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PSN on May 20, 2010 - 11:32am
Legislative Session Roundups: HI, AZ, AL, WI, KY
Thursday, May 20, 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 Hawaii, Arizona, Alabama, Wisconsin, and Kentucky.
Session Roundup: Hawaii
Like the rest of the nation, the Hawaiian legislature made needed reforms in order to balance the state’s $1.2 billion budget deficit. The Democrat-led legislature used innovative ways to deal with the crisis - such as raising the taxes on petroleum products, a measure that lessens Hawaii’s dependence on foreign oil and reinvests in renewable energy sources, and voting to reroute sitting monies from the Hurricane Relief Fund terminate teacher furloughs and ensure that students remain more days in the classrooms. Notably, the legislature had to override 11 out of 14 vetoes by their Governor.
Taxes and the Budget: Among those overridden vetoes is HB 2421, which increases the tax on petroleum products, also known as the Barrel Tax, from $0.05 to $1.55 per barrel on petroleum products. The revenues raised by the tax will provide $22 million per year to help with the deficit and appropriate $11 million to funds relating to renewable energy, food self-sufficiency, and climate change. The bill promotes economic development, ensures Hawaii’s self-sufficiency in food and energy, and attempts to reverse the impact brought on by climate change.
Health Care: SB 1178 makes an emergency appropriation of $40 million in general funds and $80 million in federal matching funds to the Department of Human Services for fiscal year 2010 to address the Medicaid budget shortfall.
Education: State lawmakers approved a bill (SB 2124) that authorizes $67 million from the state's Hurricane Relief Fund to eliminate teacher furloughs next school year. Governor Lingle has admitted that authorizing teachers’ furloughs was a mistake and has been working with educators to undo her decision. The bill is ready for the Governor’s approval.
In order to prevent using teacher furloughs to solve budget crises in the future, HB 2486 will require the phased-in implementation of a certain number of student instructional hours each year at all public schools, except charter schools. It also requires the Department of Education to consider pick-up and drop-off times that optimize its transportation services while minimizing costs to the State. The bill is awaiting the Governor’s final approval.
Energy Efficiency and the Environment: A high number of energy efficiency bills were introduced during this legislative session and most did not make it through the session. Among the few that are ready for the Governor’s signature is SB 2563, requiring the state to have 30% of its fuel needs met by alternative fuels by 2030.
Civil Rights: In a victory for gay and lesbian equality, HB 444 was approved to permit same-sex and heterosexual civil unions. The measure extends the same rights, benefits, protections, and responsibilities of spouses in a marriage to partners in a civil union, without changing the definition or requirements for traditional marriage.
Broadband: Ready for the Governor’s signature is HB 2698 , which creates the state broadband commission in order to promote and maximize availability of broadband services in the State. The bill provides for public and private entities and competitive prices as well as includes provisions on telemedicine, telework for public and private employees and e-learning.
Miscellaneous: In response to repeated requests, mostly from out-of-state, to view President Barack Obama’s birth certificate, a law was enacted to ignore duplicate requests if the state has already reviewed the request, found it is the same, and that its response would also be the same (SB 2937).
Failed Election Reforms: Addressing the problem that Hawaii had the lowest voter turnout rate in the nation in 2008, with only 51.8 per cent of registered voters in islands voting in the Presidential election, the legislature introduced multiple election reform measures, but none were enacted. Proposals included removing restrictions on ex-felon voting (SB 2171), automatic registration or online voter registration (HB 2406), vote-by-mail (SB 2415), as well as SB 2918, a measure to increase transparency in corporate campaign contributions proposed in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizen's United decision.
Session Roundup: Arizona
Arizona's right-wing Legislature made national headlines by passing a discriminatory, anti-immigrant bill, SB 1070. Even as the state faced one of the steepest budget shortfalls in the nation, the legislature lurched from privatization schemes to attempting to completely eliminate its health care program for children. Even as the state's economy remained in crisis, the legislative session was dominated by right-wing obsessions like banning the regulation of greenhouse gases, gun lobby priorities, attacks on ethnic study classes, and bans on embryo and stem cell research. A few progressive initiatives like encouraging youth voting and transparency for local budgets were approved, but extreme right-wing posturing marred the session.
