Volume XX, No. 29
September 17, 2012
The next issue of Capitol Journal will be available on October 1st.
While national candidates wage a war of words and half-truths on health issues, a handful of states, led by California, are charging ahead to implement the key feature of the Affordable Care Act.
Can California Rescue the Affordable Care Act?
While national candidates wage a war of words and half-truths on health issues, a handful of states, led by California, are charging ahead to implement the key feature of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), widely viewed as the signal achievement of Barack Obama's presidency.
The feature is an on-line state marketplace, known as a health insurance exchange, in which families and individuals will be able to shop for affordable health care policies. These exchanges are supposed to begin enrolling applicants by October 2013 and be up and running by Jan. 1, 2014.
Backers of the ACA shared high fives of congratulation after the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of most of the law early this summer. Since then, however, several states have balked at taking the preliminary steps necessary to set up the exchanges, either because of bureaucratic obstacles or political opposition. Only 15 states have passed legislation or issued executive orders to establish the exchanges, while seven have decided not to create them at all, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Most of the remaining states are awaiting the outcome of the November election, mindful of Republican vows to repeal the law they call "Obamacare" if the GOP controls both the White House and Congress.
California has moved to fill this partial vacuum. It was the first state to establish its own exchange after President Obama signed the ACA into law two years ago. In August the state received a $196 million grant for start-up activities that include an ambitious marketing plan to reach the seven million Californians who lack health care coverage.
"It's all systems go, from both a legal and operational perspective," Peter V. Lee, executive director of the California Health Benefit Exchange, told my colleague Rich Ehisen.
This optimistic outlook is reminiscent of an earlier era when California was noted for its constructive bipartisan approach to big issues. The California Health Benefit Exchange's board of directors includes officials from the last three governors' administrations, two of them Republican. Lee is a lawyer and well-regarded health care expert with a background in private insurance and as an official in the Department of Health and Human Services in the Obama administration. He helped establish the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation in Washington D.C., which is testing new payment and delivery reforms. Tom Epstein, a vice president of Blue Shield of California, lauds Lee and the board for trying to balance competing health care interests.
One consequence of the exchange's leadership is that health care politics in California are now relatively free of the partisan acrimony that has characterized much of the national health care debate. Under measure passed by the Legislature (AB 1453, SB 951) and awaiting signature from Gov. Jerry Brown (D) the board will choose — on the basis of quality and affordability — the insurance plans that will be offered to the public. By putting the decisions in the board's hands the Legislature helped insulate the California exchange from the ebb-and-flow of politics.
When anything seems too good to be true, there's usually a catch, so it should be pointed out that the exchanges are an experiment. The theory behind them is that competition among insurers for millions of new customers will lead to affordably priced policies and that this in turn, coupled with a tax penalty on those who refuse to buy insurance, will encourage the uninsured to purchase a health-care policy. Nationally, advocates of the ACA hope to enroll 32 million of 50 million Americans who lack health insurance, either through the exchanges or an expansion of Medicaid, the federal-state program that provides health care for the poor. Making health care accessible to the uninsured is one of three over-arching goals of the ACA, which also seeks to improve the quality of health care and reduce its costs. The annual U.S. health care bill is currently $2.6 trillion, more than any other country in the world.
But some experts wonder if the increased savings from competition will match expectations. The skeptics include economist John Cogan of Stanford University, deputy budget director under President George H.W. Bush and author of a book that proposed an alternative to the ACA. Cogan points out, as recently noted by The Washington Post, the ACA encourages mergers among health care providers, potentially reducing competition.
"Big always wins in health care," Cogan said.
Epstein, however, believes there will be considerable competition on the California exchange. He expects Blue Shield of California, the state's largest non-profit insurer, to be among the participants. Peter Lee says that California will be such a major player that insurance companies serious about the health care business won't be able to stay out of the exchange.
With 37.7 million people, California is home to more than a ninth of the nation's population and an even higher percentage of the medically uninsured. The size of the California market has in the past encouraged industries to change the design and style of nationally marketed products. On two occasions, for instance, the auto industry reengineered car engines to comply with California laws designed to reduce air-polluting emissions.
California is not alone in getting up to speed on the exchanges. In recognition of progress the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in August doled out money to seven other states that are well along: the total of the grants, including California's was $765 million. Four states — Connecticut, Maryland, Nevada, and Vermont — were singled out for having reached the highest level of preparedness. Hawaii, Iowa, Rhode Island, New York and Washington also appear ready to set up the exchanges.
Nonetheless, most states will not meet the conditional deadline of having a plan ready for approval by the end of 2012, and many will not even try. This is frustrating to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, but she and other administration officials are soft-pedaling their disappointment during the election campaign.
The slow progress on the exchanges has been compounded by the resistance of Republican governors, especially in the South, to the expansion of Medicaid, by which the ACA intends to provide medical coverage to everyone whose income is 133 percent above the poverty line or less. (That's the way the law reads; it comes out to 138 percent because the first 5 percent of income is exempted.) As passed by Congress and signed by Obama, the ACA gave the states two years of subsidies for new Medicaid enrollees but threatened to take away all federal Medicaid funds if states refused to expand their programs. The Supreme Court decision left the carrot but removed the stick, holding that states could not be financially penalized for declining to expand Medicaid. Governors of five states — Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas — have said they will not expand Medicaid beyond current levels. More are expected to follow suit, especially if Republicans do well in the November elections.
So despite progress in a handful of states on building the exchanges, the Obama administration is likely to fall well short of its goal of providing health care coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans. Roughly half this total was supposed to come from the new Medicaid enrollments, now an unobtainable goal given the escape hatch provided states by the Supreme Court. As for the exchanges, the ACA provides that the federal government will operate them for states unwilling or unable to do so on their own. But it would take a long time and enormous effort for the feds to manage more than 30 exchanges. The administration clearly would prefer to avoid an option of this magnitude.
Given these handicaps, the best hope for the ACA of proving itself would be for a few state exchanges to achieve success in reducing health care policy costs so that other states will want to emulate them. Because of its considerable population and diversity, California is best positioned to set an example. The eyes of the nation will be on the Golden State as it seeks to take advantage of this opportunity.
— By Lou Cannon
The Week in Session
States in Regular Session: MA, MI, OH, US
States in Recess: PA
States Currently Prefiling or Drafting for 2013: AL, FL, KY, MT, ND, NV, VA
States Adjourned in 2012: AK, AL, AR, AZ, CO, CT, DE, FL, GA, HI, IA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KY, LA, MD, ME, MN, MO, MS, NC, NE, NH, NM, OK, OR, PR, RI, SC, SD, TN, UT, VA, VT, WA, WI, WV, WY
State Special Sessions Adjourned in 2012: AK "c", AL "a", CO "a", CT "a", DE "b", FL "b", KY "a", MD "a", VA "a", WA "c", WA "d", WV "a"
Letters indicate special/extraordinary sessions
— Compiled By FELICIA CARRILLO
(session information current as of 09/12/2012)
Source: State Net database
Bird’s eye view
California's economy 9th largest in world
California's economy was the ninth largest in the world last year, according to a comparison of data from the World Bank and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. The Golden State generated $1.959 trillion in gross domestic product in 2011, placing it just behind Italy, at $2.195 trillion, and ahead of the Russian Federation, at $1.858 trillion. Texas' $1.308 trillion GDP and New York's $1.158 trillion place them between 13th-ranked Australia ($1.372T) and 14th-ranked Mexico ($1.155T).
Budget & taxes
TOLL ROAD REBELLION IN MD: Many Maryland motorists appear to have little respect for the state's toll roads. Thousands are repeatedly blowing through the state's E-ZPass lanes without an E-ZPass transponder.
One car rental company owes the state over $200,000 in unpaid tolls and penalties, while 15,000 individual vehicle owners owe more than $500 each. All told, almost 650,000 vehicle owners owe the state about $6.7 million in unpaid tolls dating back to 2007.
Maryland isn't the only state facing the problem. Toll violators comprise 1.7 percent of annual toll transactions in Virginia. The rate is 3.4 percent in Delaware and 1.4 percent in New Jersey.
In Maryland's case the problem is due at least in part to the fact that the state has been doing little to get toll scofflaws to pay up beyond mailing them letters. Although those letters threaten to suspend the vehicle owners' registration, the state's Motor Vehicle Administration hasn't suspended a vehicle registration for nonpayment of tolls in over two years.
Other states have gotten tougher. New Jersey has actually arrested some of its most flagrant toll violators and recently posted a "Wall of Shame" on the Internet. And three other states — Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire - recently entered into reciprocity agreements to go after vehicle registrations of out-of-state toll dodgers.
"The registration holds work," said Vic Buono, chief of toll operations in Delaware. "People freak out when they get that." (WASHINGTON POST)
CA PARKS DEPARTMENT'S SURPRISE SURPLUS NOT NEW: The revelation this summer that the California Department of Parks and Recreation had $54 million stashed away in two hidden accounts even as 70 state parks were threatened with budget-forced closures — and the subsequent scandal that resulted from that news — have thrown a spotlight on a mystery that has plagued the department for years. Since at least 2009, annual budget reviews of the department have showed multi-million surpluses, but budget officials at the department have been unable to explain why.
One year a budget manager was demoted because the department's deputy director of administration refused to believe her estimate of a $125 million surplus, which was later determined to be correct. And the surprise surpluses continued.
"When I saw the numbers, I said holy crap," Assistant Deputy Director David Saxby said of a budget estimate for the 2009-10 fiscal year in an April 25 interview with a deputy attorney general. "There was another big balance, not as big as the year before, but another big balance."
The mystery has yet to be solved, but separate investigations by the attorney general's office and the state auditor are ongoing. (SACRAMENTO BEE)
BUDGETS IN BRIEF: Amazon began collecting sales tax from CALIFORNIA customers last week. The move will scale back the price advantage the Internet retailer enjoys over brick-and-mortar stores, but it will also allow the company to blanket the state with distribution centers to speed up the delivery of orders (SACRAMENTO BEE). • For the first time since 1994, NEW YORK and its municipalities have achieved lower 10-year borrowing rates than their counterparts in NEW JERSEY. Since Jan. 1, 2011, yields on 10-year debt sold in NEW YORK have averaged 0.014 percentage point below New Jersey bonds of similar maturity (BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK). • PENNSYLVANIA has collected $197.6 million from drillers in the first round of Marcellus Shale impact fees (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE).
— Compiled by KOREY CLARK
Politics & leadership
PRESIDENTIAL RACE BOUND FOR ANOTHER BUSH V GORE? This year's presidential election could very well end much like that of 2000, with its controversial U.S. Supreme Court ruling on "hanging chads."
Over the past few weeks, nearly a dozen decisions have been handed down by state and federal courts concerning state laws on early voting, provisional voting and voter ID. Court arguments kicked off again on voting-related cases in the swing states of Ohio and Pennsylvania last week, with the Ohio case potentially headed for emergency review by the U.S. Supreme Court. And J.B. Van Hollen (R), the attorney general of another swing state, Wisconsin, just appealed two rulings on his state's voter ID law to the state's Supreme Court on an emergency basis. But even if all of the pending cases are settled before Election Day, a close race is almost certain to generate post-election litigation.
"In any of these states there is the potential for disaster," said Lawrence Norden of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. "You have close elections and the real possibility that people will say their votes were not counted when they should have been. That's the nightmare scenario for the day after the election."
The fact that the courts have taken conflicting views on the voting laws at issue isn't doing much to diminish that possibility. Voter ID laws, for instance, have been both upheld as fair, as in Pennsylvania, and struck down as discriminatory, as in Texas. But it will be another seven weeks before we know for certain whether there's going to be a Supreme Court decision on Obama v Romney. (NEW YORK TIMES, STATE NET)
ALEC BROADENING ITS FOCUS? This year has been a challenging one for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). More than 35 corporations, including Coca-Cola and McDonalds have dropped their memberships in the conservative nonprofit organization, under pressure from liberal groups — led by the African-American advocacy group Color for Change — for its support of controversial voter ID and "Stand Your Ground" gun laws, which came under heavy scrutiny after the fatal shooting of 17-year-old African-American Trayvon Martin in Florida in February.
In April ALEC announced it was abandoning its push for gun rights and voter ID laws and shifting its focus to economic issues.
"Today we are redoubling our efforts on the economic front, a priority that has been the hallmark of our organization for decades," the group's national chairman, Indiana Rep. David Frizzell (R), said in a statement. "We are eliminating the ALEC Public Safety and Elections task force that dealt with non-economic issues, and reinvesting these resources in the task forces that focus on the economy."
This week ALEC is meeting with the Republican Study Committee, a group of U.S. House Republicans "organized for the purpose of advancing a conservative social and economic agenda in the House of Representatives," according to its website, a move that seems to signal another shift for ALEC: away from its laser-like focus on advancing legislation in GOP-led statehouses over the last four decades. But with recent legislative efforts on Capitol Hill having focused on rolling back the federal government's involvement in the states — such as the push to replace Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program with block grants — the RSC said the gathering is "long overdue."
"As Washington encroaches more and more into state and local spheres, it's important that conservative legislators at the federal and state levels collaborate on policies to stop and roll back the ever-expanding federal government," said Paul Teller, executive director of the RSC.
And ALEC maintains the meeting is very much in line with its longstanding mission.
"Obviously federalism is one of ALEC's foundational principles, and so facilitating a conversation about federalism is very much in line with our work," Kaitlyn Buss, a spokeswoman for ALEC, said in an email.
Nonetheless, ALEC critics seized on the meeting as an opportunity to knock both the organization and the GOP.
"It is really telling," said Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change. "As major corporations disassociate themselves with this organization because it is so outside the mainstream, that Republicans are rushing to them."
And some argue that the meeting is grounds for ALEC to lose its tax-exempt status. The tax code 501(c)(d) under which the group is organized restricts its political activity. It is permitted to lobby but only if that does not constitute a "substantial part" of its activities.
"To the extent that ALEC officials themselves are at this event, they are having lobbying contacts," said Joe Birkenstock, a lawyer at Caplin & Drysdale, who advises clients on Congressional ethics issues. "It seems to me that it's probably a slam-dunk." (ROLL CALL, STATE NET)
POLITICS IN BRIEF: FLORIDA's early-voting timetable headed back to court last week, after U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown (D) requested that a federal judge return early voting to its old 14-day schedule to allow African-American churches to mobilize black voters on the Sunday immediately preceding the election. The yearlong battle over early voting in the state looked to have ended last week when the U.S. Department of Justice endorsed a plan formulated by a three-judge panel in Washington, D.C. shortening the early voting schedule from 14 days to eight, but that plan would not have allowed voting on the Sunday before Election Day (TAMPA BAY TIMES, STATE NET. • COLORADO's secretary of state announced last week that a proposed anti-abortion "personhood" amendment will not be on the state's 2012 ballot, regardless of a pending lawsuit on the petition for the proposal, because the certification deadline has passed (DENVER POST). • Eight NORTH DAKOTA State University football players were among 15 people formally charged last week with faking petition signatures in an election scandal that has kept two initiatives from making the state's November ballot (ASSOCIATED PRESS).
— Compiled by KOREY CLARK
SNYDER PITCHES MAJOR HEALTH INSURANCE CHANGE: Michigan's coffers could get a $100 million annual boost under a sweeping plan proposed by Gov. Rick Snyder (R) that would drastically change how the Wolverine State's largest health insurer is regulated.
Under the proposal that Snyder unveiled last Tuesday, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan — which insures 4.4 million residents — would change from a mostly tax-exempt entity operating as the state's "insurer of last resort" to a non-profit mutual insurer regulated and taxed under the same rules and conditions as any other health insurance company in the state. In addition to paying approximately $100 million in state and local taxes, the company would also pump approximately $1.5 billion over the next 18 years into a separate non-profit agency tasked with improving public health and health care access. In exchange, the insurer would receive faster and more streamlined state reviews when seeking rate hikes.
Lawmakers and the Blue Cross Blue Shield board must approve the proposal before it can go into effect.
The current system was adopted in 1980 when lawmakers approved legislation requiring the insurer to carry the state's most high-risk patients. As such, it was granted significant tax exemptions, including for property taxes and the state's insurance claims tax.
Snyder on Tuesday called that plan "outdated" in light of the Affordable Care Act, which by Jan. 1, 2014 requires health insurers to cover all comers regardless of their health status.
"What the federal law really does is create the marketplace as the insurer of last resort," he told reporters.
The proposal didn't go over well with some of Blue Cross's competitors, who say the company already has an unfair advantage in the marketplace. Rick Murdock, executive director of the Michigan Association of Health Plans, said the 1980 law had already given Blue Cross a near monopoly in the market, with the only check being the fairly rigid rate hike approval process, which must currently go through the state attorney general's office. Murdock told the Detroit Free Press that Snyder's proposal, while well-intentioned, would weaken that oversight.
"If we haven't addressed the competitive issue at all, we've just ... enhanced their ability to grow, because you're eliminating regulatory oversight of the AG," Murdock said.
Blue Cross is currently battling antitrust allegations filed by the U.S. Department of Justice and Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette, who accuse the company of pressuring hospitals to give it preferential status and to charge competing insurers higher prices.
There was no indication from Snyder or other officials that the governor's proposed changes would impact the legal case. But Snyder said he wants lawmakers to approve the proposal and get him legislation to sign this year. He also said the state could still adjust should Republicans take control of the government and seek to overturn the ACA. In any case, Snyder said, the state needs to ensure its health insurance regulations are fit for the modern world.
"The old way of doing business doesn't meet Michigan's demands today for a competitive and efficient health care system," Snyder said in a statement. "Michigan needs a new regulatory environment that continues our reinvention and allows us to attract the kind of investment that will fuel our comeback. This proposal will help us do that." (DETROIT FREE PRESS, DETROIT NEWS, LANSING STATE JOURNAL, HOLLAND SENTINEL, MICHIGAN GOVERNOR'S OFFICE)
GOVS, MAYOR REACH 911 MUSUEM DEAL: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) announced a resolution to a long-simmering political squabble that had all but halted work on a memorial to victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centers. The agreement, which requires the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to jumpstart construction and press on until the long-delayed project is finished, came last Monday on the eve of the 11th anniversary of that attack.
The museum had been scheduled to open this month, but construction has halted in the wake of a funding argument between the two governors and Mayor Bloomberg, who chairs the National September 11 Memorial & Museum Foundation board. Gov. Cuomo and Port Authority officials claimed that the project, originally budgeted at $680 million, was facing severe cost overruns that would drive the final cost to $1.4 billion. Bloomberg and other foundation officials, however, said that figure was grossly overstated, pegging the total cost at around $710 million.
The deal did not offer specific financial details, but stresses that the memorial must have six months' operating expenses on hand as net working capital and that it will give the Port Authority a security deposit equal to six months' utility expenses. The Port Authority will also be granted greater access to the foundation's financial books while Cuomo and Christie receive more say in the planning of major events at the museum, power that had previously rested only in the mayor's office. (POLITICO.COM, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)
BROWN TAKES VICTORY LAP: California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed legislation (AB 340) last week that enacts several changes to the state's pension system he says will save the state tens of millions of dollars. In an interview with the Bay Area News Group, Brown lauded the measure and others he says are putting the state back on track. He also called out critics who contend the bill falls far short of fixing the state's estimated $165 billion pension shortfall.
"This is the biggest pension reform ever," he said, calling such reform a "ship that moves slowly in the waters" and arguing that the state is now "turned in a much better direction."
He also took pains to point out the challenges of enacting major reform of any kind in a state where majority Democrats are loathe to support anything that might offend their union benefactors and minority Republicans are equally hesitant to support even the most minute tax hikes in fear of garnering the wrath of anti-tax crusaders like Grover Norquist.
"You have basically one side who doesn't know how to say no (Democrats) and we have another side that doesn't know how to say yes (Republicans)," he said. "And I'm in the middle trying to squeeze a little more yes out of one side and a little more no out of the other side, and we'll do more as we go along."
Brown further noted that he did more to address the state's unfunded pension liability this year than any of his recent predecessors.
"Which critic can tell me they can do more than I've been doing?" he asked. (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, CONTRA COSTA TIMES)
GOVERNORS IN BRIEF: Former ALABAMA Gov. Don Siegelman (D) turned himself in to a minimum security federal prison in LOUISIANA. The former governor was sentenced in August to serve 78 months at the facility for a bribery conviction (BIRMINGHAM NEWS). • NORTH CAROLINA Gov. Bev Perdue (D) issued Executive Order No. 125, which establishes the Governor's Task Force on Employee Misclassification, tasked with identifying economic sectors where employee misclassification occurs most frequently and devising steps to end the practice (STATE NET). • OREGON Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) asked the state Supreme Court to determine whether a convicted Beaver State prisoner can continue to refuse the governor's death sentence reprieve. The prisoner filed suit to force the execution to go forward, saying that unlike a commutation or pardon state law allows him to either accept or reject the governor's reprieve. Gov. Kitzhaber asked that the case be moved from its current venue with the state Court of Appeals directly to the state's high court (STATESMAN JOURNAL [SALEM]). • ARKANSAS Gov. Mike Beebe (D) said he now fully supports expanding Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act and will seek legislation to make it happen. The governor had previously stated he was in favor of the Medicaid expansion but wanted the Razorback State to be able to opt out of the expansion if the state became unable to afford it (ARKANSAS NEWS [LITTLE ROCK]).
— 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
- Cap and trade
BUSINESS: CALIFORNIA Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signs AB 1708, which allows automobile insurance companies to issue, upon request, electronic proof of insurance verifications to their policy holders. The measure also bars law enforcement, when a driver provides proof of insurance via a mobile phone or other device, from viewing any other content on that device (STATE NET, CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR'S OFFICE). • CALIFORNIA Gov. Brown signs SB 1055, which bars landlords from requiring that their tenants pay the rent via online fund transfers (STATE NET). • CALIFORNIA Gov. Brown signs AB 1964, which clarifies that Golden State employers are barred from discriminating against employees who wear religious clothing or a religious hairstyle (STATE NET, CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR'S OFFICE). • CALIFORNIA Gov. Brown signs SB 1216, which among many things allows reinsurers based in other countries to become "certified" to sell reinsurance in the state. The measure also allows insurance companies based within the state to be licensed as professional reinsurers (STATE NET). • CALIFORNIA Gov. Brown signs AB 2012, legislation that authorizes the governor's office to open international trade offices in countries with the greatest trade potential with the Golden State. The law will immediately re-open the state's office in China (LOS ANGELES TIMES). • CALIFORNIA Gov. Brown (D) signs SB 1099, which requires that any new regulations imposed upon Golden State businesses be announced quarterly. The measure also requires the state Office of Administrative Law to provide on its website a link to the full text of those regulations (CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR'S OFFICE). • CALIFORNIA Gov. Brown signs SB 1077, which allows alarm companies to form as limited liability companies (CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR'S OFFICE). • The MICHIGAN House approves HB 5523, which would bar Wolverine State employers from requiring workers or job applicants to hand over their social media user names and passwords. The ban, which would also bar schools from asking their students for the information, moves to the Senate (MLIVE.COM).
CRIME & PUNISHMENT: CALIFORNIA Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signs AB 2464, which requires major-league sports stadiums in the Golden State to clearly post the numbers fans can use to call or text-message stadium security, both inside and outside the venues (STATE NET, CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR'S OFFICE). • CALIFORNIA Gov. Brown signs AB 2212, which classifies a building used for human trafficking as a pubic nuisance and specifies that a portion of fines levied on traffickers be directed to victims' support services (STATE NET, CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR'S OFFICE). • NEW YORK Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signs SB 7742, legislation that makes it a Class E felony for a person to intentionally view child pornography on the Internet (STATE NET, NEW YORK GOVERNOR'S OFFICE).
EDUCATION: The MICHIGAN House approves HB 4934, which would require public schools to give students an opportunity each day to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. The measure moves to the Senate (LANSING STATE JOURNAL). • Still in MICHIGAN, the House approves SB 637, which would require every public school classroom to have a U.S. flag. It has moved to the Senate for concurrence (STATE NET, LANSING STATE JOURNAL). • CALIFORNIA Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signs SB 1291, which adds credential preparation or other teacher training programs in math, science and special education to the list of allowable activities under the state's unemployment program (CABINET REPORT [SACRAMENTO]).
ENVIRONMENT: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approves a plan by COLORADO officials to improve the state's air quality. Officials say the plan will cut overall greenhouse gas causing emissions 70,000 tons by 2018 (DENVER POST). • FLORIDA officials formally authorize an $880 million cleanup project for the Everglades. The plan includes new projects that will expand on an existing network of manmade marshes designed to reduce the flow of the damaging nutrient phosphorus into the Everglades (MIAMI HERALD). • CALIFORNIA Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signs AB 1492, a bill that, among several things, eliminates a host of regulatory fees on the state's timber industry while imposing a 1 percent tax on all lumber sales. The measure also extends the life of timber harvesting permits from three years to five years and limits the civil liability for logging companies and other large landowners that spark wildfires (STATE NET, CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR'S OFFICE).
SOCIAL POLICY: The MISSOURI Legislature overrides a veto by Gov. Jay Nixon (D) of SB 749, a bill that allows employers to opt out offering health insurance for birth control if doing so violates their religious or moral beliefs. Opponents of the law immediately filed a lawsuit seeking to have it overturned (ST. LOUIS BUSINESS JOURNAL).
POTPOURRI: The ARIZONA Supreme Court becomes the first high court in the nation to rule that tattoos are a form of free speech protected under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The justices ruled that a lower court erred in dismissing the lawsuit of a Mesa couple that had been denied a permit to open a tattoo parlor in that city (REUTERS). • CALIFORNIA Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signs AB 340, a bill that increases the retirement age for new state employees, caps retirees' annual payout at $132,120, and requires workers to pay half of their retirement costs (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS). • The OHIO Legislature gives final approval to a five-bill package that, among many things, raises the retirement age for Buckeye State public employees, sets new guidelines for cost of living raises and establishes a new formula for calculating retiree benefits. The package moves to Gov. John Kasich (R), who is expected to sign the bills into law (CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER).
— 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: 143
Number of Intros last week: 121
Number of Enacted/Adopted last week: 142
Number of 2012 Prefiles to date: 12,898
Number of 2012 Intros to date: 82,498
Number of 2012 Session Enacted/Adopted overall to date: 26,877
Number of bills currently in State Net Database: 178,856
Once around the statehouse lightly
A DEDICATED RESEARCHER: This year's party conventions had their share of ups and downs, but the bummers were mostly confined to lousy hotels (see "Once around the statehouse lightly" in the Sept. 10 issue of SNCJ), awful weather or worse speeches. But for Rhode Island Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts, the recently completed Democratic National Convention was truly painful. That's because, as the Providence Journal reports, Roberts took a tumble on a Charlotte street that left her with a broken arm. But Roberts apparently kept her sense of humor intact. Long active in health care-related issues, Roberts told colleagues that getting a first hand look at the North Carolina emergency care system was part of her continuing study of the issue.
OVERKILL PERSONIFIED: At first glance, California's SB 1395 seems so simple: changing the "Bureau of State Audits" to the "California State Auditor's Office" and renaming the "State Auditor" the "California State Auditor." But that miniscule bit of alteration took a bill that went on for 64 pages. And why, you ask, did such minor changes necessitate generating enough paper to down a small forest? As the Sacramento Bee reports, the measure identifies every single instance in state codes where the now-outdated terms are used. For all of that attention to detail in ridding the state of each use of its terribly archaic nomenclature, the new law allows the two auditing agencies to keep using materials with the old terms until they are all gone. Contradictions be damned, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill last week.
OH, THAT FIRST AMENDMENT: Maryland Del. Emmett C. Burns Jr. learned the hard way that taking on a linebacker can be painful on or off the football field. As the Washington Post reports, Burns recently took umbrage with Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo for publicly stating his support for legalizing same-sex marriage. Burns, a pastor adamantly opposed to gay nuptials, wrote the team's management, demanding that they force their player to shut up. What happened, however, was an outpouring of support for Ayanbadejo from not only management but from his teammates and other NFL players, all of whom reminded Burns — some in not so delicate terms — that the First Amendment allows folks to pretty much say what they want. Chastened but unbowed, Burns acknowledged that "upon reflection," he and Ayanbadejo each have a right to freely speak their opinion. Burns did not, however, mention Ayanbadejo by name, referring to him only as "the football player."
AN ELECTION WITH REAL TEETH: Tired of the ceaseless negativity of the presidential campaign? Check out the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage, where officials are conducting a presidential campaign that will produce a sure winner but no real loser. As the Associated Press reports, the race is between Ahpun the polar bear and an arctic wolf named Denali, with the winner becoming the zoo "president" for the next four years. Zookeepers readily admit the whole thing is a shameless ploy to raise funds, and with ballots costing a buck each, they are encouraging voters to go hog wild in an attempt to buy the election outright. Online voters are also welcome, with no messy ID issues clouding the picture. And if you're wondering if other issues are at play, zoo official Eileen Floyd assures us that "this race is not about the color of their fur, their gender, or even a species issue."
— By RICH EHISEN
In Case You Missed It
Three months ahead of the November elections, 31 states have laws in place that will require voters to show identification before casting a ballot, and the controversy that perpetually surrounds the issue is only ratcheting up.
In case you missed it, the story can be found on our Web site at http://www.statenet.com/capitol_journal/09-10-2012/html#sncj_spotlight
The Sept. 10 issue of SNCJ incorrectly references CA SB 623. The correct description is as follows: The CALIFORNIA Legislature approves SB 623, which would continue for two years a pilot program that allows nurse practitioners, midwives and physician assistants to perform first-term abortions. The bill moves now to Gov. Jerry Brown (D) for review (STATE NET).
We regret the error.
Editor: Rich Ehisen
Associate Editor: Korey Clark
Contributing Editor: Cynthia McKeeman and Mary Peck
Editorial Advisor: Lou Cannon and Art Zimmerman
Correspondents: Richard Cox (CA), Lauren Davis (MA), Steve Karas (CA) and Ben Livingood (PA)
Graphic Design: Vanessa Perez Design