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Legislative Roundups: MO, KS, OK, TX

http://www.progressivestates.org/dispatch

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Legislative Roundups: MO, KS, OK, TX

Increasing Democracy

By Nathan Newman

Missouri Legislative Roundup

Not much good - and a few quite bad bits of legislation - came out of the right-wing-dominated Missouri legislature working with the state's Governor Matt Blunt. 

A "new" reconfigured state Medicaid system, now called HealthNet, was approved, yet the bill failed to restore health care to most of the 100,000 low-income families kicked out of Medicaid two years ago.   Despite a few reforms and passage of HB818, which included a few health care tax credits and expanded access to high-risk health insurance, Missouri did little to help the state's 700,000 uninsured.

The other signature bill of the session was a financial raid on the state student loan agency, the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority (MOHELA), to sell-off $355 million in loan assets to pay for campus construction funds, yet even there right-wing forces blocked a new health sciences center at the University of Missouri-Columbia in the name of preventing stem cell research.

Right-wing social activists scored additional victories with anti-abortion bills that imposed such punitive and costly new equipment requirements on abortion clinics that two out of the three clinics in the state will probably have to close.  People affiliated with abortion clinics were also banned from teaching sex education classes and communities were encouraged to offer abstinence-only sex education. 

On the tax front, some Missourians over age 62 will now be able to deduct Social Security and other public pension income from state income taxes, a $154 million tax cut benefiting mostly wealthier seniors since most seniors already pay no taxes on such benefits.

The state also allowed telephone companies to bypass state franchising authorities to offer video services in competition with cable companies, but included very weak buildout requirements to ensure universal access.

The best that can be said about the session was that the legislators defeated some other terrible bills, including blocking a school voucher plan, defeating a proposal to gut the state's prevailing wage law, and failing to pass a bill that would have ended cost-of-living inflation adjustments overall and cut wages for tipped workers under the state minimum wage law approved by voters last fall.

Increasing Democracy

By Nathan Newman

Kansas Legislative Roundup

Kansas' legislative session was dominated by cutting taxes on business and a few new investments in education around the state.

For businesses, the session was a profitable one:

  • The franchise fee paid by businesses to operate in the state was eliminated, a $135 million loss in revenue for the state over the next five years.
  • Unemployment taxes paid by businesses were cut by $176 million over two years.

Low-income workers did benefit from a $46 million expansion of the state Earned Income Tax Credit over the next five years.

Some money was put into increased investments around the state, including $122.7 million for schools as part of a multi-year school finance plan. 

On health care, while the state passed a few small reforms to help small businesses pool employees to get health insurance discounts and a few increased subsidies for poor families, most discussion on health care was punted to 2008, with the Kansas Health Policy Authority directed to develop a plan for providing all Kansans with health insurance.  A more specific proposal to insure every Kansas child up to the age of 5 failed.

Thankfully, the Governor vetoed an invasive law that would have forced abortion providers to report information to the state about any woman having a late-term abortion, a threat to privacy that the governor thought unacceptable.

Increasing Democracy

By Nathan Newman

Oklahoma Legislative Roundup

With new right-wing dominance of the state legislature, the Oklahoma session was dominated by tax giveaways to business, extreme social legislation, threats to consumer rights and one of the most anti-immigrant laws in the country.

  • The legislature accelerated the effective dates for implementing a previously passed giant cut in income taxes and eliminated the franchise tax on small businesses.
  • New legislation, SB 139prohibits all abortions in state medical facilities or by state employees, unless the life of the mother is threatened or in the cases of rape or incest. An even worse bill was vetoed by the governor because it hadn't even allowed exceptions for rape and incest.  
  • Despite his own fears of its punitive features, Gov. Brad Henry signed a sweeping anti-immigrant law that requires employers to screen job applicants for legal status, denies state services to undocumented immigrants, and makes it a crime to harbor an undocumented immigrant.

The governor did veto a "tort reform" bill that would have undercut consumer rights and gutted corporate accountability for injuries to the public.

On the positive side, the state dedicated permanent funding to a higher education program, Oklahoma's Promise, which provides free tuition to college students with parents making less than $50,000 per year, although the law also toughened the academic standards needed for students to qualify.

And most positively, the state enacted SB 424, the “All Kids Act,”? to expand children's eligibility for Medicaid from 185 percent of the federal poverty line up to 300 percent-- enough to add 42,000 kids to the system-- and expanded subsidies to help small businesses get health insurance for their employees.

