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Ballot Initiatives 2008

This Dispatch is a roundup of what ballot initiatives will appear on state ballots across the country this November.  Whether it's workers rights, energy policy, education, transit, abortion or health care, ballot initiates give voters a chance to directly vote on an issue.

Court Upholds Employer Health Care Responsibility Policies

In a case with national implications for state health reform across the country, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals this week in Golden Gate Rest. Ass'n v. San Francisco upheld the employer responsibility provisions of the San Francisco universal health care plan.  The decision follows a preliminary decision earlier in the year that allowed the plan to be initially implemented.

Paid Sick Days on Ballot in Milwaukee

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.

Addressing the Shortage of Primary Care Physicians

According to The Boston Globe, a national shortage of primary care doctors is hitting Massachusetts especially hard.  The state's 2006 health insurance mandate has resulted in an additional 439,000 newly insured residents trying to seek care from an already over-stressed medical profession.  According to an annual survey by the Massachusetts Medical Society, wait times for new patients to see primary care doctors are running an average of 50 days, though some doctors report delays up to 100 days.

Health Insurance Regulation Advances in California

To address the misuse of health insurance premiums, legislators in California recently passed tougher standards regulating how insurance companies use premiums.  The law is designed to put teeth into the basic expectation that health insurance premiums paid by families and businesses should be used by insurance companies for actual medical care.  Sponsored by State Senator Sheila Kuehl, legislators passed SB 1440, which creates a "medical loss ratio" of 85% - or "care share" - requiring insurance companies to spend at least 85-cents of every premium-dollar on actual medical care.  Governor Schwarzenegger has yet to act on the bill, but the legislation was amended at his request to exempt new plans from the 85% threshold for the first two years they are available, signaling that his signature is likely.

Popular Vote is a Popular Choice for Bay State

In this year's presidential primary, 1.7 million Massachusetts voters cast a ballot. That's over a million more than the number that voted in the 2004 primary. Such an increase in turnout is unprecedented in the state, and similar increases took place in states throughout the country. What made for such a jaw-dropping surge in democratic participation? The answer is simple: people in every state felt their voice mattered. Wouldn't it be great if Massachusetts voters felt that way in November as well?

Businesses Failing to Provide Health Care to Pay Increased Assessments under MA Governor's Proposal

To close funding gaps in the state's new health care law and encourage more employers to provide health coverage for their employees, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick this week proposed raising an additional $33 million from employers with more than 10 workers who don't contribute at least one-third of workers' premiums within the first 90 days of employment and don't have at least 25% of their employees enrolled in insurance plans.  The plan would raise additional funds by assessing fees on insurers' reserve accounts. 

States Still Leading Feds on Minimum Wage

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: