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Legislative Session Roundups in Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, and West Virginia

Legislative Session Roundups in Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, and West Virginia

Thursday, July 2, 2009

PERMALINK: http://www.progressivestates.org/node/23266

Increasing-Democracy

By: ADAM THOMPSON

Colorado Session Roundup

As with most states this year, the budget process and response to the recession dominated Colorado's legislative session.  Within that lens, lawmakers are getting high marks from Colorado advocates like the Bell Policy Center and the Colorado Center on Law and Policy for advancing key priorities like unemployment insurance, health care coverage and budget reform while limiting the deficit's impact on the state's most vulnerable residents.  Notably, lawmakers extended health care to 100,000 low-income and uninsured Coloradans.  Still, advocates note some disappointments and missed opportunities, like failing to make qualified undocumented students eligible for in-state tuition rates and neglecting to better regulate payday lenders.  

Budget Reform: For years, Colorado lawmakers have been hamstrung by TABOR rules, which include an antiquated provision limiting the annual growth in state general fund spending to 6%.  As the Bell Policy Center points out, this tied the hands of lawmakers, limiting their ability to respond to the ups and downs of the economy.  In response, lawmakers enacted SB 228 which repeals this spending growth formula.  And, lawmakers are finding other ways around TABOR restrictions.  In the area of unemployment insurance, lawmakers passed HB 1363 to create the Colorado Unemployment Insurance System as an "enterprise" so that revenue flowing into the trust fund is not subject to TABOR revenue caps.  

Stimulus and State Spending: To improve transportation networks, lawmakers allocated $252 million for roads.  The federal ARRA's health care provisions generated an additional $300 million in federal Medicaid match for Colorado.  In education, increases in funding are constitutionally mandated and lawmakers passed a public education bill that includes the required inflation rate plus 1 percent, as the Bell Policy Center reports.  The budget includes almost $2 million for a pilot program designed to help low-performing districts close the "achievement gap" and maintains funding for the statewide preschool program.  SJR 56 dictates that CO's share of the $4 billion in federal stimulus funds for education programs be used, in part, for family literacy programs.  Cuts in higher education funding were prevented, in part by using federal stimulus funds, and budget levels were kept to 08-09 levels.  However, the budget will result in a tuition hike of up to 9% and some cuts to student aid were enacted.  Lawmakers also repealed tax deductions for capital gains on the sale of stock.  And, as Environment Colorado reports, the stimulus bill brings in $50 million for the Governor’s Energy Office, $80 million over three years for state weatherization programs, and $45 million for local energy efficiency and conservation projects.

Other budget provisions include a series of tax credits designed to spur job growth, economic development, and innovations in growth industries, which some advocates object to on the grounds that they will siphon off general fund resources and shrink the social safety net.   In response to criticisms, lawmakers appropriated money for a tax credit for high-risk investments in small, knowledge-based industries out of economic development funds.  

While deep cuts to programs were largely prevented this year, the state faces future deficits if economic conditions do not improve, federal support from the ARRA is not extended, and additional changes to the state's budget rules are not made, reports the Fiscal Policy Institute.

Health Care: As noted, a major success this year was passage of HB 1293, the Health Care Affordability Act.  This bill, which had the support of hospitals, establishes a hospital provider fee to generate an additional $600 million for the state's investment in Medicaid and SCHIP programs, allowing the state to draw down an additional $600 million in federal match.  The bill enables the state to increase coverage to an additional 100,000 uninsured Coloradans.

  • Coverage for Immigrants - HB 1353 removes the 5-year waiting period for documented pregnant women and children to be eligible for health care programs.
  • COBRA - Lawmakers passed legislation to allow employees of firms of any size to opt for continuation coverage in the event of an involuntary job loss.
  • Ease of Enrollment - HB 1020 creates telephone and on-line enrollment for Medicaid and SCHIP to ease enrollment for children and ensure eligible children don't fall through the cracks due to unnecessary administrative procedures.
  • Primary Care Shortage - HB 1111 creates a new state agency to oversee efforts to address the shortage of primary care doctors across the state, particularly in rural areas, and to help underserved areas capture more federal funding.
  • Autism - SB 244 requires group health insurance cover autism spectrum disorders.
  • Prevention - HB 1012 allows insurers to provide incentives for participation in wellness and prevention programs.
  • Disappointments - Lawmakers repealed a scheduled SCHIP expansion to 225% of the poverty line because of the budget, but signaled a commitment to increase eligibility to 250% when funds become available.  And, lawmakers passed a bill allowing HMOs to offer limited benefit health plans.  Despite lower premiums, the plans do not protect individuals from personal economic collapse in the event of a catastrophic illness, a problem highlighted by this New York Times article on the problem of the under-insured and limited benefit health plans.

Education:  A notable success was HB 1319, which creates a statewide "concurrent enrollment" system allowing high school graduates to obtain college credits, certificates and associate degrees while securing their high school diploma.  HB 1057 makes it easier for parents to take leave from work to attend parent-teacher conferences.  However, as noted previously, a major disappointment this year was lawmakers' failure to enact the DREAM Act to make undocumented students eligible for in-state tuition rates.

Supporting Families:

  • Access to Services - SB 55 to support family resource centers which link families to available public and private social programs.
  • Domestic Partners - SB 88 is a small step towards equity, as it makes domestic partners of state employees eligible for state employee health care benefits.  Lawmakers also passed HB 1260 to extend certain partner benefits to gays, lesbians, and unmarried couples like control of medical decisions and eligibility for survivor benefits like state employee pensions.
  • Foreclosures - HB 1276 delays proceeding for 90 days to allow homeowners and mortgage holders to negotiate a deal to prevent foreclosure.

Elections:  Lawmakers made several important and notable changes to its electoral process to ensure its democratic integrity and improve access to the voting process.  Notable achievements include:

  • On-line voter registration, and on-line change of address
  • Requiring signature collecting firms to register with the state and outlawing payments to gatherers based on the number of signatures, in order to ensure the integrity of the citizen initiative process
  • Moving the state towards an all-paper ballot and restricting purchase of new electronic voting machines
  • Improving access to the ballot for residents of group homes

Lawmakers defeated a voter-ID bill but neglected to approve HB 1299 (National Popular Vote), which would have joined Colorado with other states committing their presidential electoral votes to the winner of the  popular vote nationwide.

Broadband:  SB 162 will help Colorado map broadband connectivity throughout the state. The legislation authorizes the Office of Information Technology to accept public gifts, grants, and donations to support the state's broadband mapping project. It also extends broadband inventory completion date.

Environment:  Lawmakers enacted new standards for oil and gas drillers to protect the environment. The laws prohibit drilling rigs within 300 feet of a public water supply, require companies to identify chemicals used while drilling, and require consultation with wildlife and public health experts in drilling areas. Elsewhere, lawmakers enacted a series of bills to improve the fuel efficiency of trucking company fleets, encourage the private use of electronic vehicles, and encourage energy efficiency upgrades at homes and businesses.  Successes include:

  • HB1298 provides a 25 percent reimbursement to trucking companies who buy and install fuel-efficient technologies and emission-control devices. The bill prorates sales tax on equipment based on the percentage of miles companies drive in Colorado and it makes truckers eligible for enterprise-zone tax breaks.
  • HB 1331 expands the pool of vehicles eligible for alternative-fuel tax credits to include those that run on cleaner-burning natural gas and eliminates some hybrid vehicles that are not fuel-efficient.
  • SB 75 allows drivers to operate low-speed electric vehicles on most roads with speed limits of 35 mph or lower.
  • SB 51, the Renewable Energy Financing Act, improves access to different financing options (3rd party lease, bank, mortgage, state treasury backed investments and loans) for residential and business solar, geothermal, wind or energy efficiency upgrades in payment plans.
  • HB1149 requires builders of new homes to offer homeowners the option of making their home solar-ready, as solar energy enhancements are more easily made if the home is solar-ready.

