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Legislative Session Roundups: OR, WA, VA, IA, ID

Legislative Session Roundups: OR, WA, VA, IA, ID

Monday, April 19, 2010

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2010 Legislative Session Roundups

As legislative sessions come to a close, PSN highlights positive gains, legislative defeats, and unfinished business.  This Dispatch will feature state legislative session roundups for Oregon, Washington, Virginia, Iowa, Idaho.

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By: SUMAN RAGHUNATHAN

Session Roundup: Oregon

Despite its brief legislation session, Oregon's State Legislature passed major progressive bills to expand economic justice for job seekers and those seeking credit, extend environmental protections, and expand protections for public employees to report fraud and waste under the state's whistle-blower law via SB 996.   

A Smooth Budget Session Following Voter Approval of Progressive Revenue Increases:  The Oregon State Legislature's 2010 Special Session began just days after the state's voters overwhelmingly approved two important ballot measures to ratify important laws passed in 2009 that would temporarily increase personal income and corporate taxes on the state's wealthiest residents and corporations.  The two ballot measures, Measures 66 and 67, spearheaded by the Vote Yes for Oregon effort, are widely viewed as a progressive approach to dealing with the state's $4.2 billion budget deficit for FY 2010 and 2011 by temporarily increasing taxes on the state's highest-earning households (those with annual incomes above $250,000) and increasing the minimum tax on corporations operating in the state.  Measures 66 and 67 will generate over $700 million in state revenue in the coming fiscal year. 

Combined with budget cuts from the 2009 session, reserve funds, money from a tax amnesty program and reduced green energy tax incentives, the state was able to address an estimated $185 million deficit shortfall, although there are still worries that the state will likely face additional shortfalls when the legislature meets in 2011.  With HB 3680, legislators reformed the business energy tax credit (BETC) to save the state $54.4 million in the current biennium and $86 million in the 2011-2013 biennium.  A major success was approving SB 5565, which ensures that the $6 billion budgeted over two-years for public schools would be delivered to school districts around the state. 

To help spur local job growth, the state approved HB 3698, which establishes the Building Opportunities for Oregon Small Business Today (BOOST) program to provide grants and loans to small businesses (less than 100 employees) in order to create full-time positions and fill the positions with employees who had been unemployed for at least 60 days.

Education Reforms:  To support improved educational accountability and transparency in online education, HB 3660 will establish improved governance and finance models and promote access to online learning for students with disabilities and other obstacles.  A second bill, HB 3688, makes illegal the practice of offering cash “incentives” for enrollment in a charter school.

With major implications for non-discrimination against observant Muslims and others, the state passed HB 3686, which will allow teachers or other public educators to wear religious garb but makes the effective date two years from now while a task force to review some of the complex legal issues involved.  The bill will overturn a law banning religious dress dating back to the early part of last century when the legislature wanted to prevent nuns from teaching in the public schools.

Workers Rights and Wage Standards:  With the passage of SB1045, the Job Applicant Fairness Act, Oregon joined Hawaii and Washington to become only the third state in the nation to bar employers (with a few exceptions) from using job applicants' credit histories as a screening tool during the hiring process.  Despite opposition from the major credit agencies, who have attempted to draw a connection between poor credit and an employee's likelihood to commit fraud, hearings on the bill allowed advocacy group Our Oregon to build on public frustration with banks, creditors, and now credit agencies who have preyed on consumers-- all to build support for economic fairnesss.  Our Oregon also worked to highlight and capitalize on the credit agency TransUnion lobbyist being forced to admit in a public hearing, "At this point we don't have any research to show any statistical correlation between what's in somebody's credit report and their job performance or their likelihood to commit fraud."  

A couple of bills will ensure that public monies support decent wage standards in the state.  HB 3651 will require that the prevailing wage be paid on public works projects involving the construction or installation of solar energy systems on premises, structures, or buildings owned by a public body.  HB 3618 will modify the law governing home care services to provide workers’ compensation to more home care workers beginning January 1, 2011, and makes such workers eligible for representation and collective bargaining.

Stopping Predatory Banking Practices: The State Legislature also expanded consumer protections in the home loan and credit arenas.  HB 3706  adds home loans and credit products (previously exempt)  to the state's consumer protection law, the Unlawful Trade Practices Act.  As a result, the State Department of Justice and private individuals now have the ability to prosecute big banks and lenders when they engage in predatory lending. Many other states' consumer protection laws already include consumer credit products. The state's payday lenders must now obtain a license to conduct business with the passage of SB 993; and HB 3610 allows homeowners facing foreclosure who are denied a loan modification the right to demand  to see their  lenders' calculations.  

In another move fueled partly by anger over abuses by large banks, HB 3700 will allow public bodies starting in 2013 to deposit public funds in a credit union instead of a bank for the first time in order to reduce fees and maximize resources for public services.

Environmental Protection:  On the environmental front, the Legislature passed HB 3613, which provides a ten-year extension of the state's moratorium against offshore drilling.  Environment Oregon reports a coalition of environmentalists, fishermen, and coastal residents joined forces to continue this protection of Oregon's shores and marine life.  The state also approved SB 1059, a statewide effort to plan and coordinate livable communities that reduce transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions - the product of 'grasstops organizing', according to Environment Oregon.  

Unfortunately, the governor vetoed HB 3704, a measure approved by the legislature that would have allowed for the creation of an Oregon Beverage Cooperative to create drive-through redemption centers to assist bottle recycling and potentially replace the individual store redemption system currently in place in the state.

Environmental advocates report they came very close to passing SB 1009, which would have imposed a ban on the chemical BPA in children's products.  The proposed measure died in a deadlock 15-15 vote on the Senate floor, underlining the sustained clout of the plastics industry.  Advocates report continued hope next year  for a state Senate bill to ban plastic bags, which had widespread and bipartisan support, but was ultimately sacrificed to allow a floor vote for the bill to ban BPA.  With the demise of this bill, advocates are planning to advance SB 1009 in the 2011 legislative session and prevent plastic bags from floating into the Pacific from the state's waterways.   

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By: ALTAF RAHAMATULLA

Session Roundup: Washington

Despite confronting a $2.8 billion deficit and 9.5 percent unemployment rate, Washington state lawmakers were able to score key progressive victories this year.  Although tax and budget issues were undoubtedly the predominant legislative focus, elected officials made significant strides on several issues during both the regular and special session, including, children's health, workers' rights, weatherization, and providing initial foundation for the implementation of federal health care reform.

Tax and Budget:  Washington's taxation system is among the most regressive in the entire nation.  The state does not employ a personal or corporate income tax and as a result, the lowest 20 percent of income earners in the state pay over 17 percent of their income in state and local taxes, while the the wealthiest 1 percent of the state contribute less than 3 percent.  The state's revenue dropped almost 9 percent last year, only exacerbating the pain for Washington's working families.

To the ire of many conservative legislators, progressives achieved a major accomplishment in late February when Gov. Chris Gregoire signed a temporary suspension of Initiative 960, which required a two-thirds legislative majority to approve tax increases.  Accordingly, budget discussions became quite intense and forced the Governor to call lawmakers back to Olympia for a special session.  In the end, legislators came together and passed a revenue package that allowed the state to preserve basic education, all-day Kindergarten, a health care program for low-income Washingtonians, childcare services, and funding for higher education.

The budget agreement will raise approximately $757 million in new revenue from:

  • a $1 increase in the cigarette tax;
  • extending the sales tax to bottled water;
  • removing the sales tax exemption on candy and gum;
  • raising the beer excise tax by 50 cents per gallon;
  • a temporary tax on soda that will amount to 2 cents per 12 oz. can;
  • 0.3 percent temporary business and occupation tax surcharge on service-industry businesses, including lawyers, accountants, real estate companies, and hairdressers, for the next three years; and
  • adopting economic nexus, which will require some out-of-state corporations to pay taxes on the business they conduct in the state of Washington.

The plan provides tax credits for "candy companies, awarded on the basis of jobs, and a doubling in the business tax exemption for small businesses."  The Legislature additionally allotted funding for the Working Families Tax Rebate.  Developed and championed by the Washington State Budget and Policy Center, the program provides a rebate for working families with children based on the federal Earned Income Tax Credit.

However, the Legislature also approved $120 million in cuts to public education, reduced funding for state universities and community colleges by $73 million, and directed state agencies to seek $50 million in savings through furloughs.

Health Care:  During the budget process, lawmakers were able to maintain funding for Washington Basic Health, providing assistance to working families to access affordable health care.  Even still, the program continues to be plagued by long waiting lists, now approaching 100,000 applicants who need access and assistance in meeting their health care needs.

Although the state's Attorney General, Rob McKenna, joined others in a misguided, costly, and partisan lawsuit against federal health care reform, the state still took crucial steps in establishing foundation for the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and Education Affordability Act.  Gov. Gregoire signed Executive Order 10-01, forming the Health Care Cabinet, which will be composed of the state Health Care Authority administrator, the state Health Department Secretary, the Department of Social and Health Services Secretary, and the Governor's Executive Policy Director and state Budget Director.  The group is responsible for guiding the initial stages of implementing reform.

Gov. Gregoire also offered a spirited rebuttal of Attorney General McKenna's actions and defended the right of all Washingtonians to access affordable and quality health care.

Elections:  In response to voter confusion in King County last November over a ballot initiative, Rep. Scott White introduced HB2496 to improve the clarity of ballot design and ensure that the voter instruction section is clearly delineated from the actual substance of the measure.  Upon passage of the bill, the state's Election Director, Nick Handy, commented, “[t]his legislation is a major step forward in ensuring that ballots are designed to be more voter friendly.  [Our goal is] having ballots that are clear and readable and that assist the voter in moving down the ballot with ease.  We want the civic act of voting to be enjoyable, and not perplexing in any way.”

The Washington Senate also called on Congress to amend the Constitution to reverse the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission (FEC) decision, which gave corporations the same First Amendment rights as citizens in advocating for politicians.  SJM 8027 states, "[f]or the past three decades, a divided United States Supreme Court has misinterpreted the First Amendment favoring the corporations' agenda over the people's voice...(and the) Supreme Court's ruling threatens to dilute an individual's power as a voting citizen and compromise the democratic process."

Weatherization and Green Jobs:  In approving Sen. Claudia Kauffman's SB6468, the Legislature provided critical funding for weatherzation and energy efficiency initiatives.  The legislation will additionally allow for structural rehabilitation assistance and is estimated to spur job creation.  Rep. Hans Dunshee introduced a green jobs bill, HB 2561, that would fund energy cost saving improvements to public facilities and issue general obligation bonds to support energy repair and retrofitting work at public schools, state colleges, and universities.  The $505 million bond authorization would be placed before voters in the general election this coming November.  Analysts estimate that the initiative would create 30,000 new jobs and save state residents $190 million annually.  Both the House and Senate approved the measure and it awaits the Governor's signature.

In a related jobs and smart growth move, the state enacted the Washington Works Housing ProgramHB 2753, to create $1 billion in housing for the working poor within proximity of transit to allow more convenient access to employment.  This initiative will create thousands of prevailing wage construction jobs and provide housing equity for low-income workers.

Environmental Protection:  Washington became only the second state to take on the issue of bisphenol A (BPA) by enacting SB 6248, the Safe Baby Bottle Act, to eliminate BPA from food and beverage containers intended for children under the age of three.  The legislation will also prohibit the use of BPA in sports bottles.  Sen. Karen Kaiser, the main sponsor of the bill, commented, "I’m very pleased that Washington state is once again a leader in taking action to limit potentially harmful chemical exposures, especially for infants and young children."

Advocates were also pleased that state budget preserved funding for evironmental priorities such as toxic contamination cleanup, air quality, water quality, water resources and habitat protection.

Workers' Rights:  To strengthen enforcement authority to prevent wage theft violations, HB3145  extends the time period to investigate wage complaints and increases the penalty for violators.  HB 1560 will now allow employees of four-year institutions to engage in multi-employer bargaining, while SB 5046 will put symphony musicians under the jurisdiction of the public employment relations commission for purposes of collective bargaining.

Education:  The Legislature approved several significant education bills.  Though the state initially refrained from the first round of the federal Race to the Top grant competition, SB6696 enacts accountability measures and other reforms that will allow the state to enter the running this summer.  HB1418 creates a statewide reengagement system that permits school districts to enter into agreements with educational service districts, community or technical colleges, and other public institutions to offer services to former students, including GED preparation, counseling, and instruction.  HB3026 ensures that all students enjoy the same basic civil rights and protections.  Finally, HB2776 creates a new distributional funding formula, expands state spending on the public education system, and will likely increase the state's educational investment by billions of dollars.

Protecting Children:  Sen. Kauffman sponsored S6470, which will provide stronger protections for Native American children in the state's welfare system and make sure they are not unnecessarily removed from homes.

Medical Marijuana:  In approving SB5798, the Legislature expanded its medical marijuana program and permitted licensed health care professionals, such as nurse practitioners and physicians' assistants, to authorize the use of marijuana for patients with terminal or debilitating illnesses.

Notable Initiatives that Did Not Pass:

  • Financial Reform:  Rep. Bob Hasegawa introduced HB 3162 this year, a bill that would create a state bank modeled after the Bank of North Dakota, the only state-owned bank in the country.
  • Vaccines:  After the state's vaccination program was eliminated due to budget cuts last year, the Legislature worked swiftly to attempt to provide vaccination coverage for Washington's children.  Sen. Kaiser introduced S6263, which would have created the Washington Vaccine Association, but the bill did not pass this session.
  • Elections:  Since a contentious judicial election in 2006, lawmakers have been attempting to move a pilot program for public financing of state Supreme Court elections.  Unfortunately, SB5912 died in committee.
  • Unemployment Insurance:  In an effort to alleviate the pain of the long-term unemployed, several legislators sponsored SB2647, to allow certain state residents to seek part-time employment while still retaining eligibility to receive unemployment insurance.
  • Initiative Process Reform:  SB6754 aimed to strengthen the initiative process and provide protections for state residents against fraud and false declarations.
  • Corporate Transparency:  Rep. Hasegawa intended to provide further protections for Washington taxpayers by pursuing augmented transparency of the state's spending.  HB2110 would have required a tax expenditure report as part of the biennial budget documents, but failed to pass the House.
  • Hazardous Substance Tax:  The Washington Environmental Council and Washington Conservation Voters advocated for an increase in the state's hazardous substance tax to clean up polluted waterways.  HB3181/SB6851, or the Clean Water Act of 2010, would have increased the tax 2 percent and raised an additional $225 million a year for stormwater improvement projects.

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By: ENZO PASTORE

Session Roundup: Virginia

The 2010 General Assembly adjourned March 14th, one day later than scheduled, and was dominated by a single overriding issue:  unprecedented cuts to state spending and core services once thought to be untouchable.  After grappling with the greatest decline in state revenues since World War II, the legislature enacted major budget reductions in all areas of state government, while failing to enact any real revenue increases to offset the damage to state services.  And with the latest state revenue report for February showing tax collections for that month down nearly 7 percent from February 2009, there’s every indication that things will worsen before they improve.

The two-year $83 billion HB 30 blueprint for state operations, which takes effect on July 1st, cuts billions in necessary funding for education, health care, public safety and transportation.  As the new budget imposes no new taxes and only about $100 million in new fees, it leaves city and county governments to make up for state cuts with the choice of curbing local services, boosting local taxes or a combination of both.  Although the cuts were not as severe as once expected, the budget crisis will continue as vital services and local governments feel the effects of the cuts.

Thankfully, despite vocal right-wing support, the legislature refused to make the budget problem worse and rejected HB 119 and its companion, SB 671, which would have eliminated Virginia's corporate income tax beginning in 2011 and 2012 respectively.

Education Cuts:  Included in the two year budget was a huge $253 million cut in state support for local public school districts.  This will mean larger class sizes, an extension in the life of school buses from 12 to 15 years, eliminating non-teaching staff jobs, and reductions in public library funding.  At one time during the 2010 legislative session, K-12 cuts were forecast to approach $700 million.  But even though the education cuts were not nearly as deep as initially proposed, advocates for teachers and other school staff say a $253 million decrease in public education funds will still result in the elimination of tens of thousands of jobs.

Health Care Cuts and Grandstanding Against Federal Reform:  Even as some state leaders attacked federal health reform efforts, they based their state health budget on help from the federal government.  Health care for the indigent, disabled and elderly, will also take a big budget hit unless the state receives about $370 million in federal Medicaid funding. In addition to new restrictions on program eligibility, without the federal aid, hospitals, nursing homes, doctors and other health providers will see their already lean reimbursements for treating Medicaid patients reduced by another 7 percent by 2012.

By passing HB 10, Virginia became the first state to supposedly ban the new federal provision that requires individuals to purchase health insurance, although the law will no doubt be thrown out in court. The law was also accompanied by similar political grandstanding by the Attorney General’s lawsuit to block the mandate contained in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  The legislature did reject HB 345, which would have required the state to withdraw from the Medicaid program upon passage of federal health care reform.

In other anti-consumer health legislation, SB 642 authorizes health maintenance organizations to offer and sell to small employers group health care plans for health care services that do not include all of the state-mandated health insurance benefits.

Transparency on Tax Expenditures: In a positive move for transparency, the enactment of HB 355 will require the State Tax Commissioner to issue an annual tax expenditure report to the General Assembly and to post on its website a summary of information of taxpayers claiming corporate income tax relief.

Big Steps Back, But a Few Steps Forward on Clean Energy and Conservation:  A number of bills seeking to expand offshore oil drilling  were enacted (HB 756, HB 787, SB 394), while the state Air Board will be barred from requiring power plants in non-attainment areas to reduce pollution under HB 1300/SB 128.

A group of seventeen state legislators denounced Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli for the financial costs to the state and misguided public policy in filing a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency’s finding that carbon dioxide is a threat to human health and may be regulated by the EPA.  Cuccinelli has added to his "states rights" grandstanding in declaring his intention to file a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s new Clean Car Rule.

Land conservation programs faced drastic cuts, although the cap on the transfer fee for the state Land Preservation Tax Credit was lifted (HB 447 and SB 264) which s expected to raise around $2 million a year for organizations that hold conservation easements throughout Virginia. 

Environmentalists were able to defeat SB 181 and HB 1395, which would have subsidized sprawl by handing out potentially unlimited bonus payments to private developers of toll roads, while the legislature did enact HB 1071 to encourage density in urban development areas.

Two progressive bills addressing clean energy legislation were signed by the Governor.  House Bill 803 and its Senate companion, S623 allows a $500 income tax credit for the creation of green jobs for taxable years beginning on and after January 1, 2010. The credit is provided for up to 350 new green jobs and may qualify the taxpayer for the Enterprise Zone Grant program if the job is located in an enterprise zone.

Capital Punishment:  With a governor supportive of expanding capital punishment finally in office, many observers were relieved at the defeat of a number of death penalty bills.  SB 7 to make accomplices to murder eligible for the death penalty was defeated in a Senate committee that had approved the effort in past years, apparently swayed by arguments about the costs of making more crimes eligible for the death penalty.  Also defeated in committee was SB 54 to expand capital punishment to include those who killed various emergency responders while on duty, including fire marshals, firefighters, special forest wardens and emergency medical technicians.  The Legislature however did pass House Bill 934, which added auxiliary police officers and auxiliary deputy sheriffs to the capital murder statute so that the death sentence can be imposed for their murder.

Other notable defeats for progressives included:

  • Government Transparency:  HB 778 was killed in the Senate Rules Committee this session on a 13-2 vote. The bill would have provided legislators’ voting records on the General Assembly’s website. (The website already tracks the outcome of every recorded vote, it simply doesn’t allow visitors to list the votes by legislator.) Officially, the bill was “continued to 2011”³ (meaning held over for further consideration next year) but most bills continued to the next year are quietly killed before the session even begins. 
  • Gay Rights: Two bills, HB 1116 and SB 66, would have established non-discrimination requirements for all state employees, including the category of sexual orientation. Unfortunately, both bills were killed in subcommittee.
  • Immigration: Senate Bill 462 was designed to prevent law enforcement officers from asking crime victims and cooperating witnesses about their immigration status during the course of their criminal investigation

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By: FABIOLA CARRION

Session Roundup: Iowa

Like other states, Iowa battled the effects of the national recession and state revenues that were 4.27 percent lower than last year.  Legislators from both sides of the aisle proudly affirmed that they balanced the state budget in the best way possible and without raising taxes.

In the end, lawmakers were able to balance $180 million in their budget and put a total of $200 million into the state’s savings accounts.  Several reforms took place to achieve a balanced legislative package, most notably the first substantial reorganization of state government in almost 25 years.  The Legislature’s biggest achievements were found in the areas of tax and health care reform, which shared the goals of transparency and better consumer protection.  Health care patients and insurance consumers are among the biggest winners, as well as veterans and students.  With more transparency in tax credits, it is hoped that the revenue that is desperately needed will finally reach Main Street.  Support continued for small businesses, including renewable energy producers, and job-seekers. 

Job Creation: To create jobs and lay the groundwork for future economic growth, the Legislature approved a number of measures:

  • SF 2389 invests nearly $274 million for infrastructure projects, to continue the I-JOBS public works program, and to help small businesses grow. Through SF 2389, the Iowa legislature maintained its commitment to the Iowa Values Fund, the state’s job-creation initiative.
  • Also, HF 2522 connects unemployed workers with new employers and with state services by providing $18.3 million to Iowa’s workforce centers. These workforce centers, 55 in total, provide job counseling, training, placement and assistance. 
  • The Iowa legislature also agreed to make new low-interest loans available to help small businesses create jobs and strengthen Iowa’s Small Business Development Centers [HF 2522]. A new website will be developed as a central point for small business assistance

Education Despite the tough budget situation, legislators voted to increase state aid to local schools by $145 million in order to recruit and keep good teachers in the classrooms, expand pre-school programs and make sure students graduate with the skills they need to land a good job.  In order to keep the tuition of higher education institutions down, the legislature also approved SF 2376 to provide community colleges $10 million and more than $550 million to public universities.

Health Care Reform:  Many initiatives were implemented to expand health care to more Iowans.  Building on the IowaCare Program, which enrolls 32,000 Iowans and is aimed primarily at adults (age 19-64) whose adjusted gross income is no higher than twice the federal poverty level (200% FPL), the Legislature enacted SF 2356  to expand the provider network to include regional community health centers available across the state, principally in rural areas.  Members of the regional provider network must be certified medical homes, as established by DHS. The bill received support from the AARP and the American Cancer Society’s Iowa Director who declared, “Starting July 1, low-income, uninsured cancer patients from across the state will no longer need to travel long distances to Iowa City for treatment, which has long been an unnecessary barrier to the lifesaving care they need.”

In addition, SF 2356 creates the Iowa Insurance Information Exchange, administered by the Insurance Commission, to allow Iowans to obtain information on an ongoing basis about health care coverage options, including comparison of benefits, premiums, and out-of-pocket expenses.

After Iowa’s largest health insurance carrier announced an 18 percent insurance rate hike last month, the Legislature enacted the Insurance Company Accountability Plan, SF 2201, which calls for a detailed annual report from the Iowa Insurance Commissioner on health care spending and health insurance in Iowa, including rate increase data, health care expenditures, ranking factors that raise or lower costs in each insurance plan and other data. Other provisions include public hearings on rate health insurance increase applications before they are approved, notification of rate increase applications to all policyholders, and immediate notice of any insurance plan changes, so that Iowans can budget accordingly.

To protect consumers against rate increases due to catastrophes affecting their credit scores, SF 2075 will protect families suffering death or serious illness, a military deployment, identity theft, a natural disaster or an extended job lay-off from insurance rate increases due to lower credit scores created because of that catastrophic event.  Insurance companies are required to tell consumers when their rates are being raised because of a lower credit score.

Tax Credit Reform: In reaction to several scandals surrounding excesses around Iowa’s business tax credit programs and subsequent shortfalls in state revenues, the Iowa legislature passed HF 2527/SF 2380 to ensure that tax credits receive a careful and regular examination.  The legislation highlights include:

  • Suspension of the film tax credit program for three years
  • Cutting the Supplemental Research Activities Tax Credit (RATC) in half for large corporations and shifting part of the savings to research and development incentives for small businesses
  • Lowering the overall cap on business tax credit from $185 million to $120 million
  • Cutting the Iowa Fund of funds contingent tax credits from $100 million to $60 million
  • Cutting other tax credit programs by 10 percent

While a great step ahead, the Iowa Fiscal Project argues that the final law will likely deliver only a fraction of the $115 million it promises to save.  Advocates had hoped for broader reforms, including a five-year sunset on all tax credit, the elimination of the transferability of other credits, and the complete elimination of the refundability of RATC for large companies to achieve broader effect.  Although the law also establishes a 10-member panel of legislators to review a set of tax credits for the next five years, advocates would have preferred additional public access to information about tax credits and expenditures.  

Clean Energy:  With nearly 20 percent of the electricity produced in Iowa coming from wind, Iowa is now the second largest wind producer in the country with more than 200 businesses that supply parts or services to support wind energy production.  To build on that strength, the Legislature approved its fourth and final year of the Iowa Power Fund (HF 2531), the $100 million program first enacted in 2007, along with other legislation to expand the production of Iowa-grown renewable energy.  Unfortunately, it did not receive the Governor’s signature.

Campaign Finance The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United v. FEC that corporations are persons and, as such, have a right to participate in elections.  In response to this decision, Iowa’s SF 2354 was introduced as a way to regulate corporate involvement in campaigns. Under this new law, a corporation cannot use its treasury to pay for an independent expenditure without the approval of a majority of the board of directors or similar leadership body. The authorization must occur in the same year as the expenditure and must expressly indicate whether the expenditure is to advocate for or against the nomination or election of a candidate or a ballot issue. Any material or ads produced by the corporation must include the “paid for by” attribution, the name and address of the corporation, and the name and title of the chief executive officer.   The bill received the support of various community advocates, such as 1000 Friends of Iowa, and others who believe it is among the strongest campaign disclosure policies in the country.  Iowa Citizen Action Network Executive Director Betty Ahrens maintains that the state’s campaign finance disclosure is good, but not good enough. She explains, “We’d like to see Iowa join the rest of the nation in enacting contribution limits and then ultimately the solution that we need to keep pushing for is a voluntary public financing option.”

Veterans Iowa has passed numerous measures to assist veterans and their families.  For instance, the Governor signed an expansion of jobless benefits for the spouses of soldiers who are forced to quit their jobs when their husband or wife is deployed overseas.  Under the state’s unemployment compensation laws, workers who voluntarily leave their jobs are usually not eligible for jobless benefits. This new law makes an exception for the spouses of deployed soldiers. As the bill’s opponents worried about the impact on the business trust fund that finances jobless benefits, backers assured that the number of claims is likely to be very small, and could be financed by interest generated by money in the trust fund.  In addition, a provision has been included to ensure that the business’ tax levy is not altered. 

Disappointment on Failure of Labor Reforms:  While appreciating solid budget achievements, labor advocates were frustrated that key workers rights and labor reforms stalled during the 2010 session. Defeated bills included one to expand the subjects subject to collective bargaining, as well as HF 2420, which would have allowed unions to negotiate reasonable reimbursements for the costs of representing workers in a unit, while still allowing each employee to choose whether or not to become a union member or take part in other union activities, was not passed.  And a paid sick days bill, SF 2337, while approved in a Senate committee, did not move forward.

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By: FABIOLA CARRION

Session Roundups: Idaho

While the Legislature is challenged with a record”setting economic downturn not seen in 75 years, leadership had a strong focus on wrapping up the session in March (each day at the legislature costs $30,000) and consequently kept the number of bills down this year.  According to legislative staff, "fiscal year 2009 revenues dropped 15.3 percent from the previous year, fiscal year 2010 revenues were projected to drop another 7.5 percent, and fiscal year 2011 revenues were projected to be flat.  Amidst this 23 percent overall drop in revenues, the Legislature faced increasing school enrollments, growing Medicaid caseloads, and increasing prison inmate growth."

When the Legislature adjourned in late March, it had been in session for 78 days - one of the shortest sessions on record.  However, this did not keep lawmakers from enacting far-reaching legislation and placing punitive restrictions on the immigrant community.

Health and Human Services:  As a result of Federal Health Care Reform, state conservative elected officials worked to put up roadblocks to reform:

  • H 391 — The Idaho Health Freedom Act codifies as state policy that every person in the state is and shall continue to be "free from government compulsion in the selection of health insurance options, and that such liberty is protected by the constitutions of the United States and the state of Idaho."  The Act prohibits any state official or employee from enforcing any penalty that violates the policy and requires the Attorney General to seek injunctive or other appropriate relief and to defend the state of Idaho and its officials and employees against laws enacted by any government that violates the policy.  This law will spend $100,000 or more on a lawsuit against the federal government and puts the state's federal health care matching funds ($1.6 billion) at risk, as well as benefits from measures that provide affordable access to health insurance and closes the Medicare Part D prescription drug “doughnut hole.”
  • Both chambers stressed this anti-federal mantra by passing HCR 64, calling for an amendment to the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the interstate commerce clause to limit the role of the federal government, as well as SJM 106, urging Congress to amend the Constitution to "make no law requiring citizens of the United States to enroll in, participate in or secure health care insurance or to penalize any citizen who declines to purchase or participate in any health care insurance program."  While these resolutions and memorials do not carry the force of law, they are intended to send a message to Congress encouraging action. 
  • S 1353, dubbed the "Freedom of Conscience Bill," allows all health care professionals to refuse to provide any “end of life care and treatment” that violates their “conscience.”  That includes living wills, advance directives, or any other end-of-life instructions can be ignored.  The bill became law despite strong opposition from AARP and the public.  The bill was also opposed by Planned Parenthood for its actions against emergency contraception. 
  • H 708 contains Medicaid costs by reducing reimbursement, by cutting incentives that are unaffordable in the current economic environment and by requiring pharmacies to participate in cost surveys in order to obtain accurate and current prices.  While more individuals are turning to Medicaid for valuable health services, $22 million in cuts (over $100 million coupled with the federal matching funds) would severely scale back important programs, including home care -- which could prematurely force some seniors into costly nursing homes.

According to the AARP, "Public retirees won — eventually.  But Idahoans will lose because of the state's fight over health care reform."  The winners in AARP's rundown include:

Idaho State Retirees:  A cost of living adjustment in tight times for the elderly.  After a hotly contested debate over the modest Cost of Living Allowance, Senator John Andreason refused to give House Concurrent Resolution 42 a hearing, effectively delivering the increase to 38,000 state retirees.  The resolution, introduced by Rep. Dennis Lake, marked the first time in Idaho history the legislature challenged a recommendation by the Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho (PERSI) board.

Grandparents:  H 610, introduced by Rep. Sharon Block, places grandparents at the top of the list for consideration as foster parents when children have been removed from their parent’s homes.  The bill, which has been signed into law, also expedites the process, and gives grandparents better legal standing to obtain custody.

Older Drivers:  Family is the focus of older driver issues.  When a doctor thinks a patient should no longer be driving, they can contact the Idaho Dept. of Transportation and recommend their license be revoked.  S 1397 now puts patients first, helping them and their families have a conversation with the physician about the concerns and options before any action.  The bill passed the Senate, did not get a hearing in the House, but is expected to be taken up and passed in the next legislative session.

Voter ID:  No ID?  No problem.  H 496, introduced by Rep. Mike Moyle, would require all voters to show photo ID before casting their ballot — the bill was revamped from last year to address the concerns of older voters, and now allows anyone without a photo ID to sign an affidavit.  The bill passed both the Senate and House and has been sent to the Governor.

Immigration:  Sen. Mike Jorgenson came forward with yet another anti-immigrant bill this year.  Jorgenson's S 1303 is a broad and punitive measure that cracks down on employment by prohibiting employers from hiring non-residents, limits the driver's license test to English-only, and makes "sanctuary cities" ineligible for state grants.  According to the Idaho Weekly, "Jorgenson got his bill this year from Kris Kobach and his law school class at The University of Missouri Kansas.  Kobach, who worked for former Attorney General John Ashcroft and was recently profiled in The New York Times, is on a crusade to fight illegal immigration at the local level.  According to The New York Times, Kobach is partially paid by the legal arm of FAIR, a well-known anti-immigration group.

Two bills were also introduced to penalize businesses that "knowingly" hire undocumented immigrants.  H 497, introduced by Rep. Phil Hart, penalizes employers by canceling or suspending their business licenses and penalizing cities considered "sanctuary cities".  A similar bill, SB 1271, makes it a misdemeanor offense for employers to "knowingly" accept false identification in hiring and sets penalties for both the individual presenting the identification and the person who provided it. 

Economic Development:  H 525 provides additional sources of funding for the Film and Television Production Business Rebate Fund including grants, federal moneys, donations and funds from any other source.  The Governor signed these economic incentives into law and no fiscal impact report was provided.  Rep. Raul Labrador, a Republican, and Congressional candidate, introduced H 489 to stop City Councils from creating Local Improvement Districts (LIDs) of more than $250,000 without the support of either 60 percent of resident owners or two-thirds of all property owners within the district.  This is an effort to strip local authorities of power to raise revenues.  LIDs specifically operate to raise revenue for infrastructure improvements within cities.

Education:  According to legislative staff, "nearly all of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and Public Education Stabilization Fund (PESF) monies were used in FY 2009 and FY 2010 to avoid significant public school budget reductions.  The result of using these one”time reserve funds, coupled with continued weak revenues, is that significant reductions were necessary for FY 2011. Specifically, the FY 2011 appropriation is $128.5 million less than the previous year."  

In a creative financing scheme, S 1354 authorizes school districts to build and operate thermal energy systems to make hot and chilled water for heating school facilities; allows schools to sell excess thermal energy and use the revenue for general operating expenses within a local school district; and amends existing statute adding the thermal energy facilities as a school bonding purpose.

In an effort to address the fiscal stress on Higher Education, H 544 creates the Higher Education Stabilization Fund to provide a reserve to minimize the impact of economic downturns on higher education.

H699 requires school districts with more than 300 students to develop and maintain a publicly available website and, by the end of 2011, to post their expenditures in either a pdf format, a spreadsheet or in a database format.

Idaho House Bill No. 543 — Idaho Education Network aims to "connect each public high school with a scalable, high-bandwidth connection, including connections to institutions of higher education as necessary."  

According to the Idaho Education Network, subsequent phase considerations will be delivered in partnership with local entities and may include:

  • Enhancement of rural bandwidth to public entities.
  • Direct connectivity to each elementary and middle school to IEN.
  • The addition of libraries to the IEN.
  • Migration of state agency locations from IdaNet or current technology and services.

H 636 requires each local school district in the state to adopt and file an Internet use policy with the State Superintendent of Public Instruction that requires filtering technology to block materials that are harmful to minors and establish disciplinary measures for violators.

Criminal Justice:  H 631 grants the Idaho State Police the authority to transmit certain court records to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for inclusion in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System Database for the purpose of determining eligibility to receive or possess a firearm under state or federal law and establishes a petition process for the removal of a person's firearms”related disabilities.

Changes were made to rape statutes in the states with the passage of S 1385. The bill revises the definition of what is commonly known as “statutory rape,” which previously included defined sexual relations between a female who has not reached the age of 18 and a male.  This bill amends the definition of statutory rape to include defined sexual relations where the perpetrator is 18 years or older and the female is under the age of 16, and where the female is 16 or 17 and the perpetrator is 3 or more years older than the female. Such revisions were also made to the male rape statute.

Taxation:  In an effort to save cuts to vulnerable social programs, H 630 temporarily increases the maximum amount of the income tax credit that individual and corporate taxpayers may receive for donations to schools, Idaho Public Television, Idaho State Historical Society, libraries, museums, Commission on Hispanic Affairs, Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Idaho Council on Developmental Disabilities, Idaho State Independent Living Council, and the Idaho Council for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.  This was an effort to save cuts to these vulnerable programs.

Other tax-related legislation included:

  • H 386 revises how withdrawals from the state college savings account are added to taxable income; revises the income tax credit for research activity; and provides that the addi” tional income tax credit for capital investment shall be calculated on the amount of qualified investment made during the project period.
  • H 490 provides that a Board of County Commissioners may declare that all or a portion of the market value of a defined project, based on investment in new plant and building facilities meeting certain tax incentive criteria, shall be exempt from property taxation.
  • H 596 provides that certain improvements on state college and state university lands may be included on the new construction roll and that such improvements shall be exempt from property taxation.

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Session Roundup: Washington

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities - Recession Continues to Batter State Budgets
Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy - Who Pays?
The Olympian - Budget Plans Ready to Go
Pew Center on the States - Beyond California: States in Fiscal Peril
Progressive States Network - Progressive Legislators Challenge Right-Wing Obstruction on Health Care
Progressive States Network - Update:Options for Reining in Corporate Election Cash in Wake of Citizens United Supreme Court Decision
The Seattle Times - Analysis: Scorecard for the 2010 Wash. Legislature
The Seattle Times - Lawmakers end session with taxes, services cuts
Washington Education Association - Dorn's take on legislative session: 'Relatively pleased'
Washington State Budget and Policy Center - A Primer on the Working Families Tax Rebate
Washington State Budget and Policy Center - Overview of 2010 Budget Measures
Washington State Labor Council - Legislative Tracker

Session Roundup: Virginia

The Commonwealth Institute
Progressive States Network — Virginia in the News
Virginia Organizing Project
Legislative Coalition of Virginia Nurses - 2010 General Assembly Summary
Richmond Sunlight
The Washington Examiner - Va. Assembly Approves Pared-Back Spending Plan
Virginia League of Conservation Voters - Virginia Legislative Action Center

Session Roundup: Iowa

Quad-City TimesIowa Democratic Leaders Defend Spending Plan
The Iowa Independent - AARP Praises Legislature for Health Care Advances
Globe Gazette -  IowaCare to Offer Services Closer to Those in Need
Progressive States Network - Shared Agenda: Corporate Transparency in State Budgets
AARP - AARP Applauds Passage and Signing of SF 2201
Radio Iowa - Business, Labor Groups Unhappy with 2010 Legislature
Sioux City Journal Culver Signs New Benefits for Military Families
1,000 Friends of Iowa — Legislative Updates and Action Alerts
WhoTv - Full Disclosure: New Rules for Campaign Finance Disclosure in Iowa

Session Roundup: Idaho

Idaho Citizen's Legislature - 2010 Sine Dine Report
AARP - Here's How the New Idaho Legislation Will Affect You
Boise Weekly's City Desk - Legislature
Idaho Statesman - Idaho Legislature

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The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:

Nathan Newman, Executive Director
Nora Ranney, Legislative Director
Marisol Thomer, Outreach Director
Fabiola Carrion, Broadband & Green Jobs Policy Specialist
Tim Judson, Workers' Rights Policy Specialist
Enzo Pastore, Health Care Policy Specialist
Suman Raghunathan, Immigrant Rights Policy Specialist
Altaf Rahamatulla, Tax & Budget Policy Specialist
Julie Bero, Outreach and Administrative Specialist
Charles Monaco, Press and New Media Specialist
Mike Maiorini, Online Technology Manager

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