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Progress Amidst Conflict: California and Illinois Wrap up Sessions

Progress Amidst Conflict: California and Illinois Wrap up Sessions

Monday, October 22nd, 2007

http://www.progressivestates.org/dispatch

In Today's Dispatch:

Session Roundup

Progress Amidst Conflict:
California and Illinois Wrap up Sessions

Session Roundup

Illinois Legislative Recap:
Progress Amidst Intraparty Warfare

Introduction

Two of the largest states in the country, California and Illinois, have finished their sessions, both marked by long-drawn out budget debates and intense polarization between legislative leaders and governors. But while progress in both states was less than hoped for, both did make inroads and remained sources of new policy ideas for the rest of the nation.

SESSION ROUNDUP

BY Adam Thompson

California Legislative Roundup: Legislature's Gains Muted by Governor's Veto Pen

The breadth of issues addressed by the California Legislature was impressive as legislative leaders moved aggressively on the environment and clean energy, education, workplace family issues, and health care. However, because of the Governor's veto pen and the minority party's ability to block revenue bills with just one-third of the vote, the extent of the progress the Legislature made on these issues was far less than it could have been.

Environment, Conservation and Clean Energy: With the world's 6th largest economy and as one of the world's top 10 emitters of the heat trapping gas carbon dioxide, California has had to become a trend-setter on environmental policy. Although California arguably achieved more bi-partisan gains on the environment than on any other issue, Governor's vetoes of key legislation have tempered environmentalists' enthusiasm, as the Los Angeles Times reports. Highlights of enacted policies include:

Vetoing the Environment: Despite these gains, several promising bills died on Governor Schwarzenegger's desk, including: green building incentives and standards for residential and commercial developers; requirements on oil companies to reduce carbon and other pollutants in transportation fuels at least 10% by 2020; and legislation phasing out use of certain hazardous chemicals in consumer electronic products -- all of which bring California in step with European Union standards.

Education: Education gains were modest in 2007. The real story, however, is Governor Schwarzenegger's vetoes of legislation that would have expanded opportunity in the state. Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed the California Dream Act which would have helped thousands of high-achieving yet undocumented students afford tuition and housing to further their educational goals. SB 1

He also vetoed: the College Textbooks Affordability Act ; requirements on charter schools to show they have the capacity and wherewithal to provide effective special education  programming for special education students; and, requirements on state education officials to identify alternative criteria for proficient students to obtain high school diplomas who are unable to pass exit exams.

Workplace Issues: As with education, promising legislation to expand workplace family protections and the rights of workers to unionize fell to the veto pen. Bills axed by the Governor include: an expansion of paid family leave eligibility  that would have included employees who are caring for a seriously ill grandparents, grandchildren, siblings, or parents-in-law; protections from workplace discrimination  for employees who are responsible outside of work as a caregiver for a family member; and, pro-union legislation  allowing for "majority sign up" to help agricultural workers choose collective bargaining. 

Family Issues:  Three bills authored by State Sen. Sheila Kuehl  that survived the trip to the Governor's desk will keep together infants and their teen parents who are in the foster care system, allow for the inclusion of pets in domestic violence protection orders, and increase reimbursement rates for family planning providers under the state's Family Planning, Access, Care and Treatment program. SB 770 , SB 353 , SB 94

Immigrant Rights: recent poll by the Survey and Research Institute at San Jose State University shows that almost two-thirds of Californians support allowing undocumented immigrants become legal residents of the state. Despite rejecting the California Dream Act, Governor Schwarzenegger did sign fair-treatment-of-immigrants legislation prohibiting local ordinances that would require landlords to inquire, compile, report, or disclose any information regarding the citizenship status of a current or potential tenant. AB 976

Public Safety: To aid law enforcement in tracking down crime-gun assailants, lawmakers enacted the Crime Gun Identification Act of 2007 , which requires all new models of semiautomatic handguns sold in the state after January 1, 2010 to be manufactured with "microstamping" technology. This "stamp" will ensure that rounds fired from a semiautomatic weapon are imprinted with the gun's unique fingerprint, which will aid law enforcement in solving crimes committed with these weapons. AB 1471

Voting Rights: Lastly, pro-democracy advocates won a strategic name change to encourage more voter turnout by changing the name of "absentee-ballot voting" to "vote by mail." Little in the state's elections laws will change, but supporters of the name change believe it will remind voters that everyone can vote by mail and that you don't need to be "absent" on election day in order to vote early and by mail.  AB 1243

Health Care, the Incomplete Chapter:  As we have repeatedly detailed in the Stateside Dispatch, health care reform has been the story of this legislative session starting last December and January . Despite the Legislature's passage of a comprehensive health care reform package that included many elements of the Governor's own priorities, Gov. Schwarzenegger vetoed AB 8 and called a special session to iron out differences between himself and the Democratic legislative leaders. As of now, the debate is on-going and comes down to two fundamental questions that are permeating the health care debate in states across the country and in DC: (1) should individuals be mandated to purchase health insurance coverage and (2) how much should employers pay into the system. During the regular session, however, some bipartisan reforms did pass:

  • Drug Labeling - The state instituted new labeling standardization for prescription drugs, a measure supported by the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California and which will standardize label content and require immediate translation into a patient's primary language. SB 472
  • Federal Funding - With the closure of MLK Jr.-Harbor Hospital in South Los Angeles, which we documented previously in the Stateside Dispatch  as a glaring indication of racial and ethnic health disparities, lawmakers are redirecting $100 million in federal funds that would have been lost to keep the facility open. SB 474
  • Insurance Regulations - Lawmakers enacted new regulations on insurance companies preventing them from dropping children with mental or physical disabilities from insurance after they reach a certain age. And, after a state investigation found some of the state's largest insurance companies were improperly dropping enrollees from coverage , insurers will now be required to justify to the State decisions to rescind an enrollee's policy. AB 910 and AB 1324

On the other hand, Schwarzenegger vetoed other key health reforms approved by the legislature, including:

  • Employer Scrooge Act - AB 343  would have required public disclosure of employers that don't provide health care to workers, workers that end of up on the state's Medicaid and other public programs. Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill last year.
  • Mental Health Parity - AB 423 would have provided for mental health parity by requiring health plans to cover mental health needs at the same level as physical health needs. 
  • Patient Protections - After national news coverage of a Skid Row hospital dumping homeless patients in alleys, lawmakers sought to protect patients by passing SB 275 , which would have required hospitals to have written discharge policies and plans for post-discharge care, and prevented hospitals from moving patients to locations other than their home without the patient's consent.
  • Condoms in Prisons - Although HIV-experts assert the effectiveness of condom use and distribution as effective and cheap ways to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS, the Governor vetoed a measure that would have allowed the distribution of condoms in prisons. One positive note, however, the Governor did sign AB 682  which authorizes the routine testing of patients for HIV.

Conclusion: With the on-going special session on health care, it is premature to give a final assessment of California's legislative gains in 2007.  However, it is clear that the legislature has a strong progressive bent. Unfortunately, the Governor's priorities, as reflected by his veto pen, are muting some of the gains made by the legislature.

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SESSION ROUNDUP

BY J. Mijin Cha

Illinois Legislative Recap: Progress Amidst Intraparty Warfare

Illinois' session was marked by an ugly showdown between Governor Blagojevich and the legislature that delayed funding for schools and jeopardized federal transportation money, with the Governor even suing his fellow Democrat House Speaker Michael Madigan over the scheduling of special sessions.

The intra-party fight between the governor and the legislature resulted in record budget delays . Much of the session's drama came as Governor Blagojevich vetoed portions of the legislatively-approved budget to increase health care coverage for kids and low-income citizens, vetoes that were overridden by the House but upheld by the Senate. 

While hopes for comprehensive health care reform for the state fell to the acrimony, significant legislation was passed amidst the internecine political warfare. A signature bill of the session was a $1 billion cut in electric rates after prices spiked in the wake of earlier deregulation of the industry. SB 1592

Clean Energy & the Environment: The legislature and governor did manage to agree on some things, including establishing a renewable energy standard of 25% by 2025 and an energy efficiency portfolio standard that will require Illinois utilities to reduce overall electric usage by 2% by 2015. The state also approved a number of smart growth laws, including SB135, known as the "Green Neighborhood Award Act,"  to award grants to green buildings and SB 220 , which awards additional school funding to communities that approve multi-family housing developments.

Rewarding Work:  As we highlighted a few weeks ago, Illinois made national news when it enacted HB 1744 , which prohibits employers from using the inaccurate federal E-Verify system until its databases can deliver a 99% accurate evaluation of an employee's legal status within 3 days. The state also established a number of other key labor advances:

  • Government contracting: HB 1347 limits school subcontracting that undermines benefits for school support workers, and HB 479 requires any company taking over a government contract to assume the collective bargaining obligations of the previous contractor and offer employment to employees currently doing the work.
  • Home Health Workers:  HB 4144 gives home care workers for seniors a $1.70/hour raise. The bill also provides money to cover some health care costs for the estimated 18,000 workers who get funding through the Department on Aging. The bill has not yet been signed by the Governor.
  • Worker Tax Credits: SB 338 expands the Earned Income Tax Credit to an additional 100,000 citizens, while SB 1279 creates income tax credits for wages paid to eligible offenders. The credit amount is set at 25% of the federal work opportunity credit for wages paid to eligible offenders.
  • Whistleblower Protections: HB 742 extends state whistleblower protections to protect educational and local government employees from retaliation when they report activity that they believe violates the law.
  • Child Care: HB 1009  improves the state's child care subsidy program by raising eligibility maximums and increasing subsidy rates for providers.

HB 1332 would have forbidden certain state agencies from asking about convictions at the beginning of a hiring process, although it would have allowed these questions later in the process. The bill passed, but the governor vetoed it.

Women's Rights: SB 534 expands protections for tenants who suffer domestic violence, including the right to terminate a lease if they need to move to be safe, while HB 1462  suspends the current two-year statute of limitations for civil suits for rape victims if the victim is threatened, intimidated or manipulated by the perpetrator or another person acting in the perpetrator's interest.

