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PSN on June 8, 2009 - 9:49am
Legislative Session Roundups -- Iowa, Idaho, and Alabama
Thursday, June 8, 2009
Legislative Session Roundup: Iowa
With Iowa lawmakers facing not only fiscal problems similar to many states, but the need to pass flood and tornado recovery bills, lawmakers met both challenges by the end of the session. However, the rest of the agenda for progressives saw a mix of wins and losses, with most high profile reforms falling short, but many good progressive policies becoming law. And, the leadership of Iowa legislators stepped up to support the Iowa supreme court decision support marriage equality for same sex partners, refusing to advance a proposed constitutional attack on the groundbreaking decision.
Budget and Taxes: The state's $6.3 billion dollar balanced budget avoids tax increases and adds $441 million to the state's rainy day fund for what will surely be a challenging fiscal situation next year.
Legislators will likely face even worse choices next year and have established a commission to produce plans for government reorganization to cut costs. "We've got to...[f]igure out those things that we should continue to do and ways to do them more efficiently and figure out those things that we're going to walk away from," said Senate Majority Leader Mike Grondstal.
Same-Sex Marriage: As we've previously highlighted, Iowa's Supreme Court struck down a decade-old law that banned same-sex marriage. Legislative leaders beat back an effort by conservatives in the Senate to reverse the unanimous ruling and made it clear that they will oppose any constitutional amendment that seeks to overturn the Iowa Supreme Court decision. In a joint release by Iowa Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal and House Speaker Pat Murphy, they praised the decision and said "the only lasting question about today’s events will be why it took us so long."
Health Care: As we've highlighted, Iowa made big strides in health coverage with one of the most comprehensive bills moving in the states this year. Sponsored by Sen. Hatch, the legislation builds on a 2008 law that created a path for Iowa to achieve health care for all kids and address health care cost and quality. S 389 will extend eligibility for public programs to children in families up to 300% of the poverty line, covering 30,000 of the state's 40,000 uninsured kids, and establish a "soft" mandate that eligible children be signed up (there are no penalties for parents who fail to enroll their children). The program will use state funds, federal SCHIP support and the federal stimulus package. The bill also reins in prescription drug costs, improves the quality of care, and provides more coverage options for businesses and families. Additionally, the bill expands health insurance eligibility for legal immigrant children, implement the new federal law that removes the 5 year wait for legal immigrant children to become eligible for SCHIP funding. In one failure, mental health coverage requirements were not expanded as progressives had hoped [H 234/S 418].
Wind Energy: The governor put his signature on S 456, which utilizes unused tax credits to promote small wind energy projects across the state, and H 817, which provides economic incentives for wind component manufacturers who are looking at building or expanding in Iowa. The state ranks second behind Texas in wind energy production and is home to 1,999 wind turbines that produce nearly 2,800 MW of electricity each year. "With more than 2,300 green-collar jobs created through wind energy, creating new jobs in the green economy will be key to our future successes," said Gov. Culver at the signing ceremony. On another environmental issue, conservation funding was held steady or increased through stimulus and bonding, a significant victory given the low state revenue.
Other Key Progressive Victories:
Some Notable Failures
Legislative Session Roundup: Idaho
Idaho faced a historically bad budget projection, with projected consecutive negative growth in two years. This challenge resulted in the second longest session of all time, with the federal recovery act allowing significant opportunities for the legislature to use one-time funds to shore up the budget, even as reductions were made to education for the first time in state history. Without a doubt, this was one of the most contentious sessions in state record.
TAX, BUDGET AND RECOVERY: In a series of budget bills, the state reduced budgets for state agencies by $176 million (H 250) and tap dedicated stabilization and public education funds to balance the budget. The state also enacted:
Transportation: A third of Idaho's roads and bridges rated as being in poor or mediocre condition, according to a legislative audit released this year which said the state needed to spend an estimated $300 million annually to preserve its existing highway and bridge infrastructure by 2013. Republican Gov. "Butch" Otter vetoed 35 budget bills in an attempt to get his own party's members in the House to increase gasoline taxes to raise $174 million to pay for road repairs. Instead, the legislature voted for only a $50 million increase in transportation funding, and voted down six efforts to increase the gas tax. The legislature did enact H 338 to remove the ethanol exemption from fuel tax, resulting in about $16.4 million of revenues for road maintenance, and S 1186 which approved bonding authority for up to $82 million of highway transportation projects. The state is also receiving almost $44 miilion in forest and road maintenance stimulus money.
Health Care: Budget pressures resulted in the enactment of H 123 to contain Medicaid costs and reduce reimbursements to providers and benefits to Medicaid recipients. In addition, the state enacted the following health care reforms:
Pay Day Loans: Passed unanimously, S 1151 provides that payday loans made by unlicensed payday lenders are void and provides for a private right of action to recover borrowers' monies. It also provides the Department of Finance the ability to send cease and desist orders and to seek restitution for consumers.
Mortgage Reforms: H 169 passed unanimously and repeals existing law relating to residential mortgages and preserves existing regulatory oversight language and incorporates the requirements of the federal Safe and Fair Enforcement Mortgage Licensing Act of 2008, including criminal background checks for mortgage brokers, the licensing and registration mandates for all mortgage loan originators, and the establishment of a state mortgage recovery fund which would reimburse individuals for damages caused by mortgage brokers, lenders, or loan originators. The bill also empowers the Director of the Department of Finance to investigate and rescind licenses granted under the chapter.
Reproductive Rights: Fortunately, a bill aimed at allowing providers of pharmaceutical care to refuse to provide abortion or contraceptive services died in the Senate after passing in the House.
Death Penalty: H 107 eliminates the death penalty by firing squad, making Idaho the last state in the nation to do away with this antiquated option.
Child Care: Under S 1112, child-care operators who care for seven or more unrelated children must be licensed, and those with four or more must get criminal background checks. Current law does not require child-care facilities to have a license unless they care for 13 or more children.
Election Reform: Along with administrative changes consolidating election dates and providing funds for counties to buy new voting equipment (H 372), the state enacted S 1184 to reform legislative redistricting following a census to require that, whenever possible, counties, district boundaries and local voting precincts remain intact; while preventing past redistricting commissioners from serving on future commissions.
Environmental: H 7 was enacted to allow the Public Utilities Commission to designate priority transmission lines that improve Idaho's transmission capacity which will assist in bringing more renewable power sources on line.
Progressive Defeats and Missed Opportunities
Legislative Session Roundup: Alabama
Overall, the state used federal recovery dollars to avoid deep cuts to many state programs, and pass some important initiatives advanced by majority Democrats. Key budget decisions and other bills from the session include:
Missed Opportunities on the budget included failure to enact a proposed highway stimulus plan which would have created 27,000 new jobs and spent $1 billion on road construction across the state and failure to use $100 million in federal stimulus funds to expand unemployment benefits to 20,000 more families. Lawmakers also failed to shore up the Prepaid Affordable College Tuition, which supports 48,000 students but has lost half its value during the economic downturn. Proposals to help working families by eliminating the sales tax on groceries also failed. And, the Governor vetoed S 93 which would have created Individual Development Accounts to help families build personal assets.
Other Missed Opportunities:
Defeat of Vote Suppression Bill: On the positive side, lawmakers killed a bill requiring a photo ID in order to vote.
Telephone Deregulation: More negatively, advocacy groups strongly condemned a law removing the remaining minimal regulation of land-line telephone services.
3 Steps Forward
2 Steps Back
The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:
Nathan Newman, Interim Executive Director
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