Home – The Year Ahead, Part II - Tech, Election Reform and Guns Among Likely Hot Issues in 2016

The Year Ahead, Part II - Tech, Election Reform and Guns Among Likely Hot Issues in 2016

 Last week, we took a look at several of the issues we expect to see a lot of activity in statehouses this year. Here are a few more, several of which are driven either by technological development, the upcoming presidential election or gun violence.


Sharing Economy: Local government officials have spent a good deal of time the last few years grappling with digital technology-driven businesses like Uber and Airbnb that are driving the rapid growth of the “sharing economy.” Those city-by-city skirmishes are likely to continue in 2016. But labor regulators in California and Florida also ruled this year that Uber – the dominant player in the flourishing ride-sharing business, recently valued at over $60 billion – misclassified former drivers as contractors instead of employees. And those rulings could spur similar actions in those and other states next year.


The leader in the home-sharing industry, Airbnb, also faced - and overcame - a major challenge this year: Proposition F, a ballot measure aimed at restricting the company’s operation in its hometown of San Francisco. At a news conference the day after Election Day last month, the company announced it was going to mobilize its “hosts” and “guests” in 100 cities into a voting bloc rivaling the National Rifle Association in size and influence. A week later the company backed off that aggressive stance, issuing a “Community Compact” pledging its commitment to working with cities, including providing them “anonymized information regarding hosts and guests” and ensuring “the Airbnb community pays its fair share of taxes.” It remains to be seen whether the company will make good on that pledge. New York AG Eric T. Schneiderman (D), for one, is highly skeptical, calling the compact “a transparent ploy by Airbnb to act like a good corporate citizen when it is anything but.” Prop. F may not have settled the issue of home sharing in San Francisco either, with another race in last month’s election having handed the progressive wing of that city’s Board of Supervisors a majority, increasing the likelihood it will tighten regulations on short-term rentals next year.


States have also begun to look at home-sharing. According to the Center for Public Integrity, 23 state legislatures have considered at least 60 bills this year relating to the issue, many of them pushed by traditional lodging industry groups like the American Hotel & Lodging Association. One of those bills, California’s SB 593, would require home-sharing companies to disclose the addresses of their hosts, the number of nights their properties were rented and the amounts that were paid to the cities and counties where those hosts are based. The bill passed a couple of committees and is now pending carryover to the 2016 session, according to LexisNexis State Net’s legislative database. With affiliates of the American Hotel & Lodging Association registered to lobby legislatures in 42 states this year by the Center for Public Integrity’s count, it’s unlikely to be the only home-sharing measure on statehouse agendas next year.


Drones: Congress tasked the Federal Aviation Administration with integrating unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, into civilian airspace with the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. But states have still been very active on the issue, with 45 introducing 168 drone-related bills this year alone, 26 of which were enacted, most of them creating task forces to study drones and addressing privacy concerns about their use, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The negative headlines drones have been drawing lately have also fueled state action. Reports of drones forcing the temporary grounding of air firefighting units trying to contain a wildfire in California this past July, for example, prompted legislation there to make interfering with a firefighting effort by flying a drone a misdemeanor crime punishable by up to a $5,000 fine or six months in jail (SB 167) and grant firefighters immunity for disabling drones flying over wildfires (SB 168). Such state actions are likely to continue with UAVs - particularly smaller consumer drones that can be operated with little to no training - only growing in popularity, concern rising about the prospect of drones colliding with commercial aircraft or being used for terrorist attacks, and the FAA having missed its September deadline for creating drone regulations.


Redistricting: Much of the activity related to redistricting this year took place in the courts, but some of it has potential implications for next year. For instance, at the end of June the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Arizona voters acted legally when they amended the state’s Constitution in 2000 to transfer the power to draw the state’s congressional districts from lawmakers to an independent redistricting commission. That decision could spur states other than the 13 that already use such commissions to create them.


Maryland’s congressional map - which some consider to be among the most gerrymandered in the country - is facing an unusual legal challenge on First Amendment grounds that it marginalized Republicans on the basis of their political views by placing them in districts where they were in the minority. If successful the lawsuit, which was just given the go-ahead to proceed from the U.S. Supreme Court (Shapiro v. McManus) after being challenged on a procedural issue, could not only necessitate a revamp of Maryland’s map, but also establish a new path for challenging partisan redistricting, in addition to the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection clause that such challenges have relied upon for decades.


The U.S. Supreme Court is also scheduled to review whether lower court rulings declaring Virginia’s congressional districts invalid were correct and whether legislative districts in Texas should be based solely on registered voters instead of the entire population - “one voter, one vote” rather than “one man, one vote,” the standard set by the 1964 U.S. Supreme Court decision of Reynolds v. Sims. The Texas case, Evenwel v. Abbott, could significantly impact states with large minority populations that are ineligible to vote. (For more on the case, see US Supreme Court Takes Up ‘One Person, One Vote’ in Politics & Leadership.)


Alternative Energy Tax Credits/Fees: Tax incentives for solar power, wind power and electric vehicles came under fire this year in a few states, including Georgia (HB 122), Kansas (SB 257) and Texas (SB 931), with lawmakers claiming the incentives have achieved their goal of helping the new industries get established and are no longer needed. Next year could determine whether those actions were the start of a trend.


