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2010 State Legislative Session Roundups: CO, MN, VT, TN


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2010 State Legislative Session Roundups: CO, MN, VT, TN

As legislative sessions come to a close, PSN highlights positive gains, legislative defeats, and unfinished business. This Dispatch features state legislative session roundups for Colorado, Minnesota, Vermont, and Tennessee.

2010 Legislative Session Roundup: Colorado

Session Roundup
2010 was an impressive year for Colorado’s legislature, which passed several hallmark bills that cemented the state’s reputation as a leader in renewable energy and health care reform. Despite careful cutting and compromising in order to end the year in the black as required by state law, the session was relatively bipartisan overall and ensured that outgoing Gov. Bill Ritter ended his tenure on a high note.

2010 Session Roundup: Minnesota

Session Roundup
This year marked another contentious legislative session in Minnesota, marked by gubernatorial vetoes and tough negotiations over the budget and healthcare. In the end, Gov. Pawlenty vetoed twenty bills, bringing his eight-year total to 96. Painful budget cuts and cost deferrals left the state's financial picture for 2012 and beyond uncertain, but legislators did manage to move important measures on broadband, energy conservation, and consumer protection, as well as a billion-dollar bonding measure that will create some jobs to cushion losses in other areas.

2010 Session Roundup: Vermont

Session Roundup
The Vermont State Legislature was able to compromise on next year’s budget, somewhat expeditiously. For fiscal year 2011, beginning in July, the state will face a $154 million budget gap and will have to borrow about $71 million. Many successes took place in the realms of health care, job creation, broadband coverage, criminal justice, and a successful stop to the re-licensing of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant. Additionally, Legislators engaged in a process called “Challenges for Change,” an attempt to save money for the state while encouraging government efficiency.

2010 Session Roundup: Tennessee

Session Roundup
Tennessee’s much-publicized educational reforms overshadowed the fact that the state’s policy decisions during the 2010 legislative session took a sharp rightward turn. Immigration and abortion were big targets, but public health and safety were also negatively affected by legislation that defied common sense.
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2010 Session Roundup: Colorado

Session Roundup * CRISTINA FRANCISCO-MCGUIRE

2010 was an impressive year for Colorado’s legislature, which passed several hallmark bills that cemented the state’s reputation as a leader in renewable energy and health care reform. Despite careful cutting and compromising in order to end the year in the black as required by state law, the session was relatively bipartisan overall and ensured that outgoing Gov. Bill Ritter ended his tenure on a high note.

Tax and Budget: Even before lawmakers passed the budget (HB 1376), Gov. Ritter had already been through three rounds of budget cutting. Colorado chose to balance the cuts to state services and programs by reducing or eliminating some of the state’s corporate tax credits and exemptions for a savings of about $100 million (in response to one of the tax-exemption cuts, Amazon.com threw a temper tantrum and announced that it would end its relationship with state affiliates), as well as by giving higher education governing boards more room to raise tuition rates up to 9% for the next five years. Property tax breaks for seniors were also eliminated for two years, a measure worth $92 million per year, $300 million was cut from K-12 education, and enterprise zone tax credits were limited. Colorado’s pension plans were also affected by the budget crisis, with Gov. Ritter signing SB 1 into law – the bill limits the amount state employee benefits can increase each year to 2%, mandates workers to pay slightly more into the system, and increases the retirement age.

Green Energy: It was a big year for Gov. Ritter’s “New Energy Economy” – in a year when renewable energy legislation was stagnating at the federal level, both houses passed 16 bills to promote clean energy within the state. Highlights include:

  • HB 1001 raises the standard from 20% to 30% for the amount of electricity that large utility companies must derive from renewable sources by 2020. The new Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) is one of the most aggressive renewable-energy goals in the country.
  • HB 1365, The Clean Air-Clean Jobs Act, places new standards on coal-fired power requiring Xcel Energy to cut its nitrogen oxide emissions by up to 80% by the end of 2017. Toward this end, Xcel is converting three of its coal-burning power plants to natural gas, an effort that will involve retiring or retrofitting 900 megawatts of coal-fired capacity. This is the first legislation of its kind in the country.
  • Under SB 100, counties and municipalities can join together to finance renewable energy and energy-efficiency projects.
  • The Smart Grid Task Force, created by S 180, will study the state’s infrastructure and develop policy recommendations to make the transition to Smart Grid.
  • New special districts can borrow money to fund renewable energy or energy efficiency projects for residents under HB 1328.
  • HB 1333 creates the Green Jobs Colorado Training Pilot Program, a two-year pilot program that expands job training programs by offering grants to community colleges and other training providers to develop programs for jobs in wind, solar, energy efficiency, and other renewable energy industries.
  • HB 1342 allows apartment dwellers and others who can’t utilize solar technology on their own roofs to join together to purchase shared panels in community locations.
  • Colorado state parks must increase the use of solar and other renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies to achieve energy self-sufficiency by 2020 under HB 1349.

Toxins: HB 1348 requires uranium processing facilities to clean up their toxic mess before expanding operations.

Urban Sprawl: Outlining more specific definitions for farmland, HB 1107 makes it more difficult for developers to routinely tap into urban renewal funding to extend urban sprawl.

Water Efficiency: HB 1358 allows the buyers of new homes to choose water efficient appliances and fixtures up front. Water Smart Homes use 20% less water than traditional new homes on average.

Health Care: Among other successful health care-related efforts, Colorado made dramatic strides in improving access to health care:

  • Encouraging health care providers to work in rural and medically underserved areas, HB 1138 creates a Health Care Jobs for Colorado Program, a loan repayment system for those who choose to work in underserved communities.
  • HB 1021 requires insurance carriers to provide coverage for maternity care and contraception. Group policies cannot exclude coverage on the grounds that pregnancy was a pre-existing condition, while individual policies can only exclude a current pregnancy at the time coverage is obtained.
  • Under HB 1008, insurance carriers are prohibited from charging women more than men solely on the basis of gender. It also declares any varying of premium rates by gender as unfairly discriminatory.
  • A HB 1166 makes insurance policy details easier to understand, mandating that all auto, dental, long term care, and health insurance policies sold in the state be written at no more than a 10th grade reading level.
  • An All-Payer Claims Database is created under HB 1330, which will make public information regarding safety, quality, cost, and efficiency, increasing transparency within the health care system.
  • HB 1332, the Medical Clean Claims Act, streamlines and standardizes insurance claims, saving time and money.
  • The Medicaid Efficiencies Act helps cut down on fraud and abuse and increases Medicaid’s efficiency, providing health care for more people at a lower cost.
  • HB 1228 will hold agents and insurance companies responsible for every plan they sell, and allows the commissioner of insurance to collect damages from an insurance company when deceptive policies are sold.
  • SB 153 creates a comprehensive approach to behavioral health issues, including mental health and substance use disorders. Aside from creating a mechanism for the state and stakeholders to address cross department behavioral health concerns, it creates standard elements for behavioral health screening in the criminal justice system and facilitates the transformation of the behavioral health system in Colorado.

Healthy Eating: Gov. Ritter signed SB 106 into law, which creates a Food Systems Advisory Council for the purpose of supporting a healthy local food economy and better coordinating farm-to-table efforts.

Child Safety: A bill requiring children younger than 8 to be in booster seats while riding in cars was signed into law.

Corporate Transparency: Gov. Ritter signed an executive order that would require companies that receive taxpayer funding to report how many jobs were created as well as the average and median annual salaries of jobs. It also requires a system to be developed in order to track jobs for all moneys paid out to companies from Colorado taxpayers.

Campaign Finance: Also passed was SB 203, which requires corporations and labor unions that spend at least $1,000 on political expenditures to register as independent expenditure committees.

Pay Equity: HB 1417 creates a permanent Pay Equity Commission to examine ways of bringing women’s pay more in line with men’s.

Workers’ Rights:

  • SB 28, the innovative Work-Share Program, gives companies the option of cutting all employee salaries instead of laying people off. The unemployment benefits that would have gone to the laid off workers will kick in for everyone to share on a pro-rated basis.
  • The Legislature passed HB 1409 to eliminate Colorado’s "pay for performance" system for state employees and create uniform, objective criteria for movement through pay grades. However, the measure was vetoed by the Governor, who instead directed the Department of Personnel and Administration (DPA) to work with unions towards pay progression and a transparent, accountable salary survey process.
  • SB 12 clarifies enforcement language when an insurer wrongfully doesn’t pay workers' compensation claims that are owed to injured workers.
  • HB 1012 creates new requirements that must be met before workers’ compensation insurers are allowed to use materials collected from surveillance of injured workers. For example, surveillance material must first be reviewed by physicians before being used to deny a claim. The bill passed the House, but died in the Senate.

Payday Lending: HB 1351 caps APR interest rates at 45% and mandates that borrowers be given as long as six months to pay back loans.

Child Welfare: The Child Protection Ombudsman Program (SB 171) was passed into law, which will receive and review complaints regarding the health and well-being of children, investigate and resolve cases, make recommendations for improving the system and creating a statewide grievance policy, and promote best practices.

Drunk Driving: A bill signed into law by Gov. Ritter requires judges to impose a full sentence of at least 10 days for second-time DUI offenders, and at least 60 days for third-time and subsequent offenders.

Sentencing Reform: Colorado took a good first step toward reforming its drug sentencing laws. HB 1352 differentiates between drug offenders who are addicted from the more serious offenders who distribute, manufacture, and traffic drugs. As a result, fewer addicts will see prison time and instead have greater access to treatment. Lawmakers also passed HB 1360, which seeks treatment and other evidence-based measures as intermediate sanctions prior to imprisonment for parolees guilty of technical violations (people who have not committed new crimes, but rather violated conditions of parole).

Education: In a controversial move undermine tenure rights, Colorado lawmakers passed a bill that changes the way teachers are evaluated. Half of teachers’ evaluations will be based on performance, and the other half will be based on students’ growth on standardized tests. Tenure would be given to teachers whose student scores improve during the school year, and allow tenure to be taken away when scores decline in two straight years.

Notable progressive bills defeated:

  • Paid Sick Days: HB 1397 would have required employers to provide accrued paid sick leave to its employees put didn't make it out of the House.
  • Anti-Discrimination Law: HB 1269 would have increased the state’s anti-discrimination remedies to match those at the federal level, as well as provided attorneys fees and damages to people who prevail in employment discrimination cases.
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2010 Session Roundup: Minnesota

Session Roundup * TIM JUDSON

This year marked another contentious legislative session for Minnesota, marked by gubernatorial vetoes and tough negotiations over the budget and healthcare. In the end, Gov. Pawlenty vetoed twenty bills, bringing his eight-year total to 96. This year's vetoes included a wide range of measures, from a bill enabling same-sex partners to make end-of-life decisions, to a medical marijuana bill, to a bill that would have supported local government and non-profit innovation efforts. Painful budget cuts and cost deferrals left the state's financial picture for 2012 and beyond uncertain, but legislators did manage to move important measures on broadband, energy conservation, and consumer protection, as well as a billion-dollar bonding measure that will create some jobs to cushion losses in other areas.

Budget Showdowns: Budget negotiations this year were complicated by an unprecedented measure taken by Gov. Tim Pawlenty in 2009 to “unallot” $2.7 billion in appropriations for the 2010-2011 biennial budget. Minnesota law empowers the governor to unallot expenditures from an approved budget under extenuating circumstances (e.g., underperforming revenue or unanticipated expense increases).

In a test of executive power, Pawlenty issued a line-item veto on a tax increase he did not favor, then vetoed the entire budget bill due to an “unresolvable” funding gap. Rather than call the legislature back into session to redraft the budget, Pawlenty used the emergency powers of unallotment to make the unilateral spending cuts. In May, one of the unallotments was struck down in court, opening the door to challenges against the rest of the 2009 disappropriations.

The case further complicated legislators’ work in 2010 by forcing them to deal with the unallotments and re-balance the budget. Pawlenty objected to the legislature's proposal to balance the budget with spending cuts and modest tax increases. In its final form, the 2010-11 budget ratifies most of Pawlenty’s original unallotments, as well as further spending cuts and deferrals. Although the cuts reduce spending in the current budget by $2.9 billion, $1.5 billion is in deferred payments which must be covered in the next budget.

Among the spending cuts included in the final budget is $364 million in aid to municipal governments – only $18 million of which is in deferred payments. This significant decline in funding will inevitably diminish the quality of local government services. As the Economic Policy Institute recently reported, forcing local governments to cut jobs in this way will increase unemployment and make it harder for local economies to recover.

Jobs and Consumer Protection: Two measures passed by the legislature will provide some relief to working families, through a combination of job creation, assistance to the unemployed, and regulation of mortgage lenders and property appraisers.

  • Bonding Bill: The legislature passed HF 2700, a $999.6 million bonding measure which will invest in higher education, roads and bridges, housing, employment and economic development, and other areas.
  • Jobs & Tax Credits Bill (HF 2781/ SF 2510): The legislature passed an omnibus employment and economic development bill which, among other things:
    • Grants local governments the authority to provide financing to property owners for energy conservation improvements and to collect repayments as special assessments.
    • Enacts the Minnesota Secure and Fair Enforcement for Mortgage Licensing Act of 2010 ("SAFE Act"), which directs the Department of Commerce to license and regulate residential mortgage industry employees and to participate in the Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System and Registry.
    • Enhances consumer protection with regard to insurance policies, particularly by regulating licensure of real estate appraisers and insurance products for cell phones and other portable electronic devices.
    • Amends the state unemployment insurance program by extending state benefits an additional thirteen weeks, defines employment through staffing service agencies for the purposes of determining eligibility for unemployment benefits, and sets unemployment insurance tax rates for new employers. The measure also creates a rapid response program for working with businesses planning on relocating their facilities and penalizes employers who make offers of employment to an applicant when, in fact, there are no jobs available.
    • Appropriates funds for additional tax compliance activities expected to result in new general fund revenue beginning in fiscal year 2011.

Health Care: Gov. Pawlenty’s veto of the legislature’s original budget proposals prevented the state from enacting any firm plans to shore up funding for medical care programs that serve extremely low-income adults. To cope with budget cuts, the federal government extended the state an opportunity to shift some residents from the state-run General Assistance Medical Care insurance plan to Medicaid early (most other states can expand Medicaid starting in 2014). The move would have enabled the state to maintain coverage while sharing the costs with the federal government through $400 million in matching funds. The Governor objected to accepting the funds, but the legislature kept the door open by including an option for the next governor to reverse that decision.

Education: The state’s higher education system is one of the programs most severely affected by the budget cuts. With $147 million in cuts and unallotments, higher education funding is now at 2006 levels. According to the Minnesota Budget Project, most students will have their state financial aid reduced by 19% and 9,400 students will lose their state grants altogether.

At the K-12 level, in addition to the budget issues, the session was marked by battles over teacher training and licensing in the name of “reform.” Several pieces of legislation included provisions to weaken certification requirements, in order to expand Teach for America and other programs. One measure would enabled people with non-teaching degrees to become teachers with only five weeks of preparatory training. Pro-public education legislators and advocates were able to prevent all of the measures from passing, but the session ended without any positive education policy passing, either.

Energy, Broadband, and Environment: Legislators were able to pass strong legislation on energy, broadband and the environment. Among the most positive achievements of the session included:

  • Passage of the universal broadband bill (HF2907), which will improve broadband speeds for all Minnesotans ten-fold and extend service to the 6% of households that still have no broadband access, all by 2015. The law also includes a goal of making sure the state ranks in the top 5 nationally for both broadband speed and access, and within the top 15 when compared to other countries. The law does not include a funding mechanism for build out of the necessary infrastructure, although legislators are considering imposing a fee on existing broadband customers.
  • The legislature adopted the Complete Streets policy as part of a larger Omnibus Transportation Policy Bill (SF2540). The policy will reduce air pollution through more comprehensive street planning.
  • An Omnibus Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Bill and Outdoor Heritage Appropriations (SF3275) bill updated and revised a wide array of environmental and natural resource programs and statutes. The bill also includes several measures that promote investment in renewable energy and green jobs: creation of a rebate program for solar panels manufactured in Minnesota; inclusion of “green chemistry” as an aspect of the green economy, opening up another sector for investment; increases staff capacity at the Public Utilities Commission; reappropriation of funds to research and development programs for renewable energy technologies; and funding for a community planning process to promote energy conservation and renewable energy in Minneapolis.

Election Reform: While Gov. Pawlenty vetoed a number of good voting rights measures passed by the legislature in 2009, this year saw some meaningful legislation enacted. The legislature took a step toward closing the door on unlimited corporate spending in elections (opened by the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision last fall) by passing SF 2471. The bill requires disclosure of political expenditures by corporations and unions from their general treasuries, increases the number of reporting periods, conforms state law to the Citizens United decision, increases penalties, and requires a disclaimer on all campaign materials disclosing who paid for the ad and what candidate the ad is in support of or opposed to. The bill was criticized for not closing a loophole exempting from the disclosure requirements ads that do not expressly call for the election or defeat of a candidate. Nevertheless, the attorney who won the Citizens United case has already filed a challenge against the new law, representing three clients, one of which is a for-profit corporation.

The governor signed an omnibus campaign finance bill (SF 80), which tightens regulations on party "independent expenditures" and imposes a contribution limit on judicial office candidates for the first time, although it otherwise does not make significant changes: other provisions include updates to contribution limits for Secretary of State and State Auditor and changes to certain filing and disclosure requirements.

A significant mesaure which failed this year was a proposed constitutional amendment to replace judicial elections with a merit-based appointment system (HF 224 / SF 70), partly to head off the possibility of politicizing the judiciary in the wake of Citizens United. Justices are currently elected to six-year terms in Minnesota. The measure would have them appointed to eight-year terms, with reappointments decided by non-competitive elections on whether to retain them (so-called "retention elections"). An independent, non-partisan commission would be created to review judges' performance, which would be reported to voters. The bills were reported favorably out of the initial committees in each house, but the measure died in the House Civil Justice Committee.

Bad Legislation Defeated:

  • Investment Company Tax Credit (SF 2306 / HF 2770): Criticized as an inefficient and likely unsuccessful program, this bill would have granted a 25% credit against insurance premium tax liabilities for Certified Capital Companies (or CAPCOs) which invest in certain Minnesota businesses.
  • Suspension of prevailing wage on bonding projects.
  • Removal of defined benefit pension plans for state employees.
  • Elimination of requirement to use public employees in Office of Enterprise Technology data centers.
  • Immigration: Legislators managed to bury an anti-immigrant bill (HF 3830) which mimicked Arizona's misguided and draconian law, SB 1070. Significantly, Police Chiefs in St. Paul and Minneapolis issued a statementdenouncing the legislation as a danger to public safety and an obstacle to police doing their job: "The culture of fear that this bill will instill in immigrant communities will keep victims of crime and people with information about crime from coming forward, and that will endanger all residents."
  • Foreign Corporation Taxes: HF 3044 would have closed corporate tax loopholes for foreign operating corporations and subjected foreign royalties and income from corporations using tax havens to the same taxation formula as regular business income in the state. The Department of Revenue estimated that the measure would have resulted in about $440 million in additional revenue from 2011-13. The bill was laid over for possible inclusion in the omnibus tax bill, but it was ultimately passed over.
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2010 Session Roundup: Vermont

Session Roundup * FABIOLA CARRION

The Vermont legislature was able to compromise on next year’s budget somewhat expeditiously. For fiscal year 2011, beginning in July, the state will face a $154 million budget gap and will have to borrow about $71 million. Many successes took place in the realms of health care, job creation, broadband coverage, criminal justice, and environmental issues, including a successful stop to the re-licensing of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant.

Legislators engaged in a process called “Challenges for Change,” an attempt to save money for the state while encouraging government efficiency. Authorized by Act 68, "Challenges for Change" asks that certain agencies, like school districts, deliver desired outcomes for $38 million less in general funds, while relieving $11 million or property tax pressure.

Reinvesting in a Diversified Economy in Vermont: The Vermont Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2010 aims to serve as an economic development tool that will create jobs and opportunity for struggling Vermonters. The bill uses $8.6 million in federal stimulus funds to make investments into growing green businesses, job training, and broadband expansion in rural areas. Specifically, the money will be invested as follows:

  • $2.85 million for the Vermont Telecommunications Authority to expand broadband access. The Vermont Telecommunications Authority will publish requests for proposals to provide broadband coverage to all of Vermont households and businesses within target community. A municipality where broadband services are currently unavailable or where business districts are underserved could be part of a proposal if it met the criteria.
  • $1 million for the Vermont Jobs Fund
  • $1 million for loans to allow farmers to finance their debt
  • $950,000 for the Vermont Training Program to provide employment training
  • $850,000 for an entrepreneur’s seed capital fund to provide money to growing green and agriculture businesses.

The Vermont Recovery and Reinvestment Act also reiterates the availability of funds for municipal bonding. Recovery zone economic development bonds reduce by 45 percent the cost of the kind of tax-exempt bonding normally done by towns, counties, school districts, and the state and may be used to fund capital expenditure for real and personal property, public infrastructure and facilities, and expenditures for job training and education programs.

