As with most states this year, the budget process and response to the
recession dominated Colorado's legislative session. Within that lens,
lawmakers are getting high marks from Colorado advocates like the Bell Policy Center and the Colorado Center on Law and Policy
for advancing key priorities like unemployment insurance, health care
coverage and budget reform while limiting the deficit's impact on the
state's most vulnerable residents. Notably, lawmakers extended health
care to 100,000 low-income and uninsured Coloradans. Still, advocates
note some disappointments and missed opportunities, like failing to
make qualified undocumented students eligible for in-state tuition
rates and neglecting to better regulate payday lenders.
The Nebraska Legislature ended three days ahead of the originally scheduled adjournment date. During the 2009 session, 236 bills were passed,
including budget bills and issues ranging from encouraging wind energy
development and establishing lethal injection as the state’s method of
Kansas underwent a change in leadership at the top when Gov. Kathleen
Sebelius joined the Obama administration as Secretary of Health and
Human Services and was replaced by her lieutenant governor, Mark
Parkinson, a former chair of the state Republican party before
switching parties to serve under Sebelius.
While not under the fiscal pressures of most states due to rising
prices for minerals, the 60 day session proved too fleeting, and the
legislature and governor had to use two brief special sessions
to complete their work. They did manage to pass some promising election
reforms and a solar tax credit, but big reforms of health care didn't
materialize and environmental policy moved backward on a couple fronts.
Despite the economic downturn, Vermont lawmakers made important gains
in several areas, notably in gay marriage, reducing Rx costs, renewable
energy, transportation, and an economic stimulus package that utilizes
federal stimulus resources.
2009 proved to be one of the most challenging sessions yet for
Minnesota lawmakers, with the legislature and the Governor clashing
over how to balance the budget. Governor Tim Pawlenty had originally
advocated borrowing $1 billion, a plan that met with near universal
disdain in the House, which voted 130-2 against. Lawmakers held listening sessions throughout the state to hear from over 10,000 citizens on how best to handle an unprecedented deficit of $6.4 billion.
Ultimately, after the legislature passed two omnibus budget bills
including a balanced budget and failed to overcome the Governor's
veto, Pawlenty decided to use his unilateral power of unallotment to
slash $2.7 billion of funding over the next two years, hitting cities, counties and health services the hardest.
This was the first session after the Senate switched to a Republican
majority, giving the party control of the entire Legislature for the
first time in the state's history. With conservative members firmly in charge,
they began the session promising to remake government. Progressives
had good reason to worry that draconian measures were on the way.
While there were some bad laws passed this year, a combination of
compromise and gubernatorial vetoes meant that conservative gains were
evolutionary, not revolutionary.
With Iowa lawmakers facing not only fiscal problems similar to many
states, but the need to pass flood and tornado recovery bills,
lawmakers met both challenges by the end of the session. However, the
rest of the agenda for progressives saw a mix of wins and losses, with
most high profile reforms falling short, but many good progressive
policies becoming law. And, the leadership of Iowa legislators stepped
up to support the Iowa supreme court decision support marriage equality
for same sex partners, refusing to advance a proposed constitutional
attack on the groundbreaking decision.
Idaho faced a historically bad budget projection, with projected
consecutive negative growth in two years. This challenge resulted in
the second longest session of all time, with the federal recovery act
allowing significant opportunities for the legislature to use one-time
funds to shore up the budget, even as reductions were made to education
for the first time in state history. Without a doubt, this was one of the most contentious sessions in state record.