Tax and Budget: With an unemployment rate of 9.6 percent in March, 82,200 jobs lost since the previous year, and the state's revenue plummeting by 16.5 percent last year, Arizona confronted a mid-year FY2010 budget shortfall of $1.9 billion and a $2.6 billion projected FY2011 deficit. Over a decade of corporate tax cuts, regressive budgets, and severe spending and revenue constraints have exacerbated Arizona's economic and fiscal decline.
Unfortunately, this year's budget, predominantly relying on budget cuts and borrowing, will only dim Arizona's prospects for recovery and harm the state's working families. Rather than deal with long-term revenue shortfalls, the state borrowed $2 billion and delayed $1.4 billion in payments. This was matched by draconian spending cuts, including:
Notably, the Legislature refused to approve unemployment benefit modernization legislation, HB 2712, choosing to forgo $150 million in federal funds rather than expand the eligibility determination for unemployment insurance.
Zigzag on Abolishing KidsCare: Right-wing legislators targeted KidsCare, the state's public insurance program for children, as part of budget balancing measures early in session. The Legislature approved SB1010, to eliminate the program and remove statutory requirements in state law to provide health care coverage to low-income children. The move would have spelled the end of primary health care coverage for 50,000 Arizona children and the loss of $7.8 billion in federal matching funds.
Fortunately, a provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires states to maintain health care programs as they existed at the time federal health care reform was enacted. In the end, lawmakers agreed to partially restore funding to the children's health program and passed SB 1043, but have continued to freeze enrollment. As part of the budget agreement, the Legislature eliminated funds to help counties pay for health care coverage, enacted cuts to elderly in-home services, and removed behavioral health funding for 14,600 seriously mentally-ill adults, 4,200 children, and 11,000 adults with general mental illnesses.
Arizona Voters Prevent Further Cuts: On May 18, Arizona voters approved Proposition 100, a measure to temporarily increase the statewide sales tax by one cent for the next three years, by a substantial margin. The increase will generate $1 billion in additional revenue per year. Gov. Jan Brewer campaigned diligently for the increase, emphasizing, "[i]t is always a difficult thing to vote for an increase in taxes but it is the right thing to do. Prop 100 is not a cure all, but it will get us through."
Immigration: Supported by national anti-immigrant networks, conservative Arizona legislators passed a draconian, anti-immigrant law, SB 1070, which allows state and local law enforcement to arrest anyone upon "reasonable suspicion" that they are undocumented. The law faces several legal challenges and has drawn immense criticism from civil rights advocates, police officers, state lawmakers, Congressional leaders, and President Barack Obama. As PSN noted recently, the law's broad, deleterious implications include legalizing racial profiling, criminalizing immigration, undercutting federalism, criminalizing speech, potentially deterring local authorities from enforcing other laws, and decreasing economic activity. As Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema stated, "[u]nfortunately, this bill represents the very worst about America. This bill just runs roughshod over the entire Constitution."
Discriminatory Education Initiatives: Following SB 1070's promotion of racial profiling in the state, Arizona legislators approved HB 2281, which prohibits the teaching of ethnic studies in public schools. Some analysts compared this to historical bans in the past on Native Americans studying their own history. A United Nations human rights representative remarked, "everyone has the right to seek and develop cultural knowledge and to know and understand his or her own culture and that of others through education and information." In line with the Legislature's actions, the state's Department of Education last month mandated the removal of teachers whose English is deemed to be "heavily accented or ungrammatical" from the classroom.
Other Right-Wing Initiatives proliferated in the legislature, including:
Gov. Brewer hoped to join some other states in a partisan lawsuit against federal health care reform, but the state's Attorney General Terry Goddard refused to do so.
Teacher Evaluations: SB 1040 adapted a new framework for reviewing teacher quality. After intense debate, the bill requires the creation of a new system for evaluating teachers which will be based 33 to 50 percent on student academic performance and progress.
A Few Progressive Victories:
Sexual Abuse: Despite some high-profile debate on the measure, lawmakers failed to approve SB 1292, an effort to eliminate the statute of limitations for victims who were sexually abused as minors. Currently, adults in Arizona have only two years after their 18th birthday to sue the perpetrator.
Session Roundup: Alabama
Alabama’s three month legislative session that adjourned on April 22 was dominated by three issues -- passing a state budget, a controversial bill to bring a referendum on whether to make electronic bingo legal and legislation to bail out the state’s popular pre-paid college tuition program.
Budget, Tax and Revenue: As with so many other states, Alabama faced a large budget shortfall this year. Based on estimates from the Legislative Fiscal Office, the state's general fund faced a shortfall of about $600 million this fiscal year. But largely through the use of state rainy day funds and federal aid the state received through ARRA money, major cuts in education, health and services programs were avoided.
The legislature made their budget situation worse by approving new corporate tax breaks (HB 260) in the name of subsidizing employers who hire unemployed workers up to 50 percent of wages paid to new hires.
Unfortunately, a more positive measure for working families was defeated. A broad-based campaign proposed repealing the 4 percent state tax on groceries and over the counter medications, while raising revenue by eliminating the deduction for federal taxes paid by higher-income earners. The constitutional amendment (HB 1) received a vote of 54-42 in the House of Representatives, but the proposal fell just 9 votes short of the 63 votes needed to bring the bill to the House floor for debate.
Electronic Bingo: The most controversial bill of the year was one that would have let voters decide whether to declare electronic bingo legal and set up a gaming commission. While SB 515 passed the Senate, it died without a vote because the sponsor wasn’t able to find enough backing for the bill among other House members. Opponents viewed the bill as bad public policy, especially a provision where, if it had been approved by the voters the Legislature could have revisited the bill to create rules for bingo operations. During the time the bill’s fate was being decided, federal authorities revealed an investigation into possible corruption in the legislature involving the bingo bill.
Education: One major bill that did pass was to appropriate funds for the state's prepaid college tuition program (PACT). The PACT program covers about 45,000 children. The Prepaid Affordable College Tuition program ran into trouble when the stock market collapsed last winter. The program's assets, once valued at nearly $900 million, were heavily invested in stocks, and their value plunged below $500 million. However, despite initial differences between the House and Senate over whether to establish a cap for state university tuition increases, Senate Bill 162 will provide the program with a total of $236 million over eight years, as it was signed into law on April 30th.
Transportation: A major transportation bill did pass the legislature this session. SB 120, a proposed constitutional amendment that authorizes the Alabama Trust Fund to make payments of $100 million each year for 10 years for road & bridge construction, maintenance and repair programs in the state’s transportation infrastructure. The measure has been placed on a November ballot initiative. If approved, the state will make an annual distribution of $25 million of the $100 million to cities and counties based on the state’s gasoline tax distribution formula, $74 million to the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) and $1 million to the Alabama Shortline Railroad Infrastructure Fund.
Environment and Energy: The Alabama Permanent Joint Legislative Committee on Energy and interest groups worked to pass several bills pertaining to energy and energy efficiency. Among the bills passed was HB 128 , which provides for the “Codification of the Joint Legislative Committee on Energy Policy” and provides for an ongoing state energy study and energy plan. Additionally, SB 315 requires the adoption of the Alabama Energy and Residential Codes to comply with certain federal energy and building requirements.
Defeated Bills Included:
Defeated Affordable Housing: Even though a bill (HB 512) to create a state Affordable Housing Trust Fund sailed in the House unanimously (91-0), it never came up for a vote in the Senate. The estimated shortage in the number of affordable housing units in Alabama totals about 45,000. Alabama is one of only 12 states that has not established a housing trust fund as a strategy to address housing shortages.
Session Roundup: Wisconsin
In a year dominated by issues of job creation, child care reform, and discussions of how to expand mass transit, Wisconsin also made fantastic strides in efforts to green the state, protect pedestrians, create domestic partnership benefits, and ease the consequences of license suspension on low-income communities.
Green Energy: SB 651 authorized the Green to Gold Fund, a unique, $100 million revolving loan fund designed to help manufacturers move into clean energy production or improve their energy efficiency. The fund was announced by Gov. Jim Doyle during his State of the State address, following on the heels of an August 2009 announcement that clean energy manufacturing would be the sole beneficiary of the entire $55 million in State Energy Program funding received through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
Enacted in May 2009, AB 255 authorizes local governments to make loans to residential property owners interested in making renewable energy improvements. SB 624, which passed in May 2010, expands the law to commercial and industrial properties, and adds water efficiency projects to the list of eligible improvements. Gov. Doyle vetoed a green buildings law, arguing it was unworkable and might delay some building projects.
Regional Transportation Authorities: AB 75, which included a proposal to create regional transportation authorities (RTA), was enacted in June 2009. It gives communities the ability to provide stable funding for transit as well as expands local transportation options in an effort to not only minimize the effects of traffic and automobile dependence, but to improve worker access to jobs and vice versa.
Toxic Chemicals: On March 3, 2010, Gov. Doyle signed the BPA Free Kids Act into law, making Wisconsin the third state in the country to ban the toxic chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) from children's products like bottles and sippy cups.
Bike-Friendly Legislation: One of the nation’s top four bicycle-friendly states enacted two significant policies aimed at further protecting cyclists and pedestrians. “Dooring” legislation puts the onus on drivers to look for cyclists before opening car doors and fines drivers who violate the new law, while their Complete Streets legislation is designed to enable safe access for all, regardless of age, ability, or mode of transportation. Wisconsin’s 2010-2011 state budget also contains $5 million specifically for bicycle infrastructure, the first state-funded source of its kind geared toward planning and constructing bicycle facilities.
Education: A number of new programs were enacted to improve the school quality:
Electronic Medical Records: On May 11, 2010, Gov. Doyle signed the WIRED for Health Act into law. The new law requires all hospitals and clinics in the state to link together to share patient information, which will allow medical providers to not only improve health outcomes, but also avoid duplicative tests and decrease overall costs.
Criminal Justice: The Fair Justice Act expands the eligibility criteria for obtaining a public defender in the criminal justice program, so that a single person who earns less than 115% of the federal poverty line - or $259.50/week - would qualify, the same criteria as that of the Wisconsin Works program, which provides aid and employment support to the poor.
Domestic Partnerships: Wisconsin became the first state with a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and civil unions to recognize domestic partnerships. Under the budget provision, it also became the first Midwestern state to extend legal protections to same-sex couples, offering 43 of the more than 200 rights and benefits granted to married couples.
Job Access & Driver’s License Reform: Wisconsin passed a bevy of legislation aimed at balancing infractions of the law with the often-severe consequences of license suspensions. Not only do non-driving-related license suspensions disproportionately affect low-income communities by reducing their transportation options and decreasing their chances of working their way out of poverty, but a records review linked suspended/revoked licenses to an ongoing epidemic of hit-and-run accidents. The following bills were signed into law in May 2009:
Payday Lending: In the world of payday lending reform, Wisconsin’s SB 530 limits loans to $1,500 or 35% of monthly income, whichever is less, and mandates that borrowers can only renew their loans once. The bill, which was signed into law on Tuesday, also places limits on where payday loan stores can be located, but does nothing to cap interest rates. However, Gov. Doyle used his powerful veto powers to toughen the bill, banning auto title loans and eliminating all interest charged by lenders after a payday loan comes due.
Notable Defeats: Gov. Doyle’s Clean Energy Jobs Act stalled in the Senate on the last day of the legislative session. The bill would have required that at least 25% of Wisconsin’s energy come from renewable sources by 2025, emissions be reduced to 2005 levels by 2014, and all new buildings constructed after 2029 be “zero-net buildings” that only use energy they generate on-site from renewable sources. In the process, the bill aimed to create 15,000 new jobs in the state’s growing alternative energy sector by 2025.
On the positive side, legislation (AB 696) to deregulate cable television services across the state failed to be taken up by the Senate, despite Senate and Assembly committee approvals secured with one week of each other.
