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Fighting the Great Kentucky Blog Ban




Thursday, July 13, 2006

In Today's Dispatch:

Increasing-Democracy

KY: Legislators Fight Great Kentucky Blog Ban

With Kentucky's corrupt (and indicted) Governor Ernie Fletcher now trying to ban progressive blogs, Progressive States and legislators in Kentucky are declaring enough is enough. And we've got a plan to stop Fletcher and ensure that future decisions about Internet use are made in fair and legal ways.

Censorship just may be the last refuge of corrupt government officials. Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher is under indictment for corruption scandals in his administration. A particularly outspoken local blogger ”“ Mark Nickolas of BluegrassReport.org ”“ has helped drive coverage of the corruption and has become a respected local source for national media covering the scandals.

But it was still surprising for many state employees when they found themselves unable to access BluegrassReport.org the day after Mark was quoted in the New York Times. Soon, even more blogs got blocked by the state, which claims that this was an incident unrelated to the in-depth coverage from blogs regarding Fletcher’s ethical problems. While the state claims the censorship is viewpoint neutral, they have no guidelines for the ban and a local conservative blog was actually pro-actively removed from the ban after the proprietor complained.

Mark Nickolas is bringing a lawsuit to protect his First Amendment interests. And now, the Progressive States Network is working with Kentucky legislators to promote new rules that treat state employees like adults and respect free speech rights. We need your help.

State Representative Kathy Stein is requesting a bill draft to protect the right of state agencies to prohibit employees from using their work computers inappropriately but would require the state to do so in a viewpoint neutral way and follow fair procedures. David Sirota, co-chair of Progressive States, joined her at the press conference to make clear our support of the measure.

To show your support for this reform in Kentucky and in your own state, please -- read more and sign our petition to tell Governor Fletcher to stop the political censorship!

Valuing-Families

States and Poor Families Caught by New Punitive Federal Welfare Rules

With new federal rules slipped into the recent reauthorization of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, families in poverty are going to be suffering more -- and states have seen their flexibility in helping them significantly curtailed by new rigid federal rules. As this Stateline.org story highlights, most states are now scrambling to meet these stiff requirements and many are protesting that the poor will be the victims:

After the 1996 welfare "reform" law was passed, some of the more punitive aspects of the law were eased by rules that gave states more leaway if caseloads were reduced below the 1995 level and gave them flexibility in what kinds of work preparation programs. But with the new rules, states no longer get any credit for reducing caseloads for the last ten years, so all the punitive parts of the 1996 bill are coming to bear on many states:

The regulations also curtail states’ ability to develop their own brands of welfare-to-work programs by strictly defining what types of activities qualify as work preparation. In addition, the new rules extend federal oversight to separate state-funded TANF programs.

The changes take the “block”? out of the block grant concept, said Michael Bird of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), explaining that the hallmark of Congress’ 1996 welfare reform was the broad authority it gave states.

Unfortunately, the model the federal government points to is Georgia, which has "increased" the percentage of people participating in "work-related" programs by using draconian rules to kick more people off welfare altogether -- dropping from 30,000 recipients to fewer than 8,000 folks receiving TANF help in the whole state. Yet poverty in Georgia has not seen any similar reduction -- 23% of individual workers earn poverty-level wages and, even when multiple wages are combined, 17% of families in Gerogia remain in poverty. So if Georgia is a "success" according to the federal government, they are setting the bar very low -- and unfortunately trying to force other states to emulate it.

As an alternative, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities and CLASP have issued a report that outlines steps states can take to cope with the rule changes and help poor families in their states, from modifying work programs, expanding income supplements for poor families that do find work, and improving TANF help for those with disabilities. The report outlines important steps that states can take to cope with the new federal rules that won't harm families in poverty.

Rewarding-Work

Good News on the Minimum Wage

Working Americans get some good news today out of three states -- Montana, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania -- where progress is being made on the minimum wage. In Pennsylvania, Governor Ed Rendell signed a staggered, two-dollar increase into law. In Montana, signature gatherers succeeded in qualifying for the ballot an initiative to increase the minimum wage and tie the minimum to inflation.

In New Jersey, the news is different but, in some ways, better. New Jersey already has a minimum wage higher than the federal level. It is noteworthy in that historically, Jersey's minimum has been higher than neighboring Pennsylvania, creating a very interesting experiment by which to judge the employment impacts of a higher minimum wage. Over a decade ago, academic studies began finding correlations between higher minimum wages and higher rates of job growth. Those studies occured in Jersey and elsewhere.

But the good news isn't simply that the evidence is bearing out the fact that these increases in the minimum wage appear to actually be good for local businesses. The good news is that Jersey employers are starting to "get it." Or, as John Samo of the Employers Association of New Jersey put it: "We've seen no evidence that it [a higher minimum wage] cost jobs."

