Court Upholds Employer Health Care Responsibility Policies

Court Upholds Employer Health Care Responsibility Policies

Thursday, October 2, 2008




Court Upholds Employer Health Care Responsibility Policies

In a case with national implications for state health reform across the country, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals this week in Golden Gate Rest. Ass'n v. San Francisco upheld the employer responsibility provisions of the San Francisco universal health care plan.  The decision follows a preliminary decision earlier in the year that allowed the plan to be initially implemented.

This decision allows the city's Healthy San Francisco plan, the most universal health care plan in the nation, to continue to operate.  Key to the plan, along with better coordination of existing health care resources, was a funding measure that requires businesses with twenty or more employees that do not provide health care to their employees to pay $1.17 to $1.76 per hour to the city in order to cover their employees' costs under the city-provided health care plan.

Opponents had argued that this employer responsibility provision was preempted by the federal ERISA law, which governs certain health care and pension plans, but the court emphasized that "state and local laws enjoy a presumption against preemption" when they operate in areas of traditional state concern.  And as the Court noted, provision of health services "has long been the province of state and local governments." 

The Court distinguished the San Francisco law from a Maryland law, which was held preempted by ERISA because it had required very large employers to spend 8% of their total payroll on health insurance or pay the same amount to the state.  Whereas the Maryland law gave employers and their employees nothing in return for those fees paid to the state, the San Francisco law enrolls all uninsured employees for whom fees are paid in the city health plan, giving employers and their employees a clear benefit for the fees.  For this reason, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the San Francisco plan was not an attempt to force employers to provide an ERISA health care plan but a reasonable regulation with clear benefits for employers and city residents.  This is supported by the fact that 950 employers in the city have already enrolled their employees in the city health plan.  

The court decision is also good news for the Massachusetts health plan, since that plan also includes a more modest employer responsibility provision and the state has just increased the funds it is collecting from employers to assure full funding for its program.  The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals also provides far clearer guidelines for all legislators working to create "health care for all" plans that include employer responsibility components.

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Ohio’s Week of Same-Day Voting Upheld

The biggest electoral dust-up this summer in Ohio has been the attempt to overturn Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner’s decision to allow voters to register and vote on the same day during a one week period from September 30th to October 6th.  This resulted from an overlap between the beginning of early voting and the end of voter registration, 30 days before the election.  The Ohio Republican Party, nervous that progressive groups planned to target get out the vote efforts during same day voting, sued in state court.  Their claim was that the practice would violate the state requirement that a person be registered 30 days before an election in order to vote.  The ACLU, in concert with a number of voting rights advocates, filed a counter-suit to enforce the Secretary of State’s decision in federal court.

Both the federal judge and the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Secretary of State on Monday.  Federal District Judge James Gwin wrote that "[c]andidly, the underlying merits of issues are not even close ”¦ With regard to the interpretation of Ohio law, Defendant Brunner obviously determined the issue correctly."

We were curious if any other states had similar, coincidental same-day registration periods.  PSN found six that either have overlaps or put no statutory restriction on when a voter can cast an absentee ballot in person.  The only swing state in the bunch — Indiana — informs voters on its Secretary of State website that in-person absentee voting begins the day after voter registration ends.  Information for the other states is as follows:

  • Idaho — No limit on the in-person absentee balloting period.  Assumedly you can register and vote on the same day from when the ballots are printed and made available until 25 days before the election (Oct. 12).
  • Kansas — Some counties have absentee balloting 20 days before the election and voter registration ends 15 days before. 
  • Nebraska — Voters can vote and register on the same-day from 35 days before the election to the 2nd Friday before the election (Sept. 30 to Oct 17).
  • South Dakota — Voter can vote and register on the same-day from six weeks before the election to the 15 days before (Sept. 23 to Oct 20).
  • Vermont — Voters can vote and register on the same-day from 30 days before the election to the 2nd Friday before the election (Oct. 5 to Oct 28).

Information and forms for voting absentee in all 50 states can be found at


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Brennan Center Report Uncovers a Wild West of Voter Purges in a Dozen States

Voter purges, which became infamous in Florida in the 2000 election, seem to have become a consistent problem since then based on anecdotal evidence.  But few have looked across states to see how routine purges to “clean” the voter rolls of ineligible voters are actually carried out when they don’t make headlines.  The Brennan Center for Justice has investigated and what they report is troubling.  Their findings point to the critical need for vastly greater oversight, accountability and consistence in election administration practices across the country.

The report's author, Myrna Pérez, summarized her findings by noting that “[f]ar too frequently ”¦ eligible registered citizens show up to vote and discover their names have been removed from the voter lists.  States maintain voter rolls in an inconsistent and unac­countable manner.  Officials strike voters from the rolls through a process that is shrouded in secrecy, prone to error, and vulnerable to manipulation.”