Session Roundups: Kentucky
Although the General Assembly met this year in regular session from January-April, the session was overshadowed by negotiations over how to resolve a $1.5 billion budget gap in 2011 and 2012. Governor Steve Beshear’s initial proposal to close the shortfall relied heavily on new revenue from the expansion of gaming. The House agreed to support the increase in gaming revenue, but Senate leadership refused to consider it. A State Budget Director report shows that April 2010 revenues were lower than in April 2009, suggesting that the projected deficit could be growing — a gap that will be increasingly difficult to control without new sources of revenue. Both houses issued their own budget bills, but were unable to come to agreement, and the legislative session ended on April 15 without a budget.
On May 12, Governor Beshear issued a revised budget proposal incorporating elements of the House and Senate versions. The new budget includes spending cuts of 3.5% in 2011 and 4.5% in 2012. The General Assembly will meet in special session, beginning May 24. There has been much attention on the $63,000/day cost of the special session, so Assembly leaders and the Governor wanted to make sure an agreement on the budget was in place to limit the special session to the minimum length of five days.
As of this writing, Governor Beshear has not formally issued the special session order, but said he expects to add transportation plans for 2011-2016 to the agenda. These items could still be contentious. House leadership has said that, while the House approved $300 million in bonds for transportation in the Governor’s original plan, members may be less receptive to it now that funding for most other construction projects has been cut. Also, the House may object to the full $2 billion transportation plan for 2013-2016 proposed by the Senate.
Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Incentives: In 2008, the General Assembly enacted a law (HB 2) creating a package of tax incentives for renewable energy and efficiency projects. However, the state has not been able to implement the programs due to a legal challenge based on the fact that it was passed after midnight on the last day of the legislative session. This year, the General Assembly passed HB240, which repeals and reenacts HB2 as a way to settle the legal dispute and enable the state to make real progress in reducing global warming pollution and bring down energy costs. The law’s major provisions include:
Natural Gas Deregulation: HJR141 directs the Legislative Research Commission to open a case on retail competition in natural gas supply. Advocates have warned that the state should proceed cautiously in considering deregulation of natural gas because of evidence showing the likelihood that consumers’ energy costs will rise rather than decline. Of particular note is a pilot competition program in Columbia Gas service territory. During the program’s first eight years, consumers who have participated have paid $4.45 million dollars more in gas costs over and above what they would have paid had they chosen to remain with Columbia Gas.
Setting Livestock and Poultry Care Standards: As originally filed, SB105 would have preempted local ordinances defining certain industrial livestock production practices as animal cruelty by creating a state Livestock Care Standards Commission. The House Agriculture and Small Business Committee amended the bill as HB398 to make the commission advisory to the state Board of Agriculture, and to protect the ability of communities to control and abate nuisances arising from concentrated animal feedlot operations (CAFOs) and CAFO siting ordinances.
Care for Children with Autism: The General Assembly unanimously enacted HB 159, which increases the amount of coverage health insurers must provide for autism spectrum disorders. The bill requires large-group and state employee insurance plans to provide coverage in the annual amount of $50,000 for children with autism from age 1 to 6 and up to $12,000 a year for older children with autism.
Labor and Workers’ Rights: Not much progress — or regress — was made on labor issues this year. Two pro-worker bills that passed included a job creation measure and a workers' compensation measure, including a Bid Preferences for Kentucky Contractors (SB 45) and Workers' Compensation Claim Guidance (HB 38), which updates existing workers' compensation legislation and requires workers' compensation guidelines to remain current with the most recent medical and scientific knowledge by continually updating the law's reference to the relevant AMA document as new editions are released.
Hospital Visitation Bill: A significant step for LGBTQ-friendly legislators and advocates was unanimous passage by the House of HB 118. The bill would allow any adult hospital patient to designate another individual to be treated as a member of the patient's family with regard to visitation. The bill died in the Senate Judiciary committee, but the House’s vote was a strong statement in the face of HB 440 - a bill that would have legalized discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity (see below).
Notable Progressive Defeats Included:
Notable Conservative Bills Defeated Included:
Project Vote - Election Legislation Monthly Roundup
The Arizona Republic - 2010 Session Wraps Up - Partisan to the End
Arise Citizens' Policy Project - Untax Groceries
Kentucky ACLU — 2010 General Assembly
The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:
Nathan Newman, Executive Director
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