Building a Progressive Majority: Bills for 2008


Building a Progressive Majority: Bills for 2008

As legislative sessions begin in coming weeks and last minute bills are being introduced, this Dispatch is intended as a quick checklist of potential model bills to introduce based on our policy options outline released in 2007:

Building a Progressive Majority in the States:
Policy Options for 2008

Like the overall policy package, the list of bills and links below are not meant to be exhaustive but emphasize issues that embody the progressive agenda and opportunities to make the most serious inroads among the public in the present political environment.

The key is to create a strong narrative around multiple issues that highlights the values for which progressives stand: Rewarding Work, Valuing Families, Promoting Justice, Growing the Economy and Increasing Democracy. The package emphasizes seven areas (the links go to the HTML version of the report):

While the report has more detailed descriptions of different policies, below are links to a few key bills worth emulating that embody each of these policy areas.

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Wage Standards and Workplace Freedom

Wage Standards and Workplace Freedom Policies emphasize that a higher wage is the best anti-poverty program and a "pro-family" policy to allow parents to work fewer hours and have more time with their families. Such policies include directly raising wage standards like the minimum wage, better enforcement of existing laws, and strengthening the ability of employees to negotiate higher standards on their own behalf through stronger labor unions. Below are a few key models worth emulating:

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Balancing Work and Family

Policies helping parents balance the demands of work and family allows progressive leaders to reclaim their role as defenders of the family against the pressures of modern life and work.

  • Paid Family Leave: With California and Washington States passing paid leave policies, one of the most generous models for paid family leave is New Jersey's proposed S2249 which would provide up to 12 weeks of family leave at up to $502 per week to care for sick family members or to care for a newborn or newly adopted child.
  • Paid Six Days: Last year, Connecticut's State Senate became the first chamber to approve guaranteed sick days for workers (SB 601) to care for themselves and immediate family members.
  • Child Care: State Dependent Care Tax Credit is model legislation for state dependent care tax credits, includng making it refundable with broad income eligibility. The Smart Child Care Act is model legislation based on North Carolina's Smart Start program to create public-private partnerships to provide high-quality childcare.
  • Pre-K: The Oklahoma Preschool Program is the longest standing state pre-K program and has achieved the highest percentage of 4-year olds in publicly-funded preschool in the country. Illinois Preschool for All law is the first state law to make a commitment to the goal by 2010 of providing pre-K to all 3-year olds as well, regardless of family income.

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Health Care for All

Policies to solve the health care crisis of unaffordable health care and lack of access for millions of Americans is a key challenge and opportunity for progressive state leaders, who are enacting innovative proposals that are models for extending quality, affordable health care to all our states' residents:

  • Covering All Kids: While state efforts to cover all kids, largely through expanding the state-federal State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), were dealt a serious blow by President Bush's refusal to approve long-term expansion of the program and new restrictions sent down in August, key bills have been models for improving access to coverage for children. Illinois' AllKids program is ambitiously extending its program to all children in the state based on sliding scale premiums. New Jersey in recent years brought eligibility to 350% of poverty and New York last year authorized expansion of the program to 400% of poverty. Although the Bush Administration is fighting these expansions, continued state pressure will help ensure the federal government gets its act together on kids health care. Elsewhere, Hawaii advanced a bill eliminating cost-sharing in its children's health program up to 300% of the poverty. And, Washington State advanced a first-in-the-nation provision creating a children's health care entitlement program which will guarantee funding for children's health care up to 250% of poverty, exempting the state's kids program from yearly budget battles.
  • Quality Affordable Health Care for All Residents: Following Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont, states are increasingly moving comprehensive reform proposals.  Approaches being pursued range from California's public-private partnership with similarities to the Massachusetts plan, to a single-payer plan in Pennsylvania, to Wisconsin's Healthy Wisconsin plan which is being refined for the 2008 legislative session and would guarantee comprehensive health care for all Wisconsin residents. Building on smaller employer "pay-or-play" requirements in Massachusetts and Vermont, San Francisco has advanced a more robust requirement for employers to spend a certain amount on employee health care benefits or make a contribution to the city to finance health care expansions. 
  • Health Care Reform Commissions: Commissions can be effective tools for building public awareness and support for health care reform and for states to study the best options for comprehensive reform in their state. The Colorado Blue Ribbon Commission for Healthcare Reform, created by 2006 SB 208, spent 2007 engaging the public and studying reform proposals ranging from a single-payer system to an incremental public-private expansion of coverage. 
  • Health Care Cost Savings: A slew of options are available to reduce prescription drug costs and limit industry profiteering. These include: marketing disclosure and provider gift bans; Minnesota gift ban and disclosure laws; drug discount programs like Maine Rx and Colorado Cares; other 340B drug discount programs; state false claims acts, mirroring the federal law, to identify and prevent Medicaid fraud; and, Maine's best price disclosure law. In 2007, Washington lawmakers enacted HB 2098 which includes a number of provisions to develop a pay for performance system to recognize and incentivize provider quality amd promote best medical practices, a model similar to the Maine Quality Forum
  • Health Insurance Regulation: To limit profits and inefficient administration and ensure more premium dollars go to direct medical care, states can establish a medical loss ratio.  These rules require insurance companies to spend a certain amount of premiums on medical care, such as 85% which is being proposed in California. Elsewhere, in 2007, Colorado enacted small group community rating standards that prevent insurance companies from hiking premiums on older employees and employees with a medical history or poor health status.

