Volume XXII, No. 12
April 21, 2014
The next issue of Capitol Journal will be available on May 5th.
Obamacare remains an uncertain work in progress for the federal government and the 14 states and District of Columbia that operate exchanges at which the uninsured can enroll for health care insurance.
Some states soar, others stumble on Obamacare
The Affordable Care Act or Obamacare is finally off the critical list. If Obamacare were a patient we could say that his or her condition was stable, but with an uncertain prognosis. If the health care law were instead an army, we might quote Winston Churchill, who described a crucial British military victory during World War II, as "not the end...not even the beginning of the end but, perhaps, the end of the beginning."
Whatever the analogy, Obamacare remains an uncertain work in progress for the federal government and the 14 states and District of Columbia that operate exchanges, or marketplaces, at which the uninsured can enroll for health care insurance. (Idaho and New Mexico will this year join the list of state exchanges, boosting the number to 16.)
In their first year of operation, the state exchanges have differed widely in performance. Covered California, the sophisticated health care exchange in the Golden State, has despite early struggles enrolled 1.4 million people, about a fifth of the national total. Executive Director Peter V. Lee announced last Thursday that Covered California also enrolled 1.9 million Californians in Medi-Cal, the state version of Medicaid, which provides health coverage for low-income Americans.
Lee called the figures "a huge number" and said the enrollees "are part of history."
Exchanges in at least a half dozen other states joined California in exceeding their original goals. The Connecticut exchange, Access Health CT, signed up 200,000 persons for health insurance, double the initial estimate. Other exchanges that have overall performed well include Kentucky, Michigan, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.
In contrast, exchanges in Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Oregon have completely flopped — although not for lack of trying. All of these states have Democratic governors committed to Obamacare. They have stumbled because of technological hurdles that unprepared state officials have been unable to surmount.
Lack of technical expertise also nearly did in the federal exchange, Health.gov, last October. The repeated breakdowns accompanying the federal rollout for a time threatened the existence of the health care law and eventually led to the resignation of beleaguered U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
The No. 1 problem of the exchanges that failed was explained cogently by Sabrina Corlette of the Georgetown University Health Policy Center to the Los Angeles Times: "You have government employees who are well-intentioned, good people but who don't understand software code and basically have to trust that the vendors they hire know what they are doing. There was such a gold rush on the part of these vendors that there was lot of over-promising and underpricing."
Nationally, the administration claims that 8 million people have signed up for health insurance and 3 million for Medicaid on the various exchanges. These numbers are somewhere between an estimate and a guess. Even Sebelius acknowledges that 10 to 20 percent of the sign-ups may not have paid their insurance premiums. A 20 percent-falloff would mean that only 6.4 million of the sign-ups actually had bought health insurance. On the other hand, the Medicaid figure is almost certainly low, given the late spurt in California and other states.
Also uncounted are people who bought policies directly from insurance companies, avoiding the complexity and delay of the exchanges. There could be millions of such people, "hiding in plain sight" as the New York Times puts it. What isn't known, in addition to their numbers, is how many of them previously had health insurance policies that were canceled despite President Obama's unfortunate promise that anyone who liked his health insurance policy could keep it.
Much of the mystery about the numbers should be cleared up relatively soon as exchanges and insurers digest the enrollment data. The data has lagged because the administration extended the March 31 enrollment deadline, allowing those who had applied but had been unable to enroll to complete the process without penalty. Covered California did even more, moving its deadline to April 15.
Whatever the final numbers, more Americans now have health insurance than at any time since the Great Recession. The Gallup-Healthways-Well Being Index found that the national rate of medically uninsured dipped to 15.6 percent in the first quarter of 2014, a 1.5 percent decline since the fourth quarter of last year and the lowest rate since late 2008. A survey by the RAND Corporation, confirmed Gallup's findings and added a surprising twist. RAND found that the largest number of new signups for health insurance — about 8.2 million people — came not from the exchanges but from expansion of workplace insurance, which declined during the recession.
Despite the spurt in insurance coverage, the ACA remains unpopular. A Gallup survey in mid-April found 43 percent of Americans approve of the law and 54 percent disapprove. This finding, grim as it is for Democrats, may understate the impact of Obamacare as an issue in this year's midterm elections in which Republicans are favored to hold the House of Representatives and take control of the Senate. A USA Today-Pew Research poll found that two of three of those who consider Obamacare "very important" oppose the law.
Still, it won't be easy for Republicans to turn back the clock. As conservative writer Byron York observed in a thoughtful analysis in the Washington Examiner, Republicans face a practical problem now that Obamacare is in place. "Exchanges are running — many of them badly, but running," York wrote. "Subsidies are being paid. Insurance companies have changed the way they do business. Medicaid has been expanded. Special taxes are being collected."
Over time the ACA could become embedded into the fabric of American life, as Social Security and Medicare did in prior generations. Republicans have no hope of repealing the law over the president's veto while Obama is in the White House. By 2017, even if a Republican is president and his party controls Congress, 24 million Americans will be receiving health care through the exchanges and another 12 million will be covered under Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program, according to estimates by the Congressional Budget Office. The vast and interlocking health care and insurance industries would have a shared interest in preserving the law.
But Obamacare is not yet a done deal. The economic viability of the law depends upon the enrollment of enough young and healthy persons to offset the higher costs of insuring those who are older and generally less healthy. Until we know what percentage of these supposed "young invincibles" actually signed up, it's impossible to determine if insurance companies will be able to offer affordable policies going forward.
There are other potential pitfalls. One of the thorniest is a provision of the ACA that penalizes businesses with more than 50 employees unless they provide health insurance. Trying to avoid a political firestorm, the administration delayed this provision last year. Small business advocates and some economists would like to see this provision abandoned entirely on grounds that it discourages small employers from hiring, but it would take a change in the law to accomplish this.
Will there be changes in Obamacare? Embattled Democratic candidates trying to defuse the issue in their current campaigns have called for "reform, not repeal," but it remains to be seen if this is anything more than a campaign slogan. Still, there are small signs that some Democrats may be serious about reform and that some Republicans, despite their high-decibel campaign for repeal, agree with them. Recently, the House passed by voice vote a bill that made a minor change in the ACA by eliminating a cap on deductibles on small-group health insurance policies.
The preconditions for a genuine congressional conversation on health care reform would be acceptance by Republicans of Obamacare as the law of the land and acknowledgment by Democrats that it needs improvement. That's a conversation, if it occurs at all, for after the midterm elections. For now, Obamacare must be content that the sterling performance of a few state exchanges has enabled it to survive. The patient is indeed off the critical list, but he's still a long way from reaching the recovery room.
— By Lou Cannon
The Week in Session
States in Regular Session: AK, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DC, FL, HI, IA, LA, MA, ME, MI, MN, MO, NE, NH, NY, OH, OK, PR, RI, SC, TN, VT
States in Special Session: VA "a"
States in Recess: DE, IL, KS, MI, NJ, PA, WI
States currently prefiling for 2015 Session: MT
States adjourned in 2014: AL, AR, CA "a", DE "b", GA, HI "a", HI "b", ID, IL "a", IL "b", IN, KS "a", KY, MD, MO "a", MS, MS "a", NH "a", NJ "2011-12 session", NJ "a", NM, OK "a", OR, PR "a", PR "b", SD, UT, VA, WA, WA "a", WA "b", WA "c", WI "a", WI "b", WI "c", WV, WV "a", WY
*Letters indicate special/extraordinary sessions
— Compiled By FELICIA CARRILLO
(Session information current as of 04/16/2014)
Source: State Net database
Bird’s eye view
Enrollment rates better for state-run health insurance exchanges
As of March 1, 15 states had managed to sign up more than half of the residents deemed eligible to enroll in their health insurance exchanges, according to the March health insurance marketplace enrollment report from the Department of Health and Human Services. Of the 14 states implementing their own health insurance exchanges, also known as state-based marketplaces, or SBMs, eight had enrollment rates over 50 percent. Only seven of the 36 states with exchanges supported or fully run by the DHHS, known as federally facilitated marketplaces, or FFMs, had enrollments rates of 50 percent or more.
Budget & taxes
CA GOV CALLS 'RAINY DAY' SPECIAL SESSION: California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has called a special legislative session for April 24 to give lawmakers an opportunity to consider his plan for creating a new cash reserve fund. The state has had a rainy day fund since 2004, but it's been mostly empty during the state's budget crises and there aren't strong rules in place for funding it.
Brown said his plan, which would require the state to save a portion of the revenue it takes in from capital gains taxes, would help stabilize the state's notoriously erratic finances and help avoid the need for deep spending cuts in economic downturns.
"We simply must prevent the massive deficits of the last decade and we can only do that by paying down our debts and creating a solid rainy day fund," he said in a statement.
Brown wants his plan to go before the state's voters in November, but it has to get through the Legislature first. And that's far from a certainty with proposed ballot measures requiring a two-thirds vote in both chambers, Brown's party having lost its supermajority in the Senate due to criminal investigations of several Democratic senators, and Republicans backing a different rainy day fund proposal, which was approved by the Legislature four years ago and is already scheduled to be on the Nov. 4 ballot (LOS ANGELES TIMES, STATE NET)
MI GOV DECLARES FISCAL EMERGENCY IN ANOTHER CITY: Last week, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) declared a fiscal emergency in Lincoln Park. Among other reasons for his decision, the governor cited "a trend of overspending from the general fund" and projections that the city's general-fund deficit was likely to grow by another $1 million this year.
If the governor's finding is confirmed, city leaders will have four alternatives to choose from: review by a neutral party, a consent agreement requiring the city to take specific steps within a specific time frame, an emergency manager, or Chapter 9 bankruptcy. City Manager Joseph Merucci said Lincoln Park's seven-member City Council was planning to hold a special meeting to discuss the finding but based on his conversations with council members the city was most likely to opt for the consent agreement option.
Two other Michigan cities, Inkster and River Rouge, are currently under such agreements. Four more, Detroit, Allen Park, Flint and Hamtramck, have been placed under emergency managers. Three, Benton Harbor, Ecorse and Pontiac, are in the process of transitioning from emergency management back to self-government. And two, Royal Oak Township and Highland Park, are under review. (DETROIT FREE PRESS)
BUDGETS IN BRIEF: CALIFORNIA Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D) has backed off supporting an unpopular carbon tax on consumer fuels in favor of another proposal that would dedicate billions of dollars from the state's greenhouse gas reduction law to affordable housing, mass transit and high-speed rail. Steinberg said his shift of focus was motivated by the need to fund environmentally friendly infrastructure projects while helping provide housing for low-income residents (ASSOCIATED PRESS, SFGATE.COM, STATE NET). • IDAHO has filed a lawsuit against timber company Potlatch and its logging contractor DABCO Inc., alleging they are responsible for a wildfire that killed a Forest Service firefighter and burned over 300 acres of forest land in the state (IDAHO STATESMAN [BOISE]). • MISSOURI's GOP-led General Assembly passed a $620 million tax cut bill, which Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon is expected to veto. But Republican legislative leaders may be able to muster enough votes for an override (KANSAS CITY STAR, STATE NET). • Internet retailer Amazon will begin collecting sales tax on purchases made by FLORIDA residents on May 1 (MIAMI HERALD). • DELAWARE's Democrat-controlled General Assembly approved a bill raising annual fees on LLCs by $50 and the minimum corporate franchise tax by $100 expected to generate $51 million in new tax revenue (WDDE 91.1 FM [DOVER]). • Agricultural land valuations in NEBRASKA increased 29 percent between 2013 and 2014, according to the state's Department of Revenue. The increase comes on top of nearly 23 percent growth the previous year and marks the sixth year in a row that ag land values have grown by double digits in the state (OMAHA WORLD-HERALD)
— Compiled by KOREY CLARK
Politics & leadership
OH BANS 'FRACKING' IN PART OF ONE COUNTY: This month the Ohio Department of Natural Resources ordered a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" in a small region of Mahoning County in the northeast corner of the state. The move was spurred by a series of five earthquakes of magnitude 2.0 or greater on March 10 and 11, and it marks the first time fracking and earthquakes have been officially linked in Ohio and possibly the entire Appalachian Basin, which also includes Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
"While we can never be 100 percent sure that drilling activities are connected to a seismic event, caution dictates that we take these new steps to protect human health, safety and the environment," said ODNR Director James Zehringer.
In addition to the indefinite ban on all drilling within three miles of the epicenter of the March earthquakes, the state also mandated new permits for drilling within three miles of any known geologic fault or area of significant seismic activity. Among other things, the permits require drilling companies to install seismic monitors.
Environmental groups applauded the ODNR's actions.
"The steps announced to protect communities from seismic events are reasonable precautions," said Scott Anderson of the Environmental Defense Fund. "Although there is much uncertainty regarding what causes earthquakes and how dangerous small and medium quakes may be — and therefore this is a policy that may well evolve in the future — the state's decisive action is based on the best information available. This approach should serve the citizens well."
But the Ohio Oil and Gas Association was less enthusiastic about the new requirements.
"We believe the seismic activity experienced in Poland Township was a rare and isolated event that should not cast doubt about the safety of hydraulic fracturing, a process that has been conducted on more than 1 million oil and gas wells in the U.S. including 80,000 in Ohio, since the 1950s," said Thomas Stewart, executive vice president of the organization. "Though we understand the public's concern, we encourage an abundance of caution and perspective when evaluating this incident."
Stewart added that his group would "review the recommendations provided by the ODNR" but would "only support measures based on sound, scientific principles and practicality." (TOLEDO BLADE)
OBAMA CONDEMNS GOP-BACKED ELECTION LAWS: At the annual convention of the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network in Manhattan last week, President Barack Obama issued a call to arms to his Democratic base, accusing Republicans of trying to rig the upcoming elections that could determine control of the U.S. Senate.
"The right to vote is threatened today in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago," he said in a hotel ballroom filled mostly with African-American supporters. "Across the country, Republicans have led efforts to pass laws making it harder, not easier, for people to vote."
Presumably the president was referring to the voting changes enacted over the last 15 months in at least nine states, including North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin, not only imposing new voter identification requirements but also limiting the time that polls are open; cutting back early voting, particularly on the weekend when it's often easier for lower-income voters to get to the polls; eliminating same-day voter registration; and making it more difficult to cast provisional or absentee ballots.
Republicans have said the laws are needed to prevent voter fraud and Democrats are overstating their impact for political reasons.
"They want to create an issue out of nothing," said Sean Spicer, communications director for the Republican National Committee. "The bottom line is, they know they're on the wrong side of the issues that are important with voters, and the only way they can win is by scaring their base into voting." (NEW YORK TIMES, BRENNAN CENTER FOR JUSTICE)
MINIMUM WAGE RALLYING POINT FOR DEMS THIS YEAR: Thirty-four states have considered or are currently considering increasing their minimum wage this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and at least five states — Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Minnesota and Virginia, all but one of which are governed by Democrats — have already adopted minimum wage increases. And the issue will likely continue to be an active one into November, with minimum-wage measures headed to the ballot in numerous states, most of which are under Republican control.
The wave of minimum-wage measures is due in part to Congress' failure to pass President Barack Obama's proposed $2.85 increase in the federal minimum wage, which has stood at $7.25 per hour since 2009. This is actually the second year in a row of higher-than-usual minimum-wage activity since Obama made that proposal in 2013.
But another reason for the increased level of activity is the upcoming elections. Democrats are trying to get measures raising the minimum wage on the Nov. 4 ballot in the GOP-led states of Alaska, Idaho, Michigan, Nebraska and South Dakota, and the Democrat-led state of Massachusetts, as well as Arkansas and Missouri, where control is split between the two parties. Such measures have increased turnout of Democratic and swing voters in nonpresidential elections in the past, according to the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center in Washington, D.C.
