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PSN on May 6, 2010 - 11:04am
Budget Transparency Advances Across Country
Thursday, May 6, 2010
Last week, the Massachusetts House unanimously passed the Revenues and Expenditures Transparency Act, H 2972, to create a searchable, online database that details state spending and revenue sources. Lawmakers also approved an amendment to create greater taxpayer accountability by providing increased transparency around some business tax credits. As House Chairman of the Joint Committee on Revenue Rep. Jay Kauffman explains, "[p]ublic access to the way we raise and spend money is essential, enabling us to make more-informed decisions for the tax-paying constituents who elect us to serve on their behalf."
This progressive victory comes on the heels of the release of U.S. PIRG's, Following the Money: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data, which analyzes and ranks each state on their development of comprehensive, one-stop, one-click budget accountability and accessibility. Massachusetts lags behind most of the country and received an "F" for lacking comprehensive online spending disclosure. The report also discusses some of the major benefits of corporate transparency, which can promote sound fiscal practices, find spending inefficiencies, reduce corruption, and encourage a more focused budget process.
As part of our 2010 Shared Multi-State Agenda, the Progressive States Network has worked with state lawmakers nationwide to promote Corporate Transparency in State Budgets policies. As states confront massive budget shortfalls, declining revenues, and deal with the aftermath of financial industry abuses and the economic downturn, state lawmakers have advanced some notable transparency reforms:
The outcry following the suicides of two Massachusetts students, who killed themselves after being subjected to intense bullying in the past year, culminated in Gov. Deval Patrick signing anti-bullying legislation on May 3rd. The Massachusetts House and Senate passed the bill unanimously, following more than a decade of work by advocates. The law prohibits actions that cause emotional or physical harm to students, including taunting over the Internet. Faculty and students are required to have anti-bullying training and parents must be informed of incidents at school. School employees, including custodians and cafeteria workers, must report incidents of suspected bullying and principals must investigate each case.
Massachusetts now joins 42 other states with an anti-bullying bill, leaving Michigan, Wisconsin, North Dakota, South Dakota, Alabama, Hawaii (last introduced in 2009), Mississippi, and Montana yet to join them. Wisconsin's SB 154 is on Gov. Doyle’s desk and would require school boards to enact anti-bullying policies and implement procedures for investigating and disciplining incidences of bullying. A Michigan bill (HB 4580) is stalled in committee, but Gov. Granholm has stated she will sign the bill if it reaches her desk.
Protecting LGBT Youth: In Michigan, the sticking point, as with many other more recent state bills, is whether or not to give specific mention to LGBT youth. A compromise not pleasing to either side is in negotiations, tweaking the language to read, “[Bullying] is reasonably perceived to be motivated by animus or by actual or perceived characteristic.” The American Family Association of Michigan is lobbying hard to kill the bill. Similar socially conservative "family" organizations have fought anti-bullying bills in other states.
Studies have shown that LBGT youth are especially targeted for bullying. A 2007 report by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) found that 9 out of 10 LGBT students (86.2%) experienced harassment at school in the past year, three-fifths (60.8%) felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation and about a third (32.7%) skipped a day of school in the past month because of feeling unsafe.
Advocates in Massachusetts were disappointed that LGBT youth were not specified as a class in need of protection in the bill just enacted there. On the other hand, North Carolina last year passed SB 526, requiring schools to adopt strong policies against bullying and harassment, including bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity, despite a protracted and oftentimes mean-spirited fight. This was the first time the terms "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" appear in the North Carolina General Statutes -- a significant victory for Equality North Carolina, which joined forces with a statewide school violence prevention coalition and other allies to support the bill, sponsored by Rep. Rick Glazier.
Upgrading Old Statutes: Many states with existing anti-bullying legislation are experiencing “upgrade” bills to include cyberbullying, training and/or to add “sexual orientation or gender identity” to the list of protected students. Cyberbullying -- defined as communicating harmful, violent and/or malicious words and/or pictures through the means of technology -- has been a growing area of harassment that states are increasingly seeking to address.
This legislative session, Illinois lawmakers passed an upgrade to their existing bill, now including LGBT students specifically and mandating tolerance training. The Senate bill passed with all but two senators supporting it; the House passed the bill unanimously. Gov. Quinn is expected to sign the bill within the week.
The key focus of all these anti-bullying laws is to hold school officials accountable for developing policies to prohibit bullying. Where they vary is in the details of bullying prevention programs, training for staff, and accountability measures to require individuals to report school bullying incidents. And regardless of the statute language, assuring they are interpreted and implemented appropriately is an ongoing challenge.