Civil Liberties and Human Rights:

  • SB 1434 - allows expedited motions to dismiss Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPS) that are aimed at discouraging citizen petitioning of government against growth and development.
  • SB 729 - creates a ban on prior review of student-run campus media by administrative officials at state colleges.
  • HB 2734 - establishes drug schools, as a drug intervention and education program, as a alternative to incarceration for low-level drug possession offenses.
  • SB 1169 - prevents Illinois pension funds from investing in companies associated with Sudan.
  • House Joint Resolution 27 calls on the U.S. Congress to repeal the federal REAL ID Act of 2005 for creating a de facto national ID.

Tax Reform: SB 1544 closes corporate tax loopholes that only benefit business and special interests. Closing the loophole is expected to generate an estimated $250 million of revenue.

On the Telecom front, the state passed SB 678 , which allows statewide video francises for telecom companies to bypass municipal regulation, but at least imposes stronger buildout requirements and protection of local community television stations than many other similar bills passed across the country. 

Health care:  While a lot of unsuccessful effort was spent debating SB 5 , the Governor's universal health care plan known as Illinois Covered, there were some gains in health-care related areas:

  • Stem Cell Research: Illinois committed to investing in stem cell research and set up an institute to award grants to scientists.
  • Protection of Patients: SB 873 protects disabled individuals under Medicare from being overcharged by insurers. HB 1301 gives the state's Long Term Care Ombudsmen the option to serve residents under 60 years of age to increase protection of people living in long term care facilities. SB 867 mandates staffing plans to help make sure hospitals maintain appropriate nursing care for all patients.
  • Workplace Health: A new law will ban smoking in all workplaces in Illinois by January 1, 2008. SB 500
  • Children with Disabilities: HB 817  allows young people with disabilities to continue receiving the services necessary to help them transition smoothly into adulthood by clarifying the definition of "children with disabilities" to include students through age 21.

Failed Promises: Among the other bills that failed to pass out of the legislature is a simple, straight-forward bill that would have made "pay to play" campaign contributions from government contractor illegal. Unfortunately, though it passed through the house, the bill was held up in the Senate. The legislature also failed to pass any fiscal relief for the ailing Chicago Transit Authority, causing likely fare hikes, layoffs, and service cuts. 

More may be accomplished in special sessions in the rest of the year, but there is little question that much more could have been accomplished in the state with a little less political gamesmanship and a bit more leadership.

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Resources

California Legislative Roundup: Legislature's Gains Muted by Governor's Veto Pen

California Progress Report - The Daily Briefing for Politics, Policy, and Progressive Action

Health Access-California - 2007 Health Reform Debate

California League of Conservation Voters

California Labor Federation AFL-CIO

California Legislature Website - Bill Search Engine

Stateside Dispatch - Will Special Session Yield California Health Care Reform?  

Stateside Dispatch - California: The Health Care Debate is On

Stateside Dispatch - Right-wing Ballot Scheme to Manipulate Presidential Votes in California

Stateside Dispatch - CA in 2006: A Progressive Agenda in Action

Stateside Dispatch - CA in 2006: Legislature Votes for Single-Payer Health System to Cover Uninsured

Stateside Dispatch - CA in 2006: Integrating Immigrants into Education and Licensing Laws

Daily Dispatch - Big Win: Appeals Court Upholds California Pro-Labor Law

Illinois Legislative Recap: Progress Amidst Intraparty Warfare

Clean Energy & the Environment: renewable energy standard, SB135, SB 220

Rewarding Work: HB 1744, HB 1347, HB 4144, SB 338, SB 1279, HB 742, HB 1009

Womens Rights: SB 534 , HB 1462

Civil Liberties and Human Rights: SB 1434 , SB 729 , HB 2734 , SB 1169 , HJR 27

Tax Reform: SB 1544

Telecom: SB 678

Health Care: SB 873 , SB 867, SB 500, HB 817

Eye on the Right

Three organizers who tried to get a TABOR initiative on the ballot in Oklahoma have been indicted on a number of offenses, including filing a false petition and conspiracy to defraud the state. Like in other states , the Oklahoma Supreme Court dismissed the petition because it contained too many illegal signatures.

Oklahoma requires signature gathers be "qualified electors" of the state, but the group is alleged to have knowingly used out of state gatherers. The Oklahoma Attorney General told the Tulsa World, "We cannot tolerate schemes designed to manipulate our state's election laws."


Got a lead for Eye on the Right? Sent it to eyeontheright@progressivestates.org.

3 Steps Forward

1. KS: Power plant rejected over carbon dioxide for first time 

2. VT: Douglas urges tough terms on Verizon sale

3. WA: Court-workers due more pay for road time

2 Steps Back

1. US: House sustains president's veto on child health

2. US: New license rules slam some legal residents

Masthead

The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:

Nathan Newman, Policy Director
J. Mijin Cha, Policy Specialist
Adam Thompson, Policy Specialist
John Bacino, Communications Associate

Please shoot us an email at dispatch@progressivestates.org if you have feedback, tips, suggestions, criticisms, or nominations for any of our sidebar features.

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