While conservatives like to argue that such claims fly in the face of basic economics, the reasons for this are quite clear. Most low-wage labor -- fast food, janitors, etc. -- is necessary and also can't be outsourced. If employers are required to pay more, they pay more because there are few other options. The increase in pay to these workers in turn causes more spending in the local economy and can actually be of benefit in terms of economic growth.

The central reason to support increasing the minimum wage remains unchanged: it is simply cruel to think anyone who works full time should live so far below the poverty line. But it is reassuring to have more clear evidence that yet another conservative canard about paying people fair wages is just another load of bunk.

More Resources

Growing-Economy

ME: Polling Reveals Uphill Struggle to Defeat TABOR

A new poll in Maine reveals the uphill battle progressives face in educating the public about the dangers of TABOR-style spending caps. The poll reports that nearly three in four voters say they would vote for TABOR if the option was put in front of them today.

We know that voters' minds can be changed on the subject. In Colorado where TABOR was passed in the early 90s, voters shifted and voiced their opposition just last year, significantly altering their TABOR in order to give their state's budget the ability to breathe. But America can't afford to have to learn this lesson again the hard way. Instead, efforts to oppose TABOR-like measures need to be prioritized.

As we highlighted on Monday, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer is using an innovative property tax rebate as one way of fighting TABOR -- the spending cap's provisions are so perverse that they actually effectively prohibit certain tax rebates in favor of tax cuts that favor the richest.

Across the country, grassroots organizations are mobilizing to oppose TABORs. Check out our additional resources section to find one in your neck of the woods.

More Resources

Research-Roundup

Strengthening Public Health, Federal Medicaid Rules Hurting Foster Children, More Government Handouts to Corporations, and America's Unshared Economic Growth

RAND has pulled together a range of research on how governments can strengthen their public health systems to deal with a range of threats, from new infectious diseases to dealing with potential health effects of terrorism. The reports argue that local public health systems are inadequately staffed, technologially obsolete, and not coordinated well with the rest of the public health system.

Children in foster care may be denied health care because of federal regulations on citizenship requirements for Medicaid, according to a new analysis by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. To obtain documentation of citizenship for every child entering foster care is especially difficult because of the instability of the foster care caseload.

Good Jobs First's Subsidies in the News highlights the $1.2 billion subsidy package by New York State for Advanced Micro Devices to build a chip fabrication plant in upstate New York-- a package that will cost an outstounding $1 million for each of the 1200 jobs to be created. The update also details subsidy packages for Honda in Indiana, Target in Minnesota, Hollywood studios in New Mexico, and reports on subsidy programs in West Virginia and California.

The Economic Policy Institute's Jobs Picture shows that anemic job growth has continued in the last quarter, with wages only starting to catch up with inflation-- and still far below recent productivity growth which has fueled corporate profits without spreading the gains broadly to working families.

States and Poor Families Caught by New Punitive Federal Welfare Rules

Center for Budget Policy & Priorities
Center for Law and Social Policy
Urban Institute, Welfare Reform: Ten Years Later
National Center for Children in Poverty, When Work Doesn't Pay: What Every Policymaker Should Know

Good News on the Minimum Wage

National Bureau of Economic Research, Minimum Wages and Employment: A Case Study of the Fast Food Industry in New Jersey and Pennsylvania
Economic Policy Institute,
Employment and the Minimum Wage--Evidence from Recent State Labor Market Trends
AFL-CIO,
State Campaigns to Raise the Minimum Wage

ME: Polling Reveals Uphill Struggle to Defeat TABOR

Colorado: The Bell Policy Center, TABOR
Kansas: TABORtruth.org
Maine: Citizens United to Protect Our Public Safety, Schools and Communities
Michigan: Michigan League of Human Services, SOS/TABOR
Missouri: Missouri Budget Project
Montana: Not in Montana
Nevada: Nevada AFL-CIOM
Oklahoma: Alliance for Oklahoma's Future, Your Guide to TABOR
Ohio: Coalition for Ohio's Future
Oregon: Oregon Center for Public Policy, TABOR Resources
Oregon: Our Oregon, TABOR Spending Trap Constitutional Amendment
Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center
Pennslyvania: Taxpayer Rights Assault Plan
Wisconsin: Institute for Wisconsin's Future, TABOR Overview

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Eye on the Right

Ralph Reed's corruption appears to be finally taking its toll. With an approaching primary for the one-time golden boy of the religious right, a Texas Indian tribe is suing Reed and his buddy Jack Abramoff over their alleged fraud and racketeering aimed at shuttering the tribe's casino. The case arises out of a lobbying scheme Abramoff and Reed perpetrated where they lobbied against the tribe's casino under the guise of Christian opposition while working for a rival casino.

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Progressive States' policy department is hiring for new policy positions and is also looking for interns. For details, visit the Jobs & Internships Page.

Suggestions

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

Matt Singer
Editor, Stateside Dispatch