Georgia, Idaho and Wyoming have also enacted legislation this year imposing new fees on hybrid and electric vehicles, and Colorado, Nebraska, North Carolina, Virginia and Washington adopted such fees in previous legislative sessions, NCSL reported to Kentucky’s Interim Joint Committee on Transportation last week, according to KYForward.com. Kentucky will be among the states considering doing the same next year with the prefiling of BR 61.


Election Reform: As was the case in the last presidential election cycle in 2011-2012, election reform was an active issue this year, with more than a dozen election-related bills introduced just in the presidential primary lead-off state of New Hampshire. In addition to voter ID, online voter registration was a hot topic, with enactments in Florida (SB 228), Oklahoma (SB 313) and New Mexico (SB 643), as of mid-October, according to NCSL. Oregon (HB 2177) and California (AB 1461) also became the 1st and 2nd states, respectively, to provide for the automatic registration of eligible voters when they obtain or renew their driver’s licenses. If the pattern of 2011-2012 holds, activity on election reform will be lighter next year but not by too much.


Transportation Funding: Transportation funding was one of the most active issues in the states this year, with legislation addressing it considered in virtually every state, according to NCSL’s Transportation Funding and Finance Legislation Database, which relies on data from LexisNexis State Net. There was little reason to expect 2016 to be much different, until Congress’ passage this month of a $305 billion, five-year federal highway bill (US HR 22), the first in over a decade providing funding for more than two years. The bill will finally give states the predictable funding stream they’ve required to take on major - and much needed - transportation projects. But with the measure still failing to provide an alternative long-term funding source to the federal gas tax, which is no longer keeping pace with the nation’s transportation needs, some states could still seek to experiment with their own transportation funding mechanisms.


Cybersecurity: As of late October, every state in the nation but three - Alabama, New Mexico and South Dakota - had enacted a law requiring private or government entities to notify individuals about security breaches involving their personal information, according to NCSL. And states have been toughening those cybersecurity laws in recent years. But legislation in Congress, including US SB 754, which was passed by the U.S. Senate on a 74-21 vote, could preempt the various state laws with federal ones that are less strict in many cases. Still, the more than 5,000 breaches of personal information in the United States since 2005 and over 700 breaches affecting over 176 million records this year, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC), could keep states pressing the issue until Congress acts.


‘Cloud’ Tax: In 2014 Ohio Tax Commissioner Joseph Testa issued an opinion stating that business communication services based in “the cloud” are subject to the state’s sales tax if the benefit of those services is received in Ohio. Utah has imposed its sales tax on cloud-based software for three years. And although seven states - Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Wyoming - have deemed at least parts of the cloud exempt from taxation, plummeting retail sales of music CDs, DVD movies and computer software could drive other states to try to recapture the portions of those revenue streams that have migrated to the cloud.


Fantasy Sports: Two years ago online poker gave new impetus to Internet gambling in the states, spurring legalization efforts in Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey. No other states have taken similar action since. But a new online pastime, daily fantasy sports (DFS), has caught the attention of state lawmakers this year, thanks in large part to a TV ad blitz before the fall football season by DFS companies like DraftKings and FanDuel. The companies’ websites allow players to pick teams made up of actual professional or college athletes and measure their teams’ performance in real-world game statistics against those of other players, earning cash when their teams do well. As SNCJ reported in its Nov. 13 issue, Nevada and New York have banned the sites, deeming them illegal gambling operations, while several states, including California and Pennsylvania, are considering legislation that would provide for the licensing and regulation of DFS sites instead. As Jonathan Griffin, a gambling policy specialist at NCSL told Stateline this month: “I expect this [coming] year we’re going to see a significant number of states that are going to try to regulate it, which is directly related to the fact that they have become so well-known in the past months.”


Obesity: Obesity has been a serious health problem in the United States for decades. But the economic impact of obesity - a recent study found that obesity-related health problems cost the nation $147 billion to $210 billion a year - could be providing more urgency for governmental action. This year governors in Arkansas, Georgia, New York, and Tennessee announced plans to combat obesity in their states, motivated at least in part by fiscal concerns. According to Stateline, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) said of his plan: “I’m concerned about tax dollars as well as good health.” Those two concerns could spur other governors or lawmakers to take similar action next year.


Gun Control/Gun Rights: The day after the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, the New Jersey Assembly failed to override Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) veto of a bill the chamber passed unanimously in June (SB 2360), requiring notification of local police before certain mental health records of prospective firearms purchasers can be expunged by a court. Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) said last week that he planned to issue an executive order barring individuals on the federal no-fly list from buying guns (see Malloy Says “No Guns for Terror Suspects in CT” in Governors). And the Los Angeles Times reported that Democratic legislative leaders in California are considering revisiting some of the proposals that failed to win approval when the state enacted a series of tough gun-control measures there in 2013, following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. One of those bills, SB 374, which was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D), would have closed a loophole allowing semiautomatic weapons with a certain kind of detachable ammunition magazine like one of the guns used by the shooters in San Bernardino. In his veto message for SB 374, Brown stated that he didn’t believe the measure’s “blanket ban on semiautomatic rifles would reduce criminal activity or enhance public safety enough to warrant this infringement on gun owners’ rights.” The debate over those opposing considerations will undoubtedly continue in California and other states next year.