the whole law was overturned, but there would be less incentive for them to do so because they would no longer receive federal funding to run them or federal subsidies to help lower earners buy coverage through them.
That prospect is unlikely to stop the other group of states moving forward with implementation of the exchanges and other provisions of the law, the Democrat-controlled states that have always supported it and which seem intent on continuing full speed ahead regardless of what the Supreme Court decides.
Maryland was preparing final passage of legislation establishing ground rules for the state exchange it authorized last year on the same day the Supreme Court kicked off its hearings on the ACA.
"Here we are the day after historic lengthy arguments before the court, but it's not a reason to slow down or delay the implementation of health reform," said Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown (D).
Officials in California share that view.
"You can crystal-ball yourself to death," said Peter Lee, executive director of California's insurance exchange. "If the unthinkable became thinkable, there are members of the state Legislature, there's an exchange board, there are constituents across the state who would say, 'OK, now's the time to take the next steps.'"
California's lawmakers have also floated the idea of requiring individuals to purchase health insurance or pay a fee, like the so-called "individual mandate" at the center of the Supreme Court's deliberations on the ACA, and a requirement that only Massachusetts currently imposes.
Rhode Island is another state pushing ahead with its exchange.
"There's a role for an exchange here...and that can happen no matter what happens with the Supreme Court," said Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts (D), who has been overseeing the state's health reform efforts.
Roberts also said she pushed for an individual mandate in her state three years ago and was prepared to do so again.
That may not necessarily be an option if that provision of the ACA is struck down. Some legal experts say a Supreme Court ruling against Obamacare could prompt challenges to the Massachusetts health care law that inspired it, now referred to as "Romneycare," after former Gov. Mitt Romney, who signed it in 2006.
"If the federal mandate were struck down, I have no doubt that many of the challengers would rush to challenge state mandates," said Jeffrey Rosen, a law professor at George Washington University.
What is particularly interesting about the Massachusetts law, though, is that it seems to be achieving what the ACA was primarily intended to do: reduce the number of Americans without health insurance. For the last four years, Massachusetts has had the lowest uninsured rate in the country. (See Bird's eye view.) And the state health reform law is becoming increasingly popular. A survey conducted last year by the Boston Globe and the Harvard School of Public Health found that more than two thirds of the state's residents support it.
At any rate, Massachusetts health care executives don't seem too concerned about the future of the state law, even if its federal counterpart is declared unconstitutional.
"What I've told my team is that no matter what happens at the Supreme Court, and whether or not President Obama is reelected, health care reform will continue in Massachusetts," said Kate Walsh, chief executive of Boston Medical Center, the primary teaching hospital for Boston University School of Medicine and the largest safety net hospital in New England. "What might happen, though, is that the state would have fewer funds to do the work."
Health reform is unlikely to continue in the wait-and-see group of states, however, if the Supreme Court strikes down the ACA. But many of those states have resisted doing anything in support of the law since its enactment in 2010, and last month's legal developments have only strengthened their resolve.
"Based on questions from the justices this week, I think it's clear they have some significant issues with the individual mandate, which would cause the whole act to come down," said Oklahoma's insurance commissioner John Doak, who expects his state to continue its "holding pattern" until the Supreme Court issues its ruling. "I'd encourage others to just stop the presses, take a deep breath, so they're not wasting their time."
A spokesman for Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) said state officials there would comply with the law if it is upheld, but they would "cross that bridge when we come to it."
Ohio Lt. Gov. and Insurance Commissioner Mary Taylor (R), meanwhile, said her state would determine for itself what's best for its citizens, no matter what the Supreme Court decides.
"Regardless of how the Supreme Court rules, we're looking for a solution that works for Ohio," she said. "And quite frankly, Obamacare doesn't work for our state."
That position may not require Ohio to defy the court, judging from last month's hearings. But oral arguments aren't always a reliable predictor of how the court will ultimately rule. And the justices' preliminary votes aren't set in stone. Minds can change between now and June. In 1992, Chief Justice William Rehnquist assigned Justice Anthony Kennedy the task of writing a majority opinion for five justices upholding prayer at public school graduations. Kennedy actually ended up writing a majority opinion for a different combination of five justices striking down the graduation prayers, after changing his position on the subject during the writing process.
(WALL STREET JOURNAL, CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR, POLITICO, BOSTON GLOBE)
— Compiled by KOREY CLARK
The Week in Session
States in Regular Session: AK, AL, AZ, CO, CT, DE, HI, IA, LA, MA, MD, ME, MO, MS, NE, OK, PR, SC, TN, \ VT
States in Recess: CA, DC, IL, KS, KY, MI, MN, NC, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, US
States in Special Session: WA "c"
Special Sessions in Recess: DE "b", VA "a"
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 DENA BLODGETT
(session information current as of 04/05/2012)
Source: State Net database
Bird’s eye view
Uninsured rates not falling consistently in any state
For the fourth year in a row, Massachusetts has the lowest percentage of residents without health insurance (4.9 percent), and Texas has the highest (27.6 percent), according to polling firm Gallup, Inc. In fact, there has been relatively little change in the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index of any state since 2008, suggesting that none have made significant progress in reducing their percentage of uninsured over the last four years. The rates in five states — Rhode Island, Florida, California, New Jersey, and New York — have actually increased measurably each year. Massachusetts' low rates, meanwhile, are likely due to the health insurance reforms passed there in 2006, Gallup said.
Budget & taxes
RISKY PENSION INVESTMENTS NOT PAYING OFF: Hoping to boost their investment returns and shrink looming deficits, public pension systems across the nation have been turning to riskier investments, such as private equity and hedge funds. But their returns haven't been rising nearly as much as their management fees. In fact, in recent years, more traditional investments like stocks and bonds have outperformed the alternative investments and incurred a fraction of the fees.
The Pennsylvania State Employees' Retirement System, for example, has more than 46 percent of its $26.3 billion in assets invested in riskier alternatives, including private equity funds and real estate. Over the last five years, the system paid roughly $1.35 billion in management fees — over 5 percent of the total value of the fund over a five-year period — while realizing an annualized return of just 3.6 percent, well below the 8 percent it needs to meet its financing requirements and also lagging behind the 4.9 percent median return for all public pension systems. Georgia's $14.4 billion retirement system, meanwhile, which is prohibited from investing in alternative investments, earned 5.3 percent per year over that same five-year period and paid only about $54 million in fees.
Those two retirement systems represent the opposite ends of the spectrum, with Pennsylvania among those with the highest percentages of assets in alternative investments and Georgia among those with the lowest percentages of assets in such investments. But funds with over a third of their money in alternative investments had return rates more than a percentage point lower than those of funds that avoided such investments and paid nearly four times more in fees.
Some retirement system managers say a five-year period is too short to judge the performance of alternative investments. Joseph A. Dear, chief investment officer for California's Public Employee Retirement System, the nation's largest, said while Calpers' real estate investments had been "a disaster" and its hedge fund investments hadn't met their benchmarks, its private equity holdings had easily outperformed public stock returns over the last ten years.
"Over the longer term, that kind of outperformance represents real skill, not luck, and it's worth paying for," he said.
Ultimately, the heads of pension funds don't feel like they have much of a choice. Putting their money in low-risk investments like 10-year Treasury notes with a yield of a about 2 percent just won't allow the funds to keep pace with what they pay out to retirees.
"We can't put it in Treasury notes and bonds; that's just not making any money," said Sam Jordan, chief executive of the Austin Police Retirement System in Texas.
Unfortunately, the Austin Police Retirement System's choice of alternative investments in 2000 wasn't the most propitious: real estate in Nevada and Florida, epicenters of the real estate collapse. (NEW YORK TIMES, 89.3 KPCC [SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA PUBLIC RADIO])
TAX REVENUES BOOSTING PUBLIC EMPLOYMENT: After four years of teacher and other public employee layoffs, state and local government employment is starting to stabilize as tax revenues rebound.
The public-sector workforce shrunk by just 7,000 in the first two months of this year, less than a third of the 22,000-per-month average in 2011, according to U.S. Labor Department data.
"We're at a point where we're nearing the bottom," said Christopher Hoene, director of research for the National League of Cities, adding that some cities aren't far off from hiring again.
"In the sense of the business cycle for local governments, the curve is starting to change,"
The public sector has shed 689,000 jobs since April 2009. But Deutsche Bank is forecasting that total government employment will rise by a few thousand jobs per month in the second half of this year, while IHS Global Insight and Moody's Analytics are projecting employment gains next year.
The turnaround is being fueled by improving state and local tax collections, which increased by 4.5 percent last year, the biggest gain since 2006. Property taxes have also risen for two consecutive quarters, according to Census data.
But not all local governments are on the verge of a hiring binge. Detroit, Michigan and Stockton, California are among cities struggling to avoid bankruptcy. And property taxes are about to fall in Baltimore, Maryland for the first time since the collapse of the housing market because of the way assessments are phased in there. The city has cut about 1,000 jobs since 2009, mostly by eliminating vacant positions. It may have to cut another 230 positions now.
"I'm not sure that's a dramatic change," said the city's budget director, Andrew Kleine. "As I see it, we're not out of the woods by any means." (BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK)
BUDGETS IN BRIEF: The KANSAS Legislature's failure to pass a supplemental budget is forcing a shutdown of the court system for five days over the next two months (KANSAS CITY STAR). • The IDAHO Legislature passed a $35.7 million tax cut for the state's top earners before wrapping up its 81-day session last month (SPOKESMAN-REVIEW [SPOKANE]). • A federal court has thrown out a COLORADO law passed in 2010 aimed at spurring online retailers like Amazon to collect state sales taxes. The law and the rules implementing it "impose an undue burden on interstate commerce" and are unconstitutional, U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn wrote in his opinion (DENVER POST).
— Compiled by KOREY CLARK
Politics & leadership
CA PONDERING PUBLIC WORKER PROTECTIONS: California is certainly bucking the trend with legislation under consideration in the state's Assembly. Across the country, public workers have seen their power curbed and benefits cut by states squeezed between moribund revenues and growing public pension debt. Even in California, where public employee unions hold considerable sway, state workers have been subject to furloughs and other cost-cutting measures in recent years.
That is one of the very reasons Assemblyman Roger Dickinson (D) proposed AB 1655, the "Public Employees' Bill of Rights Act." Although Dickinson — whose Sacramento district has more public workers than any other in the state — believes conditions for public employees have generally improved under current Gov. Jerry Brown (D), he also believes fundamental rights for such workers should be codified so they aren't subject to the whims of whoever happens to be occupying the governor's office. Among other things, the bill would give public employees priority over private-sector contractors in filling positions and protect them from being "compelled to perform extra work, including work caused by vacancies, furloughs, or layoffs, without fair compensation."
The bill has been the subject of sharp criticism in the state, where public workers already enjoy some of the most generous benefits and job protections of any public employees in the nation. A recent editorial in the Modesto Bee, for instance, called the bill "a gesture that stretches the bounds of pandering."
"There is hardly a workplace in recession-battered America that has not been hit with layoffs," the editorial stated. "Private-sector workers regularly shoulder additional responsibilities along with pay cuts....Despite the valuable work that many of them do, government workers should not be shielded from such realities."
But Dickinson takes issue with the popular view that the state's public workers have a sweet deal.
"I don't know how good a deal it is to get your salary cut by 15 percent," he said. "I don't know how good of a deal it is to wake up and have people on radio shows and on the news deriding what you do for your career or your profession. I don't know how comfortable it is to have people use the term public employee as an epithet. I think it has become much more challenging in the past several years to be a public employee."
And Dickinson's view might end up being the one that prevails. His bill was approved by the Assembly's Public Employees, Retirement and Social Security committee this month and some insiders believe it has a good chance of becoming law, with Democrats controlling both the Legislature and the governor's office. (STATELINE.ORG, MODESTO BEE, STATE NET)
PA HOUSE PASSES BILL TO SHRINK LEGISLATURE: An effort to shrink the size of the Pennsylvania General Assembly advanced one step further than any previous attempt when the House of Representatives approved a bill last week (HB 153) that would reduce the total number of state legislative seats by 62.
The proposal — which would cut the number of House members from 203 to 153 and the number of senators from 50 to 38 — passed the House on a 140-49 vote, with most Republicans, who control the chamber, backing the measure and the Democrats split. Some rural legislators said they opposed the bill because of concerns about increasing the size of districts by 20,000 residents. But House Speaker Sam Smith (R) countered that it would be easier for lawmakers to communicate with each other and represent their constituents in a smaller chamber. He was also encouraged by the bill's showing in his chamber.
"The fact that we got it out of the House with 140 votes gives it a better-than-average chance" of progressing further, he said.
Rep. Mark Mustio (R), who has backed efforts to shrink the state's Legislature since 2006, attributed the measure's success this time around to the influx of new legislators in recent years.
The bill still has a long way to go, however. It must first pass the Senate, where it is believed to have the support of Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R), and then be approved by both legislative chambers again next session before going before voters in a referendum. (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, STATE NET)
POLITICS IN BRIEF: Although there has been no formal discussion of the issue, NEW YORK state lawmakers may be considering a legislative pay raise. Assemblyman Jim Tedisco (R) said: "Anything's possible with the New York State Legislature. Look: two on-time budgets. That proves anything is possible" (TIMES UNION [ALBANY]). • MINNESOTA's Republican-led Legislature has approved HB 2738, a constitutional voter ID requirement for the November ballot. The action bypasses Gov. Mark Dayton (D), who vetoed a voter ID bill last year (REUTERS). • FLORIDA Senate Republican leaders have hired Miami lawyer and former state Supreme Court justice Raoul Cantero to represent them when they present a revised district map to that court. The court approved the House map but struck down the Senate's map last month, finding it "rife with indicators of improper intent" (TAMPA BAY TIMES). • Also in FLORIDA, state lawmakers passed a bill on the last day of the session reducing contributions to the retirement accounts of 100,000 public employees. The measure — HB 5005 — passed both chambers, which are controlled by Republicans, by wide margins (MIAMI HERALD, STATE NET). • The Service Employees International Union has filed a complaint against ALABAMA's immigration law (2011 HB 56) with the United Nation's International Labour Organization Committee on Freedom of Association, which promotes the rights of laborers (BIRMINGHAM NEWS).
— Compiled by KOREY CLARK
(04/05/2012 - 04/26/2012)
Minnesota Special Election
Senate District 20
Arizona Special Primary
US House District AZ 08
Alabama Primary Runoff
US House Districts AL 04 and AL 06
Pennsylvania Primary Election
Constitutional Officers: Treasurer,
Attorney General, Auditor General
US House (All)
Pennsylvania Special Election
House Districts 22, 134, 153, 169, 186 and 197
BRANSTAD IN BEEF WITH 'PINK SLIME' CRITICS: Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) has called for a Congressional probe into what he called a "vicious smear campaign" against the beef filler product Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB), now commonly known as "pink slime" by its critics.
"We need to get to the bottom of this," Branstad told reporters at his weekly press conference. "We need to find who's behind it and why they're doing it."
The governor left little doubt as to who he believes has spurred the recent public outcry against LFTB: "People who don't like meat" abetted by "Hollywood," "media elites" and "celebrity chefs."
Branstad said he has spoken to several members of Congress to request hearings to investigate what he called unfounded concerns about the product, which is comprised of finely ground beef scraps and connective tissue that have been processed and treated with ammonia gas to kill off bacteria. Although LFTB cannot be sold as a singular product, ground beef often contains as much as 15 percent of the product.
The issue came to light last month when media reports revealed that 70 percent of the ground beef sold in supermarkets contained some amount of LFTB. The ensuing public outcry prompted several of the country's largest grocery chains, including Safeway and Kroger, to stop carrying beef that contained the beef additive. Fast food chains McDonald's, Taco Bell and Burger King soon announced they were also discontinuing their use of the product, while several other grocery and restaurant chains ran ads to say they had never used LFTB. The USDA also announced it would henceforth allow school districts the option of choosing beef without the additive.
The fallout was fast and furious for companies making LFTB. Since March, Beef Products, Inc., a South Dakota-based company with plants in several states, has closed three of its four plants, one each in Iowa, Kansas and Texas. Another manufacturer, Pennsylvania-based AFA Foods declared bankruptcy last week, citing "ongoing media attention" on the issue.
Branstad noted the plant closings have put hundreds of jobs in limbo, including 220 at the Waterloo, Iowa facility. In addition to requesting Congressional action, the governor has sent all Iowa school superintendents a letter requesting they continue serving the product in their schools. Branstad said he planned to send a similar request to all 49 other governors as well.
Meanwhile, beef manufacturing companies like Beef Products Inc. have started labeling beef that contains the so-called pink slime, hoping that the upfront information will restore consumer confidence in the product. Early response, however, has not been positive. Several grocery and restaurant outlets said last Thursday they would not reconsider their stance against using beef that contains the additive. (DES MOINES REGISTER, BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK, QUAD-CITY TIMES [DAVENPORT], KEARNEYHUB.COM, KANSAS CITY STAR)
BROWN ADMINSTRATION INTROS NEW HIGH-SPEED RAIL PLAN: The California High-Speed Rail Authority last week released its latest plan for bringing a bullet train system to the Golden State. Under pressure from Gov. Jerry Brown (D) to lower the plan's costs and increase its reach into heavily populate areas, the Authority's new proposal came with a $68 billion price tag, $30 billion less than just five months ago. It also is now slated to operate more throughout the state, with greater influx into the San Francisco Bay Area in the north and the Los Angeles basin in the south, albeit with slower trains in many of those areas.
But numerous questions still remain. To date, only about $13 billion in funding for the project has been clearly identified — about $3.3 billion in federal funds with the rest coming from state bonds. Lawmakers must soon decide whether to authorize the initial release of $2.3 billion in bond funds to get the project off the ground, a questionable proposition given there are no assurances of where the rest of the money will come from. To that end, the Brown administration offered up a new possibility last week: money from the state's nascent cap-and-trade program.
Rail backers have estimated fees generated by the cap-and-trade pollution auction could produce up to $4 billion annually, some or all of which could be used to complete the project. Brown's latest budget release, however, estimates only $1 billion in annual cap-and-trade revenue. It also did not identify any specific areas where that money would be spent.
But some high-speed rail supporters are not thrilled with the proposal to use slower trains in some locations, saying that does not constitute the rail package voters endorsed in 2008.
"The voters didn't vote to borrow money for two commute train services, they voted money for a high-speed statewide system," said former High-Speed Rail Authority Quentin Kopp, who retired last year. "It's dizzying to think about this scheme."
Brown, meanwhile, also noted he will not be stopped should lawmakers decline to go along with the current plan.
"One way or the other, if we can't get it through the Legislature," Brown told the Sacramento Bee, "then there's always the initiative route at some point." (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, SACRAMENTO BEE) SNYDER GETS DETROIT DEAL: Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) got his wish last week when the Detroit City Council narrowly agreed to the state's consent agreement, allowing the governor to avoid naming an emergency manager for the financially troubled city. Doing so would have essentially amounted to a state takeover of the Wolverine State's largest city.
"Approval of the consent agreement is a positive opportunity for the city and our entire state. It's a clear message that we will move forward — and win — as one Michigan. We all want Detroit to succeed," Snyder said in a statement. "This agreement paves the way for a good-faith partnership that will restore the fiscal integrity taxpayers expect and ensure the delivery of services that families deserve."
The agreement calls for the creation of a nine-member advisory board to oversee the city's finances. The deal also effectively quashes wage and benefit giveback agreements Mayor Dave Bing had earlier negotiated with municipal unions, which were a major part of his plan to address the city's $270 million budget shortfall. Snyder, however, said the concessions weren't enough, and the consent agreement requires the city to negotiate new deals with the unions by July 16. (BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK, DETROIT NEWS, MLIVE.COM, MICHIGAN GOVERNOR'S OFFICE)
CUOMO POPULAR, HIS METHODS ARE NOT: A new Quinnipiac University poll showed that 68 percent of Empire State residents approve of the job Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is doing. But even more are not so fond of how he is doing it. According to the poll, 76 percent say they are unhappy about what they say is a lack of transparency surrounding some of the governor's major legislative deals, from same-sex marriage to the budget. Forty percent of those surveyed said they saw the clandestine deal-making as a "very serious" problem. Another 36 percent saw it as a "somewhat serious" issue. Cuomo both acknowledged and downplayed the poll during an appearance in Buffalo last week.
"Look, I understand you can always do it better, and our goal is a perfect process, and we're working very hard to make it perfect," Cuomo told reporters. "But while it's a worthy goal, it's often unattainable. So the more transparent, the better - I get it - and we're doing everything we can." (NEW YORK TIMES, ALBANY TIMES-UNION)
GOVERNORS IN BRIEF: Citing the growing possibility that lawmakers would come up with a different option, WASHINGTON Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) suspended a plan by the state Medicaid program to stop paying for emergency-room visits for all conditions deemed "nonemergency." The plan was slated to take effect on March 30 (SEATTLE TIMES). • An aid to TEXAS Gov. Rick Perry (R) has refuted claims in a soon-to-be-released ebook that the governor was under the influence of painkillers during his recent failed presidential campaign. Perry spokesperson Ray Sullivan decried the claims, calling them "a low in irresponsible, unsourced and unfounded 'reporting'" (THE HILL [WASHINGTON D.C.]). • RHODE ISLAND Gov. Lincoln Chaffee (I) told the state chairman of the Board of Governors for Higher Education last week that he won't support retroactive 3-percent raises tentatively negotiated with faculty at the University of Rhode Island and three other college unions. Chafee said the state could not afford the raises (PROVIDENCE JOURNAL). • The MAINE House and Senate issued its first veto override to Gov. Paul LePage (R) last week. Lawmakers had sustained Gov. LePage's 16 previous vetoes. The rejection came on HB 739, a measure that addresses how schools receive federal funds for certain medical services for special education students (BANGOR DAILY NEWS, STATE NET).
— Compiled by RICH EHISEN
Here are some of the topics you will see covered in upcoming issues of the State Net Capitol Journal:
- Health care
- The Amazon tax
BUSINESS: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announces it will not ban the use of bisphenol A, or BPA, in food packaging. Critics say the chemical has been linked to numerous health problems, particularly among children. The FDA said it would continue to study the chemical's safety (COLUMBUS DISPATCH). • WASHINGTON Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) signs HB 2239, which establishes social purpose corporations — organized to promote positive short- or long-term effects on the public, employees or the environment — in the Evergreen State (BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK). • Still in WASHINGTON, Gov. Gregoire signs HB 2361, which classifies usage-based auto insurance formulas as trade secrets (WASHINGTON GOVERNOR'S OFFICE, STATE NET). • WISCONSIN Gov. Scott Walker (R) signs SB 185, legislation that bars solicitors from sending text messages to cell numbers on the Badger State's no-call list (LACROSS TRIBUNE). • Still in WISCONSIN, Gov. Walker signs AB 290, which allows stores that sell wine- and beer-making supplies to offer samples of those beverages as long as they are provided for free (STATE NET, WISCONSIN GOVERNOR'S OFFICE). • The MAINE House sustains Gov. Paul LePage's (R) veto of (HB 128), a bill that would have barred mortgage companies from foreclosing on homes on which they do not have legal ownership and required banks to present the original mortgage note or proof of ownership before court proceedings (BANGOR DAILY NEWS). • The U.S. District Court for COLORADO rules that a Centennial State law requiring online retailers to either collect sales tax from purchasers or report those purchases to the state is unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn said the law was unfairly tilted against out-of-state retailers. State officials are considering an appeal (DENVER BUSINESS JOURNAL). • The ALABAMA House approves SB 63, which allows Heart of Dixie companies to contract with the state prison system for inmate labor. The measure moves to Gov. Robert Bentley (R) for review (BIRMINGHAM NEWS). • WEST VIRGINIA Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) signs SB 597, which requires hotels, motels, apartment buildings, dormitories and a variety of other public buildings to have carbon monoxide detectors. The law goes into effect September 1 (WEST VIRGINIA GOVERNOR'S OFFICE).
CRIME & PUNISHMENT: The OHIO Supreme Court overturns a Buckeye State law requiring some juvenile sex offenders to register with law enforcement and have their photos, addresses and criminal histories distributed to neighbors, schools and other places. The court said the law was unconstitutionally cruel and unusual (PLAIN DEALER [CLEVELAND]). *Still in OHIO, U.S. District Judge Gregory Frost issues an order that allows the Buckeye State to resume executing condemned prisoners. Frost, who had issued an injunction in January blocking executions, said prison officials had taken sufficient steps to improve its execution procedures enough to be allowed to carry out death sentences (PLAIN DEALER [CLEVELAND]). • WASHINGTON Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) signs HB 2191, which imposes fines up to $10,000 for hurting or killing a police dog. The new law goes into effect in June (SEATTLE TIMES). • MAINE Gov. Paul LePage (R) signs HB 1192 a, which adds five more cathinone derivative substances to those already banned by the Pine Tree State. The synthetic chemicals are used to make cocaine-like drugs often sold as so-called "bath salts" (BANGOR DAILY NEWS). • IOWA Gov. Terry Branstad (R) signs HF 2390, which creates a new felony offense of recruiting or forcing a minor into commercial sexual activity. The law also codifies that ignorance of a victim's age is no defense against human trafficking charges (DES MOINES REGISTER). • The CONNECTICUT Senate approves SB 280, legislation that would make the Constitution State the 17th to abolish the death penalty. It now moves to the House (CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR).
EDUCATION: A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejects a challenge to a CALIFORNIA law that bars the use of race, ethnicity and gender in admitting students to public colleges and universities. Opponents of the law say they will appeal to the full 9th Circuit (SACRAMENTO BEE). • WISCONSIN Gov. Scott Walker (R) signs AB 259, which makes the Badger State the 32nd to require student athletes suffering possible concussions to be cleared by a health professional before legally returning to play. The law also mandates that parents of student athletes younger than 19 be provided with written material describing symptoms of concussion (STATE NET, POST CRESCENT [APPLETON]). • The TENNESSEE Senate unanimously approves SB 3558, so-called "baggy pants" legislation that bars students from wearing clothing that exposes their underwear or body parts. It has moved to Gov. Bill Haslam (R) for review (STATE NET, TIMES FREE PRESS [CHATTANOOGA]). • MINNESOTA Gov. Mark Dayton (D) signs SB 1917, which extends for one year the ability of Gopher State schools to use prone restraints to subdue or calm children with severe mental health disabilities (STATE NET, MINNESOTA GOVERNOR'S OFFICE). • ARIZONA Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signs HB 2349, which bans the use of medical marijuana on all Grand Canyon State public school campuses, including colleges, universities, pre-schools and child care facilities (ARIZONA REPUBLIC [PHOENIX]).
ENVIRONMENT: MINNESOTA Gov. Mark Dayton (D) signs SB 1567, which allows the state Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Natural Resources to act on environmental permit applications within 150 days of submission. The law also allows some construction projects to begin before permits are issued and allows businesses to hire other private companies to complete environmental reviews (MINNESOTA GOVERNOR'S OFFICE, BRAINERD DISPATCH, STATE NET). • WISCONSIN Gov. Scott Walker (R) signs SB 411, which authorizes a gray wolf hunting season in the Badger State if the wolf is removed from federal protection under the Endangered Species Act (STATE NET, WISCONSIN GOVERNOR'S OFFICE).
HEALTH & SCIENCE: WASHINGTON Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) signs HB 2366, which requires a broad spectrum of Evergreen State drug, marriage and mental health counselors and psychologists to be trained in suicide assessment, treatment and management (STATE NET, WASHINGTON GOVERNOR'S OFFICE).
SOCIAL POLICY: The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refuses to reconsider its 2011 order blocking ARIZONA from barring benefits for domestic partners of state employees. Gov. Jan Brewer (R) is considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court (ARIZONA REPUBLIC [PHOENIX]). • WASHINGTON Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) signs SB 6386, which bars welfare recipients from using state-provided benefits cards at bars, nightclubs, tattoo parlors, strip clubs, liquor stores, bail bond agencies and gambling venues, among others. Under the law, businesses that provide those products and services must also disable ATM machines on their premises that accept benefit cards (STATE NET, WASHINGTON GOVERNOR'S OFFICE). • The MISSISSIPPI Senate approves HB 1390, which would require any doctor performing abortions at an abortion clinic to be a board-certified OB-GYN with admitting privileges at a local hospital. The measure is now headed to Gov. Phil Bryant (R), who is expected to sign it (CLARION LEDGER [JACKSON], STATE NET). POTPOURRI: WEST VIRGINIA Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) signs SB 211, which makes texting while driving a primary vehicular offense. The law also makes it a secondary offense for drivers to talk on a cell phone without using a hands-free device (WEST VIRGINIA GOVERNOR'S OFFICE). • Still in WEST VIRGINIA, Gov. Tomblin vetoes SB 477, which would have barred residents from owning exotic animals. The governor expressed concern over the cost of enforcing the measure (CHARLESTON GAZETTE, STATE NET).
— 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: 97
Number of Intros last week: 1,389
Number of Enacted/Adopted last week: 1,446
Number of 2012 Prefiles to date: 9,909
Number of 2012 Intros to date: 68,701
Number of 2012 Session Enacted/Adopted overall to date: 11,548
Number of bills currently in State Net Database: 163,647
— Compiled By DENA BLODGETT
(measures current as of 04/05/2012)
Source: State Net database
Once around the statehouse lightly
PANTS ARE AFLAME THEY ARE: U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once famously noted that we are all entitled to our own opinions but not to our own facts. Former Pennsylvania Senator and current presidential candidate Rick Santorum clearly missed that memo. As the San Francisco Chronicle reports, Santorum was bemoaning the state of U.S. higher education to folks at a Wisconsin campaign stop last week. To illustrate his point, he noted several California universities don't even teach courses in U.S. history, a clear sign of how far off track we are as a nation, yada, yada, yada. The only problem, as multiple media outlets quickly pointed out, is that in fact, all 23 California State University campuses not only offer history, they require students to take it to graduate. Nine of the 10 University of California campuses have the same requirement. Aha, you say! He was kind of right then — he just had his numbers wrong. Uh, not really. The 10th, UC San Francisco, is a medical school. Even so, it offers a course in the history of American medicine. So no, candidate Santorum was just completely and totally wrong. And needs a fire extinguisher for his trousers.
SPEAKING OF HISTORICAL FICTION: We all know Congress has trouble agreeing which day of the week it is, so it was pretty shocking a few weeks back when the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly endorsed a bill that honors Salem, Massachusetts as the birthplace of the U.S. National Guard. The honor is based on the theory that Salem had the nation's first militia, starting in 1629. This was particularly surprising to Virginia Rep. Morgan H. Griffith, who was pretty sure the Old Dominion colony of Jamestown was founded well before Salem. As the Washington Times reports, a little research proved him correct — Jamestown first formed a militia in 1624, five years before Salem. Alas, 413 House members chose not to go with the facts, sending the measure to the Senate, leaving a ruffled Griffith to fume that "Massachusetts has first-colony envy."
AND THE WINNER IS: California Gov. Jerry Brown has won a lot of races over the years, but now he's in the fight of his life...against a Golden State sports icon. As the San Francisco Chronicle reports, Brown is a finalist in the newspaper's "Greatest Bald Man of the Bay Area" contest. The gov has stiff competition, however: former San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders legend Jerry Rice, arguably the greatest wide receiver in National Football League history. That's a tough one for sure, but then Brown has his strengths too, none more powerful than this one: "As governor, he hasn't initiated any anti-comb over legislation." Will it be enough? We'll know by the time you are reading this. Stay tuned.
A SIGN OF THE TIMES: If Brown wins the title, he probably won't say much about it. For sure he won't push to have his name added to the signs welcoming folks to the Golden State, which would certainly make at least a few Pennsylvania lawmakers happy. As The Morning Call reports, Rep. John Lawrence has introduced a bill there that would bar governors from having their names placed on the state's "Welcome" signs, which he says is "in poor taste." He shouldn't be too worried. Starting in 2004, former Gov. Ed Rendell ordered his name covered by the Keystone State slogan, something current Gov. Tom Corbett has continued. Alas, other states aren't so inclined. Delaware, New Jersey and Maryland are just a few where govs' names still adorn their "Welcome" signs. And Florida Gov. Rick Scott dropped $9,000 in state funds last year to add his name to the Sunshine State welcome wagon.
— By RICH EHISEN
In Case You Missed It
Although Republican lawmakers around the country have followed Indiana in proposing right-to-work bills, similar success has been hard to find.
In case you missed it, the story can be found on our Web site at http://www.statenet.com/capitol_journal/04-02-2012/html#sncj_spotlight
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