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02/28/2006 The Fight for Fair Coverage



Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Rewarding-Work

The Fight for Fair Coverage

Following Maryland's adoption of a Fair Share Health Care Act requiring that large employers adequately fund employee health care or help shoulder the burden of Medicaid costs, similar efforts are afoot across the nation and Wal-Mart, one of the primary targets of the legislation, is moving into full-court press mode attempting to find ways to convince the public that it isn't shirking its responsibilities to its employees.

Wal-Mart Watch, an organization dedicated to holding the corporate giant responsible, is tracking efforts to pass similar legislation in thirty other states where bills have been introduced. They focus in particular on efforts in Connecticut, New Hampshire, Washington, and West Virginia. The legislation got stuck in both Washington and Colorado despite widespread support. In Washington, the bill was held up this year by the Democratic Speaker of the House, but Governor Christine Gregoire has pledged that it will return in 2007. In Colorado, supporters of the measure have vowed to work for passage in 2007 when the specter of a veto won't be hanging over the head of the legislation. In New Hampshire, the proposal died in the House.

The push to hold big employers accountable when it comes to employee health care has already paid huge dividends for the progressive agenda. A Maryland poll conducted by Wake-Up Wal-Mart found that 66% of voters wanted the legislature to get the bill passed despite the Governor's objections. And the pressure resulting from the news stories has Wal-Mart scrambling. As Bloomberg reported recently, Wal-Mart is rolling out more health care options to its workers, largely because of "criticism that it has failed to provide adequate health benefits."

Unsurprisingly, Wal-Mart is not accepting the Maryland bill without a fight. Already, a lawsuit has been filed in Maryland by RILA, a corporate trade association backed by, among others, Wal-Mart. The lawsuit argues that the legislation violates ERISA, a federal law preventing states from regulating employer health benefits.

The basic fact is that Wal-Mart is absolutely terrified about being required to provide first-world level benefits for their employees and is pulling out all the stops -- lawsuits and misinformation campaigns -- to block advances on this level.

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Increasing-Democracy

IDing the Real Problem and Preventing Voter Intimidation

The right wing has a magnificent tendency to solve problems that don't exist in a way that tilts the playing field for their own side. For the latest example, we need look no further than Pennsylvania, where Governor Ed Rendell is poised to veto legislation that serves little real purpose other than helping conservatives build power. As Tom Ferrick, Jr., aptly described, HB1318 would have made it less likely that low-income citizens were voting by instituting rigorous ID requirements and shutting down polling places. The regulations are a joke as fraud is extremely rare, but the provisions being advanced are widely acknowledged to undermine turnout among low-income and urban residents.

The Pennsylvania bill isn't that unique of an idea. Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Mississippi are all eyeing similar bills and Georgia already adopted one. What's truly ironic about Georgia's bill is that it made it tougher to vote in person while making it easier to vote absentee. This isn't an accident. In Georgia, conservative voters are far more likely to vote absentee than progressives. As some critics have noted, this is doubly ironic because absentee ballots are far more susceptible to fraud than votes cast in-person. Indeed, the Georgia bill fell short of a Department of Justice review that was later overturned by political appointees of the Bush Administration.

But there's a danger far more pressing with regards to our elections than the hollow specter of fraud. As reported by The American Prospect, conservatives have a history of engaging in vote suppression through intimidation of voters. In fact, the recent history of such intimidation -- posting threatening men with clipboards at polling places, telling urban residents that outstanding parking tickets render citizens ineligible to voter, and misleading information regarding voting times and locations -- are well-documented by the People for the American Way and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. To address the problem, Senator Barack Obama has introduced federal legislation. In a number of states, various actions have been taken, but few go far enough. The Center for Policy Alternatives has combined some state best practices into a comprehensive package of model legislation.

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Growing-Economy

by Nathan Newman

Feds Propose Gutting State Protections Against Predatory Lending

North Carolina was the first state to pass a law reining in shady predatory lending practices, such as steep prepayment penalties, balloon payments and the sale of high-cost loans to borrowers who could qualify for lower rates. Soon a number of other states followed with similar laws and the result, according to a new study, is that homeowners now save $9.1 billion per year.

But a proposed federal law sponsored by Reps. Bob Ney, an Ohio Republican, and Paul Kanjorski, a Pennsylvania Democrat, would override those state laws and gut consumer protections. Perhaps unsurprisingly, their campaign reports show close connections to the financial industry. Rep. Ney, of course, is infamous for his connections to Jack Abramoff and took just short of $570,000 from financial companies in 2003 and 2004. Rep. Kanjorski took almost $450,000 from the financial services industry in the 2004 election cycle, over half of the money he raised.

Contra opponents of state predatory lending laws, the new study by the Center for Responsible Lending in Durham, NC found that the 28 states that have passed such laws since 1999 have not seen a decrease in access to credit for low-income or credit-challenged borrowers in the so-called subprime market, but borrowers have benefitted from lower fees and interest rates.

Consumer rights advocates have come out in support of an alternative federal bill introduced last year by Rep. Brad Miller, a North Carolina Democrat, which would protect existing state predatory lending laws.

Also, make sure you check out how right-winger Georgia Rep. Earl Ehrhart is shilling for the title loan industry.

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The Fight for Fair Coverage

Progressive Maryland: Fair Share Fact Sheet
Wake-Up Wal-Mart: Stop the Wal-Mart Health Care Crises
Wal-Mart Watch: Fair Share Health Care


IDing the Real Problem and Preventing Voter Intimidation

ACLU: Voting Rights Act
Center for Policy Alternatives: Voter Protection
Demos: Voter Identification: A Threat to Election Integrity
NVRI: Georgia Voter ID Law Called Discriminatory
The Century Foundation: ReformElections.org


Feds Propose Gutting State Protections Against Predatory Lending

Center for Responsible Lending: State Predatory Lending Reforms
Center for Responsive Politics: Profiles for Reps. Ney and Kanjorski



Progressive States

In Today's Dispatch:

Eye on the Right

If you've read Progressive States' report on how the right-wing operates in the states, Rep. Earl Ehrhart's name probably rings a bell. The Georgia legislator is a past chairman of ALEC, a right-wing corporate-backed network of state legislators, and takes the cake for his unsurpassed willingness to loudly and proudly announce his desire to work for the corporate interests who line his pockets.

So it shouldn't be too surprising to read today in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Rep. Ehrhart is really working hard on behalf of title loan companies, who provided over $15,000 in campaign contributions to Ehrhart last year alone.

Read more about Rep. Ehrhart's efforts.

Worth Watching: Rep. Hannah Pingree - ME

Hannah Pingree is a two-term representative who serves the residents of ten coastal and island towns in her native state of Maine. She ran for the legislature in 2002 at the age of 25 while also working for her mother, Chellie Pingree, in her race for the U.S. Senate.

Read More About Rep. Pingree.

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