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Marriage Equality Scores Historic Victories: Vermont and Iowa Become 3rd and 4th States to Recognize Same-Sex Marriages

The number of states giving full state marriage rights to same-sex couples has doubled in under a week as first Iowa and then Vermont joined Massachusetts and Connecticut in achieving marriage equality.  Additionally, the District of Columbia City Council recently voted to recognize same-sex marriages conducted in other states. 

New England Leads Fight for Marriage Equality

On Monday, March 23rd, the Vermont Senate overwhelmingly passed (26 to 4) a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, making the state the first in the nation to take legislative rather than judicial steps toward granting marriage rights to same-sex couples.  Although House Speaker Shap Smith was confident a majority of representatives would vote in favor of the "marriage equality" act, Governor Jim Douglas revealed in a press conference Wednesday that he would veto the bill, though he did say he would accept a legislative override.

Obama Allows California to Adopt Car Emission Standards - New Day for State Regulatory Authority

In a positive step forward for federal respect of state regulatory powers, President Obama directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reconsider a previously denied waiver to allow California to set more stringent auto emissions and fuel efficiency standards than required by federal law.  In a statement by the White House, President Obama said "the federal government must work with, not against, states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."  The directive represents not only greater respect for state authority, but also a sharp break from the climate policies of President Obama's predecessor. 

Indexing Minimum Wage to Inflation Critical for Low-Income Working Families

Washington State minimum wage workers got a raise January 1st to $8.55 per hour -- now the highest minimum wage in the country.   Like nine other states, Washington automatically increases its minimum wage each year at the rate of inflation to make sure families don't face a de facto pay cut as rising costs eat into family budgets.  Because the federal minimum wage is not indexed to inflation in this way, we have seen a decline in its value from $9.34 in inflation-adjusted dollars down to just $6.55 per hour this past year.  This trend highlights why state efforts to index the minimum wage to keep up with inflation are so critical.

New Hampshire Data-Mining Ban Upheld- Blow to Drug Industry Marketing is Boon to States

Tuesday, New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation law banning the sale of data on physician prescribing habits to drug industry marketers was upheld by a federal appeals court.  The legislation and subsequent court ruling dealt a significant blow to the drug industry and its heavy-handed marketing tactics. The 2006 New Hampshire law, sponsored by Rep. Cindy Rosenwald, will protect the privacy of physicians and their patients by banning data-mining - the process by which the drug industry uses, or mines, the prescribing habits of providers to inform direct-to-provider marketing. As Rep. Rosenwald stated in a press release, the "decision unanimously recognizes that States have the right to protect the prescriber-patient relationship and patient safety, and to try to reduce the cost of pharmaceuticals.” Maine and Vermont passed similar laws which have been held up by litigation, but will now move forward.

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.

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: