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Charles Monaco on August 10, 2012 - 2:15pm
With 2012 legislative sessions largely adjourned in statehouses across the nation, Progressive States Network is releasing a series of issue-specific session roundups highlighting developments and trends in different policy areas across the fifty states.
Check out our recent roundups on what's happened in state capitals this year on state tax and budget policy, efforts to protect and advance workers' rights, and attempts to expand community broadband and fight deregulation.
Over the next few weeks, we'll be publishing roundups focused on immigration, health care, and election reform in the states. Sign up here to receive them in your inbox.
Susan Mottet on July 23, 2012 - 9:15am
A recent report by the State Budget Crisis Task Force chaired by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker and former New York Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch (D) outlined six threats to fiscal sustainability in the states. Cue the calls for more austerity! However, as other recent reports have shown, fiscal austerity at the state level harms middle class and low-income families, drives job losses, and continues to severely hinder the economic recovery.
Progressive state lawmakers have been advancing smart, effective policies to take on what the authors of the State Budget Crisis Task Force report accurately describe as the structural problems facing states in the coming years. Here are five solutions that your state can advance to help avert fiscal crisis while promoting economic growth, fairness, and equality:
1) Redesign and Strengthen Medicaid : The first problem the State Budget Crisis Task Force report identifies is that the cost of Medicaid is growing faster than inflation. This is a result of the fact that health care costs are growing faster than inflation and that more families are temporarily relying on Medicaid due to the economic downturn.
North Carolina addressed the growing cost of Medicaid over a decade ago by implementing a coordinated care model called Primary Care Medical Homes. In this model, regional networks of physicians, nurses, pharmacists, hospitals, health departments, and community organizations work together to provide cooperate, coordinated care to patients. Each patient is matched with a primary care physician who leads the health care team to ensure that the patient’s health needs are effectively addressed. By reducing hospitalizations and emergency department visits and better managing chronic illnesses, the model has saved North Carolina hundreds of millions of dollars every year. North Carolina State Representative Verla Insko explains, “not only has it saved our state $1.5 billion over three years, it has improved the health outcomes of the families that rely on this program. This is about our core values. We refused to choose between saving money and quality of care.”
Other states can follow North Carolina’s lead. Recently, Oregon adopted a law to do just that at the urging of Governor Kitzhaber, a former emergency department doctor.
2) Require Online Retailers to Collect Sales Taxes : Faced with federal budget deficits caused in part by massive tax breaks for the wealthy, Congress is reducing spending. Instead of letting the tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans expire, Congress passed the buck by cutting state funding, creating fiscal crises at the state level.
State reliance on federal funding has intensified as state revenue collections have declined. A major reason for that decline has been the prevalence of online shopping. Current law prohibits states from collecting sales tax for online purchases unless the vendor has a physical presence in the state. But why don’t you pay sales tax on barnesandnoble.com when Barnes and Noble has several brick-and-mortar stores in your state? To avoid sales tax collection, online versions of stores have incorporated separately.
As a result of online shopping and corporate tax avoidance strategies, state sales tax collection has declined drastically. Congress can and should fix this by authorizing states to collect sales tax from all online purchases. In the meantime, states have been taking the lead in requiring companies with physical presences in the state to collect state sales taxes. As California State Sen. Loni Hancock put it last year as a compromise was passed in that state that required Amazon to begin collecting sales taxes starting this September, what is at stake is whether online retailers care about “the people whose lives are affected by whether or not we have enough money for schools and roads and to keep the libraries and parks open.”
3) Increase Pension Contributions and Prevent Pension Abuses: Facing budget deficits, some states have chosen to inadequately fund pension obligations rather than adopt solutions for long-term financial sustainability. But a little known fact is that many state employees are not eligible for Social Security, which is only mandatory outside of the public sector. For this reason, the solvency of state employee pensions is critical not only to states but also to the retirement security of cops, firefighters, and teachers.
States can do two things to fully fund their pension obligations. First, states should slightly increase pension contributions to 5 percent of their budgets (compared with the present level of 3.8 percent), as recommended in a recentreport by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Second, even though individual abuses are not the predominant cause of underfunded state pension funds, states can also change their rules to prevent such abuses, including “double-dipping” (where a person draws a pension while also receiving a government salary) and “spiking” (where a person artificially inflates their final year’s earnings in order to increase their pension).
