Milwaukee has a paid sick leave referendum
on the ballot for November that would allow employees to take leave for
medical treatment, preventive care, or diagnosis for themselves, as
well as to care for a close family member who is sick or who needs
diagnosis or preventive care. Additionally, employees would be allowed
to use the time to deal with domestic violence or sexual assault (for
example, using accrued time to flee to safety.) Employees at firms
with 10 workers or less could accumulate up to 40 hours, whereas larger
companies would have to provide up to 72 hours of paid sick leave.
On September 4, the ConnectME Authority awarded its second round of grant awards to bring broadbandcommunications services to unserved areas in Maine. More than $1.75 million was awarded and service is expected to be expanded to an estimated 12,500 residents. "This second round of grantsshows that the ConnectME initiative is spurring private investment inbroadband and cellular service across Maine," said Governor Baldacci. "These investments are enabling people in rural areas enhanced accessto technology, transforming our state economy, and expanding businessopportunities for more Mainers."
By one estimate, the federal government spent over $367 billion in 2005 aloneon subsidizing Americans' retirement savings and tax breaks to build upother assets like buying a home. Unfortunately, those subsidies gooverwhelmingly to those Americans who already have high-incomes; almostnone of it goes to the poorest Americans who need the most helpbuilding the financial assets that can lead to long-term economicopportunities and security.
With food and gas prices rising rapidly, low-wage workers can at least
welcome an increase in the federal minium wage to $6.55 per hour
scheduled to go into effect on July 24th. Even better, a number of
states will also be increasing their minimum wage rates even higher than the federal rate:
Politics, particularly in small states, makes for strange bedfellows.
The latest effort to derail Maine's first-in-the-nation 2003 Dirigo
Health Reform initiative bears this out. The president of the State Chamber of Commerce and a former member of the Dirigo Health Board of Directors is now treasurer of a lobbyist-driven political action committee waging a campaign to sap Dirigo Health of its funding.
Maine lawmakers addressed a
$190 million shortfall with unfortunate cuts to education and health
care services for low-income and indigent Mainers, but fortunately
continued to support the state's health care reform efforts. Lawmakers
also passed a minimum wage increase from $7 to $7.50 over two years,
strong protections for children from toxic chemicals, legislation
to combine the state and county corrections systems while capping
property taxes that will fund the new system at 2008 levels, and a
model cable franchise agreement that municipalities can use to
negotiate local video franchises.
Absent a national health care
policy, states have found ways to expand the reach of Medicaid by
covering more low-income, senior and disabled people and expanding the
list of covered services. Because of state action, 58 million
Americans now have health coverage they would not otherwise possess.
To push back on the states, the Bush Administration put forward several new Medicaid regulations
last year that, if implemented, will shift the burden and costs to
states. This will result in reduced benefits for millions of Americans
unless already cash-strapped states find some way to pick up the slack
- to the tune of $50 billion over five years.