Unemployment: The state made several improvements to the unemployment insurance system, enabling the state to draw down an additional $127 million from the feds for its unemployment trust fund.  SB 247 creates an alternative base period to enable mostly low-wage workers eligible for benefits immediately, rather than waiting for three months.  Lawmakers also extended benefits for those who remain unemployed and expanded the qualifying reasons for leaving a job due to family crisis.

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Increasing-Democracy

By: JULIE SCHWARTZ

Nebraska Session Roundup

The Nebraska Legislature ended three days ahead of the originally scheduled adjournment date.  During the 2009 session, 236 bills were passed, including budget bills and issues ranging from encouraging wind energy development and establishing lethal injection as the state’s method of execution. 

Budget:  The Legislature’s top priority this year was to pass a balanced budget in a difficult economic climate.  The final result was a two year $6.9 billion state budget that utilized both federal stimulus dollars and cash from the state’s reserve fund.   Despite the nation's current economic condition, the budget provides for a 1 percent average growth in spending of state tax dollars for the next two fiscal years and keeps a $115 million annual property tax credit intact. 

  • Stimulus - Nebraska is projected to receive approximately $1.6 billion, not including tax benefits to businesses or individuals, from the ARRA.  The State Budget Administrator has created a summary of how the received funds will be disbursed.  Approximately $518 million will go to budget stabilization to cover funding shortages in three major categories: education, medicaid, and general purpose.  $527 million will go to infrastructure improvements, including transportation, energy, water, community development, environment, military construction, and technology programs.  Lastly, $547 million will be used to increase funding for a number of federally subsidized social programs and to temporarily fund the expansion of existing basic government services, such as education, labor, health and human services, and law enforcement.
  • Transparency -Nebraska lawmakers have passed a bill designed to make government spending more transparent. Under LB 16, the Taxpayer Transparency Act, the state will be required to develop a website that provides data on the state budget, public contracts, and tax incentives.  This will allow Nebraskans to easily see how their tax dollars are spent and will encourage transparency and efficiency in the state government.   

Education:  Much of the education policy focus in 2009 was on state aid to schools. The state aid formula was tweaked twice, swinging back and forth between favoring rural and urban schools, as Senators continued to try to equalize funding for all school districts.  Senators also passed legislation providing free university tuition and fees for children of deceased officers and firefighters (LB 206) and offering loan forgiveness to certified teachers who are teaching in Nebraska for two years, as well as students working toward their initial certification (LB 547). The maximum loans forgivable were increased from $2,500 to $3,000 per year. 

Health Care: Despite the tight economic times, Nebraska made some attempts to increase access to health care insurance and to address gaps in certain government services. 

  • LB 551 takes the positive step of increasing access to health care by allowing families to continue securing health insurance for children until they are 30 years of age, if the child is unmarried and meets other criteria.  Insurance companies are allowed to charge an additional premium for the child.  Currently, insurance policies must indicate that coverage may include any children younger than 23 years old.
  • LB 603, enacted in part as a response to the drop-off of dozens of children last year under the Nebraska safe-haven law, will provide additional services, support, and professional resources to help families dealing with children's behavioral health issues. The legislation takes a step toward expanding services and helping more families access help by increasing the eligibility level for SCHIP from 185 to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. It also adds secure residential treatment to the list of Medicaid-eligible services. In addition, the legislation creates a statewide behavioral health hotline, provides post-adoption services, and increases funding for children’s behavioral health services. 
  • LB 488  will allow all veterans who served on active duty in the armed forces of the United States, other than active duty for training, to be eligible for admission to a Nebraska veterans' home.
  • One important bill that died this session was LB 656 that, if enacted, would have established a council to develop a comprehensive plan for affordable health insurance with an individual mandate as a component.

Renewable Energy: The development of renewable energy, particularly wind power, in Nebraska was the subject of several bills passed by the Legislature.

