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State Legislative Session Roundups: Oregon, Delaware & New Hampshire
PSN on August 20, 2009 - 11:42am
State Legislative Session Roundups: Oregon, Delaware & New Hampshire
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Oregon Legislative Session Roundup
The over-riding theme of the legislative session this year was how to resolve a $4 billion budget deficit. However, unlike many states, Oregon's legislators successfully avoided the worst cuts through fair revenue generators and spending cuts. They also continued to push forward on key issues like the environment, worker's rights, and healthcare. On several issues, such as climate change, the governor put forward an agenda to lead the nation and in other areas strong progressive legislators set out similarly ambitious goals. In many instances compromises tempered the boldness of the final product, but in most cases some real progress was made.
Tax, Budget & Stimulus: The budget gap was covered through a combination of $2 billion in spending cuts, use of federal stimulus dollars and $733 million in new tax revenues. While many decisions were contentious, the overall plan to balance the budget appears to be viewed by the public as fair and balanced with a recent poll showing 62 percent of of voters were in favor of the legislative actions, with 48 percent "strongly" in favor and only 26 percent opposed. Still, Oregon is a state with a strong anti-tax, anti-government minority and members of this group are now trying to put repeal of this sessions tax increases on the ballot in January. Referral is likely to involve multimillion dollar campaigns pitting an unprecedented coalition of business and allied groups against well-funded public employee unions determined to fight off further budget reductions should the tax increase referrals fail.
Worker's Rights: With an increasingly labor-friendly legislature, solid gains were made for workers this session.
One good bill that didn't get through was H 2831, which would have added temp workers to public employee bargaining units, but failed by two votes in the Senate.
Health Care: Especially given the budget crisis, the state made very strong gains in reforming healthcare. Two major reform bills passed, H 2009 streamlines state health functions and implements reforms to promote electronic health records, develop an end-of-life-care registry, establish evidence-based clinical guidelines, and plan for workforce needs. It also creates the Oregon Health Authority, the Oregon Health Policy Board, the Health Care Workforce Strategic Fund and the Oregon Health Authority Fund. H 2116 funds medical coverage for 80,000 children and an additional 35,000 low-income adults. Another victory was protecting, and increasing, funding for Oregon Project Independence, allowing seniors to stay in their homes by providing in-home care services [SB 5529].
Broadband: HB 3158 establishes the Oregon Broadband Advisory Council (OBAC) and the Oregon Broadband Advisory Council Fund. The OBAC will focus on encouraging and supporting the deployment of broadband infrastructure as well as broadband supported applications. The OBAC will focus on encouraging and supporting the deployment of broadband infrastructure as well as the use of broadband supported applications. The OBAC will consist of representatives from the education, health care, public safety, eGovernment, telecommunications, and local government sectors and will report on the affordability and accessibility of broadband and the extent of broadband technology use in energy management, education, government and the telehealth industry.
Environment & Energy: A united effort on the part of advocates and strong leadership from legislators made this another historic session for environmental protection.
Housing and Consumer Protection: Consumers scored a variety of victories this session. Housing reforms were also achieved, but usually after bills were substantially watered down.
Elections: A few significant reforms to the elections process made it into law.
Criminal Justice: Facing spiraling costs for prison construction, the state had to look for savings in its correctional budget. However, the District Attorney's Association was dead set against reform. Another challenge was implementing the new mandatory minimum sentences that voters approved for drug and property crimes (Measure 57), a regressive policy toward addiction-driven crimes that is going to needlessly drive prison costs in the state. However, advocates and leading progressive legislators were able to build super-majority consensus around HB 3508, the criminal justice omnibus bill. The legislation institutes several important reforms, and continues the implementation of Measure 57 until February 15, 2010 and then it will be suspended until January 1, 2012, resulting in an estimated $25 million in savings. Increased sanctions will still apply to those committing fraud on the elderly, delivering a controlled substance to a minor and selling significant amounts of a controlled substance. Other provisions:
Delaware Legislative Session Roundup
Like most states, Delaware was plagued with budget difficulties that found legislators and Governor Markell taking drastic steps to fill the hole, including enacting a sports lottery bill that legalizes single-game betting. It becomes the only state other than Nevada to do so. Fortunately, the stimulus pumped $1.2 billion into the state coffers.