The choice of whether or not to establish high-risk insurance pools represents the first major decision that states are facing with the March 2010 passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). While twenty-nine governors -- 22 Democrats and 7 Republicans -- decided to create the pools themselves, most conservative governors failed to take advantage of the option to shape health care for their constituents and instead just kicked the issue back to the federal government, which will establish its own high-risk insurance pool in states that fail to take action.
While temporary in nature, lasting only until 2014, these high risk pools are designed to help people with pre-existing and chronic health conditions who cannot find affordable health insurance. But the decisions the governors are reaching are revealing with respect to whether or not states intend to foster a collaborative relationship with the federal government in implementing the vast array of PPACA provisions.
How the States Responded: The federal law allocated $5 billion to the high risk pool programs which are scheduled to begin July 1 of this year and last until through January 1, 2014, when the state insurance exchanges begin to operate. With last Friday as the deadline for states to respond to HHS, 29 states plus the District of Columbia said they would operate the pools themselves (not all of the rest have made a final decision). Of those twenty-nine, only seven are led by Republican governors in Alaska, California, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Vermont.
While it was conservative governors in the eighteen states who turned down the opportunity to administer the pools, the irony is that expansion of high risk pools was one of the major proposals promoted by conservative Members of Congress. Some state leaders raised the concern that the $5 billion set aside for the pools would be insufficient to assist the potential number of beneficiaries, but the continued pattern of non-cooperation highlights the suspicion that conservatives leaders have just made saying no an ongoing obstructionist tactic.
HHS told state officials in a recent conference call that states will not be asked or expected to contribute any state dollars, since there is absolutely no provision in the PPACA that even hints at such a possibility. But it's critical to remember that the most important feature of the temporary risk pools is that uninsured people around the country, who have been denied coverage for years, will soon have access to an affordable coverage option.
State Allocations: Each state’s allocation is based on population and need, not on whether it’s a state or federally operated program. California would receive the largest allocation of money, $761 million, while North Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming receive the smallest, each getting $8 million. An HHS website details the amounts of each state’s allocation for funding the high risk pools. Examples of Implementation include:
In the weeks following the signing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of health care reform were joined by multiple, conservative Attorneys General from states across the nation, despite widespread condemnation that such challenges were frivolous, wasteful, and almost certain to fail in the courts. In early April, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius commented that she believed the lawsuits had "more to do with politics than policy."
Now, new reports seem to confirm both partisan political motivation and coordination on the part of those using Attorney General offices to try to obstruct reform.
In Wisconsin, e-mail evidence uncovered by One Wisconsin Now appears to show clear political motivation behind the decision made by Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen to join the multi-state lawsuit challenging health care reform. Correspondence obtained by the organization shows communication between Wisconsin's Deputy Attorney General and the political director of the national Republican State Leadership Committee -- a 527 organization that has been funded in part by the health insurance industry -- in the days before Van Hollen joined the suit. One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross claimed that “Van Hollen owes his election in 2006 to unprecedented special interest spending by big insurance and big business and now he’s paying them back."
The political maneuvering involved was further highlighted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which unearthed e-mail evidence showing that the Wisconsin AG's campaign manager and an outside political consultant in Texas were both consulted about whether to file the lawsuit. Meanwhile, in South Carolina, Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Henry McMaster has released not one, but two campaign ads touting his involvement in the lawsuit.
Lawsuits Backfiring in a Number of States: While the anti-reform lawsuits are politically motivated, they may well fail in their ultimate goal of rallying voters. In Florida, Attorney General Bill McCollum, also running for governor, has been losing support in recent polling, a development which the Associated Press explained by noting that his decision to join the lawsuit "isn't sitting well with independent voters." Similar sentiment can be found in North Carolina, where a new poll shows North Carolinians squarely opposed to joining the lawsuit. In Connecticut, Governor Jodi Rell just this week decided not to join the lawsuit, despite having sharply criticized federal health care reform immediately after it was signed into law. And in New Mexico, the office of Attorney General Gary King has reportedly seen "a sharp decline in public support" for the anti-reform lawsuit in recent weeks, according to a study by the New Mexico Independent.
Similarly, legislative efforts by the health insurance industry and their allies at the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to obstruct reform in the states continue to falter, having already failed in over twenty-two states where ALEC has tried to pass health care nullification bills, while positive steps towards implementation continue to move forward in state after state.
MASSPIRG- House Adopts State Spending Website
Massachusetts: Comprehensive Anti-Bullying Bill Passes
US Department of Health and Human Services - Fact Sheet on Temporary High Risk Pool Program
Progressive States Network - State Implementation of Federal Reform: Resources
The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:
Nathan Newman, Executive Director
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