  • In an attempt to bring wind developers to Nebraska, LB 561 permits public power districts to waive their eminent domain authority for renewable generation facilities; allows renewable generation facilities to be exempted from meeting the least cost and public convenience and necessity criteria of the Power Review Board; changes the ownership and financing of Community Based Energy Development (CBED) systems; and creates a sales-tax exemption for new community-based projects begun before the end of 2011.  
  • LB 568 limits the duration of wind agreements to 40 years and terminates contracts if development has not started within 10 years, although parties can mutually agree to extend their arrangements.  In addition, the legislation mandates that wind rights not be separated from the land from which the wind benefits are derived and that leases include descriptions of intended developments for a property and plans for decommissioning wind turbines.
  • LB 436 aims to make it easier for people who generate their own electricity to sell the excess to utility companies.  The legislation implements a statewide net metering policy and provides one to one credit for energy generated up to the amount used.  Under the bill, any excess generation produced by the system during the month will be credited at the utility's avoided cost rate for that month and carried forward to the next billing period.  Any excess remaining at the end of an annualized period will be paid out to the customer.  Customers retain all renewable energy credits (RECs) associated with the electricity their system generates.  

Immigration:  Senators unfortunately passed LB 403, which requires state and local agencies to verify the legal status of most applicants for public benefits.  The verification requirement will not apply, however, to individuals needing emergency medical care or applying for short-term cash assistance.  The new law also states that public employers and contractors in the state must use the federal E-Verify database to check whether new employees are authorized to work.

Criminal Justice:

  • LB 260 creates the Nebraska Claims for Wrongful Conviction and Imprisonment Act.  The bill entitles wrongfully convicted persons to receive a maximum of $500,000.  In order to file a wrongful conviction claim, claimants must have received a pardon, the conviction must have been vacated, or the conviction must have been reversed and remanded for a new trial and no subsequent conviction obtained.
  • A Sentencing and Recidivism Task Force was established with LR 171.  The seven-member task force will study the sentencing of juveniles and adults in Nebraska, as well as issues relating to incarcerated individuals’ re-entry into communities.
  • Lawmakers rejected the efforts of some state senators to repeal the death penalty in Nebraska.  Instead, after 15 months of having no means to carry out its death penalty, lawmakers enacted LB 36 which changes the method of execution from electrocution to intravenous injection of a substance or substances in a quantity sufficient to cause death.   
  • Lawmakers also passed LB 63 aimed at reducing violent crime and gang activity.  The legislation increases penalties for more than a dozen crimes and creates several new gun, gang, and graffiti-related laws. In addition, a new office will be created that will run programs aimed at keeping children out of gangs and preventing violence.     

Abortion:  LB 675 will require providers performing fetal ultrasounds prior to an abortion to display the image in a manner viewable by the patient before the procedure is performed. The bill also requires the Department of Health and Human Services to compile a comprehensive list of clinics that offer free ultrasound services to women considering an abortion. 

Missed Opportunities on Labor Rights:  Lawmakers failed to pass two other labor bills.  LB 557, if enacted, would have allowed unions to collect fair share contributions, which would not exceed the amount of dues required for union membership. Although fair share contributions would be an enforceable debt, the termination of employees for failing to pay a fair share would be prohibited.  LB 267, if passed, would have permitted state employees providing services to individuals in residential care to refuse overtime after working 12 consecutive hours, unless an unforeseen emergency such as a disease outbreak or natural disaster occurs.  Furthermore, employees would not have been required to work seven consecutive days under any circumstances.

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Increasing-Democracy

By: CAROLINE FAN

Kansas Session Roundup

Kansas underwent a change in leadership at the top when Gov. Kathleen Sebelius joined the Obama administration as Secretary of Health and Human Services and was replaced by her lieutenant governor, Mark Parkinson, a former chair of the state Republican party before switching parties to serve under Sebelius.

Stimulus and Budget: The state faced a $1 billion deficit, and although lawmakers painstakingly put together a budget, ultimately the state's coffers fell short by $126 million due to decreased tax revenues. Parkinson has the authority to balance the budget and make whatever cuts are necessary.  Kansas is on schedule to receive nearly $2 billion of stimulus funds including over $488 million for schools, $350M for highway and road projects, $57M for home weatherization, $27M for transportation, $18M for water safety, and $15M for energy.  Key policies enacted included:

  • Unemployment benefits:  Under HB 2374, Kansas made several changes to unemployment insurance eligibility: using an alternate wage base period, codifying a long-time practice of allowing benefits to those seeking part-time work; and providing up to 26 additional weeks of benefits for individuals participating in approved training programs. The changes to UI benefits resulted in Kansas receiving $69 million in federal UI funds.  The economy was so bad that even some businesses backed off opposing the bill, which passed without opposition in the Senate.
  • Health care: HB 2052 amended the Kansas COBRA to incorporate provisions and requirements of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 so that employers of eligible terminated employees must provide additional notice of the right to elect COBRA coverage.  The Recovery Act includes a sixty-five percent premium subsidies for COBRA coverage. An additional 8000 children in Kansas are eligible to receive SCHIP benefits, which were increased to 250% of the federal poverty level through HB 2354
  • Education: Despite a promise by the Kansas board of Regents to maintain a tuition freeze if budget cuts went no further than 7 percent, the legislature cut education funding by 12 percent. Now, the new tuition increases come on top of cuts last legislative session. However, SB 225 was enacted, which allows working families to save for their childrens' education through the K.I.D.S. matching program. The legislature also passed and enacted a new financial literacy program in the schools (SB 84).
  • HB 2172 was vetoed and would have reduced taxes on sales of new motor vehicles, and land used for agriculture. HB 2365 was the main tax bill, and it increased revenue by waiving penalties to get delinquent taxpayers to pay up about $35 million in back taxes and decrease other tax credits 10 percent for two tax years to save $9.2 million in the next fiscal year.
  • To protect taxpayers from fraud, SB 44 created a civil cause of action for perpetrating a specified fraudulent claim on the state government or affected political subdivision under the Kansas False Claims Act.

Environment and Energy: The newly appointed Governor Parkinson surprised people by approving the building of a new coal plant, despite Governor Sebelius' previous veto of HB 2369. Just days after her resignation, Parkinson announced the deal with the energy company. The bill also decreased the state's ability to enforce rules and regulations more stringent than federal law, includes a renewable energy standard, and allows individuals to use net metering. Small aviation companies and solar and wind power businesses can access up to $5 million in state-backed bonds for expansion under SB 108.

Agriculture:  Before leaving for Washington D.C., Gov. Sebelius vetoed HB 2121, which would have modified pesticide and fertilizer fees and dairy-inspection and dairy-related fees and would have limited the ability of dairies to indicate they did not use hormones on cows that made them produce more milk.

Criminal Justice and Legal System:

  • HB 2267 extends the Governor’s Task Force on Racial Profiling sunset date to July 1, 2011.
  • A number of public safety laws were passed including one requiring cell phone companies to ping cell phones owned by missing persons in order to find them quicker.
  • A $10 surcharge on court fees was implemented through June 2010 to shore up budget woes (SB 66).

Workers' rights:  SB 160 increased the state minimum wage from a nationwide low of $2.65 hourly to the federal standard of $7.25 an hour, affecting some 20,000 Kansans not covered by the federal minimum wage.

Abortion: SB 238 mandates that doctors meet with a woman at least 30 minutes before an abortion to answer questions and that they must post a sign saying women cannot be forced to have an abortion. Women can see sonograms and get information on counseling for medically challenging pregnancies. Governor Sebelius vetoed SB 218 which would have prevented post-viability abortions and allowed for criminal prosecution of doctors who were trying to save women's lives.

Missed opportunities:

  • SB 206 would have prohibited insurance companies from using a persons credit score when assessing premiums. The bill is designed to prevent insurance companies from further penalizing citizens who have suffered some temporary financial strain or difficulties.
  • A bill that would have tied workers' compensation caps to the cost of living in the Midwest passed the House but not the Senate.
  • Parkinson vetoed SB 171 which would have made it easier for overseas and military voters to register, request ballots, and cast ballots. It also would implement some safeguards for absentee ballots.

Bad Legislation Blocked:

  • Civil rights: SB 179 which would have made it harder to file racial profiling complaints, failed to pass.
  • Sovereignty Resolution: Concurrent Resolution 1609, which calls on the federal government to stop penalizing states or withholding funds if they don't comply with federal mandates, failed.
  • Parkinson vetoed SB 51 that would make it more difficult for cities to annex surrounding areas.

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Increasing-Democracy

By: CHRISTIAN SMITH-SOCARIS

West Virginia Session Roundup

While not under the fiscal pressures of most states due to rising prices for minerals, the 60 day session proved too fleeting, and the legislature and governor had to use two brief special sessions to complete their work. They did manage to pass some promising election reforms and a solar tax credit, but big reforms of health care didn't materialize and environmental policy moved backward on a couple fronts.

Budget and Stimulus:  The state's $11.5 billion budget involved only limited spending cuts.  However, those cuts include $1 million less for domestic violence programs and $500,000 less for free health clinics raising the ire of both Health Committee chairs.  With unemployment in the state having increased by half in less than a year, the state's Unemployment Insurance fund was shored up.  

The state is slated to receive 1.8 billion in Recovery Act funds.  The state now has available approximately $250 million in funds for education, which will be used to retain teachers and fund educational reforms; $211 million for highway spending; $118 for medicaid reimbursement; $61 million for a clean water revolving fund; and $38 million for low-income home weatherization assistance, and a host of other grants.  They were also recently awarded $13.1 million dollars to increase energy efficiency in government buildings and loan money to businesses for energy efficiency investments.

Environment and Energy:  The state took two steps to promote sun power, a $2,000 residential solar power tax credit and a mandate to develop net metering rules [H 2535/Rep. Wooton].  An alternative electrical energy portfolio bill [S 297] passed that requires 25% of energy from alternative sources by 2025, however the portfolio includes multiple forms of hydrocarbon power and other polluting energy sources, and has no renewable mandate at all.  The bill also lacks energy efficiency standards.  A greenwashed Chesapeake Bay watershed protection bill [S 715] delays nutrient removal requirements among other provisions. One bad bill that failed to pass was the governor's post-mining land use planning bill for mountain-top removal sites [S 375], which advocates denounced as aimed at relaxing restoration requirements. 

Health Care:  A pilot project for implementing the "patient centered medical home" health care model has been authorized [S 414/Sen. Prezioso].  The model attempts to integrate all aspects of health care in a single "medical home," in an attempt to raise the quality and safety of medical care.  Credentialing of medical professionals will also be consolidated in one agency under the bill.  The mental health crisis facing the state due to its lack of community treatment options will not be addressed this year as the governor vetoed S 672 by Sen. Kessler which would increase reimbursement rates for behavior health clinic and rehabilitation services in an attempt to stabilize a "broken and deteriorating system."

Elections:  The state moved forward three significant policies related to improving elections.

  • Voting by Mail [H 3134/Rep. Fleishauer] - Some municipalities will be able to conduct early voting entirely by mail in 2010.  In addition, fiive municipalities will be able to conduct completely vote-by-mail elections in 2011.
  • Ballot Access [H 2981/Rep. Fleishauer] - Among other reforms, the number of signatures needed to qualify for the ballot will be cut in half, and the extremely early, spring petition deadline for all offices but president has been scraped; candidates will now have until August 1st to collect qualifying signatures.
  • In-person Early Voting [H 2464/Rep. Spencer] - County Commissions will now be able to designate satellite early voting sites.

However, the biggest issue hanging over the state's elections is probably the decision this session by the US Supreme Court that the Chief Justice of the WV Supreme Court was wrong to rule in a case involving Massey Energy, who's CEO spent $3 million dollars supporting his candidacy.  Unfortunately, no progress was made toward passing the Supreme Court Public Campaign Financing Act [H 3309/Rep. Fleischauer & S 311/Sen. Kessler] as the governor is convening a commission to study the matter.

Public Safety:  A bill outlining notification requirements for industrial accidents [S 279/Sen. Pres. Tomblin] institutes a $100,000 fine for not reporting a significant industrial accident within 15 minutes, requires notice to the public by officials within additional 30 minutes, among other provisions.

GLBT Rights:  An attempt by conservatives to bring a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage to a floor vote was defeated resoundingly.  The state already has a law explicitly prohibiting even the recognition of same-sex marriages.

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Research Roundup

State Budget Troubles Worsen - Despite stimulus money and budget cuts, at least 48 states addressed or are facing shortfalls in their budgets for the upcoming year totaling $166 billion, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.  Aggregate gaps through 2011 likely will exceed $350 billion.

The States and the Stimulus: Are they using it to create jobs and 21st century transportation? - This Smart Growth America report finds that while some states are devoting funds to needed road repair and expansions of public transportation, too many other states are devoting funds to new road capacity rather than repair or energy-efficient transit options.

The Impacts of Foreclosures on Families and Communities: A Primer - This Urban Institute brief examines how foreclosures affect families and communities -- and the efforts at the local level to address those problems.

Anticipated Health Impacts of the Healthy Families Act of 2009 - This study by Environmental Health and Human Impact Partners finds that providing families with paid sick days will reduce worker-related disease spread in the workplace, especially food establishments, along with preventing income loss for workers losing jobs because of taking leave in the absence of a statutory right.

On swing states, voter registration, and poll-site access:

  • The Swing States of America - This FairVote analysis highlights the continuing disproportionate influence of "swing states" on our politics, including fewer campaign dollars spent and fewer Presidential visits to non-swing states.   The analysis is used to emphasize the need for National Popular Vote legislation to elect the President based on the overall popular vote to make every vote, not just votes from swing states, crucial in elections.
  •  Permanent Voter Registration - With tens of millions of Americans changing their voting address each year, this study by the Brennan Center for Justice highlights the advantages of moving to systems where government automatically keeps voters registered when they move.   With new federal rules requiring centralized databases, most states have the building blocks for implementing permanent voter registration.
  • Expanding Democracy: Voter Registration Around the World - The Brennan Center for Justice surveys the voter registration practices of other democracies and finds that in many advanced democracies "government itself assumes the responsibility of creating and keeping voter rolls, rather than relying on citizens to register themselves and navigate a clunky, outdated, and often inaccurate system."  They particularly look at the Canadian system which shares many similarities with our own, but achieves much higher registration rates.
  • Voters With Disabilities: More Polling Places Had No Potential Impediments Than in 2000, but Challenges Remain - The Government Accountability Office has released this survey of poll place accessibility.

Extending Foster Care to Age 21: Weighing the Costs to Government against the Benefits to Youth - With federal law now allowing states to claim federal reimbursement for caring for eligible foster youth until age 21, this academic study by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago highlights research showing increases in post-secondary educational attainment and an increase in higher lifetime earnings for foster children given such extended support.

Some broadband resources:

  • Broadband Stimulus Money:  Broadband stimulus grant requirements for state and local governments were released yesterday from the federal Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service (RUS) and the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).  Applications for the first funding window will be accepted July 14, 2009 through 5:00 p.m. EDT August 14, 2009.  The complete details of this Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA), the applications forms and application guidelines are available at www.broadbandusa.gov.  In addition, a second NOFA was released yesterday, one that allocates $250 million for state level maps. These funds are available to the governor of the state, or the governor’s designee.  Details are available at http://broadbandusa.sc.egov.usda.gov/files/Broadband_Mapping_NOFA.pdf.
  • Speed Matters is testing broadband Internet speeds from around the country to collect data to be presented to the Federal Communications Commission as it develops a National Broadband Plan.  You can also check out updated posts at their blog.

The Broader, Bolder Approach to Education - This Economic Policy Institute report argues for a more comprehensive assessment of student achievement beyond "teaching to the test" encouraged by the the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.


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The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:

Nathan Newman, Executive Director
Caroline Fan, Immigration and Workers' Rights Policy Specialist
Julie Schwartz, Broadband and Economic Development Policy Specialist
Christian Smith-Socaris, Election Reform Policy Specialist
Adam Thompson, Health Care Policy Specialist
Julie Bero, Executive Administrator and Outreach Associate
Austin Guest, Communications Specialist
Mike Maiorini, Online Technology Manager
Marisol Thomer, Outreach Coordinator

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