Budget, Tax and Stimulus: To balance the largest budget deficit in state history (over $800 million,) the state cobbled together a mix of tax increases, pay cuts and state employee attrition that totaled more than $200 million dollars in tax and fee increases. The budget was a contentious issue that dragged into special session. Ultimately HB 290 was enacted. It appropriated over $3 billion for 2010. A notable cut was a 2.5% salary decrease for various state employees, including state legislators.
Energy and Environment: A number of bills to reduce energy consumption and increase efficiency passed this session:
Labor: To crack down on abuse of workers misclassified as independent contractors, House Substitute Bill 1 for House Bill 230 regulates employers who falsely classify employees as independent contractors with fines up to $20,000 and debarment from state contracts as sanctions. State and federal government agencies, sole proprietors and single member corporate or business entities are exempt from the legislation.
A number of bills (HB 110, HB 141, HB 145, HB 153) that would have reduced or redefined the state prevailing wage thankfully failed.
Education: SB 68 removes the requirement for the state standardized test and replaces it with a test to be administered at least twice a year from grades 2-10. The student's progress is then assessed from his or her best results from the multiple assessments performed during the year. Another bill allowing Teach for America and similar teacher residency programs to operate throughout the state was also enacted. And SB 151 was also signed, to award additional stimulus funds to schools that significantly close the achievement gap.
Elections: The Governor signed HB 132 which will allow military and overseas citizens to receive and send absentee ballot applications, absentee ballots and related forms online. The House passed HB 198 to approve the national popular vote, which unfortunately did not advance further. The bill would have allowed the state to award its electoral votes to the Presidential and vice presidential candidates that receive the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Another bill that made it past the House (HB 117) would have moved school board elections to coincide with the general election, and to redefine term lengths to align each term with a general election, reducing the cost of holding these elections.
Public Safety: HB 253 establishes the Victims’ Compensation Assistance Program Appeals Board and increases compensation for innocent victims of crimes while HB 160 makes it illegal to present fradulent documents including drivers licenses.
Health: The state took several measures to improve the health of its citizens and reduce burdensome costs.
New Hampshire Legislative Session Roundup
The state made solid reforms this session, tapping some new revenue to address the budget crisis, making needed reforms in health care, and notably becoming another state to approve gay marriage legislation.
Budget: Lawmakers made some tough decisions to fill a $500 million deficit and pass an $11.6 billion budget. Budget cuts include $25 million pulled from the state workforce, resulting in 250 lost jobs and 18 mandatory furlough days for the unionized state workforce, $27 million in retirement system contributions and $50.4 million in state/municipal revenue sharing. To raise revenue, lawmakers increased the state cigarette tax by 45-cents, which has an added benefit of reducing smoking rates,and raised various other fees and taxes on tolls, rooms and meals, auto registration, and a 10% tax on gambling winnings exceeding $600. Another part of the deficit fix was tapping $110 million from a state created medical malpractice insurance pool that is funded from doctor's premiums. A Superior Court judge, however, ruled this was not allowed and returned the funds to the pool. Governor Lynch has indicated he will appeal the decision to the State Supreme Court, but if it holds lawmakers will need to find the funds elsewhere.
Gay Marriage: Notably, New Hampshire became the sixth state to legalize same-sex marriage, and the third to do so by legislative action, rather than court decree, following Vermont and Maine. The law includes certain exceptions for religious institutions.
Environment: Lawmakers passed a number of bills, including two water ecosystem bills. HB350 bans the use of phosphorus in all household cleaning products, including dishwashing detergent where it is abundant. Phosporus is a leading water contaminant and encourages the growth of algae and invasive plant species. SB134 amends the Comprehensive Shore Land Protection Act to make it more efficient and effective. Some of the changes include lessening the approval time and amount of paperwork required for small projects and creating a single inventory list of all of New Hampshire's water bodies so people don't have to consult several sources.
Public Education: In the mid-90's, the State Supreme Court ruled that the state's school funding and administrative practices were not providing adequate public education across the state and were therefore unconstitutional. The ruling resulted in a 15 year process to define an adequate education, determine and fund the cost, and create accountability measures. SB180, dubbed the accountability bill, is the fourth step in this multi-year process and requires schools to prove they are providing an equal and adequate education to students in 12 specific areas, including math, science, and language. The bill includes accountability methods for school districts and measures for the state Department of Education to determine if schools are providing an adequate education. Schools can show adequacy in two ways, by meeting specific standards or by showing students are meeting academic goals based on various performance measures. Elsewhere, lawmakers voted to extend a moratorium on new state-authorized charter schools.
Unemployment: Taking advantage of $21 million in federal stimulus funds, lawmakers extended unemployment benefits and worked to shore up the state's unemployment trust fund which was set to become insolvent in early 2010. Lawmakers also raised employer contributions to the trust fund over the next three years. In related action, lawmakers passed a bill requiring firms with 75 or more full-time employees to give workers and the state 60 days notice of an impending layoff or closure.
The Recovery Package in Action - Six months after passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), this Economic Policy Institute report argues that it was crucial to reducing the effects of the recession, saving between 500,000 and 750,000 jobs during the latest quarter. And with only 14% of the stimulus package injected into the economy so far, there is still stimulus in the pipeline to help communities continue to recover.
Budget Woes Take Toll on Views of State Governments - With the economy undermining state budgets, the favorability ratings of state governments have declined from a year ago based on this Pew Research Center study. Overall, 50% of the public now holds a favorable opinion of their state government, down from 59% in April 2008, although views of local government remain favorable and stable.
Why a Public Insurance Plan Is Essential for Health Reform - This Economic Policy Institute memo argues that lack of competition in the U.S. health care market is the major source of the uniquely high and rising health costs in our country. A public plan option would inject badly needed competition into the system and could result in windfall savings for employers and their workers.
Lenders Couldn't Buy Laws - Looking at the failure of the payday lending industry in pushing ballot propositions to overturn state restrictions on their industry, this Institute on Money in State Politics report examines their campaign contributions to Arizona’s Proposition 200 and Ohio’s Issue 5. Despite spending more than 22 times as much as their opponents, the payday lending industry was defeated by groups like the Coalition for Homeless & Housing in Ohio, who spent far less.
Many Low-Income Working Families Turn to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Help - This Urban Institute fact sheet examines how states have implemented the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program (formerly food stamps). It highlights how all states allow recipients of have more assets than under federal base rules, along with other improvements in the program under recent federal laws, including the federal recovery act. Many states have adopted these new rules and by implemented electronic application systems that allow families to apply over the Internet.
Secret Recipes Revealed: Demystifying the Title I, Part A Funding Formulas and Interactive Map: State by State Education Funding Statistics - This report and resource by the Center for American Progress highlights that funding formulas under the federal program fail to live up to the law's goal of enhancing educational opportunities for children living in concentrated poverty. The formulas favor wealthier states, give disproportionate funds to states with smaller populations, and favor large school districts regardless of the poverty in those districts. The report highlights the technical considerations that should inform a smarter, fairer approach to funding grants
The New Orleans Index Anniversary Edition: Four Years after Katrina - While rebuilding from the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina has cushioned New Orleans from the effects of recession, this report by the Brookings Institution blight, the high cost of housing and other remaining effects of the disaster still create major challenges for the metro area. The city has taken steps to put teeth in its master plan for redevelopment but new partnerships with federal and state governments are essential according to the report for long-term economic revitalization.
3 Steps Forward
2 Steps Back
The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:
Nathan Newman, Executive Director
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