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Illinois

Two States With Tarnished Images Make Strong Gains on Ethics in 2008

Many states have suffered from public officials being involved in ethics scandals.  While sometimes there is talk of reform and other overtures, comprehensive reform is most often elusive.  However, some states have managed, either in response to one particularly egregious event or a history of problems being overturned in a wave of dissatisfaction, to truly make a fundamental change.  This year Connecticut once again moved forward with a multi-year ethics reform initiative, and Louisiana enacted one of the most far-reaching ethics overhauls any state has in generations.

Illinois Legislature Passes Pay-to-Play Contracting Reform, Bill Awaits Governor's Signature

Illinois stands out as a state famous for corrupt politics.  For generations, patronage and pay-to-play politics have been raised to an art form by state and local politicians.  The state's last governor is in jail for racketeering.  The current governor is under federal investigation for allegedly giving jobs and no-bid contracts to campaign supporters, more than 200 of whom have given the governor checks for exactly $25,000.  Advocates of good government such as the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform have fought for years to bring the states' corrupt government officials to heel.

The New Voter Suppression and the Progressive Response

Voter suppression is growing rapidly in America today.  Over half of states now have voter ID requirements more stringent than that required for first time voters in federal elections.  Several states are clamping down on voter registration drives or are considering proof of citizenship requirements.

Ohio Passes Strong Payday Lending Protection

Showing the frustration over abusive lending practices by even many right-leaning legislators, the Ohio legislature has taken a huge step to protect its citizens against predatory lenders by passing HB 545.  The bill slashes the payday-lending interest rate from a sky-high 391 annual percentage rate to 28 percent.  In real terms, instead of having to pay $15 interest for every $100 loaned, borrowers will now pay no more than $1.08 per $100 borrowed. The bill also limits borrowers to four loans per year, requires that loan terms be at least 31 days (instead of the current average of 14 days), and bans internet payday lending.  HB 545 is now before Governor Strickland, who is expected to sign the bill into law.

Eliminating Health Disparities, Achieving Equity

In 2000, the World Health Organization ranked the US health care system 37th in the world despite spending more than any other country.  In 2007, according to the US Census Bureau, the US ranked 42nd in life expectancy. If you are a person of color, a low-wage worker, non-English speaking, or live in a low-income community, the picture is much worse.  For instance, the life expectancy for African-Americans is 73.3 years, five years shorter than it is for whites.  For African-American men, it is 69.8 years, just above averages in Iran and Syria, but below Nicaragua and Morocco.

Maine Senate Enacts National Popular Vote

On April 2nd, the Maine Senate passed a National Popular Vote bill, LD 1744, that would guarantee that the Presidential candidate who receives the most votes in all 50 states wins the Presidency.  The bill is an interstate compact, which would take effect only when states possessing a majority of the membership of the Electoral College (that is 270 of 538 electoral votes) enact similar statutes.

Illinois Commerce Commission Allows Controversial Decoupling Pilot Program

Decoupling increased utility profits from increased energy use is a key policy for promoting energy savings. Yet, some proposals, like the four-year decoupling pilot program just approved by the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC), may just be masking abuses of consumers under the guise of energy conservation.

Mapping and Deploying High-Speed Broadband

Despite claims by the Bush administration that most Americans now have access to affordable broadband, many people might disagree and would probably argue that their Internet access is to slow and to expensive.  Most analysts are nowhere near as optimistic as Bush's "Networked Nation: Broadband in America." These analysts highlight that the U.S. has fallen to 15th in world rankings for broadband connectivity and that Americans pay much higher fees for much slower speeds than most of the industrial nations in the world.  Misguided regulatory policies and substandard infrastructure have helped create a sub-parbroadband network in the United States.  

Toxic Toys Update

Our Dispatch and conference call last week highlighted ways in which states can fight toxic toys.    In case you missed it, the audio of the call can be found here.  Within a few days, several  states came forward with additional bills protecting the health of our children, including: