Fair Share Ruling: A Setback for Maryland, Not for Other States

Thursday, July 20, 2006

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Next Steps After Court Strikes Down Maryland Health Care Law

Yesterday, a federal judge overturned Maryland's Fair Share Health Care law, which had required large employers such as Wal-Mart to spend at least 8 percent of their payroll on health care for employees or pay the equivalent in fees to the state.  The judge in his decision argued that the federal ERISA (Employment Retirement Security Act) law preempted the Maryland law.

The decision is no doubt a setback for Maryland advocates seeking to hold irresponsible employers like Wal-Mart accountable for providing health care to their employees, rather than just dumping the costs on taxpayers. However, advocates should not see this one court decision as definitive for a number of reasons:

  • First, there is good reason to believe the district court's decision may be overturned on appeal based on the judge misconstruing the language of the statute; the Maryland state attorney general already plans to appeal.
  • Second, the Maryland law had particular language that the judge criticized as violating the ERISA law.  The judge in his opinion went out of his way to say his decision applied only to the Maryland law: "I am expressing no opinion on whether legislative approaches taken by other States to the problems of health care delivery and its attendant costs would be preempted by ERISA."  Other laws involving employer provided health care are therefore unaffected by the decision.
  • Third, it is worth emphasizing that appeals courts have already held that prevailing wage laws -- which mandate that employers on public construction projects provide benefits such as health care to their employees-- are valid under ERISA.(See decisions here and here). So proposals like the Chicago "big box" ordinance to require a combo of wage and benefits for large retail workers, modeled on prevailing wage laws, are even more clearly untouched by yesterday's decision.
  • Finally, even the Maryland court discounted arguments by the plaintiffs that it's unconstutional for laws to regulate just certain employers, or even one employer such as Wal-Mart. As other courts have held as well, it is perfectly reasonable to select particular large employers for different regulations from smaller firms.

Look for more discussion in Monday's Dispatch on models that states are pursuing to expand coverage for the uninsured and hold employers accountable for their share of health care costs.

More Resources


Vouchers and the Myth of Private School Superiority

Two things happened this past week. Some in Congress proposed spending $100 million on vouchers for private schools as a supposed educational solution for low-income students.

And a report released by researchers funded by Bush Department of Education emphasized why vouchers are no panacea for students, since, despite myths promoted by the rightwing, students in private schools perform no better than those in public schools.

  • Surveying 7000 public schools and more than 530 private schools, the study found that fourth graders in public schools did significantly better in math than comparable fourth graders in private schools.
  • And students in Conservative Christian schools lagged significantly behind their counterparts in public schools in eighth-grade math.
  • Only for eighth grade reading did private schools score better than public schools.

The Bush administration obviously didn't like the message of the report and quietly released it on a Friday, a common tactic to bury news. In fact, anticipating release of the report, NCLB blog predicted the Friday release as fitting a pattern of the Bush administration trying to downplay studies that don't fit its denigration of public schools.

The treatment of the private schools report was similar to how the Department of Education tried to bury an earlier report that found public school students outperformed students in charter schools and private schools when race and economic backgrounds are taken into consideration.

Much to the frustration of the rightwing crowd trying to privatize public schools, there is just no strong evidence that vouchers deliver any real benefits for students. Which is why the school privatization ideologues aren't even trying to put vouchers on the ballot this year, since they know voters have been rejecting vouchers at the polls in recent votes. Instead, they are pushing deceptive gimmicks like the 65% solution.

But the message for legislators and educational advocates should be simple-- enough with the gimmicks; let's talk about real reforms and the necessary funding to make sure all public schools succeed.

More Resources


Progress on the Minimum Wage

After years of stagnating wages for working Americans and inaction by Congress, legislators and activists across the country are taking the lead in securing higher minimum wages on a state by state basis. They are achieving some outstanding results. Here's where the minimum wage fight stands in a number of states:

  • Arizona: The Arizona Minimum Wage Coalition submitted over 200,000 signatures to qualify a minimum wage hike for the ballot. The initiative would increase the minimum to $6.75 an hour and tie it to cost-of-living adjustments. Polling shows widespread support for the measure.
  • Arkansas: In April, Governor Mike Huckabee signed a bill increasing the minimum wage to $6.25 an hour. The measure had received only three "no" votes in the legislature, making it the first Southern legislature to pass a minimum wage higher than the federal standard of $5.15.
  • California: The state Assembly and Senate have adopted measures to increase California's current minimum wage of $6.75 by one dollar and to peg the hike to cost-of-living adjustments. Legislative leaders are fighting with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is attempting to remove the pegging.
  • Colorado: Union activists and others are petitioning to qualify a minimum wage hike for the ballot. The proposed hike would raise Colorado's minimum from $5.15 to $6.85. The Colorado Progressive Coalition is helping organize on the issue.
  • Delaware: Governor Ruth Ann Minner signed a minimum wage bill increasing Delaware's minimum wage an additional dollar over the present state minimum -- to $7.15 an hour by 2008.
  • Louisiana: This state currently has no minimum wage and they recently allowed a bill to die that would have remedied that situation. The bill would have established a state minimum wage of $6.15 an hour.
  • Maine: Governor John Baldacci signed a minimum wage increase earlier this year, bringing Maine's minimum to $7 an hour.
  • Maryland: The legislature overturned Governor Robert Ehrlich's veto of minimum wage legislation. The measure increased the minimum wage to $6.15 an hour.
  • Massachusetts: Governor Mitt Romney has until Sunday to sign or veto a minimum wage bill raising Massachusetts' minimum to $8 an hour. A new study shows the measure would give 36,000 workers a raise.
  • Michigan: Governor Jennifer Granholm signed a measure to increase Michigan's minimum wage to $7.40 by 2008.
  • Missouri: Give Missourians a Raise gathered 210,000 signatures to qualify a minimum wage hike for the ballot this November. The measure raises Missouri's minimum to $6.50 an hour. St. Louis Jobs With Justice has a webform for interested volunteers.
  • Montana: Raise Montana turned in more than enough signatures to qualify their measure for the ballot. The measure will increase Montana's minimum wage to $6.15 and index it to cost-of-living adjustments. Check out for more info.
  • Nevada: Nevada's voters already approved the minimum wage increase in 2004, but in Nevada, questions must be submitted to the voters twice to become law. This fall, Nevada will vote again on a measure that increases the minimum wage to $6.15 an hour for employers who do not provide benefits. The wage would be indexed to cost-of-living adjustments.
  • North Carolina: Governor Mike Easley signed a measure to increase the minimum wage to $6.15 an hour on January 1, 2007.
  • Ohio: Supporters of a higher minimum wage are well on track to qualify their ballot initiative increasing the minimum wage to $6.85. Ohioans for a Fair Minimum Wage is organizing supporters.
  • Pennsylvania: Governor Ed Rendell signed a measure to increase Pennsylvania's minimum to $7.15 an hour for all employers by mid-2008.
  • Rhode Island: Governor Donald Carcieri allowed a minimum wage increase to take law without his signature. The measure increases the minimum to $7.40 an hour by 2007.
  • Tennessee: The state house approved legislation to create a minimum wage of $6.15 an hour, but the legislation was killed in the senate.
  • West Virginia: Governor Joe Manchin signed a minimum wage hike into law. The measure raised the minimum to $7.25 per hour, but is not a universal minimum.

More Resources


Child Poverty, Financial Service Affordability, Immigration Emergency Room Crisis Myths, and Changes in Child Care

One reason child poverty persists in the United States, as this EPI Snapshot highlights, is that our country does relatively little through spending and tax programs to ease poverty compared to all other developed nations.  Check out the rather dramatic graph comparing efforts between nations.

One of the nastiest facts of the marketplace is that lower-income families often pay much higher prices -- especially for financial services, mortgages and insurance -- than the prices paid by wealthier families for the same goods.  The Brookings Institution details policies that can promote public-private partnerships to deliver lower cost prices to working families.

A new study in the journal Health Affairs shows that communities with high levels of noncitizens do not have more crowding in emergency rooms, helping debunk the myth that immigration is the major cause of problems in our health care system.

A new study by the Urban Institute outlines how subsidies for child care have increased as part of changes in welfare laws in recent years, while encouraging more collaboration between child care, Head Start, pre-kindergarten programs, and intervention programs for children with disabilities.

Next Steps After Court Strikes Down Maryland Health Care Law

RILA v. Fielder:  Maryland federal court decision striking down Fair Share law
California Health Care Foundation: ERISA Implications for Employer Pay or Play Coverage Laws
AFL-CIO, Fair Share Health Care Campaign

Vouchers and the Myth of Private School Superiority

National Assessment of Educational Progress, Comparing Private Schools and Public Schools Using Hierarchical Linear Modeling
National Center for Study of Privatization in Education, Charter, Private, Public Schools and Academic Achievement
People for the American Way, A National Voucher Program?
National Education Association. Vouchers

Progress on the Minimum Wage

AFL-CIO, Minimum Wage by State
Ballot Issue Strategy Center, Boost the Minimum Wage!
Center for American Progress, State and Local: Minimum Wage
Economic Opportunity Institute, "Still Working Well: Washington's Minimum Wage and the Beginnings of Economic Recovery"
Economic Policy Institute, Minimum Wage Frequently Asked Questions
Economic Policy Institute, "No Longer Getting By"
Fiscal Policy Institute, "State Minimum Wages and Employment in Small Business"
Oregon Center for Public Policy, "New Report Confirms that Minimum Wage Increases Have Not Caused Job Loss in Oregon"

Eye on the Right

The day after we exposed how a New York developer named Howard Rich was personally steering roughly $4 million through a complicated network of non-profits to promote his hardline libertarian agenda, additional news breaks. One of the few groups that lacked a definitive money trail to Rich was Montanans in Action -- the shadowy organization promoting a takings measure, a TABOR-style spending cap, and a judicial recall initiative. Yesterday, the Montana press reported that a Montana attorney who gained access to Montanans in Action's financial records filed complaints alleging that the organization has violated Montana's campaign disclosure laws. The complaints also indicate that MIA, like its sister organizations in other states, is little more than a front organization for Howard Rich and his buddies. How surprising.

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Matt Singer
Editor, Stateside Dispatch