4) Rely Less on Sales Taxes, More on Progressive Individual Income Taxes: As the Task Force report highlights, there have been tectonic shifts in our economy that have eroded tax collection. Sales taxes are typically levied on goods purchased from brick-and-mortar stores, and the growth of online shopping and the shift toward a service-based (not goods-based) economy have led to severely decreased sales tax collection.
The economic downturn compounded this even further. Sales tax collection is extremely volatile, unlike income taxation. During an economic downturn, a 5 percent decrease in employment would typically result in a similar decrease in income tax collection. However everyone — even those with jobs — cuts spending out of fear. As a result, the drop in sales tax revenue during and after a recession is dramatic. States rely on sales tax for nearly one third of their revenue and on personal income tax for another third. States would experience less volatility and increase revenue collection by reforming their tax systems to rely less on sales taxes and more on progressive income taxes.
Making state tax systems more progressive would help raise the revenue to pay for needed public services that can help save jobs and power state economies through a recession. Nearly everyone agrees that the wealthiest families should pay at a tax rate at least equal to what low- and middle-income families pay. Yet in almost every state, they pay less. Our states can get on track for long term fiscal sustainability if they reform income taxes to ensure that when all taxes are taken into consideration – sales tax, property tax, and income tax – the wealthiest are paying their fair share. Many states have considered and enacted taxes on high-income earners to prevent job-killing cuts in services. As Maryland State Sen. Roger Manno described the ultimately successful effort in his state to pass a more progressive income tax structure this year, the goal should be a “broad based, pragmatic, fair and palatable revenue solution that offsets cuts to education and social services which would be more than any of us could bear.”
5) Lose the Gimmicks and Make State Taxes More Equitable: Unlike the federal government, states are required to balance their budgets every year. During economic downturns, states must either raise revenue or cut funding for public services (such as schools and police), or both. All of these options are difficult political decisions. To avoid this, many states have used budget gimmicks – such as selling off state assets to pay to close just one year’s budget gap – to delay budget crises rather than solve them.
Rather than cut funding for schools, police, fire departments, and other important public services, states must reform tax systems. As law professor David Brunori at George Washington University Law School puts it, “A tax system must not only raise enough revenue to fund the programs demanded by the citizens, like all aspects of government, it must be fair and equitable.”
Loopholes used by wealthy and large corporations are serious threats to equality and fairness in our tax system. State tax codes are full of special deals for powerful interests that need to be overhauled so everyone plays by the same rules. When the deck is stacked in favor of politicians’ wealthy campaign contributors and corporate interests, the middle class gets stuck with the consequences. Closing the numerous corporate loopholes can help raise hundreds of millions of dollars for each state budget (billions for the most populous states), put states back on track for fiscal sustainability, and make the tax system more equitable for everyone.
As budget debates play out in the states, politicians will be proposing their answers to the problems that threaten the financial sustainability of state budgets. The kinds of solutions they call for will reflect their values, whose interests they are working for, and how equitable our society will be in the future.
Charles Monaco on July 13, 2012 - 2:02pm
This week, OMB Watch released a report taking a comprehensive look at the actions of state governments to require disclosure of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking"), an increasingly controversial and widespread practice used to extract natural gas in many states across the nation. The conclusion? On even this most basic requirement, states are failing to safeguard the health of their residents from the environmental dangers of fracking.
According to the report, The Right to Know, the Responsibility to Protect, the number of natural gas wells curently operating in the coutnry has swelled to nearly half a million, operating in at least 30 states — approximately 90% of which employ fracking. The health risks of many of the chemicals used in fracking are established. A 2011 report by the U.S. House of Representatives found that of the 2,500 products used in the hydraulic fracturing process, "more than 650 contained known carcinogens and other hazardous substances." Meanwhile, the industry itself is booming. Revenues reported by just the top ten largest companies that drill for natural gas in the U.S. reached a reported $1.1 trillion in 2010. Yet state laws to require disclosure of these chemicals are lagging behind.
The report notes that, of the 50 states, "no state has yet established all of the elements of a chemical disclosure policy strong enough to ensure the quality of the water and the health of communities near gas wells." Colorado is cited as a state that has made some of the most progress, "putting in place several elements of an effective disclosure policy."