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Smart Growth and Clean Jobs

Promoting clean energy and smart growth in our communities taps the public desire to protect the environment, achieve energy independence and improve the livability of our communities. 

  • Promoting Alternative Energy:  California's AB 32 requires an economy-wide emissions cap for the whole state. Several states have adopted a standard of 25% of electricity to come from renewable energy by 2025. New Hampshire did so through HB 873. Minnesota's 2007 statute requires the Public Utilities Commission to develop criteria and standards for "decoupling" (i.e. giving utility companies incentives to reduce consumer energy use) and authorizes a pilot decoupling program that meets the crieria. Washington State's HB 2420 would establish a carbon tax based on ton of carbon content on the fuel source and motor vehicle fuel with the revenue collected going into a climate action fund to support measures that reduce greenhouse gases emissions. 
  • Clean Cars:  Though the EPA might not want to regulate greenhouse gases, almost twenty states have adopted California's greenhouse gas emissions standards for vehicles. Maryland's SB 103 incorporates the mandated 22% reduction of tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions by the 2012 model year and a 30% reduction by the 2016 model year. Oregon passed HB 2210, which requires gasoline to be blended with ethanol and gives tax incentives for consumers and producers of biofuels. 
  • Green Buildings:  Minimum efficiency standards for appliances in homes is a great way to save energy costs, and in turn, save consumers money with Rhode Island having a minimum efficiency standard for the most appliances. Colorado called for the Office of the State Architect to develop a high building performance building certification program, which reduces the consumption of energy, water and other resources, and all state-assisted facilities must be designed and constructed to achieve this standard.  Michigan adopted specific energy efficiency goals that call for a 10% reduction in energy use by the end of 2008 and a 20% reduction in energy use by the end of 2015 for its public buildings. Connecticut provides between $60-$70 million annually to support energy efficiency and energy projects for low-income residents through a $0.003 per kilo-watt surcharge on Conneticut Light and Power and United Illuminating customers.
  • Promoting Smart Growth: The City of Carrollton, Texas, is set to open three mass transit stations in 2010 and has focused on creating a mixed-use, transit oriented development platform for each station. Maryland's smart growth policy supports existing communities and revitalizing them. Massachusetts 40R gives financial incentives for municipalities to adopt "smart growth" zoning plans, which can include inclusionary zoning, to increase the stock of affordable housing.

