DISPATCH: The Jobless as Punching Bag, Obamacare is Winning, and More

Stateside Dispatch
Saturday, February 23, 2013

Welcome to the Stateside Dispatch, Progressive States Network's roundup of the latest state policy news. Here's what happened in the states this week:

Latest Conservative Punching Bag: The Jobless

With the debate in D.C. currently centered around exactly how much more federal budget austerity to enact, and with the budget sequester threatening 750,000 jobs nationwide looking more and more likely to go into effect March 1st, the jobless also continue to be under attack in the states. This week, one state signed devastating cuts to their unemployment insurance system into law, another advanced a restructuring of their system that would endanger their federal funding, and efforts to ban employer discrimination against the jobless ran into the veto pen of a billionaire big-city mayor:

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCory signed a devastating bill into law this week that will drastically cut unemployment insurance benefits for the jobless (media were not invited to the bill signing ceremony). [AP]

It turns out one of the lawmakers who voted for the cuts in North Carolina "spent more than a year collecting unemployment checks" himself. [NC Policy Watch]

The Arizona House approved a bill to require workers to prove their eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits — which may violate federal law and put funding of the program in jeopardy. [AP]

New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg vetoed a bill that would ban employers from discriminating against job applicants for being unemployed, but the City Council may override it. [AP]

Kansas joined the ranks of states considering legislation addressing the pressing need to make the jobless urinate into cups before receiving unemployment benefits. [AP]

The sequester may cause jobless workers to lose an average of $400 in benefits through the end of the fiscal year. [ThinkProgress]

Is Obamacare Finally "Winning"?

A longtime staunch opponent of the Affordable Care Act decided to support expanding Medicaid in his state this week, adding to the list of conservatives who are having a change of heart on the issue, as advocates (as well as hospitals and other industry forces) continue to lobby hard for states to take full advantage of the federal funding provided in the ACA. At the same time, lawmakers from states including Mississippi continued their efforts to push for expansion as well. As full enactment of the law draws closer and closer, progressive lawmakers are growing bolder in their advocacy for full implementation of the ACA, and events this week signaled a clear shift in the political terrain in favor of supporters of health reform:

Florida Gov. Rick Scott's new position: "I cannot, in good conscience, deny Floridians the needed access to health care." [Miami Herald]

Ohio Gov. John Kasich "implored" conservative lawmakers to join him in supporting Medicaid expansion in his State of the State address. [Columbus Dispatch]

Pressure is now building even more on other conservative-led states, including Texas, to expand Medicaid. [Fort Worth Star-Telegram]

Texas State Rep. and PSN Board Member Garnet Coleman: "The people of Florida should be proud of their governor for making the right choice." [Texas Tribune]

Mississippi lawmakers are also trying to pressure conservative leadership to expand Medicaid. [Clarion-Ledger]

Advocates are urging Georgia's governor to reconsider his refusal to expand Medicaid. [Atlanta Journal-Constitution]

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius: States like Florida and Ohio are deciding the Medicaid expansion is "simply too good to pass up." [AP]

A list of the 13 governors still insisting on denying families health security by refusing to support Medicaid expansion. [Mother Jones]

Ezra Klein on why events this week are more evidence that "Obamacare is winning." [Washington Post]

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SCOTUS to Take Center Stage on Voting Rights Act, Marriage Equality

In the coming weeks, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in two high-profile challenges affecting states directly: Shelby County v. Holder, a challenge to the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, as well as two cases on same-sex marriage. Arguments in the Voting Rights Act case are scheduled for February 27th, while arguments in the two marriage cases, Hollingsworth v. Perry and United States v. Windsor, are set for late March. States and the Obama administration are already filing briefs in advance of both cases. At the same time, efforts to advance marriage equality continued this week in state legislatures including Minnesota and New Jersey:

Attorneys General from South Carolina, Arizona, Georgia, South Dakota have filed briefs asking that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act be declared unconstitutional. [Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law]

Briefs from 11 states in total have been filed with SCOTUS in advance of the oral augments in the case, including Mississippi, California, New York, and North Carolina who are all supporting the constitutionality of the law. [NPR]

The Obama administration is urging the Supreme Court to uphold a federal appeals court ruling that found the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. [Mercury News]

Meanwhile, a Republican state legislator is set to co-sponsor a same-sex marriage bill in Minnesota. [Star Tribune]

New Jersey legislators will attempt to override Gov. Chris Christie's veto of same-sex marriage. [AP]

Bad Flu Season Amplifies Calls for Paid Sick Days

Out sick this week? You weren't alone. In the midst of one of the worst flu seasons in years, states and municipalities across the nation are seeing an increasing focus on workers' lack of access to paid sick time. Unfortunately, in some places, that has also meant conservatives focused on pre-empting and reversing existing protections, including taking away the rights of local municipalities to determine what's best for their communities:

The tough flu season is changing the debate around paid sick days as proposals advance in at least half a dozen cities and states, including Maryland, Washington, and Massachusetts. [Wall Street Journal]

New statistics show that 3 million workers nationwide took time off due to sickness in January, the most in any month since the winter of 2008. [ThinkProgress]

In the New York City mayoral campaign, prominent feminist Gloria Steinem threatened this week to withdraw her support of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn if she continued to refuse to allow a vote on paid sick leave legislation. [New York Times]

In Washington's state Senate, three bills on the issue were debated this week in committee, including one that would extend the protections in Seattle's landmark paid sick days ordinance to the entire state. [Washington Policy Watch]

Two bills that would roll back paid sick leave in Washington state were also debated and cleared committee. [WA Senate Dems Blog]

Conservative Florida state legislators want to ban local governments from adopting paid sick days and living wage standards. [Orlando Sentinel]

State legislators: Join PSN's Economic Security Working Group of state legislators to learn more about state legislation affecting workers' rights, including a webinar next week on the national conservative campaign against low wage-workers.

Map of the Week:

Map: States Expanding Medicaid

The 26 states (plus Washington, D.C.) that are either planning to expand Medicaid or leaning that way. [New York Times]


Also this week:

Local newspapers are already highlighting how the budget cuts from the sequester would hit local communities — here are 18 front pages from Alaska to South Carolina. [BuzzFeed]

Poll: Over three-quarters of Americans want tax increases to be included in any deficit reduction deal. [Pew Research Center]

Legislators in a growing number of states including California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania have proposed legislation to require gun owners to buy liability insurance similar to car insurance. [New York Times]

The LA Times on California's plan to allow low-wage earners to put aside 3% of their pay for retirement at low risk and no cost to state taxpayers. [LA Times]

Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe has not yet said whether he would veto bills restricting abortion that may soon arrive at his desk. [Arkansas News]

More cities and states are pushing to reinstate public funding for abortion — Philadelphia included. []

Thousands of parents and public education supporters are rallying this weekend at the Texas state capitol to oppose cuts to school funding and vouchers. [Fort Worth Star Telegram]

A bill introduced by Montana State Rep. and ALEC member Steve Lavin — apparently drafted in earnest — would give corporations the right to vote. [ThinkProgress]

Sales taxes from Internet commerce (also known as "Amazon taxes") are bringing much needed revenue to more and more states. [Reuters]

Poll: An astonishing 90% of California voters support comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for aspiring citizens. [Oakland Tribune]

Another poll: New Jersey voters support raising the minimum wage by margin of 76-21 percent — and they'll likely get a chance to vote on it this fall. [Quinnipiac]

Oregon's legislature may declare August 9th as "Boring and Dull Day" (not for the reasons you might think). [AP]
Op-ed: "In major areas such as health care, taxes, and jobless benefits, ideology is trumping sound policy judgment in many [conservative] gubernatorial mansions and state legislatures." [U.S. News]

Like the Dispatch? Make sure to follow @PSNwire on Twitter for the latest state policy news.


Research Roundup

The Impact of the Sequester on Communities Across America [Center for American Progress]
"Under the terms of the sequester, federal spending would be cut by $1.2 trillion from March 2013 to March 2021. States stand to lose billions of dollars in critical grants needed to fund everything from schools to new police officers to parks. In fiscal year 2013 alone, states stand to lose an estimated $6.4 billion in federal funding. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that as many as 750,000 jobs could be lost because of the sequester. Taking a meat cleaver to spending in such a blunt, unfocused manner would send a shockwave through our economy and would hurt countless American families."

Sequestration, the Pentagon, and the States [National Priorities Project]
"On March 1, unless Congress acts, billions of dollars will be cut from domestic programs and the Pentagon. But while these cuts will have a devastating impact on many domestic programs, the Pentagon is better positioned to absorb them due to the significant growth in military spending over the past decade."

Valuing Good Health in Maryland: The Costs and Benefits of Earned Sick Days [Institute for Women's Policy Research]
"Providing earned sick days to workers in Maryland is expected to save employers in the state $2.5 million per year, largely due to reduced costs in turnover, according to an analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). The state’s proposed “Earned Sick and Safe Time Act” would also prevent lost worker income, reduce private and public health care expenses, and reduce expenditures on public assistance."

Cutting State Personal Income Taxes Won’t Help Small Businesses Create Jobs and May Harm State Economies [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]
"Cutting state personal income taxes not only won’t promote small business growth and job creation, but it is also likely over time to threaten the success of entrepreneurs by taking resources away from critical services like education."

Raising Minimum Wage to $9 Not Enough to Ensure that Families with Fulltime Workers Live Above Poverty Line [Center on Economic and Policy Research]
"According to the White House, the President’s proposal to increase the minimum wage to $9 an hour by the end of 2015 will ensure that “no one who works fulltime should have to raise their family in poverty. But is a $9 minimum wage sufficient to meet this goal? Not necessarily, even if we use the antiquated official poverty threshold, and especially not if we use a modern threshold that comes a little bit closer to what families need to make ends meet at a basic level in today's economy."

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Quote of the Week

"We have young students who are working their way through a dysfunctional immigration system while studying hard in high school. They are on their way to becoming citizens, and may go on to live their entire lives here. We have already invested in their K-12 education; now is the time to see that investment through. Having an educated population is good for our state overall."

— PSN National Immigration Working Group Chair State Sen. Angela Giron (CO) on the advancement this week of Colorado's ASSET tuition equity bill, which gained support from three Republican senators for the first time.


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