Increasing Democracy

By Nathan Newman

Texas Legislative Roundup

With a raucus session that ended with Texas state House legislators trying to depose the autocratic speaker, the legislature passed a range of bills, many reversing extreme laws passed in past sessions:

On the energy front, the session was a mixed bag.  SB12 will expand financial subsidies to low- and moderate-income families to replace older, polluting vehicles and mandate more energy efficient appliances, but the legislature also approved corporate subsidies to nuclear power plant companies as well.

And legislators approved a range of other bills:

Notably, the legislature refused to enact any major anti-immigrant bills or a voter ID bill that would have undermined voting rights in the state. This reflects trends in the state towards more progressive leadership, highlighted by the emerging leadership struggle in the House that will dominate politics going into the next session.

Strengthening Communities

By Adam Thompson

Understanding Supreme Court Abortion Decision -- NARAL to Help Legislators Fight Back

The National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) is holding a conference call this Friday, June 1st, at 3:00 p.m. (EST), designed to help state legislators preempt and fight renewed attempts in states to limit women's reproductive rights. 

In April, the US Supreme Court upheld the Federal Abortion Ban, which outlaws certain medical procedures performed in later stages of pregnancy.  This marked the first time since Roe v. Wade the Court has upheld a restriction on women's rights that makes no exception for a woman's health.  The court ignored the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists which said the banned procedures are increasingly viewed as the safest procedures during the second trimester of pregnancy.

NARAL and other pro-choice activists believe this ruling has emboldened anti-choice legislators in states (see the Eye on the Right below).  Americans United for Life hailed the news of the court decision with a call for states to "utilize what is left of the 2007 legislative session to pass more common-sense pro-life laws." 

On Friday, NARAL will discuss the latest research and messaging about how the Federal Abortion Ban decision affects states, discuss strategies for responding to attacks on abortion care, and answer questions.  To get the call-in information, please RSVP to Kimberly Robson, National Organizing Director for NARAL Pro-Choice America, at krobson@prochoiceamerica.org or 202-973-3095.

More Resources

Research Roundup

Research Roundup

Like too many corporate subsidies, New York State's Industrial Development Agencies' (IDAs) property exemptions end up subsidizing wealthy communities and fueling regional sprawl, Good Jobs First finds, even as poorer communities most in need are bypassed for financial support.

Despite the political diversity of religious believers in the United States, a new report by Media Matters finds that the media consistently over represents the views of conservative religious leaders, while failing to interview progressive religious leaders much of the time.

A new report on Growing up in North America finds that children throughout Mexico, the United States and Canada share rising obesity rates, expanded respiratory illnesses and exposure to chemicals that are adding to developmental problems. As these three countries integrate their economies, the report urges that joint action to counteract these trends become part of the agenda.

The Urban Institute finds that the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act has caused some problems for schools educating English language learners (ELLs), but overall the law has had positive effects by increasing attention to the curriculum and instructional needs of these students.

The Drum Major Institute releases their Marketplace of Ideas report, looking at progressive policies that have proven their worth: MN: Subsidy Accountability, San Francisco: Reducing Criminal Recidivism Resolve, ME: Affordable Prescription Drugs for the Uninsured, and OK: Universal Preschool.

Resources

Understanding Supreme Court Abortion Decision -- NARAL to Help Legislators Fight Back

NARAL Pro-Choice America

Planned Parenthood Action Fund

Center for Reproductive Rights

Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy - US Supreme Court Rules Federal Abortion Ban Constitutional

Eye on the Right

The unstoppable Montana blogging crew has exposed the next step in anti-choice activism. It seems that the new owners of Snyder Drug in Great Falls, MT have decided not to fill prescriptions for oral contraception. While there have been previous cases of individual pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions, this time it's company policy (a first as far as I know), and  applies to both Snyder pharmacies in town.

As Allyson Hagen of NARAL Pro-Choice Montana points out, access is the frontier battleground for anti-choice activists, who increasingly target not just abortion but birth control as well. This  stonewalling is particularly outrageous behavior -let alone corporate policy- in rural areas where women may only have access to a single pharmacy. To the new owners: If you decide to buy a pharmacy, run a pharmacy, not a moral action committee.

Jobs & Internships

Check out current opportunities with Progressive States on the Jobs & Internships Page.

Americans Against Escalation in Iraq is taking applications for their Iraq Summer organizer & field director positions. They're going to be running a massive field campaign to pressure representatives who still support the President’s disastrous policy in Iraq.

Interested? Check out the details and apply.

Masthead

The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:

Nathan Newman, Policy Director
Mijin Cha, Policy Specialist
Adam Thompson, Policy Specialist
John Bacino, Communications Associate

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

John Bacino
Editor, Stateside Dispatch

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