After a systematic examination of the purging activities of 12 states, the authors found four practices undermining voter roll maintenance:

  • Purges rely on error-ridden lists
  • Voters are purged secretly and without notice
  • Bad “matching” criteria leaves voters vulnerable to manipulated purges
  • Insufficient oversight leaves voters vulnerable to manipulated purges

Given the serious purging problems identified in the report the Brennan Center recommends:

  • Transparency and Accountability for Purges
  • Strict Criteria for the Development of Purge Lists
  • “Fail-Safe” Provisions to Protect Voters
  • Universal Voter Registration

The new report from the Brennan Center is one more in a long series by that organization compellingly making the case that election administration practices in this country are in need of significant reevaluation and reform.  It is beyond clear that the way our elections are conducted does not comport with our expectations for a modern, democratic country.

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TAKE ACTION: Stop the Defunding of UC Labor Studies

Reprising an attack from 2005, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger stripped out all funding from the state budget for the University of California’s Miguel Contreras Labor Studies program including the UC Berkeley and UCLA Labor Study Centers, Institutes for Research on Labor and Employment, and UC Labor Studies Programs.  The $5.4 million labor studies program represents a small fraction of the funding given to business schools through the UC system, which the Governor did not touch, highlighting the ideological attack on academic freedom involved in the line item veto. 

The working men and women of California pay taxes and should be represented by having one of the top labor studies programs in the country, as they are now at the two flagship UC universities.  Despite signing a tax cut for corporations worth between $1 billion and $1.5 billion annually, Schwarzenegger wants to cut a program that has contributed to the economic and workforce analysis of state policies.  Schwarzenegger’s veto shows his commitment to protecting corporate wealth over even a modicum of free expression by labor scholars in the corporate-dominated university system.

The California Labor Federation is calling on people to contact the Governor and demand that he restore funding to the Miguel Contreras Labor Studies program in the Governor's January budget.  You can write the Governor to support the UC labor studies programs here.


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Research Roundup

Despite claims that by increasing its top income tax rate to 9% in 2002 New Jersey  would drive out wealthy residents, a new report out of Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public & International Affairs shows that, instead, the number of New Jersey residents with incomes over $500,000 increased by 70% between 2002 and 2006 -- and the state has raised $1 billion annually in revenue.

Many conservatives want to use "high risk pools" to deal with the problem of insurance companies denying coverage for individuals with pre-existing conditions.  In High-Risk Insurance Pools: A Flawed Model for Reform, the Center for American Progress has produced a resource detailing the problems with such plans, including poor coverage and high costs to taxpayers for those poor results.

Despite tight state budgets, legislatures continued to prioritize expanding pre-K education programs, according to a new report by pre[k]now.  Net state investments will increase by more than $309 million nationally, to $5.2 billion in the next fiscal year.  D.C. and Louisiana joined Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, New York, Oklahoma and West Virginia as states providing or phasing in pre-K for all kids.

The Brookings Institution has posted resources, including presentation slides, from its summit among state leaders addressing Restoring Prosperity: The State Role in Revitalizing Ohio’s Core Communities.  The summit addressed recommendations that were carefully tailored to the unique assets and challenges of Ohio’s 32 core communities.

America's Voice has a YouTube video up called Save the Earth - Stop Anti-Immigrant Emissions, which mocks a Center for Immigration Studies report that blames immigrants for global warming, calling it a mix of "bad science, random mathematical formulas and a lot of nonsense."

A new policy brief, Supporting Military Families with Children, by the Sloan Work and Family Research Network highlights states that have introduced legislation to support parents who serve in the military and their children.  In addition, the brief summarizes research on some unique challenges faced by military families, including frequent moves, family separation, disruption in schooling, and the risk of injury or death of military personnel. 

The Sentencing Project has released Expanding the Vote: State Felony Disenfranchisement Reform, 1997-2008, which outlines the significant progress that states have made reducing barriers to voting for ex-felons.

A new report from the Brennan Center for Justice on the implementation of felon disenfranchisement laws finds that "confusion among election officials about their state's felony disenfranchisement policies ... coupled with complex laws and complicated registration procedures, result in the mass dissemination of inaccurate and misleading information, which in turn leads to the de facto disenfranchisement of untold hundreds of thousands of eligible would-be voters throughout the country."

The Advancement Project released Provisional Voting: Fail Safe Voting or Trapdoor to Disenfranchisement? finds both disturbingly high rates of provisional ballots being rejected, often due to administrative error, and many instances where eligible voters are wrongly given these ballots, resulting in disenfranchised voters.

Please email us leads on good research at


Court Upholds Employer Health Care Responsibility Policies

Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Golden Gate Rest. Ass'n v. San Francisco
Healthy San Francisco - Our Health Access Program
Progressive States Network - Ensuring Affordability of Employer Mandates
Progressive States Network - San Francisco's Landmark Law
AFL-CIO - Fair Share Health Care
UC-Berkeley Labor Center - Declining Job-Based Health Coverage for Working Families in California and the United States

Brennan Center Report Uncovers a Wild West of Voter Purges in a Dozen States

Brennan Center For Justice — Voter Purges
Brennan Center For Justice — Universal Voter Registration


The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:

Nathan Newman, Policy Director
Caroline Fan, Policy Specialist
Julie Schwartz, Policy Specialist
Christian Smith-Socaris, Policy Specialist
Adam Thompson, Policy Specialist
Kayla Southworth, Policy Associate
Austin Guest, Communications Specialist
Marisol Thomer, Outreach Coordinator

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