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Public Policy

SNCJ Spotlight: Some Hot Issues Cool Off, Others Heat Up Even More - Has Gun Control Become Hot or Cold

Last December, SNCJ reviewed several issues we believed would be hot in statehouses in 2013. At the halfway point of this year's sessions, some of those issues have cooled off a bit, while others have grown even hotter.

GUN CONTROL: One of the year's hottest issues only became so after we released our 2013 session preview in early December. Spurred by the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut on Dec. 14, numerous states introduced legislation aimed at preventing such a tragedy from happening again.

"Nothing focuses your attention like 20 babies being killed," Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) told Stateline.

One of the most sweeping measures came in New York, where Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill passed by the state's divided Legislature. But much of the legislation reflected the increased polarization of state government evidenced by the 37 states now governed by a single party, with those like Democrat-led Colorado imposing tighter gun controls and those led by Republicans easing such restrictions or attempting to nullify new federal gun restrictions, despite Congress' failure to pass them this year.

HEALTH INSURANCE EXCHANGES: With the Affordable Care Act having been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court last year, we expected many states to turn their attention toward determining how to implement the health reform law's many tenets, chief among them creating the health insurance exchanges that will allow individuals and small groups to comparison shop online for affordable coverage. In fact, all but four states — Alabama, Alaska, Delaware and North Dakota — have introduced legislation related to health insurance exchanges this year, according to State Net's Hot Issues database (see Bird's eye view in this issue). And with a plethora of challenges still remaining for states needing to get their exchanges up and running in time to begin enrolling people by the ACA's Oct. 1, 2013 deadline, the issue is sure to continue to dominate legislative agendas for the foreseeable future.

FRACKING: The natural gas and oil extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" has been a hot issue in the states since at least 2010, when Wyoming became the first state to require full disclosure of the chemicals used in the process via a rule promulgated by the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. The flood of fracking legislation since then has shown no signs of abating this year, with State Net's Hot Issues database indicating that fracking-related measures have been introduced in 29 states and enacted in eight. One of the most watched states on the issue is New York, where a moratorium on fracking has been in place since 2010 but which Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has said he will decide whether to lift by next year. The issue is also still resonating strongly in California, where the Assembly is now reviewing Senate-endorsed legislation (SB 4) to require drillers to disclose their chemical mix. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has not indicated if he will sign the measure should it get to him.

SOCIAL MEDIA: The trend of legislation barring employers from asking workers and schools from asking students for the log-in information for their personal social networking accounts such as Facebook and Twitter is also continuing as expected. Such measures make up a large percentage of the more than 160 social-media related bills in State Net's Hot Issues database. The measures include introductions in 43 states and enactments in 14: Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.

PHARMACY OVERSIGHT: Since last year's deadly meningitis outbreak caused by tainted drugs distributed by a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy, 16 states have introduced 25 bills or resolutions relating to such pharmacies, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Of that total, seven have been adopted or enacted, including Texas SB 1100, which concerns the licensing and inspection of out-of-state pharmacies by the Texas State Board of Pharmacy.

INTERNET GAMBLING: With the U.S. Department of Justice having issued an opinion in December 2011 declaring that the 1961 Federal Wire Act did not ban internet gambling, only sports betting, we anticipated that many states would introduce bills authorizing online gaming. But only three — Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey — have done so, although NCSL says California, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Pennsylvania and Texas are considering the issue. The minimal amount of state action on Internet gambling is likely due to efforts to regulate it in Congress, including a failed measure last year and the Internet Gambling Regulation, Consumer Protection and Enforcement Act introduced by U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-New York) this year.

GAY MARRIAGE: The U.S. Supreme Court's rulings this summer striking down the provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act limiting spousal benefits to heterosexual couples (United States v. Windsor) and effectively invalidating California's voter-approved same-sex marriage ban, Proposition 8, on technical grounds (Perry v. Hollingsworth) have only fanned the flames that have engulfed the issue of gay marriage since last November when a state's voters approved a citizen initiative legalizing same-sex marriage for the first time (Maine's Question 1).

