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2010 Legislative Session Roundups: Connecticut, Florida, and Maryland
PSN on May 13, 2010 - 10:37am
Legislative Session Roundups: Connecticut, Florida, and Maryland
Thursday, May 13, 2010
2010 Legislative Session Roundups
As legislative sessions come to a close, PSN highlights positive gains, legislative defeats, and unfinished business. This Dispatch features state legislative session roundups for Connecticut, Florida, and Maryland.
Session Roundup: Connecticut
Progressive legislators in Connecticut made some very solid gains in their 2010 session by enacting major legislation on a number of policy fronts.
Budget, Tax and Revenue: First and foremost, the General Assembly concluded their work on the state’s biennial budget last Friday by passing a near unanimous, bi-partisan $19 billion budget for the next fiscal year while also avoiding any increases to income, corporate or sales taxes. While critics claim the approved budget does not address future structural deficits in 2012 and 2013, the legislature and Governor Rell agreed to close a $726 million deficit through a combination of measures. Those steps include a plan to borrow $989 million, the anticipation of $366 million in additional federal stimulus funds, deferral of a $100 million payment to the state employees’ pension plan, improved revenue projections, reliance on a FY 2010 $140 million surplus and $177 million in spending cuts.
The plan to borrow $989 million is in the form of Economic Recovery Revenue bonds, which the legislature agreed to push out into 2012 — when lawmakers believe the economy will have turned around. To cover the payment for servicing the annual debt, the legislature authorized a $29 million cut from an energy conservation fund and the continuation of a surcharge on electric bills, which comes to about $2.50 per month for the average household.
Among the spending cuts are modest premium increases in HUSKY (the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program), reductions in funding for certain magnet schools, and further cuts to off-line accounts such as the Citizens' Election Fund, the Community Investment Act, and the Banking Fund. According to Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams, a balanced budget agreement was reached without any tax increases at the same time steering clear of cuts in aid to municipalities and avoiding deep cuts to social service, health care and education programs that residents still depend upon in these troubled economic times.
Some lawmakers questioned the wisdom of the $100 million cut in next year’s recommended contribution to the state employee pension fund. They pointed to the fact that contributions due in the last and current fiscal year have already reduced the fund by a total of $214.5 million. However, the concession package ratified by state employee unions in 2009 allows this cut to go through on the sole condition that revenue projections stay above $300 million of the anticipated levels in 2010-11.
Job Growth: Recognizing that one of the best solutions for pulling out of the recession is through job creation, House and Senate leaders convened the Majority Leaders’ Job Growth Roundtable in 2009 to develop strategies for promoting facilitate short term job growth. The Job Growth Roundtable included members of the House and Senate, labor leaders, entrepreneurs, economists and the academic community. Recommendations from this task force are the basis for HB 5435, signed into law on May 6th. The legislation establishes an early-stage venture capital program, financing for the federal small business innovation research program and provisions to facilitate exporting state products and services. The bill also provides for energy-efficient school building projects, establishes a jobs creation tax credit and provides for an insurance reinvestment fund.
Education: The General Assembly took major steps in reforming and improving the state’s educational system. SB 438, still awaiting action by the Governor, puts the state in a more advantageous position to qualify for the next round of federal funds through the Race to the Top program. It also addresses Connecticut’s achievement gap, deemed to be one of the highest in the country. SB 438 took a significant number of steps to enable it to receive Race to the Top funding, just some of which are:
In order to address the achievement gap in Connecticut, SB 438 requires school boards with low-achieving schools to create and empower school governance councils made up mostly of students' parents or guardians.
Clean Energy and Green Jobs: The Legislature enacted a forward thinking energy bill in 2010. SB 493 signifies a major step towards a cleaner and more efficient energy future, creating and retaining jobs in clean energy industries in the process. The bill provides for increasing the use of solar, wind, fuel cell and other renewable energy sources and creating innovative financing programs to help families and businesses invest in energy efficiency and clean energy technologies. Other major components of the bill will be to reduce electric rates for families and businesses by giving the state’s Department of Public Utility Control (DPUC) procurement manager more flexibility in procuring power, creating and retaining green jobs through grant and loan programs, incentives for the installation of solar projects and other progressive innovations. It also establishes consumer protections in the form of direct billing practices and written contract requirements. This bill has also not yet been acted upon by the Governor.
Health Care: A number of important health access and insurance reform measures were passed this session. Some of the more major initiatives (all of which save HB 5295 have been signed by the Governor) include:
Domestic Violence: Because of an increase in media coverage highlighting some of the most tragic domestic violence incidents, Speaker of the House Chris Donovan exerted his leadership by convening a 2009 bipartisan legislative task force to study domestic violence issues. The task force met with and received input from a score of advocates, survivors, law enforcement, service providers and state agency staff working on the front lines. Out of these discussions and research came a series of recommendations aimed at making meaningful changes to provide more aid to victims of domestic violence. The task force proposed three bills all of which passed in both the House and Senate. But in addition to the three bills, the task force will continue to develop long term recommendations aimed at strengthening education and services. All three are resting with the Governor.
Housing for People with Disabilities: This bill authorizes the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), in consultation with the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority (CHFA), to establish a program that encourages developers to build residential homes that are easy for people with disabilities to visit. What is commonly known as “visitable housing” is defined as having “visitable features” including wider interior doorways, accessible entry and bathroom facilities that are accessible to people with disabilities. HB 5372 exempts developers from a requirement to obtain a State Building Code variance or exemption to construct visitable homes. And, it authorizes municipal legislative bodies to adopt ordinances giving these developers a property tax abatement.
Session Roundup: Florida
Confronting a mid-year deficit of $147 million and a projected $4.7 billion FY2011 shortfall, revenue and economic issues were a major focus for Florida lawmakers. The state's right-wing dominated Legislature also passed a series of divisive bills, including an extremely controversial effort endangering womens' reproductive rights, that will only serve to harm the state's working families and vulnerable populations.
Tax and Budget: Florida was hit disproportionately hard by the recession. Predominantly as a result of the burst of the housing bubble, the state lost almost 150,000 jobs and revenue plummeted 11.5 percent over the past year. As of April 2010, the state's unemployment rate reached 12.3 percent, one of the highest in the nation. The state's population and economic activity are decreasing as well.
Unfortunately, the $70.4 billion budget the Legislature approved does little to address the daunting economic and fiscal outlook. Legislators balanced the budget mainly through regressive cuts, federal Recovery funding, and gambling revenue.
Health Care: In response to the exponential growth of unregulated pain management clinics and an effort to curb growing prescription drug abuse, lawmakers passed "anti-pill mill" legislation, HB373, to prohibit a person from owning a pain clinic unless he or she is a physician with a license to practice in Florida, require clinic inspections, ban advertising of specific drugs, and limit the number of medications a clinic can distribute. As part of the budget agreement, state employees will now be required to contribute to health care plans.
Having cut health care funding for Florida families, the Legislature engaged in additional political posturing by approving HJR 37, which proposes a state constitutional amendment to prohibit laws "from compelling any person, employer, or health care provider to participate in any health care system." Floridians will consider this issue on the ballot in November.
Education: Education issues dominated this legislative session. SB 6, a radical effort to largely abolish teacher tenure was one of the most hotly debated bills this session. While Gov. Crist initially supported the idea, he eventually vetoed the legislation after tens of thousands of phone calls, letters and emails flooded his office. Other bills that were enacted included:
Endangering Reproductive Rights: In the waning days of the session, Florida conservatives followed the lead of other right-leaning states and passed severe restrictions to womens' reproductive rights. HB 1143 would force a woman to pay for and view an ultrasound before seeking an abortion, unless she signs a form that states that the decision not to review the ultrasound was made of her own free will, without "undue influence from any third party." The bill would also ban most private insurance companies from funding abortions. Sen. Nan Rich stated, "It is actually... the ultimate insult to women. It is saying that women can’t... use their own judgment as to what they want to do with their bodies.” Gov. Crist still has the opportunity to veto the bill.
Insurance: The Legislature additionally enacted legislation benefiting the commercial and property insurance industries. SB 2176 deregulates several insurance lines and excludes them from the rate filing and approval process. SB 2044 expedites the process in which property insurers apply for rate increases up to 10 percent and limits the time homeowners have to file a claim following a storm.
Traffic Safety: HB 325, a bill that sets guidelines for a network of red-light cameras to help enforce traffic laws, was the result of years of legislative attempts to address road safety.
Protecting Children: HB 119 places statewide restrictions on former sex offenders from loitering or prowling within 300 feet of a place where children congregate and approved controversial rules limiting where ex-offenders can live.
Protecting Seniors: The state's Chief Financial Officer, Alex Sink, has prioritized the financial security of Florida's seniors and created the Safeguard our Seniors (SOS) Task Force. The group recommended a bill that passed the Legislature this year. SB 2176 protects seniors against manipulative insurance practices and annuities fraud.
Campaign Finance: The Legislature approved a bill, HB 1207, to allow leaders in the House and Senate to operate campaign accounts to raise and spend unlimited amounts of cash, but the bill was ultimately vetoed by the Governor.
Session Roundup: Maryland
In spite of the recession, the Maryland Legislature maintained a balanced budget of $32 billion for fiscal year 2011. During its 90-day session, the Maryland government focused on funding vital issues such as education as well as ensuring that more Marylanders gain access to health care. As significant as these accomplishments are, several good bills did not pass the legislative threshold because of time wasted on less relevant matters.
The Budget: Effective July 1, 2010, the proposed budget leaves the state with a projected cash balance of $829 million. This includes setting aside $633 million, or five percent of the “Rainy Day Fund,” and $205 million in general fund surplus. The legislature failed to enact "combined reporting" to stop multi-state corporations from evading state taxes.
Despite achieving a balanced budget this year, as the Maryland Budget & Tax Policy assesses, deficits will likely persist into future years. Only 86% of the budget expenditures, they observe, come from ongoing state revenues, with heavy dependence on transfers from the federal Recovery Act and from special funds.
The legislature also approved, SB 106, the Job Creation and Recovery Tax Credit Act, which gives tax credits for businesses that hire out-of-work Marylanders and is expected that the law will create 4,000 new jobs.
Health Care: Legislation passed during this session will help reinforce the success of federal health care reform. HB 1564, the Maryland Health Insurance Plan/Administration of National Risk Pool Program, paves the way for swift and robust local implementation of federal health care reform by authorizing a benefit package and premium rate for individuals enrolled in the national high risk pool program. Another bill that passed the Legislative threshold is the Kid’s First Express Lane Eligibility Act (HB 1375), which aims to help uninsured children get better health care.
To deter waste and fraud in the state health care system, a False Claims Act (SB 279/HB 525) will encourage whistleblowers with knowledge of false Medicaid claims to file suit and share in damages with the state, which could recoup for the state up to $20 million annually in fraudulent claims.
Workers’ Rights: The legislature approved some important measures for working families this session.
Foreclosure Reform: Maryland enacted HB 472 mediation bill, which requires mortgage companies to help struggling homeowners keep their homes. The law requires lenders to provide homeowners with a loss mitigation application, the state hotline number, a detailed foreclosure timeline, and the eligibility requirements to participate in a lender’s loan modification program. The program emulates Nevada and cities like Philadelphia which have promoted mediation to deter foreclosure.
HB 711/SB 654 incorporates federal foreclosure rules, which allow most tenants the right to stay in a house declared in foreclosure for the rest of their lease, even after the property has been sold in foreclosure. While incorporating the major provisions of the federal law, it omits the federal three-year sunset clause.