Hourly workers are likely to benefit from the measures too. The center said that of the 15 proposed minimum wage increases that have been on the ballot in 11 states since 1996, all but two of them were approved. (STATELINE.COM, STATE NET)
POLITICS IN BRIEF: President Obama announced the resignation of Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who unfortunately became the face of the troubled federal online insurance marketplace, healthcare.gov, which suffered numerous technical problems that hindered enrollments. Obama said he intends to nominate Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, to replace Sebelius (KAISER HEALTH NEWS). • UTAH lawmakers won't return to Salt Lake City this summer as planned to override vetoes issued by Gov. Gary Herbert (R), including one associated with the investigation of former Attorney General John Swallow. Support for the overrides reportedly fell far short of the two-thirds majorities required, with only 34 members of the 75-seat House and eight members of the 29-seat Senate in favor of reversing the governor (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, STATE NET). • NEW JERSEY Gov. Chris Christie (R) said last week he supports ending campaign-finance limits. He said the state's current campaign funding system obscures the sources but has not stopped the rise of money in politics (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER). • Delegates to WISCONSIN's Republican Party convention next month will get an opportunity to vote on a so-called "state sovereignty" resolution upholding the state's right to secede "under extreme circumstances" and calling for the elimination of all mandates that go "beyond the scope of the constitutionally delegated powers of the federal government." Top GOP officials had hoped to kill the fringe proposal at a meeting of the resolutions committee on April 5, but instead that panel adopted it on a split vote after making a few edits (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL). • Former Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson is planning to back another effort to establish a top-two primary in ARIZONA, where independents are now the largest voting bloc. Voters overwhelmingly rejected the idea (Proposition 121) in 2012, with the state's Republican, Libertarian and Green parties all opposing it and the Democratic Party not taking an official stand (CRONKITE NEWS SERVICE).
— Compiled by KOREY CLARK
(04/18/2014 - 05/09/2014)
Florida Special Primary
US House Congressional District 19
Connecticut Special Election
House District 94
Massachusetts Special Election
House 5th Suffolk
Indiana Primary Election
Senate Districts 1, 4, 6, 11, 14-15, 17, 19, 21-23,
25-27, 29, 31, 38-39, 41, 43, 45-49
Constitutional Officers: Secretary of State,
US House (All)
North Carolina Primary Election
US House (CD 1-11, and 13)
US Senate (Hagan)
North Carolina Special Primary
US House (CD 12)
Ohio Primary Election
Constitutional Officers: Governor, Lieutenant
Governor, Secretary of State, Treasurer, Attorney
US House (All)
SNYDER ROLLS OUT EXPANDED RECYCLING PLAN: Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) released a proposal last week that would double the amount of residential waste that Wolverine State residents recycle.
"Michigan has a strong tradition of protecting and enhancing its environment," Snyder said in a statement. "But when it comes to recycling, we must do better. Michigan trails other Great Lakes states and much of the nation in residential recycling. It's a complex challenge but one that we can address. This plan puts us on the right path."
Michigan residents currently recycle only about 15 percent of their household waste. Snyder's wants to grow that figure to at least 30 percent within two years. In doing so, he says, the state would recoup a big chunk of the $435 million in reusable materials Michiganders toss out each year.
Snyder's 15-point plan has four key components: outreach and education; improving consumer recycling access; creating a demand for recycled goods through the use of tax-exempt, private activity bonds to build recycling centers and create directory of potential customers for those recycled materials; and developing a data collection and analysis system to track the program's progress. State officials believe that building a market for the state's recyclables could eventually create up to 13,000 new jobs.
The plan is not without challenges. Among the biggest is improving recycling access for consumers. Fifty eight of the state's 83 counties - including its five largest, Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Kent and Genesee — currently lack easy access to recycling.
Snyder has committed $1.5 million to the project: $1 million in his FY 2015 budget and another $500,000 in state grants available to local communities that implement the plan. (DETROIT NEWS, WASHINGTON POST, MICHIGAN GOVERNOR'S OFFICE, RIPON ADVANCE)
CO ETHICS PANEL CLEARS HICKENLOOPER: A Colorado ethics panel cleared Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) of charges he had improperly used staff time for partisan purposes and violated the state's gift ban for elected officials. The conservative group Compass Colorado filed the complaint with the state Independent Ethics Commission over Hickenlooper's appearance at a Democratic Governor's Association meeting, contending that he violated the law by allowing the DGA to pay for his food and lodging. But the Commission ruled that the time Hickenlooper's staff used helping prepare him for the conference was minimal and that the value of the expertise he provided there exceeded the value of his food and lodging. Hickenlooper is the DGA's vice chair. He also organized and served as host for the meeting, where he spoke at every event. (DENVER POST, DENVERCBSLOCAL.COM)
HERBERT PUSHES MEDICAID ALTERNATIVE PLAN: Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) said he believes the Obama administration is inching closer to approving his state's alternative proposal to providing health insurance coverage to the estimated 110,000 Utahans who would otherwise be eligible for Medicaid under the parameters of the Affordable Care Act. Herbert met with outgoing Department of Health and Human Services chief Kathleen Sebelius last week to lobby for the plan. He left encouraged, saying Sebelius told him she sees "nothing here that would be a deal breaker." Under Herbert's proposal, Utah would still take the $258 million the federal government is willing to hand over each year to pay for new Medicaid enrollees and instead use the money to subsidize those residents into private insurance plans. Herbert believes the approval could come by this summer. He would then need to call lawmakers into a special session to authorize accepting the money. (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, DESERET NEWS [SALT LAKE CITY], DAILY HERALD [PROVO])
GOVERNORS IN BRIEF: The SOUTH CAROLINA Supreme Court upholds a state law that the state Department of Health and Environmental Control must still regulate the plans of hospitals and nursing homes that want to expand or build new facilities. The ruling came in a challenge to Gov. Nikki Haley (R) vetoing a $1.7 million budget line item that funded the program. The court ruled that Haley did not have the authority to rescind a state law on her own without legislative approval (STATE [COLUMBIA]). • NEVADA Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) and RHODE ISLAND Gov. Lincoln Chafee (D) wrote a letter last week to U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) asking that their chamber take up a Senate-approved bill to extend long-term unemployment benefits to almost 2 million Americans. The U.S. Senate passed the bill earlier this month but the House has so far not taken up the measure. Nevada and Rhode Island have the highest unemployment rates in the country (ROLL CALL).
— Compiled by RICH EHISEN
BUSINESS: The ALASKA House passes HB 384, a bill that would raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour through 2015 and to $10 an hour starting in 2016, adjusting it for inflation after that. The bill, which opponents say is aimed at heading off a wage-increase ballot measure, moves to the Senate (ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS). • MINNESOTA Gov. Mark Dayton (D) signs HB 2091, which will raise the Gopher State minimum wage to $9.50 per hour by 2016 for employers with over $500,000 in gross annual sales. Smaller businesses will be required to pay no less than $7.75 per hour. Beginning in 2018 annual increases for all employers will be tied to inflation (MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE, STATE NET). • OKLAHOMA Gov. Mary Fallin (R) signs SB 1023, a bill that bars local governments from establishing their own standards on minimum wage, paid sick leave and vacation requirements for workers (OKLAHOMAN [OKLAHOMA CITY]). • WISCONSIN Gov. Scott Walker (R) signs AB 412, a bill that exempts outside sales people from the state's minimum wage law (WISCONSIN GOVERNOR'S OFFICE). • The MISSOURI House (HB 1690) and Senate (SB 841) each endorse legislation that would bar minors from buying electronic cigarettes or "vaping" devices. The measures now move to the respective opposite chambers (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH).
CRIME & PUNISHMENT: MARYLAND Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) signs SB 364, which decriminalizes possession of less than 10 grams of marijuana (BALTIMORE SUN). • Also in MARYLAND, O'Malley signs SB 348, which imposes harsher penalties, including jail time, for anyone who causes a serious or fatal car crash while texting or talking on a cell phone while driving(BALTIMORE SUN). • WISCONSIN Gov. Scott Walker (R) signs a bill that requires adoptive parents seeking to transfer custody of their children to another person to first obtain judicial approval. The law is a response to a rise in "re-homing," a practice in which adoptive parents use social media sites to give away unwanted kids to strangers. Violators face jail time and fines up to $10,000 (WISCONSIN GOVERNOR'S OFFICE).
EDUCATION: The OHIO House approves an amendment inserted into a budget bill that affirms that student athletes at Buckeye State colleges and universities are not public employees. The measure, which moves to the Senate, is seen as a pre-emptive effort against possible unionization by college athletes (ASSOCIATED PRESS). • WISCONSIN Gov. Scott Walker (R) signs AB 729, which allows the University of Wisconsin to conduct classified research exempt from the Badger State's open records law (WISCONSIN GOVERNOR'S OFFICE).
ENERGY: MAINE Gov. Paul LePage (R) vetoes HB 886, a bill that would have imposed a 0.011-cents-per-kilowatt-hour tax on residential and commercial electric bills to fund a solar energy program that would have implemented more than 1,250 new solar panel and hot water projects at Pine Tree State homes and businesses (BANGOR DAILY NEWS).
ENVIRONMENT: The HAWAII Senate approves SB 2175, legislation that would allow the University of Hawaii to conduct a two-year study on the potential use of hemp as a biofuel feedstock and in phytoremediation, the use of plants to remove contaminants from soil. It moves to Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) for review (BIGISLANDNOW.COM [HONOLULU]). • The VERMONT Senate approves HB 112, a bill that would require foods containing genetically modified ingredients to be labeled as such before they could be sold in Green Mountain State stores. It returns to the House (BURLINGTON FREE PRESS, STATE NET). • WISCONSIN Gov. Scott Walker (R) signs a bill that limits civil liability for agricultural tourism providers. The measure would grant immunity if a tourist dies as a result of a risk inherent in the activity and the provider posts a sign giving notice about the potential risk (INSURANCE JOURNAL, WISCONSIN GOVERNOR'S OFFICE).
HEALTH & SCIENCE: The MAINE House unanimously endorses HB 1209, legislation that would give the family members of an opiate addict access to naloxone, a drug that reverses the effects of an overdose. The measure, which would also authorize trained law enforcement officers to administer the drug, moves to the Senate (PORTLAND PRESS HERALD). • MARYLAND Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) signs HB 881, which allows medical marijuana patients to buy weed from state-licensed dispensaries. Patients would need to have a certification card issued by a specially licensed doctor (BALTIMORE SUN). • A federal judge issues an injunction blocking an executive order by MASSACHUSETTS Gov. Deval Patrick (D) that barred the sale of the painkilling drug Zohydro. Patrick barred the drug's sale in March over concerns the pills were not tamper resistant enough and could be easily crushed and then snorted or injected by opiate addicts. U.S. District Court Judge Rya Zobel cited the drug's approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, saying that approval trumps state actions (BOSTON.COM). • WISCONSIN Gov. Scott Walker (R) signs AB 726, a bill that allows the use of cannabis oil, a marijuana derivative, to treat children who suffer from seizure disorders (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL-SENTINEL, WISCONSIN GOVERNOR'S OFFICE).
SOCIAL POLICY: A federal judge rules that OHIO must recognize same-sex marriages performed legally in other states. Judge Timothy Black said a current Buckeye State law barring recognition of those unions is unconstitutional. State officials said they will appeal the ruling (WASHINGTON POST). • ALABAMA Gov. Robert Bentley (R) signs four bills restricting access to welfare benefits in the Heart of Dixie: SB 115, which requires applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to submit three job applications before receiving benefits and makes someone who quits a job without good reason ineligible for those benefits; SB 114, which makes it a Class A misdemeanor to falsify information in order to qualify for any state or federally funded public assistance program; SB 63, which requires drug testing for TANF applicants who have had a drug conviction in the past five years; and SB 116, which increases penalties for welfare fraud and prohibits spending welfare benefits at casinos and strip clubs or on alcohol and tobacco (MONTGROMERY ADVERTISER). • ARIZONA Gov. Jan Brewer (R) signs HB 2284, a bill that allows state regulators to conduct surprise inspections on abortion clinics without having a search warrant, which is required under the conditions of a 2010 lawsuit settlement (KSAZ.COM [PHOENIX]). • A federal judge overturns a NORTH DAKOTA law that barred women from obtaining an abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland said the law is "invalid and unconstitutional." State officials are expected to appeal the decision (BISMARCK TRIBUNE).
POTPOURRI: MARYLAND Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) signs SB 827, which requires Old Line State zoos to hold liability insurance policies of at least $1 million, employ a full-time director, have a staff member trained in caring for all the species at the establishment, develop an animal relocation plan in case their facilities close and maintain a disease prevention strategy (FREDERICK NEWS POST, STATE NET, MARYLAND GOVERNOR'S OFFICE).
— 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 2014 Prefiles last week: 41
Number of 2015 Prefiles last week: 3
Number of Intros last week: 896
Number of Enacted/Adopted last week: 1,172
Number of 2014 Prefiles to date: 20,353
Number of 2015 Prefiles to date: 80
Number of 2014 Intros to date: 69,953
Number of 2013 Session Enacted/Adopted overall to date: 40, 747 Number of 2014 Session Enacted/Adopted overall to date: 14,324
Number of bills currently in State Net Database: 167,699
— Compiled By FELICIA CARRILLO
(Measures current as of 04/16/2014)
Source: State Net database
Once around the statehouse lightly
ELECTION AT THE OK CORRAL: It's an election year, which means aspiring lawmakers clamoring to get through hyper-partisan primary races are all looking for creative ways to make themselves stand out in a crowd. One popular theme is for a candidate to shoot off both his mouth and his gun. As the Wall Street Journal reports, that's the stance Montana Congressional candidate Matt Rosendale took recently when he released a video that showed him using a rifle to shoot down "a government drone" he intimated was spying on him. That followed a similar rootin-tootin shoot 'em up video from Alabama Congressional wannabe Will Brooke, who used various pistols and rifles to shoot holes in a big 'ol fat copy of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare. Ooh wee, bet that was some fun viewing! Both men are Republicans, but the whole manly-man "I'll stand up to Washington, blah, blah, blah" concept is hardly new or restricted to the GOP. In fact, it was only just a few short years ago that Democratic West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin's successful U.S. Senate campaign featured video of him shooting holes in proposed federal cap-and-trade legislation. If either Rosendale or Brooke wins this time around, we should probably brace for a whole lot more of the same. Maybe it's not too late for Clint Eastwood to throw his hat into the ring somewhere.
OR YOU COULD GO THIS ROUTE: Of course there's more than one way to get attention in a campaign. A tea party candidate challenging U.S. House Speaker John Boehner has gone there. Where? There. As the National Journal reports, Ohio Congressional candidate J.D. Winteregg has released his own "hey look at me" video, this one a play on Cialis and Viagra commercials that, in addition to tossing out the phrase "electile dysfunction," suggests to voters that "If you have a Boehner lasting more than 23 years, seek immediate medical attention." We're guessing Boehner — pronounced Bay-ner — will have the last laugh. As of last week, he had about $11 million in his campaign account. Winteregg had about $3,000.
AND STONINGS MAY BE OUT TOO: If you're a married person in New Hampshire with a wandering eye, take care. As television station WCVB in Boston reports, it's still against Granite State law to commit adultery. That's right, although the law hasn't been enforced in years it is still on the books, is still a misdemeanor and still carries a penalty of up to a $1,200 fine. That is likely to soon end, however, as the House and Senate have passed legislation to strike down the measure. Gov. Maggie Hassan has indicated she'll sign it into law. But the Puritans among us can take heart — even if she does, cheating on your spouse will still be illegal in 20 states.
WHERE AM I AGAIN? It's not that Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald doesn't have a challenger in his bid to win the Ohio Democratic gubernatorial nomination, but let's just say that Democratic hopeful Larry Ealy's campaign isn't exactly a well-oiled machine. As the Youngstown Vindicator reports, Ealy recently declined offers to talk with the paper about the race, or to fill out its candidate questionnaire or, most surprisingly, to meet with its editorial board. His reason for rejecting the meeting? He said he doesn't know how to get to Youngstown...one of the most populous cities in the state he wants to be made governor of. But hey, at least he hasn't made a shoot 'em up video yet.
— By RICH EHISEN
In Case You Missed It
State lawmakers generally haven't paid much attention to cryptocurrencies like bitcoin since they came into existence a few years ago. But with the growth of such virtual currencies on the rise, that is changing fast.
In case you missed it, the story can be found on our Web site at http://www.statenet.com/capitol_journal/04-14-2014/html#sncj_spotlight
Editor: Rich Ehisen
Associate Editor: Korey Clark
Contributing Editor: Mary Peck, David Giusti
Editorial Advisor: Lou Cannon
Correspondents: Richard Cox (CA), Lauren Davis (MA), Steve Karas (CA) and Ben Livingood (PA), Cathy Santsche (CA), Felicia Carrillo (CA)
Graphic Design: Vanessa Perez Design