Days after the high court's decisions the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit challenging Pennsylvania's ban on same-sex marriage, and the state's Democratic attorney general, Priscilla Kane, has said she will not defend the law. As Lou Cannon reported in the July 22 issue of SNCJ, same-sex marriage could also be approved in October by the Illinois Legislature, which fell just one vote short of doing so in the spring. And Hawaii, which, like Illinois, has a Democratic governor who favors same-sex marriage, could do the same.

UNION RIGHTS: The push for right-to-work laws in Republican-dominated states that we thought might occur after Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) signed HB 1001 early last year, making that state the first in a decade to allow workers to avoid paying union dues even if a union bargains on their behalf, definitely appears to have run out of steam. While 26 states have introduced right-to-work bills this year, only one of them, Tennessee SB 1017, has been enacted, according to State Net's database. The cooling off of the issue may be due to a combination of the backlash against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) and GOP lawmakers over their union-unfriendly efforts there and the results of some of last November's elections, which suggest the winds of fortune may have shifted in labor's direction after blowing at it head-on for much of the last two years. Union support helped Democrats take control of the state legislatures in Maine and Minnesota. Unions also managed to repeal a law allowing financially troubled cities to suspend collective bargaining contracts in Michigan and defeat a ballot measure (Proposition 32) that would have barred them from using union dues collected through payroll deductions for political purposes in California. In addition, they achieved their top goal on Election Day 2012: re-electing President Obama.

PENSION REFORM: Public employee pension reform, however, continues to be a hot issue in the states this year. State Net's database indicates that legislation pertaining to state pensions was introduced in every state but eight — Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Wyoming — and enacted in 33. The issue is also currently the focal point of a nasty feud in Illinois, where Gov. Pat Quinn (D) recently vetoed funding for lawmakers' pay until they send him a bill to address the state's estimated $100 billion pension shortfall.

Additionally, State Net's Hot issues database includes measures pertaining to employee credit checks, which 25 states have introduced and three have enacted; internet sales taxes, which 25 states have introduced and four have enacted; and synthetic drugs — chemically formulated compounds that mimic the effects of marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine — which 33 states have introduced and 20 have enacted.

POLITICS IN BRIEF: Last month, NORTH CAROLINA became the seventh state to pass legislation barring judges from considering foreign law, including sharia, in their rulings. If the bill is signed by Gov. Pat McCrory (R), the state will join ARIZONA, KANSAS, LOUISIANA, OKLAHOMA, SOUTH DAKOTA and TENNESSEE in enacting such legislation (USA TODAY).  • The governing body of Collegedale, TENNESSEE, a city of about 6,500 east of Chattanooga, voted last week to offer benefits to the same-sex domestic partners of public workers, making the city the first in the state to do so (ASSOCIATED PRESS, TENNESSEAN [NASHVILLE]).

— Compiled by KOREY CLARK

GOVERNORS IN BRIEF: Appearing at the NGA meeting in Milwaukee, ILLINOIS Gov. Pat Quinn (D) said he would sign a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in the Prairie State if lawmakers there eventually send him one. In the meantime, Quinn urged WISCONSIN to follow the lead of fellow Midwestern states like MINNESOTA, where same-sex marriage became legal this month. There are currently no such plans in the Badger State, which has constitutionally banned such marriages since 2006 (CAP TIMES [MADISON]). • FLORIDA Gov. Rick Scott (R) and the three-person Florida Cabinet give final endorsement to a new law that deregulates any new health insurance policies for the next two years and requires insurers to send customers a disclosure form spelling out how much of the cost of the policy is attributable to the Affordable Care Act. Supporters say it is necessary to enact the law, while opponents say it is an effort to mislead the public and turn it against the law (TAMPA BAY TIMES).

SOCIAL POLICY: U.S. Judge William Conley issues a temporary injunction blocking a WISCONSIN law (SB 206, signed by Gov. Scott Walker (R) in July) that, among several things, would require doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at Badger State hospitals. A trial to determine whether the injunction is made permanent begins in November (CAPITAL TIMES [MADISON]).

— Compiled by RICH EHISEN

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