Clean Energy: Maryland enacted a number of bills to promote alternative and reduced energy use:
Banning Toxins: Maryland joined the trend of states that are banning products containing toxins. Two bills, SB213/HB 33 and SB 556, received the overwhelming support of the legislature. The first bill banned Bisphenol-A (BPA), a toxic chemical found in baby bottles; BPA has been linked to cancer, developmental disabilities in children and reproductive problems in women. In passing SB 556, Maryland became the 5th state to ban the use of Decabrominated Diphenyl Ether (Deca-BDE), a toxic flame retardant found in the plastic casings of televisions, linked to developmental problems in children and health problems in firefighters.
Smart Growth: SB 760/HB 1155 establishes smart and fair growth criteria for funding transportation projects. The bill requires the Maryland Department of Transportation to evaluate all state-funded transportation projects against existing state transportation goals, which include safety and security, environmental stewardship, and fixing existing roads and bridges first. This bill makes it easier for the state to choose proposals that ensure transportation and land use decisions work together, providing more travel choices to Maryland citizens, especially for those who do not own cars. It will also reduce environmental damage from transportation projects and improve access to jobs.
Smart, Green, and Growing — The Sustainable Communities Act of 2010 (SB285/HB 475), coordinates key revitalization programs such as Maryland Main Street Program and Community Legacy. This key smart growth victory passed the House and on Sine Die unanimously passed the Senate. It is expected to increase state expenditures by $15 million in fiscal 2012 to 2014.
Also sitting on the Governor’s desk is SB 780, which will create a way for nonprofit community developers and local governments to set up “affordable housing trusts” that will permit the trusts to develop affordable housing and then sell it to low or moderate-income purchasers at a below-market rate. In return, the purchasers will own their house in fee simple for as long as they like but, when they decide to sell or if they die, their house must be sold at the same price for which they purchased it plus interest over the years.
Voter Protection: The “No Representation Without Population Act,” SB 400/HB 496, requires that prisoner populations be counted in their home districts, not where they are incarcerated. According to the ACLU of Maryland, “The legislation corrects an unfair enhancement of voting power that districts with a prison receive at the expense of the voting power of any other district without the prison."
SB 292 (also HB 217) sets the registration age at 16 years of age even though the individual still may not vote until the age of 18. This law will allow all young people to register at the MVA when getting a drivers license, which will reduce barriers for civic participation.
Education: The Maryland State Education Association expressed its satisfaction with the Maryland General Assembly which “continues to recognize that in order to maintain our great public schools, we must consistently have adequate funding.” HB 350, the Early Learning Act, gives more young children access to affordable early learning programs by obtaining more funding from the federal government. The legislature also succeeded at capping in-state tuition growth at 3% by approving SB 283/HB 470, which allocates $42.1 million to the Higher Education Investment Fund.
Promoting Responsible Business Practices: SB 690 creates a new form of corporation, the “B” or “Benefits corporations”, such as those relating to environmental preservation, improving human health, or promoting the arts and sciences. As the law’s author elaborates, “this will not only permit businesses to build public purposes alongside private ones into the very DNA of the corporation but it will signal to prospective shareholders, customers and other businesses the character of the corporation.” Further, SB 690 provides legal protection to directors and executives if sued by shareholders for making a socially or environmentally responsible decision, like refusing a lucrative takeover bid by a polluter that would make big money, but thwart the company’s social purpose. Maryland is the first state in the country to allow corporations to actually designate themselves as B corporations and register that way with the state.
Fields of Peril: Child Labor in US Agriculture - This Human Rights Watch report finds child farmworkers as young as 12 often working for 10 or more hours per day, five to seven days a week in grueling and dangerous conditions. These children typically earn less than minimum wage and drop out of school at four times the national rate. The report urges changes in age and hour laws in the farm industry to address the problem.
The State of Metropolitan America - A signature effort of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, this report portrays the demographic and social trends shaping its large metropolitan areas — and discusses what they imply for public policies to secure prosperity for these places and their populations. Transportation policies, integration of new immigrant communities, a reduction in economic inequality and investments in affordable housing are all needed to promote more efficient and beneficial growth patterns.