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Tax and Budget Reform

Progressives can demand a fairer, more accountable tax and budget system through policies that reduce economic inequality, eliminate economic giveaways to companies receiving tax breaks and government contracts, and create more transparent tax and budget decisions:

  • Making Taxes More Progressive:  For a general guide to best practices on local tax policy, see ITEP's Guide to Fair State and Local Taxes. On key policy for states has been the State Earned Income Tax Credit to ease the tax burden on lower-income working families as well.
  • Reforming the Corporate Income Tax: Many states have enacted Statutes for Combined Reporting to prevent businesses from using complex combinations of subsidiaries to manipulate where they have to report profits. To avoid federal tax giveaways reducing state revenue, many states have "decoupled" their tax codes from federal definitions of corporate income.
  • Tax and Budget Transparency: Connecticut in 2006 passed a particularly comprehensive review law, which establishes a commission to review each tax credit and policy in the state, measure what jobs they actually helped create or retain, whether there are better alternatives to achieve the same policy objectives.  Floridians Against Inequities in Rates a few years ago promoted ballot initiatives language (see text of initiatives) to sunset tax expenditures every ten years and eliminate other tax loopholes. The Montana Senate approved SB 242 to require publicly-traded corporations to disclose basic tax information, such as how much income they made in the state and taxes paid to help avoid corporate tax avoidance.
  • Fixing Failed Tax Subsidies: A few states, with Minnesota, Maine and Illinois in the lead, have enacted disclosure laws to track individual economic development deals and make the information accessible to the public. Good Jobs First's Model Accountability Legislation includes disclosure rules, job quality standards and other economic development subsidy reforms-- and gives private citizens the legal right to enforce these rules if state officials fail to do so.
  • Reforming Government Contracts:  The scramble for government contracts often corrupts government and its agencies, so some states use responsible contractor laws screen out shady employers who cut corners on public services. New Jersey and Arizona have flatly prohibited companies that offshore jobs from bidding on their state contracts. New Jersey has also passed the most far-reaching "pay to play" law prohibiting campaign contributions from government contractors after a series of contracting scandals.

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Fair and Clean Elections

Policies to promote election reform and eliminate the corruption of money in politics is crucial for empowering voters and addressing the disgust citizens have at corporate "pay to play" lobbying deals. Key reforms include: 

  • Vote by Mail Elections:  See Oregon's Vote by Mail Resources for how that state runs purely vote by mail elections, as well as Washington State's SB 5744/HB 1754 which allow counties in that state to choose vote by mail for elections.
  • Election Day Registration: in 2007, Iowa approved HSB 204 to allow citizens to register to vote on election day, joining seven other states that allow election day registration.
  • National Popular Vote: New Jersey's S2695/A4225 and Maryland HB 148/SB 634 made those states the first two states to approve an interstate compact to de facto abolish the Electoral College and allow the majority of voters to select the President.
  • Stopping Voter Deception and Intimidation:  The Voter Protection Model Bill would create strong penalties for groups that suppress voter turnout through deception and intimidation.
  • Clean Elections:  The Maine Clean Election Act, Arizona Clean Elections Law and Connecticut Clean Elections law are all examples of states that have used public financing of elections to reduce monied interests influence on elections.

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Broadband Buildout and Technology Investments

Policies to promote high-speed Internet deployment and promote local investments in technology-based jobs are a key component of increasing local democratic participation, promoting local economic growth, creating "smart" communities that are healthier and more energy efficient, and closing the widening gap in economic opportunity.

  • Universal and Affordable Broadband:  The 2007 WA State Budget (Sec. 149) included budget language requiring a survey of broadband deployment and barriers to digital access.  Where many state "video franchise" bills had weak buildout requirements, New York's A03980 required broadband buildout to all communities in the state.
  • Leveraging Broadband for Energy Savings:  After a successful pilot program in Chicago, the Illinois legislature passed SB 1705 to establish smart metering to allow consumers to use real-time online monitoring of energy use to adjust consumption and lower their energy bills.
  • Local Technology Investments: A number of states have created local venture capital funds to invest in local startups, including the Maryland Venture Fund and the Indiana Future Fund, while other states have used pension funds programs, such as the New Jersey Directed Investment Fund and CalPERS, to strengthen local technology-based companies.

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The full policy options report has links to other resources to help support policy campaigns on each of these issues and, of course, Progressive States Network staff are always available to provide technical support for legislators needing help in developing legislation or other support materials. 

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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 if you have feedback, tips, suggestions, criticisms, or nominations for any of our sidebar features.

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