What would an effective state policy towards chemical disclosure look like? OMB Watch identifies four critical elements that they recommend be part of such a policy:
For more, read the full report.
(If you are interested in advancing chemical disclosure policies in your state, please contact Ann Pratt at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Charles Monaco on July 9, 2012 - 6:07pm
Following the Supreme Court’s landmark decision on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), local and national attention has once again focused on the states as the arenas where implementation of – and opposition to – the law will play out. For uninsured individuals and families who hope to gain from the expanded coverage provided for under the law starting in 2014, the initial response in many states may not have been encouraging.
Tea-party governors and right-wing state legislators, more concerned with adhering to anti-government ideology than addressing the needs of their constituents and states, have been quick to express their opposition to the expansion of Medicaid, with some going further by saying they want to cut their current Medicaid programs, reject the creation of exchanges, or even back dubious efforts to “nullify” the ACA, all the while betting that the November elections will result in eventual repeal or administrative obstruction of the law.
But in the face of this predictable response from opponents, responsible state legislative leaders from around the nation have also been speaking out. They have been voicing their determination to implement the ACA fully, underscoring the benefits of many provisions of the law for their constituents, pointing out the foolishness of rejecting the Medicaid expansion, and calling for cooler and more practical heads to prevail going forward (including, in states such as Washington and Iowa, proposing statewide summits). Members of the Working Group of State Legislators for Health Reform – who filed two amicus briefs defending the ACA with the Supreme Court earlier this year signed by over 500 lawmakers from all 50 states – have been actively driving the debate.
Here is just a sampling of the voices of Working Group members in the media in the days since the Supreme Court decision:
“State Rep. Sharon Treat (ME), who worked with a network of lawmakers from other states to fine-tune the national law, called the decision ‘an incredible victory’ for tens of thousands of families across Maine. Treat, of Hallowell, called on state officials to put aside politics and implement the law. She said it will give a family of four in Maine earning the median income of $46,000 a year a tax credit that would cover nearly 80 percent of the family's total cost of health care for the year.” – Associated Press, 6/28/2012
“State Sen. Jeremy Nordquist (NE) pledged ‘a battle’ between the legislature and Republican Gov. Dave Heineman…. Heineman told legislators on Thursday that he opposes an expansion of Medicaid in Nebraska, saying that those who support this would in effect cut back education. Nordquist disagreed, saying that the state's investment would bring in federal dollars to help the economy. ‘Those are dollars that pay doctors, nurses and staff,’ he said. ‘It would be ridiculous to turn [them] down.’” – Huffington Post, 6/28/2012
“[Washington] State lawmakers and health leaders say they're grateful that Thursday's U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the federal health-care law has ended the legal limbo they've all been stuck in since last year. ‘This whole case has caused chaos,’ said Democratic state Sen. Karen Keiser (WA), chair of the state Senate health-care committee. ‘Over the last six months, we've had nothing but chaos and confusion.’ Now the plan is to move quickly to start bringing a good part of the state's 1 million uninsured onto health insurance, either public — through a major expansion of Medicaid — or private.” – Seattle Times, 6/28/2012
“[State Rep. Garnet] Coleman (TX) said he expected [Texas Gov.] Perry and the state’s lawmakers to continue their refusal to establish a state-based Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP health insurance exchanges… [and] that Perry and friends may also reject the federal government’s expanded Medicaid offerings. The court said today that states can’t be penalized for refusing to join the expansion by losing all of their federal Medicaid funds. If they reject it, Coleman said, ‘they’re going to have to have a long conversation with families of the mentally ill who are on the streets of every Texas city. They’re going to have to have a long conversation with people who have cancer and who are too poor to get health care or people who have diabetes.’” – Houston Chronicle, 6/28/2012
“[State] Sen. Jack Hatch (IA)… said [Iowa Gov.] Branstad is incorrect to say Medicaid expansion would cost the state. He said that in fact, the expansion would save the state money it now is spending to subsidize care for some poor, childless adults…. Hatch presented figures from the Legislative Services Agency estimating state and local governments would save $50 million if Medicaid picks up people now on IowaCare. Hatch has proposed that the state hold a summit meeting soon to discuss what to do now that the Supreme Court has upheld most of the federal health-reform law.” – Des Moines Register, 7/2/2012