Making Residential Energy Efficiency Accessible to Low-Income Iowans - This report from the Iowa Policy Project examines how energy efficiency investments can reduce low-income Iowans’ energy consumption and utility bills, and highlights ways to improve existing energy efficiency programs so they are more accessible to low-income households. Inefficient appliances coupled with older homes, perhaps in need of structural repair, means that the homes of low-income residents are far less energy-efficient than homes occupied by upper-income households.
Breaking the Broadband Monopoly: How Communities Are Building the Networks They Need - Communities that have invested in publicly owned telecommunication networks have seen tremendous benefits, according to this report from the New Rules Project. Publicly owned networks tend to offer lower prices for access to the Internet, often forcing other companies to lower rates, a result that creates benefits for the whole community. Because public entities are directly accountable to citizens, they have a stronger interest in providing good services and upgrading infrastructure than private companies who are structured to maximize profits, not community benefits.
The State of Preschool 2009 - The seventh in a yearly series, this report by the National Institute for Early Education Research found that with the recession, this past year was the first they had seen with a slow down in progress in all three key dimensions that they evaluate — access, quality standards, and resources. Despite this, enrollment in state-funded pre-K did increase by more than 80,000 children from the 2007-08 year to the 2008-09 school year, although individual states vary greatly on whether they increased or decreased enrollment.
Faith and Family Equality - Examining the 2008 ballot initiative in Arkansas that aimed to ban same-sex adoption, this Center for American Progress report analyzes the efforts of religious groups on both sides of the issue. It details lessons learned concerning the importance of faith and LGBT alliances that are relevant to states facing upcoming similar fights, including the need to mobilize early, build authentic working partnerships between faith and LGBT groups, create specific faith messaging for different faith traditions, and humanize the issue.
Assets & Opportunity Special Report: The Financial Security of Households with Children - This Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED) report analyzes data on the net worth and asset poverty of households with children, and finds that many families are on financially shaky ground. Wealth gaps by race, income and gender persist across all households, but are most significant for households with children, own only 70 cents for every $1 in wealth held by all households. The report urges new policies to promote asset growth for children and families.
Enforcing Immigration Law at the State and Local Levels: A Public Policy Dilemma - This Rand study finds that local and state enforcement of federal immigration laws come with concerns about the potential for racial profiling, strained community relations and improper resource allocation. Such efforts could hamper state and local law enforcement's ability to investigate other crimes and interfere with its mission to protect and serve all members of the public.
When Investors Buy Up the Neighborhood: Strategies to Prevent Investor Ownership from Causing Neighborhood Decline - With so many foreclosed homes available for pennies on the dollar, unscrupulous investors are buying up huge chunks of neighborhoods — and leaving properties to fester and communities to suffer, according to this PolicyLink report. It lists dozens of specific policies, legal strategies, financial tools, and regulations that communities can use to combat the potential blight of investor ownership.
Characteristics of US Abortion Patients - Last week the Guttmacher Institute released a new study detailing how various demographics of US abortion patients changed between 2000 and 2008. The most drastic change occurred in the percentage women who have an abortion who are living under the federal poverty line - a change from 27 to 42%. Since most women who have an abortion are low-income, the report concludes that public funding of abortion could reduce the economic burden on many women unable to afford those services.
What's in There? The New Health Reform Law and Private Insurance - As part of an ongoing series to explore the provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act, this Alliance for Health Reform briefing deals with how the new health reform law affects access to private coverage. A range of specific provisions are covered, including the new federal high-risk pools, tax credits for small businesses, health insurance exchanges, the individual mandate, and employer obligations. The law’s provisions governing private health insurance mark a dramatic change from past practice, and much attention has been paid by opposing sides to the potential implementation and legal issues.
Session Roundup: Connecticut
CT News Junkie - House Joins Senate In Passing Budget; Rell Will Sign It
Business Week - Florida Budget Compromise Hits Lawmakers Desks
Maryland League of Conservation Voters — 2010 Environmental Legislative Wrap-Up
The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:
Nathan Newman, Executive Director
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