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Legislative Session Roundups in CT & LA -- and FCC Broadband Workshop Toolkit

Legislative Session Roundups in CT & LA -- and FCC Broadband Workshop Toolkit

Thursday, September 17, 2009

PERMALINK: http://www.progressivestates.org/node/23545

Increasing-Democracy

By: ADAM THOMPSON

CT Legislative Session Roundup

Connecticut legislators deserve praise for a robust and active legislative session, despite an unprecedented budget deficit and opposition to many important measures by Gov. Jodi Rell.  Legislators succeeded in expanding access to health care and improving its quality, passing a public health insurance option, and addressing the foreclosure and financial crisis to aid consumers and prevent corruption and abuse.  Lawmakers expanded environmental protections, improved long-term planning for coastal waterways, and passed measures to support families, workers, and seniors.  A notable achievement, the result of a State Supreme Court ruling in 2008, was implementation of marriage equality for same-sex couples.

Much of the session, including the last few months since the legislature adjourned, was consumed by a protracted budget debate between Gov. Rell and the Legislature.  Lawmakers scuffled over how to fill the state's $8.6 billion deficit - the extent of which was largely due to the financial breakdown on Wall Street - and finally settled on a $37 billion budget package.  Although the plan included key priorities shared by Gov. Rell and minority-party Republicans, Rell neither signed nor vetoed the budget, allowing it to become law.

The apparent political acrimony between the executive and legislative branches in the budget process was evident elsewhere.  Before adjourning, legislators overrode 7 Rell vetoes, the most overrides since 1992. The most notable override was for a health care reform measure called SustiNet.  The plan, named after the state's motto, will move Connecticut towards quality and affordable health care for all by establishing a process to create new options for coverage, including a public option, and implementing system reforms that promise to cut health care costs while improving its quality. 

With a strong progressive legislative coalition, Connecticut moved forward on many key issues in 2009 despite the Governor's objection or inaction.

Budget: Connecticut's $37 billion budget preserves funding for many key programs like public education, higher education, Head Start, community health centers and nursing homes, and makes many changes to the state's tax structure. The budget increases the state income tax for millionaires, increases the cigarette tax from $1 to $3, reduces the state sales tax from 6% to 5.5%, and reduces the reach of the estate tax by raising the point at which the tax goes into effect, from $2 million to $3.5 million.  Although Republicans and Gov. Rell said the budget lacked compromise, majority-party Democrats cited several instances where they adopted key Republican priorities in order to achieve a budget with bipartisan support.  These included raising the threshold for the estate tax and eliminating "the cliff."  Under current law, an estate with value just over the threshold would face taxes on the deceased's entire worth, while an estate just $1 less than the threshold would face no taxes.  The budget fix eliminates the cliff and only activates the tax on value above the threshold.

In an apparent, but poorly executed attempt to preserve standing with her party while allowing the budget to become law without her signature, Gov. Rell tried to eliminate $8 million in spending from the $37 billion package by using her line-item veto powers.  However, the Attorney General said the Governor could not veto any provisions without signing the entire bill.  In the end, the Governor decided to allow the budget to go forward as presented, as another veto could have prolonged the impasse through the fall.

Health Care:  While the country ever-intensifies its focus on Washington DC and health care reform, Connecticut legislators and advocates moved forward on reform, including a public insurance option.  Legislators passed two bold and innovative initiatives to improve access to coverage and cut health care costs.  Both measures hinge on providing the choice of a public health insurance plan.  Connecticut's actions have received significant national attention and offer a model for a national public option.

  • SustiNet: Over a governor's veto, lawmakers enacted SustiNet (HB 6600), which creates multiple self-insured coverage pools and will provide Connecticut businesses and individuals with new insurance options.  This includes a new public option where coverage pools will provide the leverage necessary to implement system innovations like electronic medical records, care coordination, evidence-based clinical care guidelines for providers and aggressive preventive care programs to drive down cost and improve quality on a large scale.  A  nine-member board of health care providers and experts will produce detailed recommendations on how to implement and fund the plan that will include low-income subsidies.  This plan was developed by the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut working with small businesses, faith leaders, medical providers, labor organizations, and advocacy and human services groups.
  • Healthcare Partnership:  Elsewhere, for the second year in a row, lawmakers passed the Connecticut Healthcare Partnership (HB 6582).  And, for the second year in a row, Gov. Rell vetoed the measure, despite heavy support from the legislature, press, small businesses, and consumers.  The Partnership would permit municipalities, small businesses and non-profits to purchase insurance through the state employee health plan, taking advantage of the increased bargaining power and lower administrative cost associated with the 200,000-member pool.  The vote to override the Governor's veto sailed through the House but went down by a single vote when a wavering Democratic legislator exited the chamber.

Other health care initiatives in the state included:

  • Cost Controls:  Lawmakers enacted important initiatives that will help reduce health care costs and unnecessary spending across the state.  SB 1048 requires state health and social service agencies and the state employee insurance to develop a plan for the bulk purchasing of prescription medications to negotiate lower prices, while another provision will prohibit hospitals from seeking payment for “never events,” preventable medical errors that result in serious consequences, such as objects left inside patients after surgery and surgical infections. Elsewhere, to address health care costs stemming from pharmaceuticals, HB 6678 creates an academic detailing program to provide independent and unbiased information on the therapeutic benefits and cost-effectiveness of various pharmaceuticals to prescribers. To balance the marketing and biased information on prescriptions originating from pharmaceutical companies, the state, working with the University of Connecticut Health Center, in consultation with the Yale School of Medicine, will develop an evidenced-based outreach and education program on prescription drugs. Making a new source of independent information accessible to prescribers will help them to make well-informed choices, taking into account the full spectrum of drug options available to consumers.
  • Cultural Competency:  Lawmakers enacted an important provision to require medical professionals to obtain cultural competency training as part of the state's medical licensing and continuing education process.
  • Autism Coverage:  Lawmakers enacted SB 301 to make Connecticut the 12th state to require comprehensive insurance coverage for people with autism to help assure that the 1 in 150 people diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder receive the care they need. By allowing them to lead a higher functioning life, proponents say it will achieve overall cost savings for medical and special education costs.
  • Coverage for ChildrenHB 5433 requires insurance companies to provide stepchildren with the same level of coverage as biological children and allows children to stay on their parent's non-group insurance policy to age 26.
  • Insurance Transparency:  To help inform policymakers and consumers, SB 46 creates the Consumer Report Card on Health Insurance Carriers in Connecticut, a comparison guide of all HMOs and the 15 largest health insurers in the state, including the "medical loss ratios" (ie. percentage of premiums spent on actual medical care versus administrative costs) of each insurer and requires insurers to communicate their medical loss ratio to consumers who are applying for a policy.
  • Limiting Pre-X Exclusions for Rx Use:  Significantly, HB 5019 prevents insurers from using the fact of a consumer's use of an anti-anxiety medication for 6 months or less as a factor in denying the consumer's application for coverage.  This will help protect consumers from being unfairly denied insurance coverage.  Unfortunately, Gov. Rell vetoed a strong consumer protection bill (HB 6531) that would have regulated insurer rescissions of coverage by regulating the practice of mining patient records for pre-existing conditions, factors insurers use to cancel policies.
  • E-Prescribing: Lawmakers enacted HB 6301 to improve electronic prescription filling and tracking.  The law will improve efficiencies and help reduce medical errors.  Elsewhere, HB 6678 creates a health information technology and exchange advisory committee to access federal stimulus funding for e-health records.
  • Long Term CareSB 957 will help low income seniors and disabled individuals stay in residential care homes, rather than be forced into nursing homes if they become ineligible for state financed care in residential homes.  Currently, if income rises above the 300% supplemental Security Income maximum, residents lose state support and most often are forced into nursing homes because they can't afford the full-cost of the residential care home.  SB 957 establishes a special needs trust for excess income that is above the 300% maximum but below the private rate of the residential home.  After a resident dies, the funds in the trust will be used to reimburse the state for Medicaid services received up to the amount of State Supplement provided.  Similarly, lawmakers enacted SB 989 to expand income eligibility for the state's Respite Care program for individual with Alzheimer's disease.  The program provides services and support for family caregivers.  Additionally, SB 814 helps ensure access to personal care assistance to help seniors stay in their homes.
  • Health Facility Planning:  To ensure access to services across the state and, potentially, to prevent excess and therefore costly services, lawmakers enacted HB 6264 to require the state to conduct annual health facility utilization studies and to develop a state health facilities plan every five years. The facilities plan will assess the availability of care across the health care setting - acute care and specialty hospitals, emergency rooms, outpatient surgical centers, clinics, and primary care sites. It will also evaluate the unmet needs of people, project future demand for health care services, measure the effect technology may have on the demand, capacity, or the need for services, and recommend expansion, reduction, or modification of health care facilities.
  • HIV TestingHB 6391 removes several barriers to accessing HIV testing, while preserving patient confidentiality and choice whether or not to receive the test.
  • E-Health Information:  SB 1079 facilitates improved sharing of patient data contained by state health agencies, while preserving confidentiality, in order to strengthen the State's Health Information Network.

Creating Jobs, Protecting Workers:

  • Standard Wage Benefits:  Connecticut's standard wage law ensures that janitorial and food service workers, employed by private contractors, in state buildings receive certain wages and benefits.  Lawmakers enacted HB 6502 over the Governor's veto to create a new way to determine these hourly wages and benefits.  This action was in response to rising health care costs and will help these workers retain their private insurance.
  • Workers' Compensation:  Lawmakers enacted SB 778 to allow state authorities to renew a business license or permit only if sufficient evidence of compliance with workers' compensation insurance coverage requirements is provided by the business applicant.  This will help ensure workers are adequately protected and covered by necessary insurance.
  • Medical Leave:  To support families of wounded soldiers, SB 710 provides for 26 weeks of unpaid leave for a family member to care for an injured soldier.
  • Missed Opportunity:  Unfortunately, Gov. Rell vetoed SB 1068 which would have required the state to apply for federal stimulus funding dedicated to the creation of green jobs and the implementation of green energy and conservation initiatives.

Financial Reform:  Connecticut enacted a number of reforms addressing lending abuses and consumer protection:

  • Foreclosures:  SB 948 and HB 6481 implement mortgage foreclosure safeguards.   The bills implement the federal Secure and Fair Enforcement for Mortgage Licensing Act by imposing conditions on the licensing of mortgage professionals.  Additionally, they expand eligibility for the Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program by (1) giving the CT Housing Authority the authority to determine what constitutes a significant reduction in a borrowers' income and (2) expanding the list of circumstances that constitute a financial hardship beyond the borrower's control and changing some conditions for repayment.  And, SB 949 creates the crime of residential mortgage fraud and modifies non-prime loan practices and regulations in the state.  In a related move, lawmakers approved SB 951 to help prevent blight and the degradation of foreclosed and empty properties.  The bill creates a system to track the owners of vacant dwellings and authorized local governments to enforce local ordinances concerning the repaid and maintenance of foreclosed properties.  Neighborhood blight compounds problems caused by foreclosures by lowering surrounding property values and inviting vandalism and other crime.
  • Credit Card Offers at Colleges:  HB 6483 requires the public college board of governors to regulate credit card marketing practices to protect students from unfair targeting by card issuers. The bill prohibits card issuers from taking any debt collection action against a student's parent or guardian unless s/he had agreed to be responsible for the student's debt.
  • Debt Reduction Services:  HB 6327 requires debt reduction services to be tax-exempt nonprofits in order to operate in the state.  It allows consumers to break a debt reduction contract within three days and enables the state to review any fees a credit clinic or other debt reduction service assesses.
  • Identity Theft:  Lawmakers passed a sweeping bill, SB 838, to better protect consumers form identity theft and enhance criminal prosecution of identity theft.  The legislation increases protection of Connecticut residents’ personal information, corrects a shortcoming in our existing identity theft statute, and enhances the criminal penalties and enforcement authority provided to the Department of Consumer Protection. The legislation makes numerous changes in laws relating to identity theft, Social Security numbers, and the dissemination of personal identifying information.
  • Timely Insurance Payments:  Pro-consumer and pro-business legislation, HB 6447, was enacted to shorten the time period an insurer has to pay a claim from 60 to 30 days.  The law allows an insured person or business to receive partial payments before a final settlement is determined, and increases the statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit arising from a claim under the policy from 12 to 18 months after sustaining a loss.
  • Corruption:  Lawmakers enacted HB 6339 to seize the assets of corrupt money managers like Bernie Madoff, the New York money manager who confessed to running a $50 billion Ponzi scheme. The legislation expands the state’s organized crime statute, Corrupt Organizations and Racketeering Act (CORA), to target fraudulent activity by money managers.

Gay Marriage:  Lawmakers enacted SB 899 to implement a 2008 State Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriage.  The law recognizes same-sex marriages from other states.  It exempts religious organizations from being forced to participate in ceremonies but, importantly, does not exempt religiously-affiliated organizations that provide adoption, foster care, or social services from the marriage equality guarantees that are funded by state or federal funds.

Supporting Families:

  • Children's ServicesHB 5915 requires the Dept. of Children and Families to improve its monitoring and tracking of children who are under its care, children who are known as "stuck kids" - those who are placed out-of-state, living in psychiatric hospitals, are homeless, or are under the care and supervision of the Department.  Currently, the state does not adequately track these children and therefore they are increasingly vulnerable and the state has little information from which to improve services for these children.  Similarly, lawmakers enacted SB 872 to provide Medicaid for children placed in out-of-state residential facilities by the state.
  • Child Support:  HB 6486 seeks to address the impact of absent fathers by, among other initiatives, requiring the Dept. of Social Services to report on child support collection efforts, efforts to reduce teen fatherhood, and allows family magistrates to require a parent owing child support to participate in educational, job training, rehabilitation and other programs to enable them to fulfill their child support obligations.
  • Rental Assistance:  To ensure recourse for low-income families at threat of losing rental housing affordability assistance, lawmakers enacted SB 817 to give families the right to judicial review in the event the state has threatened to remove their housing assistance.

Criminal Justice:

  • Death Penalty:  Regrettably, Gov. Rell vetoed HB 6578 which would have eliminated the death penalty in Connecticut.
  • Inmate and Staff Protections:  Lawmakers enacted HB 6684 over the Governor's veto to create a commission of correctional stakeholders and inmate advocates to make recommendations for creating safer prisons for staff and inmates.  Additionally, lawmakers passed HB 6685 to require enhanced facility by reporting of inmate overcrowding.  These reports will help inform policymakers in addressing prison overcrowding.
  • Gun Safety:  SB 358 bars anyone from selling, giving, or transferring machine guns to people under age 16, including allowing minors to use machine guns for target shooting, shooting range, or for any other purpose.

Environment:

  • Removing Toxins:  HB 6496 seeks to remove toxic cleaning chemicals from schools, to protect students, teachers and staff.  The law requires local and regional school boards to implement a green cleaning program to clean and maintain their schools with environmentally preferable cleaning products by July 1, 2011.  Elsewhere, lawmakers enacted HB 6572 to ban bisphenol-A from containers holding baby food and infant formula.  Bisphenol-A has been shown to be harmful to child development and adult reproductive systems.  The law also bans the sale of reusable food and beverage containers made with the chemical.
  • Protecting Waters:  SB 1078 was enacted, over the veto of Gov. Rell, to create a Bi-State Long Island Sound Commission.  If New York adopts similar legislation, the commission will seek bi-state consensus on ways to preserve the natural resources accorded by the Sound while fostering the area's energy needs.  Elsewhere, lawmakers enacted HB 5792 to require lawn sprinklers installed on residential properties after July 1, 2010, to be equipped with sensors that shut sprinklers down when enough rainfall is detected.
  • Preserving State LandSB 1082 requires the Farmland Preservation Advisory Board to review any state-owned agricultural land, excluding Department of Environmental Protection land, to evaluate permanent preservation methods and make recommendations for further preservation action.  Similarly, lawmakers enacted HB 6584 to create guidelines for the designation of Connecticut Heritage Areas.
  • Smart GrowthLawmakers enacted HB 6585 to give municipalities the ability to implement cost saving measures and offer real property tax reform through voluntary regional cooperation. To improve access to walking and biking trails, lawmakers enacted SB 735 requiring at least 1% of state and municipal transportation fund to be spent on providing new and improving existing pedestrian ways.
  • Missed Opportunity:  Unfortunately, Gov. Rell vetoed SB 1033 which would have provided tax credits for the development of green buildings.

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Increasing-Democracy

By: JULIE SCHWARTZ

LA Legislative Session Roundup

The 2009 regular legislative session focused primarily on fiscal issues, with legislators only being allowed to introduce up to five non-fiscal bills.  While action was taken on the open government, ethics, education, and health care, fronts, to a large extent, meaningful reform was delayed or unraveled on each issue and any positive action was minor. 

Budget and Tax:  After a contentious "fiscal" session that was defined by sharp disagreements over how to cope with an approximate $1.3 billion shortfall in revenue, the Louisiana Legislature passed an approximately $28 billion budget that included more than $1 billion in federal stimulus money and tapped into a variety of cash reserve funds, including the rainy day fund, an insurance incentive fund, the Mega-Project Development Fund and a potential windfall from a tax amnesty program, to minimize cuts to higher education and health care.  Even with the additional funding, spending was reduced well below existing levels.  The Department of Health and Hospitals (DHH) announced in August that hospitals and physicians serving Medicaid patients would bear the brunt of its $240 million budget cut through reduced reimbursement rates.  Despite the fact that state revenues have plummeted, the Legislature did not raise any taxes

Stimulus:  Although Gov. Jindal voiced his firm opposition to the Obama Administration's stimulus package, he begrudgingly accepted most of the money.  Jindal, however, has resisted accepting Medicaid and unemployment insurance funds.  State Democratic lawmakers attempted, albeit unsuccessfully, to override Gov. Jindal's decision to reject $98 million of stimulus funds for unemployment benefits.  Democrats hoped to use the stimulus funds to expand the number of people eligible for benefits and modernize state unemployment insurance policy.  However, Gov. Jindal and most state Republican lawmakers argued that eligibility for these stimulus funds required a change in state policy that would lead to higher unemployment taxes for businesses after the stimulus funds expire.

Transparency:  A session-long battle over the openness of the governor’s office records ended with legislative passage of a bill that critics contend falls far short of the transparency in government that Gov. Jindal promised.  SB 278 will replace the governor's blanket exemption to the open records law with a more qualified exception.  Supporters say it would open more records to public scrutiny.  Critics say the bill doesn't go far enough and could be used to restrict access in government departments that aren't currently shielded.  The watch dog organization Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana said in an opinion, "[t]wo bills introduced this session, which would have opened most of the governor’s records to the public, are all but dead due to strong opposition from the administration.  Instead, the administration supports SB 278, which purports to move Louisiana forward in executive branch transparency but would actually deliver a devastating blow to open government."   SB 195 requires the disclosure of campaign contributions by persons hired by statewide elected officials to serve as agency heads and by persons appointed to certain state boards and commissions.  

Ethics:  In 2008, the Legislature limited the value of food and drink that could be given by certain sources to $50 per public servant, per event.  An exception to the $50 cap was created for gatherings “held in conjunction with” certain broadly-defined meetings.  This year the Legislature passed HB 591 which removes the $50 cap for any "activity, occasion, reception, meal or meeting" held during the "same time period" and in the "same general locale" as those meetings.  This bill expands opportunities for special interests to wine and dine public servants.  The League of Women Voters for Louisiana President Narcisse said that "no good purpose is served by allowing unlimited expenditures for legislators, state officials and employees" by lobbyists at conferences.

Mortgages:  In compliance with the federal Secure and Fair Enforcement for Mortgage Licensing Act of 2008 (SAFE Act), which calls for states to establish a plan for the licensing and supervision of individuals engaging in the business of mortgage loan origination, Louisiana state lawmakers passed HB 810-- or, the Louisiana Secure and Fair Enforcement of Mortgage Licensing Act of 2009.   The law requires mortgage loan originator to, among other things, register with the Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System and Registry, complete pre-licensing and continuing education, submit to fingerprinting for the purpose of a criminal history background check, and meet surety bond coverage requirements.

Election Reform:  HB 520 will authorize Louisianians with valid state IDs to register or make changes in their registration -- such as changes of address or party affiliations -- online.  

Education:  Gov. Jindal signed two bills, HB 612 and SB 259that aim to reduce Louisiana's school dropout rate by lowering educational standards and creating a new "career track" high school diploma for students who do not intend to go to college, which would include more vocational and technical courses. Opponents of the bills object to a provision in the legislation that lowers the academic requirements to enter ninth grade for students who choose the career diploma. Under the new law, such students could still pass the eighth-grade LEAP test even if they fail either the English or math portions. Currently, students must score at least "basic" in one of the subjects, and "approaching basic" in the other to get promoted. Rep. Jim Fannin, sponsor of the House measure, said he thinks students drop out because they can't pass the LEAP test. "These students get so old that they don't fit in with that younger group," he said. The Council for a Better Louisiana, an issues-oriented government watchdog organization, said in a letter to Gov. Jindal asking him to veto the bills that "[l]owering standards will not speed our educational progress.  Instead, we fear it will tempt students and parents to take the easy way out when we should be challenging our kids to learn more."  Some of the other education bills approved in 2009 include:

Health Care:  The 2009 Regular Legislative Session was reactive in its approach to health care issues, with the conspicuous absence of a comprehensive strategy.

  • HB 772 provides scholarships to increase the primary care and nursing workforce in under-served areas of Louisiana.
  • HB 406 seeks to adopt the federal requirements relative to genetic testing by prohibiting health insurers from requiring or using genetic testing and genetic information in certain circumstances.
  • HB 517, the "Conscience in Healthcare" bill, allows public health care employees to refuse to provide a handful of services, including abortion, embryonic stem cell research, embryo cloning, euthanasia, and physician assisted suicide, if they object to the procedures out of "sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction." Marjorie Esman of the ACLU of Louisiana said the bill could lead to all kinds of discrimination and racism under the guise of moral objections. “At best, this bill would lead to all kinds of unintended consequences,” Esman said.
  • SB 246 establishes the "Electronic Health Records Loan Program" ("Program"). The Program gives the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals authority to apply for and administer competitively awarded federal stimulus money in the form of loans to health care providers for the purchase and implementation of electronic health record systems.
  • SB 282 requires health insurance carriers to post information on their website regarding contracted anesthesiologists, pathologists, radiologists, emergency medicine physicians, and neonatologists. The information must list each contracted facility, which providers services that facility, and whether the providers are contracted with the insurance carrier. 
  • HB 347 provides that personal health information in the possession of the Department of Insurance is to be held confidential. The bill was amended during the session to allow access upon request to the Office of Inspector General and the Legislative Auditor.  

Energy: The Louisiana Legislature passed a handful of bills to benefit energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.

  • HB 858 expands the eligibility for wind and solar energy system tax credit to taxpayers who purchase and install such systems in residential properties.   
  • Based on a successful model in Berkeley, California, SB 224 allows for the creation of sustainable energy financing districts by local governmental subdivisions and provides for issuance of bonds and property assessment programs for solar and energy efficiency projects.
  • HB 733 authorizes a tax credit for green jobs and industries, including renewable energy services, green building and construction, weatherization, energy rating, biofuels, energy-efficient transportation, and deconstruction and green product manufacturers.  Working on a tiered system that offers 10 percent to 25 percent, based on how much companies spends, the tax credit applies to the start-up costs of a new green business as well as to the payroll of each new green job, said Seung Hong, chief of staff for New Orleans City Councilwoman Shelley Midura, who promoted the bill.  There is a one million dollar cap per state-certified green project.  Hong also pointed out that Louisiana and New Orleans officials historically have pursued low-paying and low-mobility jobs and too often have been late to the game in pursuing new industries, such as recent efforts to attract a biotech sector -- an industry already well-advanced in other parts of the country and requiring a highly skilled labor pool.  "Green jobs," by contrast, "are white collar and blue collar jobs," Hong said, based in areas ranging from research science to solar panel installation, and they tend to pay well.   
  • HCR 93 establishes the Louisiana Climate Change Policy Commission to make recommendations on which to base the development of a comprehensive policy for the state on climate change, particularly addressing the areas of carbon sequestration; greenhouse gas reduction; diversification and improvement of energy systems; planning for design, land use, and economic development relative to climate change mitigation and environmental improvement; and coordination of state and federal policies.  The Commission will report its findings to the Governor and Legislature prior to the 2010 Regular Session.  
  • HR 104 requests the House Committee on Natural Resources and Environment to study the development of a green energy policy for the state. The resolution states that "it is vital to the economy to identify, develop, demonstrate, and validate" sustainable and affordable new energy sources.

Labor:  HB 705, which failed to pass the House, would have made it unlawful for most employers to engage in gender discrimination in regards to employee wages. It also required employers to keep records of employee wages and provided a path for remedy including additional damages and attorneys' fees. Gov. Jindal vetoed HB 658, which would have allowed employees to wait up to three years to file a disability claim for workers compensation benefits.  Supporters of the proposal said it would help workers with injuries that may be work-related but may not be diagnosed quickly.  Critics said the change could increase fraudulent claims and lawsuits and could lead to higher worker's compensation rates for businesses. 

Miscellaneous Legislation:

  • HB 781, which was vetoed by Gov. Jindal, would have created a program for homeless assistance and prevention, the position of a director for homeless assistance and prevention, and the Louisiana inter-agency council for the homeless.  In his veto message the governor stated that while he supports the goal of the legislation, he was concerned with the five year fiscal note and would prefer the agency address these objectives with existing resources.  According to Rep. Hines who authored the bill, “the costs of administering the new director of Homelessness was to be fully funded with federal grants provided by Congress through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Louisiana taxpayers didn’t have to pay a dime for the new Director and Homeless Council for at least the next two years. The costs thereafter were negligible.” 
  • SB 221, which was also vetoed by the governor, would have established the State Housing Tax Credit Program to authorize Louisiana Housing Finance Agency to provide refundable state income tax credits for low-income housing development projects receiving reservations or allocations of federal low income housing tax credit.
  • HB 521 creates an advisory council to  propose ways to eliminate obstacles to the effective delivery of governmental services to Latin Americans.
  • SB 261 creates the Commission on  Streamlining Government.  The Commission is charged with examining each governmental  agency's constitutional and statutory activities, functions, programs, services, powers,  duties, and responsibilities to determine which of these can be eliminated, streamlined, consolidated, privatized, or outsourced in an effort to reduce the size of state government.

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Growing-Economy


FCC Workshop on National Broadband Plan:
State and Local Governments - Toolkits and Best Practices

The FCC has been hosting workshops to gather information to aid in the development of a National Broadband Plan.  On September 1st, state and local telecommunications officials participated in a workshop entitled State and Local Governments:  Toolkits and Best Practices, at which the FCC aimed to learn from the experiences of state and local governments that have proactively addressed broadband deployment and adoption issues in their communities. Some of the topics discussed were: identifying gaps in existing broadband policy, developing necessary infrastructure, securing support from key stakeholders, encouraging adoption, funding broadband initiatives and evaluating the effectiveness of enacted policies.

During the first panel state officials and regulators spoke about specific broadband initiatives their states had undertaken as well as difficulties they faced, and continue to face, in trying to increase access to broadband. Each panelist gave an opening statement and then participated in a question and answer sessionPanelists included Commissioner Ray Baum of the Oregon Public Utilities Commission; Deputy State Chief Information Officer for Colorado John Conley; Charles Ghini, Director, Department of Management Services, Division of Telecommunications, State of Florida; Karen Jackson, Deputy Secretary of Technology, Commonwealth of Virginia; Craig P. Orgeron, Ph.D., Director, Strategic Services Division, Department of Information Technology Services, State of Mississippi; and Jane Patterson, Executive Director, e-NC Authority, State of North Carolina.

Some of the key points highlighted by panelist were the need for faster broadband and the importance of focusing on how broadband can be leveraged across various sectors.  Commissioner Baum from Oregon pointed out that those areas of the country that don't have access to broadband services of at least 10 megabits in the next 5 to 7 years, and the timeline may be sooner, will be as economically disadvantaged as those areas in the first half of the 20th century that didn't have paved highways or electricity.  He also emphasized that we need to ensure policies are structured to involve and not block community needs, are technology neutral and focused on end results such as providing real-time video applications for health care and education institutions and real-time data for public safety institutions.  John Conley from Colorado noted that broadband deployment is critical for governments to retool and creates and fosters more accessibility among citizens to government services.  He also opined that broadband deployment should be and needs to be an underlying topic when we talk about health care and education reform because it will be the infrastructure backbone of how these two major initiatives are brought to citizens.  Karen Jackson from Virginia spoke about the challenge of trying to break down siloed efforts in communities.  She stated that once you are able to assimilate all the assets that are available -- the funding streams, the e-rates, rural health -- and get everybody around the same table, it was much easier to move an initiative forward than it is trying to push it from the top-down.

Throughout the day panelists also spoke a great deal about digital literacy.  Dr. Orgeron said that for Mississippi one of the main issues that needs to be addressed is digital literacy and helping citizens to simply understand what it is that they may even gain access to.  Jane Patterson stated that the mission of North Carolina is that "everyone has the opportunity to learn how to use computers, learn how to get on the Internet and have access to the Internet."  In an effort to achieve this goal the state has tried to make certain that there was a public access center within 40 minutes of every single citizen in the state so that they at least had somewhere to go.  They used the "library system, and then created about a hundred other public access centers and at those centers, anyone coming in could get access to some training."  She also explained that since 1993 North Carolina has had a type of K-12 digital literacy program.  There is a curriculum starting in kindergarten through the seventh grade, and then in the seventh grade students are able to start taking a test, which they have to pass to get a high school diploma. If they don't pass the test they get a certificate but not a diploma.  The goal behind this was to get students to be able to use computers for decision making in high school and as a work force investment idea. 

Karen Jackson said that Virginia has done programs in conjunction with community colleges and 4-year colleges, one of which has been providing e-commerce existence for small businesses.  Charles Ghini stressed that based on Florida's experience he thinks that if you don't have an holistic approach and you don't have the statewide vision, you're increasing your chances for failure.  

Some of the biggest challenges or hardest issues the states have faced:  Presenters touched upon some of the hardest issues they face in trying to increase broadband access and adoption.  Some of the issues mentioned were gaining access to accurate data about broadband in their states, USF reform,  and ensuring broadband is deployed in all socioeconomic areas of urban communities.

For a transcript of the entire workshop click here.

The second panel included municipal and county-level officials.  For a summary of that panel click here, for a transcript or recording of that panel click here.

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Research Roundup

Poverty Day Resource Guide - With the September 10th release by the Census Bureau that the poverty rate for 2008 was 13.2 percent or 39.8 million people -- an increase of approximately 2.5 million Americans in 2008 alone. In conjunction with the release of this information, Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity compiled a resource guide of reports and resources analyzing this poverty information from  The American Prospect, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, The Brookings Institution, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and the Economic Policy Institute.  The Center for Policy and Economic Research also released an analysis.

Cut Loose: State and Local Layoffs of Public Employees in the Current Recession - Decreasing tax revenues and expanding budget deficits have forced public officials to cut more than 110,000 jobs from state and local governments in the last two years,according to this analysis by the Center for Economic and Policy Research. This number includes over 40,000 teachers as well as nearly 4,000 uniformed police officers and firefighters. The five largest states - California, Florida, Michigan, New York, and Illinois - account for nearly half of the public sector job loss nationwide.  Within states, big cities have experienced the most concentrated job loss.

Family Health Spending to Rise Rapidly: Costs Are Becoming Unsustainable for Families with Employee-Sponsored Care - Without changes in our health care system, this Center for American Progress study estimates that annual health care spending for families of four with employer-sponsored coverage will grow from nearly $17,000 today to over $39,000 by 2019—or from 19 percent of family income to 31 percent.

Funding Shortfalls Causing Cuts in Housing Vouchers: Tens of Thousands of Low-Income Families Facing Higher Rents, Loss of Assistance This Year - Because of cuts in the Housing Choice Voucher Program for calendar year 2009, an estimated 400 state and local housing agencies across the country will be forced to reduce or eliminate rental assistance for a significant number of the 500,000 low-income families they serve, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Unequal Opportunity Lenders? Analyzing Racial Disparities in Big Banks’ Higher-Priced Lending - Analyzing the lending behavior of 14 systemically significant banks that received TARP funding, this Center for American Progress report finds a pattern of disparate outcomes based on race that persists even when concentrating on high-income borrowers.  Overall, 17.8 percent of white borrowers were given higher-priced mortgages, yet 30.9 percent of Hispanics and a staggering 41.5 percent of African Americans got higher-priced mortgages in 2006. Even among high-income borrowers, nearly all of whom were earning over $100,000, only 10.5 percent of white borrowers got higher-priced loans, compared to 32 percent of African-American and 29 percent of Latino borrowers.

A Place to Call Home: What Immigrants Say Now About Life in America - This survey of immigrants in America by Public Agenda finds that  the overwhelming majority of immigrants say they’re happy in the United States, and would do it all over again if they could. Immigrants “buy in” to American society, for themselves and their children. Still, Still, roughly one-quarter of immigrants report running into at least some discrimination personally, and about 1 in 10 immigrants report having done so “a great deal.”

The CAP Effect: Racial Profiling in the ICE Criminal Alien Program - Finding that local enforcement of immigration laws led to racial profiling. This study by the Warren Institute at UC Berkeley School of Law analyzed arrest data by police in Irving, Texas to find that Hispanics were arrested in far greater numbers for petty offenses as part of a federal Criminal Alien Program (CAP) to deport serious offenders.   

Wishful Thinking: Claims That State Tax Increases Cause Job Loss are Unfounded- Highlighting the need for a balanced approach to dealing with deficits that includes revenues, the North Carolina Budget and Policy Center recently released a report debunking the myth that state tax increases cause job losses.


Please email us leads on good research at research@progressivestates.org

Resources

LA Legislative Session Roundup

New fiscal year, new budget
Louisiana Federation of Teachers, Bill Chart for 2009 Legislative Session
Louisiana Association of Non Profit Organizations, Legislative Wrap Up 2009
Louisiana Wildlife Federation, Legislative Session Wrap - 2009 Regular: More Conservation “Action” Than Expected

FCC Workshop on National Broadband Plan: State and Local Governments - Toolkits and Best Practices

Broadband.Gov - Workshop: State and Local Governments: Toolkits and Best Practices (You can download a recording and the transcript of both panels from this site.)
Benton Foundation - How State and Local Governments are Addressing Broadband Deployment and Adoption
e-NC Authority
Virginia's Community Broadband Tool-Kit

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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 Technology Policy Specialist
Christian Smith-Socaris, Election Reform Policy Specialist
Adam Thompson, Health Care Policy Specialist
Julie Bero, Executive Administrator and Outreach Associate
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Marisol Thomer, Outreach Director

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