“In New Mexico, Republican Gov. Susana Martinez has supported increased state money for Medicaid since taking office last year, though she hasn't decided whether to back the federal expansion to 133 percent of the federal poverty level – an amount equivalent to $14,856 annually for an individual or $30,657 for a family of four…. ‘I think New Mexico would be foolish not to expand its Medicaid program,’ said state Sen. Dede Feldman (NM), a Democrat, who is chairwoman of a legislative study committee that deals with health care.” – Associated Press, 6/29/2012
“North Carolina lawmakers have no plans to meet a deadline to create a new one-stop shop to help individuals and small businesses find affordable health insurance despite Thursday's landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling…. But with much of the groundwork for a North Carolina exchange already laid, lawmakers could readily adopt changes next year, said State Rep. Verla Insko (NC), one of the Legislature's authorities on health policy.” – Associated Press, 6/28/2012
“State Rep. Elizabeth Ritter (CT), co-chairwoman of the legislature’s Public Health Committee, said the Supreme Court’s decision allows the state to move toward full implementation of the law ‘with the certainty that we have a strong federal partner.’… Ritter estimated that Connecticut’s uninsured population, which stands at about 380,000 individuals today, will drop by about 170,000 once the law is fully implemented.” – CT News Junkie, 7/2/2012
“State Sen. Joe Bolkcom (IA): ‘This is a great day for uninsured Iowans and for everyone struggling to pay health care bills. We succeeded in bringing affordable health insurance to every Iowa child because the federal government was our partner. Today’s Supreme Court decision means the federal government will now be our partner in bringing stable, secure health care to every Iowan. It is time to set aside inflammatory political rhetoric and get back to working together to improve the health care of all Iowans.’” – Des Moines Register, 6/28/2012
“State Rep. Erin Murphy (MN) called the ruling ‘a truly historic moment for the country.’ In a statement, Murphy said, ‘Moving forward, I hope we can push aside the political stalemate of the last two years and work together with Republican colleagues to effectively implement these policies so Minnesotans and people across the country can reap the benefits for themselves, their families, and their communities.’” – Minnesota Public Radio, 6/28/12
As this recent infographic released by Progressive States Network illustrates, the fates of vast numbers of uninsured individuals and families will depend on upcoming decisions in the states. Refusing to expand Medicaid will not only cost families their health security, it may also cost states billions. As conservative governors in particular seem set to continue fighting every aspect of the law at every point in the process, it’s worth remembering that, as U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (IA) commented, “it’s going to be up to the legislatures to decide this, not just the governors.”
California Senate Passes "Anti-Arizona" TRUST Act, Moves Conversation on Smart Immigration Enforcement Forward
Alvin Melathe on July 6, 2012 - 6:41pm
Yesterday afternoon, the California State Senate affirmed their state’s commitment to smart and cost-effective immigration enforcement by passing the TRUST Act (AB 1081) by a 21-13 vote. The bill’s focus on maintaining trust with community members statewide by prioritizing violent and serious criminals instead of casting a wide, expensive, and counter-productive dragnet has spurred many to call it the “anti-Arizona.”
Introduced by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, a member of PSN’s affiliated State Legislators for Progressive Immigration Policy, the legislation seeks to clarify the relationship between local jurisdictions and the federal Department of Homeland Security’s Secure Communities (S-Comm) program. The crown jewel of the Obama Administration’s immigration enforcement policies, Secure Communities requires local jurisdictions to determine the immigration status of arrestees before they are convicted of a crime and share the information with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials. These officials can then place a detainer (basically an immigration hold) on undocumented immigrations, requiring local jails to hold the individual until ICE determines whether or not to begin deportation proceedings.
Despite the program’s stated goals of focusing on serious and violent offenders who are undocumented, in practice Secure Communities has amounted to a broad dragnet that has swept nearly one million people (many of them not convicted of any crime) in deportation proceedings. The TRUST Act would focus law-enforcement energy and dollars on violent and serious crime by outlining which immigration detainers must be honored by state law enforcement. It also requires that localities develop specific plans to mitigate the impact of detainer policies on US citizens and legal permanent residents.
Originally conceived as a way to target immigration enforcement on serious cases, S-Comm has been an unmitigated disaster. As of March 31st 2012, a staggering 70% of the more than 70,000 deported under S-Comm in California either had no criminal convictions or were picked up for minor offenses. The flawed program also exposes U.S. citizens to extended detentions and, according to a series of newly released emails between California and federal officials, has been difficult to modify to protect non-criminals.
The TRUST Act comes on the heels of longstanding state-based resistance to Secure Communities and the recent Supreme Court ruling gutting Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB 1070. Governors in New York, Massachusetts, and Illinois have challenged their state’s involvement in the program, highlighting the gap between the S-Comm’s stated goals and the actual devastation the program has wrought on immigrant communities nationwide through widespread deportations. Several localities including Washington D.C., Cook County, and Santa Clara County have also weighed in against S-Comm by passing local detainer ordinances meant to refocus the program on its actual objective of keeping communities safe.
The TRUST Act now goes to the full California Assembly for a concurrence vote before heading to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk for his signature. If the Governor values his state’s dynamic immigrant population and economic bottom line, he won’t hesitate before signing. In the meantime, it’s clear that the movement for smart immigration enforcement and common-sense state level immigration policy continues to gain momentum.
Susan Mottet on July 6, 2012 - 2:16pm
The initial news last week was that the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act (ACA). And though that remains true, discussion has increasingly focused on the one limitation the Court put on the law. While the ACA required all states to expand Medicaid eligibility to 133% of the federal poverty level (FPL) – about $30,000 for a family of four – in order to receive any federal Medicaid funds, the Court ruled that only funds for the expansion itself could be withheld. The practical effect of the limitation was to make it optional for states to expand Medicaid to all Americans at or below 133% FPL.
Medicaid is an effective and efficient program that has been providing health coverage to millions of low-income families and children for decades. The trouble with Medicaid that the ACA sought to fix is that eligibility differs wildly from state to state. For example, Virginia covers working parents up to 26% FPL – less than $6,000 for a family of four. Across the border, the District of Columbia covers families up to 200% FPL – about $46,000 for a family of four. Before the ACA, for low-income families, which state you lived in determined whether you had health insurance. That hardly seems fair.
The federal government will pay for nearly all of the expansion, starting at 90-100% for the first 5 years and going no lower than 90% after that. The expansion of Medicaid also enjoys broad popular support – 51% of Republicans support it, along with 69% of Independents and 88% of Democrats, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll.
Policy-wise, expanding the Medicaid program is a no-brainer. Yet, for political reasons, several governors (from states such as Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, and South Carolina) have pledged not to expand the program. This would leave millions uninsured. And, once again, whether low-income families have access to coverage would depend on which state they happened to live in.
The other problem – even more unfair – is that states that refuse to expand Medicaid would create a Medicaid donut hole for the working poor. In 2014, health benefits exchanges will begin operation and people without affordable health insurance options can receive tax credits to help purchase coverage. But not everyone who would have been covered by the Medicaid expansion would be eligible for those tax credits. Opting out of the expansion would create a group of people who are “too rich” to be eligible for Medicaid but too poor to afford insurance or receive tax credits to help them buy insurance.
Most states are on track to expand Medicaid by 2014. In doing so, they will expand health coverage to millions of working individuals and families who are not able to afford health coverage and prevent their residents from falling into the donut hole. The infographic below shows just what is at stake for states that refuse to expand Medicaid, highlighting the number of people in each state who would be left uninsured, and explaining how a family of four could end up in a new Medicaid donut hole (click for full-size image):
Alvin Melathe on June 25, 2012 - 6:33pm
This morning, the Supreme Court handed down its decision on SB 1070, Arizona’s economically devastating anti-immigrant law. The Court struck down three of SB 1070’s four provisions and issued strong guidelines to limit the scope of Section 2(b), the only piece of the law that was upheld. Section 2(b), the racial profiling provision popularly known as “papers please,” continues to expose immigrants and communities of color to discrimination at the hands of law enforcement. Today’s decision assures future challenges to the provision and virtually ensures that it will not survive in the real world. As this decision gets returned to the lower courts to define the contours of the guidelines around the “papers please” section, other states should be increasingly wary of following Arizona’s economically destructive and divisive path.
Today’s ruling makes a few things clear. First, the Court has severely limited the circumstances under which states can take on federal immigration enforcement. The majority opinion, written by Justice Kennedy, emphatically rejected Arizona’s attempt to make it a state crime to fail to carry federal immigration papers at all times or to solicit or perform work.