Health Care: Vermont enacted Act 128 (Senate Bill 88) to study three different health care options aimed at universal coverage, including the public option and single payer system, and assessing the best way to finance that option. In addition, the law expands transparency in drug samples by requiring pharmaceutical companies to report annually to the Vermont Office of the Attorney General certain information related to free samples of prescribed products provided to health care providers during the preceding calendar year. The measure also calls for improved coordination of services for people with chronic health conditions.

Also enacted was Senate Bill 262 – now Act 127 – relating to insurance coverage for autism diagnosis and treatment. This new law requires insurance companies to provide coverage of evidence-based, medically necessary early intervention autism therapies. Further, insurances are obliged to cover diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders in children 18 months to six years. Many insurance companies explicitly exclude autism coverage. Like Vermont, 19 other states have moved to enact autism insurance and assist families seeking to provide their children with necessary treatment.

Criminal Justice: Acknowledging that crowded jails incur a lot of cost to the state, the Legislature introduced and passed what is now Act 157, providing for more alternatives to incarceration and funding for transitional housing. Prison reform will occur in a variety of ways; for instance, nonviolent detainees who cannot pay bail and offenders who have met their minimum sentences will await their court dates or serve their remaining sentences in their homes and communities. In order to calm the fears of Vermonters who think their communities will become dumping grounds, the law places some limits on how many people can be released in certain places.

A bill (Senate Bill 153) that would have enhanced safeguards in the state's original Innocence Protection Act (passed in 2007) met stiff opposition from the law enforcement community and failed to pass the House. Portions of the bill, however, were attached to the new judicial restructuring law. The results were mixed: independent oversight of the state's crime lab was nixed, a requirement that custodial interrogations be recorded (at least for two years, when the issue will be considered again) did not make it at the end, and state officials were ordered to draw up best practices for eyewitness identifications (such identifications are a leading cause of wrongful convictions).

Environmental Issues: Among the biggest, and most popular, legislative victories of this year was the refusal to re-license the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power plant. Various environmental organizations celebrated the blocking vote, especially as the leaking of radioactive tritium into groundwater was discovered after Yankee officials stated that no pipes carried such materials. Yet, these advocates remain prepared to put pressure on the legislators to close the reactor as a similar bill to continue the operation of the reactor is likely to reemerge in the next legislative session.

HB 781 (Act No. 159) is another legislative effort to expand renewable energy use and production. A step forward in clean energy use, the bill simplifies renewable-generation procedures by making the permitting process more predictable and efficient. Thanks to the bill, the Vermont Air Guard will be allowed to develop a significant solar project through a net-metering process (where a producer of renewable energy sells back excess energy to the utility company). Also when it comes to solar energy, existing state solar tax incentives will be capped and reformed in order to determine costs to the Clean Energy Development Fund and to relax deadline-related pressures on the Public Service Board. The act also promises to provide much needed price stability to the pioneering farmers in the Cow Power program. Lastly, the bill reduces the costs of meeting transformer efficiency standards, which will help IBM and other large employers in Vermont.

Similar to Connecticut's BPA law, SB 247 was enacted to ban the manufacture or sale of BPA-containing reusable food and beverage containers, and infant formula and baby food in plastic containers by July 2012 and infant formula and baby food in cans by 2014.

And lastly, SB 77 requires manufacturers of certain electronics - including televisions, computers, computer monitors, and printers - to implement a fund a system for the collection and recycling of those electronic devices. Already in place in more than 22 states, the Vermont law will take effect in 2012.

Voter’s Rights: A campaign finance reform bill (Senate Bill 92) passed the Senate but did not make it through the House, would have set reasonable limits on campaign contributions and would have regulated other campaign expenditures. The legislature also failed to pass a National Popular Vote (Senate Bill 34) bill which was held up in the House Government Operations Committee and an Election Day Registration (Senate Bill 124) bill.

Although opportunities were missed for electoral reform, the Challenges for Change Law halted the Governor’s effort to eliminate public notices – i.e. public hearings – in local newspapers. Public hearings are crucial to keeping policy review processes visible and accessible to the public.

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2010 Session Roundup: Tennessee

Session Roundup * CRISTINA FRANCISCO-MCGUIRE

Tennessee’s much-publicized educational reforms overshadowed the fact that the state’s policy decisions during the 2010 legislative session took a sharp rightward turn. Immigration and abortion were big targets, but public health and safety were also negatively affected by legislation that defied common sense.

Tennessee’s $29.9 billion budget represented an overall decrease of 0.3 percent from FY 2009-10, even as it depleted $245 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund. The budget protected $3.8 billion in Pre-K-12 education funding and provided nearly $20 million in tax relief on the purchase of furniture, appliances or building materials for victims recovering from disastrous floods. It also included $22.3 million in state dollars for a West Tennessee mega site, a future home for companies and a potential economic engine for a part of the state struggling with some of the worst unemployment in the region.

Education: Two landmark bills were signed into law during Tennessee’s special session.

The union-backed “Tennessee First to the Top Act of 2010” helped the state win $500 million in the federal Race to the Top educational grant competition. Though annual evaluations of teachers and principals were a major sticking point, a compromise allows student growth data to count for 35% of an evaluation and while another 15% is based on other student performance information. Other provisions of the bill include that:

  • The state can contract private entities or nonprofits to operate failing schools;
  • A 15-member teacher evaluation advisory committee will recommend guidelines and criteria to the State Board of Education, and;
  • An amendment that also passed creates the Teacher Professional Development Fund, dedicated funding for teacher training that is the first of its kind in the state.

The Complete College Tennessee Act of 2010 creates a new funding formula for public colleges and universities that is based on student success rather than enrollment. It also creates a statewide transfer policy to allow students who graduate from two-year community colleges to move on to four-year universities as a junior.

Energy: Federal energy assistance to low-income families was expanded through SB 3870/HB 3804, which raised the ceiling for eligibility.

Sentencing Guidelines: Under the new law, armed robbers would be forced to serve at least 74% of the minimum 8-year sentence, raising the minimum prison time to nearly six years. The measure pays for itself by removing mandatory prison time for first-time offenders who commit one of 19 nonviolent felonies, including passing forged checks or shoplifting merchandise worth less than $1,000.

Campaign Finance Reform: In response to the Supreme Court’s Citizen United ruling, the legislature approved the bipartisan SB 3198/HB 3182, which would make corporations play by the same rules as political action committees and require public disclosure of political donations for independent expenditures.

Defeating Anti-Immigrant Legislation: An effort to eliminate translations of the written driving exam was defeated in the House Budget Subcommittee. Over thirty-five other anti-immigrant bills were defeated in the Tennessee this year.

Defeating Anti-Health Care Reform Legislation: Though it breezed through the Senate, a House subcommittee killed the Tennessee Health Freedom Act, which would have blocked implementation of the federal health care reform law and directed the state attorney general to file a lawsuit against it.

Bills that Died in Committee:

  • Fair Taxation: SB 1741/HB 1947 would have required out-of-state corporations that are not required to collect Tennessee sales tax to report annually the amount of their customers’ purchases to the customer and to the state Dept. of Revenue.
  • Seniors: A bill that would create a Department of Aging failed by one vote in a Senate committee – supported by senior groups and disability groups, it followed the recommendations of an administration study as the first step toward consolidating programs for seniors.
  • Predatory Lending: A bevy of legislation designed to protect consumers from predatory lenders died in committee:
    • HB 3111/SB 3104 would have capped payday loan rates at 100% APR;
    • HB 3112/SB 3103 sought to prohibit Internet payday lending, regardless of whether the lender is located inside or outside Tennessee, and;
    • HB 3113/SB 3102 requires the state to impose a fee of $2,500 on each payday lending location, which would go toward a special financial literacy trust fund.
  • Coal Mining: The Scenic Vistas Protection Act, backed by every major Christian denomination in the state, would have banned mountaintop mining.
  • Proof of Citizenship: A bill requiring voter applicants to prove their citizenship status passed both chambers but died in conference committee.

Steps Backward:

  • Voting Rights: SB 440/HB 0960 disenfranchises voters by requiring felons to pay all their fines and court costs before getting their voting rights restored. After a lengthy debate in the House, the bill passed on a vote of 69-23, while the Senate unanimously voted in favor of the bill. The legislation was signed into law in June. A two-year delay on the Tennessee Voter Confidence Act also passed, which requires paper ballots and precinct-based ballot scanning machines.
  • Privatization: The School Board’s budget included a proposal to outsource the jobs of nearly 700 custodians and groundskeepers to a private company called GCA Services. On July 1, the new policy took effect – though 451 former school workers have cleared background checks to work for GCA, there’s no firm number on how many have actually been hired.
  • Abortion: Both chambers approved a measure banning insurers from offering abortion coverage. But legislators didn’t stop there:
    • Legislators also approved SJR 127, which would remove the right to abortion found in the Tennessee Constitution by the state Supreme Court. Before going to the 2014 ballot for voters to ultimately decide, it must first pass each chamber in the next two-year General Assembly by 2/3 vote.
    • SB 3812/HB 3301 would levy a fine of $2,500 per day against any facility performing abortions that doesn’t post signs declaring it illegal to force a woman into terminating a pregnancy. Additionally, physicians would be fined $1,000 per day whenever he/she conducts an abortion and the signs are not posted.
  • Guns in Bars: The Governor vetoed a bill that would allow handgun-carry-permit holders to take guns into places serving alcohol, including restaurants, museums, zoos, and other entities with liquor licenses/beer permits. However, both chambers overrode the Governor’s veto.
  • Nutrition: Both chambers passed legislation blocking local health boards from requiring restaurants to put nutritional information on their menus.
  • Immigration: Despite holding the line and preventing over 35 anti-immigrant bills from passing, a few still slipped through.
    • Both chambers passed a resolution commending Arizona for their passage of draconian SB 1070.
    • An English-Only in the Workplace bill was modified at the last minute, disregarding work done in conjunction with pro-immigrant groups.
    • Despite outcry from groups like the ACLU, the Bishop Diocese of Knoxville, and the Tennessee NAACP, a bill was signed into law that would require jailers in the state to verify the immigration status of every person detained. Jailers are now required to determine whether someone is in compliance with complex, federal immigration laws, despite no specialized training, funding, oversight, or access to federal immigration databases.
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Steps Forward

US: Judge Rules Part of Federal Defense of Marriage Act Unconstitutional

NM: Arizona's Losses Due to Anti-Immigrant Law May be New Mexico's Gain

IL: New Law Expands Mental Health Coverage For Illinois Vets


Steps Back

NJ: Energy Funds Raided to Balance New Jersey Budget

OK: State Rep. Pushes "Arizona-Plus" Immigration Bill

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Full Resources from this Dispatch

2010 Session Roundup: Colorado

The Bell Policy Center
Progress Now Colorado
Colorado PIRG
Environment Colorado
Colorado WINS
The Denver Post - Colo. Legislature’s 2010 Session Best Yet for Renewable-Energy
The Denver Post - Colo. Legislative Session Ends in a Scramble Shadowed by Future Education Woes
Denver Business Journal - More on Colorado Legislature’s Last Day
Aurora Sentinel Legislative Session Wraps with Tenure Bill’s Passage
Fox 31 KVDR, Colorado Politics - As Legislative Session Ends, a Look at What Happened

2010 Session Roundup: Minnesota

Conservation Minnesota
Education Minnesota
Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota
Minnesota Budget Project
Common Cause - Minnesota
OutFront Minnesota

2010 Session Roundup: Vermont

VT Digger - Vermont Senate passes amendments to jobs bill
Smart Growth Vermont - Legislative Update
Vermont Common Cause - Wrap Up of the 2010 Session of the Vermont General Assembly
ACLU of Vermont - 2010 Legislative Wrap Up
Vermont League of Cities and Towns - 2010 Legislative Wrap UpChallenges for Change - Progress Report
Vermont Natural Resources Council - Thumps Up, Thumbs Down: A Look at 2010 Under the Golden Dome

2010 Session Roundup: Tennessee

Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus - Tennessee Values Mark Senate Democrats’ Work in 2010 Session
TN Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition
Tennesseans for Fair Taxation
SEIU Local 205
Tennessee Citizen Action
ACLU of Tennessee
Common Cause Tennessee
Coalition for Responsible Lending in Tennessee
The Commercial Appeal - Legislative Winners, Losers as Tennessee’s Session Ends
Chattanooga Times Free Press - Tennessee Legislative Politics Veer Right
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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 and Green Jobs Policy Specialist
Cristina Francisco-McGuire, Election Reform Policy Specialist
Tim Judson, Workers' Rights Policy Specialist
Enzo Pastore, Health Care Policy Specialist
Suman Raghunathan, Immigration Policy Specialist
Altaf Rahamatulla, Tax and Budget Policy Specialist
Julie Bero, Outreach and Administrative Specialist
Mike Maiorini, Online Technology Manager
Charles Monaco, Press and New Media Specialist

Please shoot us an email at dispatch@progressivestates.org if you have feedback, tips, suggestions, criticisms, or nominations for any of our sidebar features.

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