Second, the Court in its decision today opened the door wide open for other challenges to Section 2(b). Justice Kennedy writes,
As the law takes effect in Arizona, look for those concerns to turn into constitutional challenges as police abuse their wide discretion and continue to unlawfully detain immigrants.
The fate of anti-immigrant laws in other states that followed Arizona’s troubling path remain uncertain — though the ACLU provides a helpful breakdown here. The response from legislators in these states, however, has been crystal clear. In a statement today, Georgia’s House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams connected HB 87, Georgia’s SB 1070 copycat, with periods in the state’s tumultuous recent history: “The Supreme Court today issued a troubling ruling that encourages racial profiling, and we must remain vigilant that this does not happen in Georgia... We are very disappointed by the ‘show your papers’ provision, which returns us to a terrible time in our state's history."
The recent trend in state-level immigration policy has been to avoid SB 1070-style proposals. Not one state has passed an SB 1070 copycat bill this year. Efforts in recent years by legislatures in Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania to pass SB 1070 copycats have all failed.
Following today’s decision, civil rights groups pursuing other challenges to SB 1070 as well as copycat efforts in other states vowed to keep up the fight. “This decision should serve as a call to mobilize, organize, and advocate against divisive legislation like SB 1070 in Arizona and in any state,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.
With today’s ruling, the Supreme Court sent a strong message to all states: that they would be wise to avoid following the anti-immigrant path blazed by Arizona.
Susan Mottet on June 20, 2012 - 3:14pm
Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia have separately adopted at least one of the consumer protections in the Affordable Care Act as state law. No matter what the Supreme Court decides about the federal law, consumers in those 48 states continue to have at least some protection from the abusive practices of health insurance companies. These protections include:
Eight politically-diverse states have passed all ten of these consumer protections. This ranged from solidly progressive states (Connecticut, Hawaii, and Vermont), states with split party control (Iowa, New York, North Carolina, and Oregon) and a state that is under conservative control (Maine).
Twelve equally diverse states have passed between five and nine of the consumer protections. From states under conservative control (Nebraska, North Dakota, Utah, and Virginia) to solidly progressive states (California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Washington), and states under split party control (Colorado, Minnesota, and New Jersey).
Thirty-eight states have passed between one and four consumer protections Only two states have failed to pass any of these consumer protections: Alaska and Wyoming.
Some of these market reforms were adopted by states prior to the Affordable Care Act, which was modeled in part after successful state policies. In addition to remedying these ten problematic health insurance industry practices, the federal health care reform law expands coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans, makes health insurance and health care more affordable, and improves the quality of our care.
(For more information on the impact that the Affordable Care Act has had in each state, see PSN's recent Issue Update: 50 State View of ACA Impact on Individuals and State Policy.)
Charles Monaco on June 7, 2012 - 11:12am
How have progressives been fighting back against the right-wing onslaught in statehouses in 2012? How can legislators, organizations, and activists work together to advance a positive vision in the states in 2013 and beyond? What can we all learn from policy battles this year going forward? Those are just some of the questions on the agenda for Netroots Nation, taking place this weekend in Providence, RI.
Progressive States Network (along with our partner Progressive States Action) will be at Netroots Nation this year - if you see us, stop by and say hi!
On Saturday June 9th at 10:30am, PSN's Suman Raghunathan will be moderating a panel on progressive legislative caucuses at the state and local level. Suman and the panel - New York City Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, Progress Ohio Executive Director Brian Rothenberg, and Rhode Island State Representative Chris Blazejewski - will talk about the growing importance of progressive caucuses to advancing state and local policies, winning messaging wars and influencing the debate in their respective states and cities. They'll share their experiences about how state and local progressive caucuses can best work with allies to define progressive values in the states and grow the national progressive movement.
The panel will be livestreamed here on Saturday morning, so click back here then.
Here's a roundup of some other sessions at this year's Netroots Nation which will feature a discussion of the importance of state policy. Visit NetrootsNation.org for more, including livestreams of many of the below panels, and follow @PSNwire on Twitter for the latest news on state policy at #NN12 this weekend.
Thursday, June 7:
Friday, June 8:
Saturday, June 9:
Tim Judson on June 7, 2012 - 9:00am
(Co-authored with Cristina Francisco-McGuire.)
(Cross-posted at Huffington Post.)
This week, we authored a report grading states on how well they protect a fundamental workplace right: getting paid what you are legally owed. This right is so basic and common-sense that most people are still unaware of how commonly it is violated.
Wage theft, or the illegal underpayment of workers, has become so widespread, it affects millions of workers across the country and is nearly ubiquitous in certain industries: retail, restaurants, hospitality, day-labor, warehousing, child care, and construction. That’s a lot of people – already not getting paid enough – whose bosses illegally make their paychecks even lighter.
The last time a detailed, multi-state survey was done, the findings were shocking. Researchers in three of our nation’s largest cities interviewed thousands of workers who earned at or near the minimum wage, and found a wide array of workplace violations. Here are just the basic facts:
Added up across the nation, this amounts to billions of dollars in earnings stolen from people who can least afford to lose it. In New York State alone, workers’ losses are estimated at $3 billion per year, and wage theft costs the state $427 million per year in uncollected revenues. By depressing the consumer spending needed to fuel economic growth and by defrauding states and taxpayers to the tune of millions of dollars, this is a problem that affects all of us.
State laws and labor departments play a crucial role in prosecuting wage theft, filling in where enforcement of the federal minimum wage law is either lacking or not applicable. Even after the U.S. Department of Labor hired 250 more investigators in 2009, there is still only one investigator for every 141,000 workers — nearly ten times fewer than there were seventy years ago, after the federal minimum wage was first enacted.
Our new report, Where Theft is Legal, shows that, if “cracking down on wage theft” were a class, 44 out of 50 states would fail one of the major tests: enacting strong laws against the crime. At the same time, several states have begun to move in the right direction. As we highlighted in another recent report, New York passed a law in 2010 that is now the strongest in the country. Illinois, California, and Massachusetts have also developed strong and innovative policies to help workers reclaim their wages and convince employers to abandon wage theft. But far too many states have done little to nothing at all.
So what would strong wage theft laws look like? The state laws and policies being advanced by worker advocates and forward-thinking policymakers are setting the new standard for cracking down on wage theft. In Where Theft is Legal, we pulled together the best of these policies into a comprehensive standard, and measured states’ existing laws against it. These policies fall into three major categories that, together, comprise a strong wage theft policy:
Accessing Justice – The most basic provisions of wage theft laws are among the most important: which workers are protected, and whether the law gives them the tools to recover stolen wages. An often overlooked issue is the problem of employer retaliation against workers challenging wage theft. Unless employees have strong legal protections, the risk and impact of losing a job can be greater than the possible benefit of taking on one’s employer.
Transparency & Accountability – Good recordkeeping laws help workers and their employers stay on the same page regarding wage rates, paydays, work hours, and payroll deductions. Not only do laws like payday notification and paystubs create a paper trail that makes it easier to process wage claims, they ensure that employers who play by the rules have nothing to fear.
Securing Justice: In order to clamp down on wage theft effectively, the law must incentivize workers to pursue claims, as well as deter employers from violating the law. This third major component of strong wage theft laws policies addressing those two imperatives: the amount in damages workers are able to recover through filing a wage claim, and the civil and/or criminal penalties for employers for violations.
Without any one of these policies, we lack the essential protections and tools to change the way unethical employers do business. Yet, our report shows that New York is the only state that receives a passing grade in all of these categories — and even it only earns a C+ overall.
This week, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the first state minimum wage law – a landmark achieved more than a quarter century before the federal government set a national standard. Today, forty-five states have their own minimum wage laws, and eighteen have set them higher than the national $7.25. It is up to states to lead the way on wage theft, just as they did in establishing the minimum wage.
The consequences of inaction are dire. Not just last week’s alarming unemployment report, but the whole economic landscape shows signs of a tectonic shift away from our nation’s vision of itself as a land of opportunity. Most of the jobs being created since the end of the Great Recession are in lower-wage industries where wage theft is rampant. As a result, millions of the people considered “lucky” enough to find work these days are not only landing in jobs earning less than a livable wage, but in workplaces where their pay is eroded even further by illegal deductions and underpayments.
If we do not crack the wage theft problem, the very notion of economic security will be a relic of our past. The already-weakened economy could weaken even further, meaning that even those of us fortunate enough to have jobs where we don’t suffer wage theft could end up having to take one where we do, as millions already have.
From the Dispatch
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