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The Hardest Goodbye | 05-19-2017

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper has had his share of difficult times since taking office, but probably none harder than the task he had last week: saying the final goodbye to Chloe, his family’s 16-year-old Sheltie. Cooper broke the news on the First Pets of North Carolina Facebook page last week. He recounted Chloe’s mischievousness, including how she once scarfed down an entire pizza they had left too close to her reach. Cooper also recalled how she had started to visibly slow down during his brutal gubernatorial campaign last year, and how he had asked her to hang on at least through Election Day. She did, and even made it long enough to get some of that really good chow from the governor’s mansion. The close to his message said it all: “Good girl, Chloe.”

Fish, Fish Fishin’ | 05-19-2017

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton is no doubt a decent fisherman. But top honors evaded him at last week’s Governor’s Fishing Opener event in St. Cloud. The gov didn’t do bad, hauling in a three pound bass, part of a five-fish total accumulated by his team: Dayton, House Speaker Kurt Daudt, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and Gazelka’s daughter Lydia. But as station KARE in Minneapolis reports, Dayton’s team was bested – by a lot - by Lt. Gov. Tina Smith and her crew of female lawmakers: House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, Deputy Senate Majority Leader Michelle Benson, House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman and House Assistant Minority Leader Ilhan Omar. The ladies pulled in a whopping 35 fish, prompting Dayton to concede that Smith had “bragging rights.” Ya think?

From Fish To Frogs | 05-19-2017

While Gov. Dayton was hooking fish, out west in California lawmakers were doing their best to scare off some frogs. As the Capitol Morning Report notes, lawmakers and staffers came together for the 43rd Annual Capitol Frog Jump, a gig inspired by the famous Mark Twain story. This year’s contest was won by Assemblymember Kevin Kiley, who’s croaker “Forg the Bounty Hunter” leaped an incredible 12’ 1”, a good 10 feet longer than the last place finisher, Assemblymember Jim Frazier’s frog “Leroy Green.” Kiley got some bragging rights of his own, saying afterward: “The voters sent me to Sacramento to get things done. Getting a frog to jump 12 feet is a good start.”

Line Of The Week | 05-19-2017

Kiley’s line was a good one, but it wasn’t the best one of the week. That honor goes to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. When asked by yours truly his thoughts on the Trump administration’s plans to reinvigorate the war on drugs by pursuing the harshest penalties possible for marijuana users, Becerra responded, “I can’t stop them from being stupid.” Well, there you go.

 

-- By RICH EHISEN

Business - May 22 2017 | 05-19-2017

Nevada Approves SB 106

The NEVADA Senate approves SB 106, which would raise the Silver State minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2022. The measure, which would hike the wage standard by .75 cents every year for the next five years, moves to the Assembly (NEVADA APPEAL [CARSON CITY]).

Alabama Approves SB 200

The ALABAMA Senate approves SB 200, so-called “ban the box” legislation that would bar state agencies from asking job applicants about their criminal history until they make a conditional job offer. The measure is now in the House (BIRMINGHAM NEWS).

Texas Approves SB 28

The TEXAS House approves SB 28, which would create a revolving loan fund to help Lone Star State ports deepen and widen their ship channels. It moves to Gov. Greg Abbott (R) for consideration (HOUSTON CHRONICLE).

Kansas Approves HB 2277

The KANSAS Senate approves HB 2277, which would authorize Hawkeye State cities to establish “common consumption areas” – or entertainment districts – where people could move around freely with their drinks. The bill returns to the House (WICHITA EAGLE).

Crime & Punishment - May 22 2017 | 05-19-2017

California Approves SB 439

The CALIFORNIA Senate approves SB 439, which would ensure that counties treat juvenile offenders 11 or younger in the child services system instead of the juvenile courts. It moves to the Assembly (ASSOCIATED PRESS).

Texas Approves SB 12

The TEXAS House approves SB 12, which would create and fund a bulletproof vest grant program to outfit approximately 50,000 officers statewide with vests that can withstand rounds from high-caliber firearms. It must pass one more vote before it can move to Gov. Greg Abbott (R) for consideration (TEXAS TRIBUNE).

Michigan Endorses HB 4219

The MICHIGAN Senate unanimously endorses HB 4219, which would ensure that human trafficking victims could have prostitution charges dismissed or vacated. The measure moves to Gov. Rick Snyder (R) for consideration (ASSOCIATED PRESS).

Education - May 22 2017 | 05-19-2017

Texas Approves SB 7

The TEXAS Senate gives final approval to SB 7, which would require Lone Star State principals and superintendents to report inappropriate teacher-student relationships or face jail time and fines up to $10,000. It moves to Gov. Greg Abbott (R) for consideration (HOUSTON CHRONICLE).

Nevada Signs AB 85

NEVADA Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) signs AB 85, which requires all Silver State high school students to receive instruction in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and the use of a defibrillator before graduating (KKOH.COM [CARSON CITY]).

Health & Science - May 22 2017 | 05-19-2017

Missouri Amends HB 90

The MISSOURI House declines to take up an amended version of HB 90, which would have made the Show Me State the last in the nation to adopt a prescription drug monitoring system (KANSAS CITY STAR).

Iowa Signs HB 524

IOWA Gov. Terry Branstad (R) signs HB 524, a bill that expands access to cannabis oil to include patients diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, cancer, multiple sclerosis, seizures, AIDS or HIV, Crohn's disease, or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, as well as most terminal illnesses that involve a life expectancy of less than one year and untreatable pain (DES MOINES REGISTER).

Alabama Approves HB 284

The ALABAMA Senate approves HB 284, legislation that would require health insurers to cover treatment for autism disorders. It returns to the House (BIRMINGHAM NEWS, LEXISNEXIS STATE NET).

New York Approves AB 4738

The NEW YORK Assembly approves AB 4738, which would implement a single-payer universal health care system in the Empire State. The measure moves to the Senate, which has killed similar proposals in each of the last two years (SPOTLIGHT NEWS [ALBANY]).

California Approves SB 794

The CALIFORNIA Senate approves SB 794, which would require that all baked goods and candy containing pot will be marked with a universal symbol and wrapped in child-resistant packaging. It moves to the Assembly (SANTA CLARITA SIGNAL).

Health In Pennsylvania

The PENNSYLVANIA Department of Human Services announces it will expand Medicaid to include coverage for treating hepatitis C. Driven by the opioid epidemic, cases of the disease have grown significantly in recent years. The new rule takes effect on July 1 (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER).

Social Policy - May 22 2017 | 05-19-2017

Social Policy In Alaska

The ALASKA State Medical Board approves new abortion regulations that repeal a requirement that a physician consult with another doctor before performing an abortion after the twelfth week of gestation (ANCHORAGE DAILY NEWS).

Washington Signs HB 1234

WASHINGTON Gov. Jay Inslee (D) signs HB 1234, legislation that allows Evergreen State women to get a 12-month refill of their birth control prescriptions instead of a month at a time (NORTHWEST PUBLIC RADIO).

Potpourri - May 22 2017 | 05-19-2017

Louisiana Approves HB 71

The LOUISIANA House approves HB 71, which would prohibit the removal of any military monument from any war without approval from a majority of voters. The measure, which is aimed at preventing the removal of Civil War monuments in the Pelican State, moves to the Senate (WBRZ.COM [BATON ROUGE]).  

Washington Signs SB 5289

WASHINGTON Gov. Jay Inslee (D) signs SB 5289, which prohibits holding an electronic device — including phones, tablets and other electronic gadgets — while driving, including while in traffic or waiting for a traffic light to change. The governor vetoed a section of the bill that would have had it take effect in 2019; it will now go into effect in July (SEATTLE TIMES).

 

-- Compiled by RICH EHISEN

Cooper To Issue LGBTQ Order | 05-19-2017

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said he would soon issue an executive order to enhance LGBTQ protections in the Tar Heel State. Speaking at a conference of the Center for American Progress in Washington D.C. last Tuesday, Cooper did not elaborate on what his order would specifically address, but said it would be “comprehensive.”

 

Cooper also took pains to explain his acceptance of a revision to the state’s controversial HB 2 measure – the so-called “bathroom bill” – that many in the LGBTQ community saw as turning his back on them.

 

“My goal is statewide LGBT protections in North Carolina, and I’m going to keep fighting every day until I get to that point,” he said, adding, “It would have been politically and probably emotionally easier for me to keep pounding the table and not accept a compromise but I knew it wasn’t right.”

 

His explanation did little to satisfy advocates on either side of the issue.

 

Chris Sgro, executive director of the LGBT-rights group Equality N.C. immediately took to social media to accuse Cooper of not taking “responsibility for negative consequences” imposed on the LGBT community in the compromise bill he signed in March. Critics noted that measure still bars local communities from imposing their own anti-discrimination measures.

 

Meanwhile, N.C. Values Coalition executive director Tami Fitzgerald issued a statement saying Cooper had “declared war on privacy protections for women and children in bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers” and accusing him of seeking “special treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals at the expense of families, who will lose their privacy, safety, and dignity.” (THE HILL [WASHINGTON D.C.], CHARLOTTE NEWS & OBSERVER, ABC NEWS)

McAuliffe Pushes VA Carbon Cap | 05-19-2017

Saying the federal government has abdicated its responsibility to address climate change, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) issued an executive order directing the state Department of Environmental Quality to begin assembling regulations to reduce carbon emissions from Old Dominion power plants.

 

“The threat of climate change is real, and we have a shared responsibility to confront it. Once approved, this regulation will reduce carbon-dioxide emissions from the commonwealth's power plants and give rise to the next generation of energy jobs,” the governor said in a statement.

 

McAuliffe’s directive follows another order he issued last summer that convened a working group to develop a plan for reducing carbon production from state power plants. His order from last week implements one of the group’s major recommendations, a proposed regulation for the State Air Pollution Control Board to abate, control or limit carbon dioxide from power plants that will “allow for the use of market-based mechanisms and the trading of carbon dioxide allowances through a multi-state trading program.”

 

Not surprisingly, environmental groups lauded the order while state Republicans were less enthusiastic. Will Cleveland, lead attorney of the Southern Environmental Law Center, called the order “bold action” and said he hoped other states would follow suit. Republican Party of Virginia spokesperson David D’Onofrio, meanwhile, called it “the worst kind of virtue signaling” and argued it would drive up consumer energy prices and cost the state jobs.

 

McAuliffe is one of 11 governors who recently sent a letter to President Donald Trump asking him to honor the Paris climate agreement, which calls for cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. (WASHINGTON POST, RICHMOND DISPATCH, VIRGINIA GOVERNOR’S OFFICE)

Edwards LA Criminal Justice Reform Moves Forward | 05-19-2017

The Louisiana Senate approved a trio of bills last week that form the backbone of Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) effort to reduce the Pelican State’s highest-in-the-world incarceration rate. Those measures – SBs 220,221 and 139 – would expand opportunities for parole and probation for offenders, create a furlough program allowing those who are especially ill to be temporarily released from prison to obtain treatment, lower or eliminate the mandatory minimum sentences for many non-violent crimes and decrease the minimum penalties for repeat offenders. Edwards said the measure would reduce the state’s prison population by 10 percent and save the state $78 million over the next decade. The bills head to the House. (TIMES-PICAYUNE [NEW ORLEANS], U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT)

Governors In Brief - May 22 2017 | 05-19-2017

Inslee Signs Real ID Bill

WASHINGTON Gov. Jay Inslee (D) signed a bill last week that will make the Evergreen State the 25th to comply with the federal Real ID law, which requires states to produce driver’s licenses and identification cards with special enhancements making them harder to forge. States face a January 2018 deadline to be fully compliant with the law, which was passed in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in Washington D.C., New York and Pennsylvania. (SEATTLE TIMES)

 

Ricketts Says NE Needs Mexico Trade

NEBRASKA Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) said the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has been a major benefit to his state’s agriculture industry, saying he is “committed to helping grow our trade relationship with Mexico so we can continue to grow Nebraska.” Ricketts’s comments came as the Trump administration prepares to renegotiate the 20-year-old deal, which some critics contends is too favorable to nations like Mexico. (AG DAILY)

 

Sandoval Not In Favor of NV Pot Lounges

A bill that would allow Silver State communities to legalize so-called “pot lounges” is slowly working its way through the NEVADA Legislature, but its chances of gaining Gov. Brian Sandoval’s (R) signature appear slim. A Sandoval spokesperson said last week the governor is doubtful the lounges would meet his requirement that the state’s medical marijuana industry “be restricted, responsible, and ultimately respected.” The Assembly Government Operations Committee endorsed SB 236 last week sending it to the full Assembly. It passed the Senate in April. (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, LEXISNEXIS STATE NET)

 

-- Compiled by RICH EHISEN

Supreme Court Rejects Appeal Of NC Voter ID Case | 05-19-2017

Last week the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling striking down the voter ID law enacted in 2013 by North Carolina’s GOP-led General Assembly and then-Republican governor. The justices’ decision leaves in place the ruling last year by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, which found that the North Carolina law, requiring people to show a photo ID, reducing the number of early voting days and eliminating same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting, targeted African-American voters “with almost surgical precision.”

 

North Carolina’s new Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, who defeated incumbent Gov. Pat McCrory (R) in November, praised the Supreme Court’s decision.

 

“Today's announcement is good news for North Carolina voters,” he said. “We need to be making it easier to vote, not harder.”

 

Allison Riggs, an attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, one of the groups that challenged the voter ID law, also commended the high court.

 

“We are grateful that the Supreme Court has decided to allow the 4th Circuit's ruling to stand, confirming that discrimination has no place in our democracy and elections,” she said. “This ruling sends a strong message that lawmakers in North Carolina should stop enacting laws that discriminate based on race.”

 

But in an unusual two-page statement - the Supreme Court doesn’t typically explain why it denied an appeal - Chief Justice John Roberts said one of the reasons for the court’s decision was the “blizzard of filings over who is and who is not authorized to seek review in this court under North Carolina law” and that the decision shouldn’t be interpreted as a rejection of the statute on its merits.

 

Myrna Perez, an attorney for the left-leaning Brennan Center for Justice, said the Supreme Court is likely to take up a Texas voter ID case her organization is involved with or a similar case originating from Wisconsin. Perez also said that due to President Donald Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud and the recent appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, restoring its conservative majority, there’s a “bullishness” about voter restrictions among Republican lawmakers right now, with such measures having been passed in four states - Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa and North Dakota - this year. (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG)

Probe Of Powerful SC Consulting Firm Resumes | 05-19-2017

A South Carolina statehouse corruption investigation, which has been publicly dormant since it lead to the indictment of Sen. John Courson (R) on allegations of laundering campaign money through a powerful, local consulting firm, appears to be starting up again, with a State Grand Jury hearing scheduled for May 23.

 

The consulting firm at the center of the probe, Richard Quinn & Associates, represents more than 25 of the state’s lawmakers and some of its largest corporations. And revelations from the investigation about the extent of the firm’s influence have both surprised some observers.

 

John Freeman, a professor of law at the University of South Carolina, likened the probe to clearing a yard of wisteria, a task that seems simple until you start pulling the vines and see roots running in all directions.

 

Political scientist Neil Thigpen, likewise, said, the “tentacles” the Quinn organization has in South Carolina politics “is nothing I have ever encountered before.” (POST AND COURIER [CHARLESTON])

Politics In Brief - May 22 2017 | 05-19-2017

CA, NY Leading Legal Effort To Protect ACA Funding

CALIFORNIA Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) and NEW YORK Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) are leading a coalition of states, including CONNECTICUT, DELAWARE, HAWAII, ILLINOIS, IOWA, KENTUCKY, MARYLAND, MASSACHUSETTS, MINNESOTA, NEW MEXICO, PENNSYLVANIA, VERMONT and WASHINGTON, seeking to block a lawsuit (House v. Price) filed by U.S. House Republicans challenging the legality of cost-sharing subsidies established under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). (CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE)

 

Accuracy Of 2020 Census At Risk

With funding proposals falling well short of what many say is necessary to adequately prepare for the 2020 Census and the bureau’s director, John Thompson, having announced his intention to resign next month, former agency officials and others are worried about the upcoming count’s accuracy, particularly with respect to disadvantaged communities. Congressional redistricting and funding for a multitude of federal programs are based on the decennial population tally. (GOVERNING)

 

Kansas City Minimum Wage Ordinance In Limbo

MISSOURI’s General Assembly passed legislation in the closing minutes of its 2017 session that would prohibit local governments from raising their minimum wage rates above the state’s current level of $7.70 per hour. The measure, which would take effect at the end of August if signed by Gov. Eric Greitens (R), threatens a minimum wage ordinance slated to go before Kansas City voters that same month. (KANSAS CITY STAR, LEXISNEXIS STATE NET)

 

-- Compiled by KOREY CLARK

E-Retail Lawsuit Could Lead To State Tax Changes | 05-19-2017

Earlier this year South Dakota passed a law requiring out-of-state sellers with in-state sales over $100,000 or 200 individual transactions per year to collect and remit sales taxes to the state. The law was part of an effort by multiple states - including Alabama, Colorado and North Dakota - to draw a legal challenge that ultimately leads to the overturning of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1992 decision in Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, allowing states to collect sales and use tax only from businesses with a physical presence within their borders.

 

E-commerce trade association NetChoice and the American Catalog Mailers Association obliged, filing a lawsuit against South Dakota two days before its sales tax law took effect. With that law calling for an expedited process through the state’s courts, Max Behlke, director of the Budget and Tax State-Federal Relations Department at the National Conference of State Legislatures, said, “The Quill issue could be resolved or confirmed by June of next year.”

 

But Behlke said if the Supreme Court rules against the state - which he doesn’t think will happen - “expect gross receipts tax to come to a state near you.” Many economists oppose the tax, which is similar to a sales tax but levied on sellers of goods and services instead of buyers, but Behlke said it’s a tax states know they can collect from online retailers that don’t have a physical presence within their borders. (BLOOMBERG BNA)

Big Cost For Bail System Overhaul In CA | 05-19-2017

Democrats who control the California Legislature have proposed legislation (AB 42 and SB 10) that would end the practice of having judges set bail amounts based on a schedule of rates for various crimes. Instead, new county pretrial services agencies would be created that would make the determination of whether a defendant should be released from jail pending trial.

 

But analysis released last week by the state Assembly’s Appropriations Committee indicated that establishing and administrating the pretrial services agencies would cost the state “hundreds of millions of dollars.” And at a Senate hearing, over a dozen bail agents claimed the bail system overhaul would cost the state more than $2 billion a year, although supporters of the plan argue that significant savings could come from reducing the number of people behind bars.

 

Both bills have until May 26 to get out of their respective chambers’ fiscal committees. (LOS ANGELES TIMES, LEXISNEXIS STATE NET)

Budgets In Brief - May 22 2017 | 05-19-2017

AK Lawmakers Vote To End Oil Subsidies

ALASKA’s Senate has approved a House proposal eliminating cash subsidies for oil companies. But there’s still a wide gap between the two chambers over what to do about subsidies owed but not yet paid by the state, with the Republican-led Senate supporting paying about $360 million in claims and the House, run by a coalition of Democrats, Republicans and independents, favoring paying out only $37 million. (ALASKA DISPATCH NEWS)

 

FL Allocates Money For Jewish School Security In State Budget

FLORIDA lawmakers earmarked $654,000 in the $82.4 billion budget they passed last week for security at Jewish schools, in response to news reports of children and teachers evacuating from such schools in recent months due to threats. Some have questioned the allocation of government funds for schools serving a single religion. (MIAMI HERALD)

 

Budget Shortfall Projected In NJ

NEW JERSEY’s nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services projects tax revenues this fiscal year and next will be $687 million lower than what Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) administration previously estimated. (NJ.COM)

 

NE Gov Vetoes Over $56.5 Million From Budget

NEBRASKA Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) vetoed $56.5 million worth of spending approved by the state’s Legislature, including $11 million for replacing the Capitol’s HVAC system and $34 million for behavioral health, child welfare, developmental disabilities, and Medicaid services. Lawmakers opted not to override those vetoes. (OMAHA WORLD-HERALD, NEBRASKA EDUCATIONAL TELECOMMUNICATIONS NEWS)

 

-- Compiled by KOREY CLARK

California Spends Most On Medicaid | 05-19-2017

 Almost $82 billion was spent on Medicaid in California in FY 2016 - $52.6 billion (64.1 percent) by the federal government and $29.4 billion (35.9 percent) by the state - according to January 2017 estimates from the Urban Institute, based on data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. California’s total is over 30 percent more than the nearly $63 billion spent on Medicaid in No. 2 state New York, although California’s portion of that total is only about 3 percent more than the $28.5 billion (45.3 percent) paid by New York. Data wasn’t available for North Dakota, but of the other 49 states, Medicaid spending was lowest in Wyoming, at about $581 million, with about $284 million (48.9 percent) coming from the state.

 

Source: Kaiser Family Foundation, Urban Institute, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

Medicaid Cuts Threaten Obamacare Replacement Bill | 05-19-2017

 States would face demanding fiscal challenges, especially with Medicaid, if the pending Republican bill to replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) becomes law. Proposed heavy cutbacks in Medicaid could potentially doom the American Health Care Act (AHCA) in the Senate, according to Politico and other news outlets.

 

The AHCA, which passed the House narrowly on May 4, would replace much of the ACA, often called Obamacare. Approved largely on party lines and supported by President Donald Trump, the bill creates a mountain of uncertainties about health care insurance coverage. But the AHCA is walking a tightrope in the Senate. Since it is unanimously opposed by Democrats, Republicans need support from 50 of 52 GOP senators to pass a health care measure (with Vice President Mike Pence breaking a tie.) At least seven Republican senators have criticized the House bill, with the Medicaid provisions receiving the most disapproval.

“Let’s face it,” said influential Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. “The House bill isn’t going to pass over here.”

 

Though much of the media coverage has focused on the AHCA’s effect on people with pre-existing health conditions, its greatest impact is on Medicaid, the federal-state program providing health care for the poor and disabled. Some 74.5 million people — one in five Americans - are enrolled in Medicaid and the related Children’ Health Insurance Program. Thirty-four million of them are children.

 

As passed by the House, the AHCA would cut more than $800 billion from Medicaid over a 10-year period and cap its federal funding for the first time. This would cripple a substantial expansion of Medicaid that has occurred in 31 states and the District of Columbia under Obamacare. The expansion extended Medicaid coverage to nondisabled working-age adults making up to 133 percent above the poverty line ($15,800 for a single person or $32,319 for a family of four.)

 

Under the House bill the federal government wouldn’t pay the cost of Medicaid for these recipients after 2020. But it would impact some of them sooner because the bill requires continuous coverage as a condition of federal aid. Rachel Morgan, a health care expert with the National Conference of State Legislatures in Washington, D.C. and longtime registered nurse, observes that Medicaid rolls are not static. People continually enter and leave the program depending upon their economic circumstances.

 

The House bill harms Medicaid in other ways. It eliminates a 0.9 percent income tax on those with incomes exceeding $200,000, which hurts Medicaid’s long-run solvency. It permits states to be reimbursed through a “block grant” rather than a per-patient payment, which would give the states less money. It allows states to pick and choose among the 10 “essential health benefits” for which Obamacare requires coverage. Most likely to be scrapped, says Brookings Institution analyst Matthew Fiedler, are services for maternity and mental illness, as well as prescription drug coverage, features commonly not covered before the ACA. Without a requirement for covering all essential benefits, health coverage could unravel, Fielder suggests. Timothy S. Jost, another analyst, says that insurers could revert to selling “mini-med coverage with absurdly low coverage limits.”

 

Backers of the AHCA, the brainchild of House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), say such concerns are overblown and see a need for low-cost, bare-bones insurance policies. Ryan contends that rising premiums and higher deductibles for health insurance are pricing many middle-class Americans out of the market. Many who support Obamacare acknowledge these problems and are especially concerned that insurance companies have withdrawn from several state exchanges that market ACA-approved policies. Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, a robust state exchange, says that nearly a third of Obamacare recipients in other states have only one insurer.

 

But does the AHCA solve the problems of the ACA? The American Medical Association finds the House bill “critically flawed.” Numerous hospital and patient-advocacy groups have urged the Senate to revise or kill the bill. They say the winners in the House bill are higher-income Americans and healthy young people, who will no longer pay a financial penalty for not buying health insurance. Poorer, older and less healthy persons, and the uninsured would be losers.

 

“With Medicaid reductions and smaller tax credits, this bill would clearly result in fewer people insured than under the ACA,” said Larry Levitt, senior vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation... “The House GOP proposal seeks to reduce what the federal government spends on health care, and that inevitably means more people uninsured.”

 

States could wind up the biggest losers, for they would receive substantially less federal funding for Medicaid, the second costliest item after schools in most state budgets. Total Medicaid spending in fiscal year 2016 was $554 billion with 63 per cent coming from the federal government and 37 percent from the states. California, the state that spends the most on Medicaid, had outlays of $82 billion with $52.6 billion coming from the federal government.

 

The prospective reduction of federal Medicaid funds provoked the Republican governors of Ohio, Michigan, Arkansas and Nevada to write House and Senate leaders before passage of the ACHA that the bill “provides almost no new flexibility for states, does not ensure the resources necessary to make sure none is left out, and shifts significant new costs to states.”

 

Exploring the upcoming battle over the ACHA in the Senate, Politico listed “four potential deal-breakers that could sink the GOP’s Obamacare repeal bid by siphoning support from the political center.” These issues are deep cuts in Medicaid, weakening of protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions, defunding of Planned Parenthood and the so-called “age tax” in the House bill, which allows insurers to charge older persons five times as much as young people. The ratio under Obamacare is three to one.

 

The Senate is considered likely to continue funding Planned Parenthood. The age tax could also be changed; several senators have discussed basing subsidies on need rather than age. The guarantee that people with pre-existing medical conditions (roughly a fourth of Americans) receive health insurance has been one of the most popular features of Obamacare. The House bill continues this requirement but with a loophole that allows states to seek a waiver allowing higher rates for persons who have not maintained continuous coverage. There would be little incentive for states to seek such an unpopular waiver, but persons with prior conditions would breathe easier if the Senate closed the loophole.

 

Ultimately, the fate of the AHCA probably depends on whether the Senate can reach a consensus on Medicaid. Most Republican senators are on the record as favoring some Medicaid reductions. But four GOP senators — Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, John McCain of Arizona, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Rob Portman of Ohio — have said the House cutbacks go too far. Trump carried all four of these states in the 2016 election.

 

There’s a tricky political calculus at work in the upcoming Senate debate. A survey this month by Quinnipiac University found a hefty majority of Democratic and independent voters disapproving of the House bill and a plurality of Republican voters favoring it. This suggests that GOP senators, nearly all of whom campaigned in favor of repealing Obamacare, could be in trouble with their partisan base if they just walk away from the House bill. The Senate is probably going to have to come up with something, not just kill the House bill.

 

Two timing issues create a sense of urgency. Issue No. 1 is the budget process, completed in many states and well along in others. State budget assumptions were based on current allocations, and substantial federal cuts would leave states, especially those that expanded Medicaid, in a deep hole. “Uncertainty about Medicaid funding is a huge source of anxiety,” said Lisa Waugh, a health program director of the NCSL in Denver.

 

Issue No. 2 is the insurance rates schedule for 2018, drawn up in most states in May and June of this year.  Insurance companies also made decisions based on the current level of subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. If Congress changes the rules, insurers may seek a delay in implementation.

 

Whatever happens, uncertainty has now become the watchword for Medicaid recipients, states and insurers alike. This uncertainty hangs like a cloud over the Senate as it considers legislation that could turn back the clock on health care to the days before Obamacare.

LePage Gets Trashed | 05-12-2017

There is absolutely no truth to the rumor that Maine Gov. Paul LePage is the model for Dr. Seuss’s infamous Grinch. Then again, he certainly appears to enjoy being the living embodiment of the terminally grumpy beast that gets its greatest joy from being a royal pain in the posterior to everyone around him. The latest of many examples comes to us courtesy of the Boston Globe, which reports that Gov. Grinch vetoed a measure (HB 312) to designate the first Saturday of each May “Maine Community Litter Cleanup Day.” Because who doesn’t want cleaner streets, right? Gee, one guess. Yes, Gov. Grinch vetoed the measure – which had overwhelmingly passed both chambers – calling it “unnecessary.” But as LexisNexis notes, lawmakers of both parties again joined together earlier this month to override the veto. No word if the gov will spend said Cleanup Day kicking puppies instead.

Gone to the Dogs…and Cats | 05-12-2017

Speaking of puppies, Massachusetts lawmakers took time to share personal stories of their pets during animal advocacy day on Beacon Hill last week. As the State House News Service reports, this included Sen. Mark Montigny’s tale of smuggling a kitten back home in a birdcage after a trip to the Greek Islands. The kitten had been rejected by his mother and was not likely to survive, so Montigny decided to become Mr. Mom, so to speak. He said he made it through airports in both Greece and London without issue before encountering U.S. Customs back in the Bay State. But a sympathetic Customs agent opted to not make Montigny’s lack of paperwork on the critter an issue, waving him and his newfound companion on through. Meaning neither Montigny nor the agent could ever be governor of Maine. 

Snookered Over Snooki | 05-12-2017

Hard as it might be to imagine, Rutgers University once paid Snooki, she of obnoxious drunk fame on the repulsive “Jersey Shore” reality show, $32,000 grand to speak at a campus event. But the days of washed up reality TV creatures commanding huge speaking fees at Garden State public colleges is over! Such is the case now that, as ABC News reports, Gov. Chris Christie has signed legislation limiting the amount of state money that can be allotted to speaking fees to $10,000. The bill’s author, Assemblyman John DiMaio, said his measure was directly inspired by Snooki’s big payday. Alas, schools are still able to offer the big bucks, but only if they can snooker some corporate entity to pay the difference.

Please Go Away | 05-12-2017

Don’t go away mad, just go away. This was the message TV chef Sandra Lee clearly sent to U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan during a recent appearance on the “Fox & Friends” cable news show. Lee was booked to give a cooking demo on the show, but only learned at the last minute she would be following an interview with Ryan. The hosts tried to shoehorn Ryan into the cooking segment, but Lee wasn’t having it. As the New York Post reports, Lee shooed him off, telling him “I need you to go away.” Chefs are known to have a bit of the diva in them, but this might go deeper than that for Lee, who after all is the longtime girlfriend of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo...who has clashed with Ryan and Congressional Reeps on more than one occasion. With Cuomo allegedly pondering a White House bid in 2020, it’s probably going to be even hotter in the kitchen from now on.

-- By RICH EHISEN

Business - May 15 2017 | 05-12-2017

Illinois Approves SB 1502

The ILLINOIS Senate approves SB 1502, a measure that would require online companies such as Google, Facebook and Amazon to disclose to consumers what data about them has been collected and shared with third parties. It is now in the House (CHICAGO TRIBUNE).

Georgia Vetoes HB 174

GEORGIA Gov. Nathan Deal (R) vetoes HB 174, which would have allowed property insurance companies to pay claims with gift cards (GEORGIA GOVERNOR’S OFFICE).

Georgia Signs SB 85

Also in GEORGIA, Gov. Deal signs SB 85, which allows breweries and distilleries to sell directly to consumers. The law goes into effect September 1 (LEXISNEXIS STATE NET).

Business In California

The CALIFORNIA Supreme Court rules that “a day of rest is guaranteed for each work week,” rather than on a 7-day rolling basis, and that employees are allowed to work more than seven days in a row if they are given time off equivalent to one day’s rest in seven days (SAN FRANCISCO BUSINESS TIMES).

Missouri Approves SB 43

The MISSOURI House approves SB 43, a bill that would require people to explicitly prove their race, sex or other protected status actually motivated their boss or colleague to mistreat them to win an employment discrimination case. It is now with Gov. Eric Greitens (R) for consideration (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH).

Alabama Approves HB 283

The ALABAMA House approves HB 283, which would enact statewide regulations for ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft. The measure is now in the Senate (LEXISNEXIS STATE NET).

Florida Signs HB 221

FLORIDA Gov. Rick Scott (R) signs HB 221, which implements statewide regulations for ridesharing services and bars local governments from imposing their own regulations on the operations (MIAMI HERALD).

Crime & Punishment - May 15 2017 | 05-12-2017

Crime In New York

The NEW YORK State Court of Appeals unanimously upholds a policy implemented by the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) that allows the state Department of Motor Vehicles to permanently revoke driving privileges for repeat drunk drivers (ALBANY TIMES-UNION).

Vermont Approves SB 22

The VERMONT House approves SB 22, which would make the Green Mountain State the first to legalize possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for strictly recreational use. The bill, which would also allow adults over 21 to possess two mature or four immature marijuana plants, goes to Gov. Phil Scott (R) for consideration (BURLINGTON FREE PRESS).

Washington Signs HB 1501

WASHINGTON Gov. Jay Inslee (D) signs HB 1501, legislation that requires law enforcement and holders of a protective order be notified if someone fails a background check after trying to buy a gun (SEATTLE TIMES).

Education - May 15 2017 | 05-12-2017

Texas Approves Senate Bill 7

The TEXAS House approves Senate Bill 7, which would require principals and superintendents to report teachers having inappropriate relationships with students or face a state jail felony or a fine of up to $10,000. It faces one more vote in the House (TEXAS TRIBUNE).

Georgia Vetoes HB 425

GEORGIA Gov. Nathan Deal (R) vetoes HB 425, which would have made it easier for Peach State students to opt out of standardized testing (ATLANTA JOUNRAL-CONSTITUTION).

Virginia Signs HB 2290

VIRGINIA Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) signs HB 2290, a bill requiring driver’s education classes to teach students how to handle themselves during a traffic stop. The Old Dominion becomes only the second state, after ILLINOIS, to enact such a law (WASHINGTON POST).

Calfornia Approves SB 607

The CALIFORNIA Senate approves SB 607, which would eliminate “willful defiance” as justification for suspension and expulsion of students in grades K-12. It moves to the Assembly (DAILY CALIFORNIAN).

Environment - May 15 2017 | 05-12-2017

Connecticut Approves HB 6329

The CONNECTICUT House approves HB 6329, which would permanently ban the storage of fracking waste in the Constitution State. It moves to the Senate (HARTFORD COURANT).

Health & Science - May 15 2017 | 05-12-2017

Florida Amended HB 1397

The FLORIDA Senate declines to hear an amended version of HB 1397, which would have created rules for the Sunshine State’s nascent medical marijuana industry, killing the measure for the year. Rules to regulate the medical weed industry will now be drafted by the state Department of Health (ORLANDO SENTINEL).

Georgia Vetoes SB 125

GEORGIA Gov. Nathan Deal (R) vetoes SB 125, which would have allowed doctors to delegate their authority to prescribe hydrocodone compound products to physician assistants. Deal said the law could significantly increase the number of opioid prescriptions issued in the Peach State (GEORGIA GOVERNOR’S OFFICE).

Immigration - May 15 2017 | 05-12-2017

Texas Approves SB 1018

The TEXAS Senate approves SB 1018, legislation that would make it easier for the state to license privately run detention centers as “family residential centers” in order to hold immigrant families in detention centers longer. The measure faces one more vote before it can move to the House (TEXAS TRIBUNE).

Texas Signs SB 4

TEXAS Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signs SB 4, so-called “sanctuary city” legislation that makes Lone Star State sheriffs, constables, police chiefs and other local leaders subject to Class A misdemeanor charges if they don’t cooperate with federal immigration authorities. The law also provides civil penalties up to $25,500 for violations. The bill also applies to public colleges (TEXAS TRIBUNE).

Nevada Signs A 162

NEVADA Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) signs A 162, which allows green cards to be used as official identification in the Silver State (MYNEWS4.COM [RENO]).

Social Policy - May 15 2017 | 05-12-2017

Texas Approves HB 3859

The TEXAS House approves HB 3859, which would allow foster care and adoption agencies to refuse to place children with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender households over religious objections. It moves to the Senate (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN).

Georgia Vetoes HB 359

GEORGIA Gov. Nathan Deal (R) vetoes HB 359, legislation that would have allowed parents to transfer power of attorney over their children to another family member or an outside agency for a year without going through the courts (ATLANTA JOUNRAL-CONSTITUTION).

Delaware Approves SB 5

The DELAWARE Senate approves SB 5, which would codify the legality of abortion in the First State should the Supreme Court of the United States at some point overturn Roe v. Wade. It moves to the House (DELAWARE PUBLIC RADIO).

Potpourri - May 15 2017 | 05-12-2017

Iowa Signs SB 489

IOWA Gov. Terry Branstad (R) signs SB 489, legislation legalizing the sale and use of consumer fireworks in the Hawkeye State, but only during the periods around the Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve (CEDAR RAPIDS GAZETTE).

 

-- Compiled by RICH EHISEN

Kasich Wants Oversight of OH Manufactured Homes | 05-12-2017

Citing data showing that people living in manufactured homes in Ohio are far more likely to die in a fire than those living in other dwellings, Gov. John Kasich (R) is urging lawmakers to give the Buckeye State direct oversight of the industry. That oversight currently is the responsibility of the industry-controlled Ohio Manufactured Homes Commission.

 

According to the Ohio State Fire Marshal’s office, people living in manufactured homes – which include mobile homes and other types of factory-built dwellings - are four times more likely to perish in a fire than those living in other types of housing. Fire personnel say fire hydrants aren’t required by law in mobile home parks, meaning manufactured homes too often have no access to water supplies capable of effectively combatting a fire.

 

Kasich’s proposal would move the Manufactured Homes Commission – which is responsible for licensing mobile home park operators, training manufactured home installers and inspecting new installations – into the Ohio Department of Commerce, which also houses the office of the state Fire Marshal. The governor has argued that the Commission is dominated by industry insiders, something he says creates a conflict of interest that has led to mobile homes being far less regulated than standard homes.

 

Tim Williams, the Commission’s executive director, vehemently defended his organization’s track record last week, saying all new and used mobile homes receive multiple fire safety inspections before being sold.

 

“Governor Kasich is entitled to his own opinion but not his own set of facts,” he said in a statement last week. “This appears to be more about the Administration’s ego than the safety of our manufactured home residents.”

 

Critics also argued that the governor’s proposal does nothing to address manufactured homes built in the 1970s and 80s, which are built with lightweight steel frames far more vulnerable to fire. Ohio law already requires fire alarms and smoke detectors on all structures, but only those built from 2006 on.

 

The House Finance Committee has already rejected the governor’s request, which he submitted as part of his annual budget proposal (HB 49). It is still under consideration in the Senate (U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT, NEWS-HERALD [WILLOUGHBY, ASSOCIATED PRESS, GLOBE NEWSWIRE)

Trump Names Three Govs To Opioid Commission | 05-12-2017

President Donald Trump named Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) and North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) to a commission tasked with tackling the nation’s ongoing opioid abuse epidemic. The commission will be chaired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R). The three governors hail from states with significant opioid abuse issues. They are joined by former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-Rhode Island) and psychobiologist Bertha Madras. 

 

The president and the nascent commission have already come under criticism from public health advocates, both for the time it has taken him to name people to the group and his budget proposal, which would impose a 95 percent budget cut on the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which is tasked with leading the federal effort against opioid abuse. Trump created the commission in March, giving it 90 days to devise interim recommendations for tackling the problem, with a final report due in October. He tabbed Christie then to lead the group but failed to name a single other member until last week. (LOWELL SUN, THE HILL, POLITICO)

Governors In Brief - May 15 2017 | 05-12-2017

Christie Vetoes Pension Bill

Deriding it as handing out “a blank check,” NEW JERSEY Gov. Chris Christie (R) conditionally vetoed legislation (SB 3040) that would have allowed Garden State police and firefighters to take control over their currently state-run pension fund. Christie called for several changes to the measure, including a cap on the payout for unused sick leave and vacation time firefighters and police can claim on their retirement. (NJ.COM, NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR’S OFFICE)

 

McAuliffe Signs VA Renewable Energy Package

VIRGINIA Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) signed an 11-bill package of bills to promote renewable energy use in the Old Dominion. Key measures include: SB 1393, which authorizes community solar pilot programs; HB 1565, which implements zoning exemptions for energy efficient buildings; and SB 990, which requires state officials to report annually the progress the state is making toward achieving the codified voluntary goal of reducing energy consumption in Virginia by 10 percent from 2007 levels by 2022. (VIRGINIA GOVERNOR'S OFFICE)

 

Brown Steps Back On Affordable CA Housing

Citing a lack of interest by lawmakers in reforming development rules he says impede the building of low-income housing, CALIFORNIA Gov. Jerry Brown’s (D) May budget revision offered no new funds for or policy changes regarding affordable housing in the Golden State. “I don’t think we should throw money at the housing problem if we don’t adopt real changes that make housing production more efficient and less costly. We’ve got to do that first,” Brown told reporters at a Thursday press conference. (LEXISNEXIS STATE NET CAPITOL JOURNAL)

 

-- Compiled by RICH EHISEN

CA Assembly, Senate Vote for Earlier Presidential Primaries | 05-12-2017

By the time California held its primary election on June 7 last year, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were already their parties’ presumptive nominees. But under a pair of bills passed by their respective chambers of origin, the state would hold its future presidential primaries in March.

 

Assembly Bill 84 would make the first Tuesday after the first Monday of that month the date for primaries in presidential election years.

 

“California has largely been a non-factor when it comes to selecting candidates,” said Assemblyman Kevin Mullin (D), who authored the bill. “AB 84 will enable more Californians to be politically relevant in presidential election cycles.”

 

Senate Bill 568 would set the third Tuesday in March as the date for presidential primaries, while giving the governor the option of moving those primaries even earlier if necessary.

 

“With this bill, candidates from all parties will have to spend more time in California,” said Sen. Ricardo Lara (D), who authored the Senate bill. “The current primary election system stifles California’s influence in the most critical election years.”

 

But Assemblyman Matthew Harper (R) said he’s against holding the state’s primary earlier.

 

“Earlier is not necessarily more influential,” he said, noting that the state’s relatively late primary potentially allows its voters to cast the deciding votes in the presidential nominating process.

 

With Democrats holding supermajorities in both the Assembly and the Senate, Harper’s argument is unlikely to prevail. But one of the two primary election date bills still must be passed by the other chamber and be signed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D) before any schedule change occurs. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

CA Assembly Votes to Lift Ban Against Communists | 05-12-2017

For decades California has banned members of the Communist Party from working in its government. But that could change under a bill (AB 22) passed by the state’s Assembly this month providing for the removal of references to the party from requirements for government employment.

 

On the Assembly floor, the bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D) called the measure a “cleanup bill that removes archaic and outdated references to the Communist Party in our state laws, specifically those stating that a public employee may be dismissed from employment if he or she advocates or is knowingly a member of the Communist Party.”

 

Some Assembly Republicans saw the measure much differently, however.

 

“This bill is blatantly offensive to all Californians,” said Assemblyman Travis Allen (R). “Communism stands for everything that the United States stands against.”

 

He added: “To allow subversives and avowed Communists to now work for the state of California is a direct insult to the people of California who pay for that government.”

 

Assemblyman Randy Voepel (R) who served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War, also voiced disapproval for the measure.

 

“There are 1.9 million veterans in California,” he said. “Many of us fought the communists. They are still a threat. We have North Korea, that wants to do us in. We have China, who is a great, great threat to the United States.”

 

Following those objections, Bonta pointed out that his bill included a provision allowing the firing of any state employee who “advocates or is knowingly a member” of an organization that seeks “the overthrow of the government of the United States or any state by force or violence.”

 

The bill passed on a 41-30 vote, with all of the chamber’s Republicans either opposing it or not voting. (NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO, LEXISNEXIS STATE NET)

Politics In Brief - May 15 2017 | 05-12-2017

Congress Blocks State Retirement Plans

Congress voted to eliminate an Obama-administration rule removing regulatory hurdles obstructing states from creating retirement programs for workers who don’t have access to retirement plans through their employers. The action creates uncertainty for planned retirement programs in seven states: CALIFORNIA, CONNECTICUT, ILLINOIS, MARYLAND, NEW JERSEY, OREGON and WASHINGTON. (WASHINGTON POST)

 

NY Makes Union Dues Deductible

NEW YORK Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed legislation this month making public- and private-sector union dues fully deductible from state income taxes. The deduction will begin with the 2018 tax year. (NEWSDAY)

 

 

-- Compiled by KOREY CLARK

Soda Tax Fizzles In Santa Fe | 05-12-2017

For the past couple of years, taxes on sodas and other sugary drinks have been on a roll. In November 2014 Berkeley, California became the first city to pass such a tax. And that levy’s dual benefit of raising new revenue while reducing the consumption of beverages linked to epidemic rates of obesity and diabetes spurred Philadelphia, in June of last year, and then San Francisco; Oakland; Albany, California; Boulder, Colorado; and Cook County, Illinois, home to Chicago, in November, to pass their own soda taxes.

 

That streak came to an abrupt end last Tuesday, however, when voters in Santa Fe, New Mexico soundly rejected a proposed 2-cents-per-ounce tax on soda distributors to provide free or low-cost pre-kindergarten for 1,000 local children.

 

Turnout in the special election held for the sole purpose of considering the tax measure was a record 37.6 percent, higher even than the turnout for a hotly contested three-way race for mayor in 2014. And 58 percent of those voters opposed the tax.

 

The contest divided the city’s four districts, with the two lower- and middle-income districts overwhelmingly voting against the measure and the two more affluent districts narrowly passing and narrowly rejecting it, respectively.

 

Some were evidently put off by the amount of outside money that poured into the race, including over $1 million in support of the tax proposal from billionaire and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

 

“Today, the people of Santa Fe stood up to say we can fund our city’s priorities without making it even harder for working-class families,” said David Huynh, who lead the anti-tax campaign, billed as a Better Way for Santa Fe & PreK and backed mainly by the American Beverage Association. “People saw through the political agenda of outside forces who wanted to impose an unfair tax at the expense of middle-class families and small-business people in Santa Fe.

 

But Huynh said his group was still committed to expanding pre-K education.

 

“Our coalition of local businesses and community organizations remains united in support of expanded pre-K, and we welcome the opportunity to work with the city and community to find better ways to fund this much-needed program.”

 

Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales (D), who proposed the soda tax, focused on that point, saying in an email statement that one thing that’s clear from the debate over the tax is “that there is overwhelming support for finding a way to make sure every child in Santa Fe and in New Mexico can go as far as their dreams will take them.”

 

“We may not all agree on how we get there, but that’s OK, that’s how it’s supposed to work,” he said. “Now we get back to work, knowing that we have far more in common than the things that have long divided us.”

 

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R) seemed less interested in finding the common ground, seizing the opportunity to take a jab at the Democrats who control the state’s Legislature.

 

“Tonight’s results send a clear message: even in arguably the most liberal city in the state, New Mexicans don’t have the appetite to pay higher taxes,” she said in a written statement. “This was the same out-of-touch agenda that Santa Fe lawmakers tried to jam through when they passed a $350 million tax increase - including raising the price of gas. Hopefully, legislators heard this message.” (ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL, LEXISNEXIS STATE NET)

PA Gov Pitches Unusual Plan To Reduce Medicaid Spending | 05-12-2017

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolfe (D) has proposed an unconventional way to reduce Medicaid spending in his state, which could become a necessity if Congress succeeds in repealing the Affordable Care Act: raising the state’s minimum wage. His administration claims that increasing the wage from its current rate of $7.25 an hour, the current federal rate, to $12 an hour, making it the highest rate in the nation, would lift 100,000 residents out of the Medicaid program, saving the state $50 million a year.

 

“It’s an underexplored topic, and we don’t have a lot of evidence on this issue,” said Christine Eibner, a senior economist for the RAND Corporation.

 

Business groups oppose the move, maintaining that its potential economic benefits are outweighed by its potential costs, which include the loss of 54,000 jobs, according to a report last month from the state’s Independent Fiscal Office.

 

“The governor has good intentions, but there’s a real disconnect between policy proposals and the reality,” said Alex Halper, director of government affairs for the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. “There are better ways to help low-income families that don’t trigger this kind of job loss."

 

RAND’s Eibner suggested Wolfe could make his plan more palatable by following Nevada’s lead and adopting different minimum wage rates for those who receive health benefits from employers and those who don’t. In Nevada those rates are $7.25 an hour and $8.25 an hour, respectively. (GOVERNING)

Protest In NE Senate Nearly Derails State Budget | 05-12-2017

Last week Nebraska Sens. Steve Erdman (R) and Joni Albrecht (R) proposed amendments to an $8.9 billion budget package under consideration in their chamber and then withdrew them before they could be voted on. Erdman’s amendment would have kept all state spending at current levels except allocations for schools, prisons and negotiated state worker pay raises and health insurance benefits, while Albrecht’s would have cut all budget items by 1 percent.

 

The proposals were evidently intended only as a protest of the escalation of state spending. But they nearly did much more when one of the budget bills came up a vote short of the 33 needed for it to immediately take effect, potentially forcing a nearly two-month government shutdown.

 

The bill ultimately passed 36-12 after Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman John Stinner (R) called for reconsideration of the first vote on the measure, and four senators who had abstained from or arrived after that initial vote joined the ranks of supporters, sending the budget package on to Gov. Pete Rickets (R).

 

“It was a fistfight, wasn’t it?” said Stinner. “I’m glad this part’s over.” (OMAHA WORLD-HERALD, LEXISNEXIS STATE NET)

Budgets In Brief - May 15 2017 | 05-12-2017

GA Gov Signs Rural Investment Tax Credit Bill

GEORGIA Gov. Nathan Deal (R) signed legislation (SB 133) providing $60 million in tax credits for companies that invest in businesses in rural areas. The measure has been both criticized as a handout to corporations and praised as a lifeline for struggling rural communities. (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, LEXISNEXIS STATE NET)

 

Permanent Fund Dividend Guarantee Under Consideration In AK

ALASKA House Majority Leader Chris Tuck (D) has introduced a constitutional amendment (HJR 23) that would guarantee residents receive a dividend of at least $1,250 a year from the Alaska Permanent Fund. With the state facing a $2.7 billion annual budget deficit, the House and Senate have both proposed spending some Permanent Fund earnings. (JUNEAU EMPIRE)

 

April Revenues Well Below Projection In OK

April general fund revenues in OKLAHOMA were $90 million, or 12.9 percent, short of the official estimate for the month. (OKLAHOMAN [OKLAHOMA CITY])

 

NM Gov Calls Special Session

NEW MEXICO Gov. Susana Martinez (R) has called a special session for May 24 to balance the state budget, overhaul the gross receipts tax system, create a “rainy day” fund and confirm the governor’s nominees to the University of New Mexico’s Board of Regents. (ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL)

 

-- Compiled by KOREY CLARK

Drivers In South Use Cell Phones Most | 05-12-2017

 Drivers in southern states used their cell phones more than those in the rest of the country between April 2016 and March 2017, according to data collected on the 2.7 million car trips taken and 230 million miles driven by users of online insurance marketplace Everquote’s Everdrive app. Cell phones were used in 41 percent of all trips logged by drivers in the South, compared to 37 percent of those in the Midwest, 35 percent in the Northeast and 34 percent in the West.

 

Source: Everquote

Tougher Distracted Driving Laws On The Way? | 05-12-2017

 The number of deadly crashes on U.S. roadways increased more in the last two years than in any other two-year period over the last half century, due at least in part to distracted driving. The surge in accidents is driving up auto insurance rates across the country. But it remains to be seen if that disturbing trend will also spur widespread adoption of tougher state distracted driving laws.

 

Before 2015 the U.S. traffic fatality rate had generally been trending downward since the mid-1960s, with the total number of fatal crashes going from about 50,000 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled to about 30,000, according to a report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But a 7.2-percent increase in 2015 - the largest since an 8.1-percent spike in 1966 - reversed the trend. That increase and a 6-percent increase estimated for 2016, bringing the two-year total to over 14 percent, have been attributed largely to more cars being on the road as a result of the improving economy and cheaper gas. But the number of distracted driving-related traffic fatalities also rose by 8.8 percent in 2015, according to the NHTSA report. And another NHTSA report stated that 10 percent, or 3,196, of the 32,166 total fatal crashes, 15 percent, or 265,000, of the 1.72 million total injury crashes, and 14 percent, or 617,000, of the 4.55 million total police-reported motor vehicle traffic crashes in 2015 were “distraction-affected,” a designation that encompasses not just cell phone use but also activities like eating, talking with passengers and adjusting the radio or climate controls. Fourteen percent (342) of the distraction-related fatal crashes, 8 percent (21,000) of the distraction-related injury crashes, and 8 percent (48,000) of the distraction-related police-reported crashes involved cellphone use specifically.

 

It isn’t just talking and texting on cell phones that’s distracting drivers; increasingly its mobile apps like Facebook, Google Maps and Pandora that are taking their eyes off the road. According to a 2015 survey by State Farm Insurance, the proportion of drivers who text message while behind the wheel has remained relatively constant at between 31 percent and 36 percent. The proportion who use GPS navigation systems, however, has swelled from 30 percent to 51 percent and the proportion who access social media websites has more than doubled, from 9 percent to 21 percent.

 

“It’s interesting to observe how the number and types of distractions available on cell phones have grown over the years we have conducted this annual survey,” Chris Mullen, director of technology research for State Farm, said in a press release.

 

Those distractions are helping drive up insurance costs. According to a white paper published by the Insurance Information Institute, a trade group, auto insurers’ “loss costs” - “the dollar amount of claims per vehicle per year” - rose 13 percent between March 2014 and 2016, over 10 times the rate of inflation. The paper said that rise was due both to the increasing frequency of accident claims and the increasing expense of those claims, which it, in turn, attributed largely to the rising costs of medical treatment and car repairs.

 

Rising healthcare costs have long been a cause of concern but the rapid growth of auto repair costs appears to be a more recent development, which insurers say is due in large part to the increasing amount of technology being packed into cars in recent years, including features designed to help drivers avoid accidents. As the Charlotte Observer reported, Adam Polack, a spokesman for Allstate, said it “used to be just fixing a bumper.”

 

“Now it has as backup camera in it.”

 

Liberty Mutual says it cost $1,705 more to fix a damaged bumper in 2016 than it did in 2014, according to a recent Boston Globe story.

 

Unsurprisingly, auto insurers have been raising their rates. Among the largest increases was Allstate’s average 25 percent hike last year in Georgia, where traffic fatalities jumped 21 percent in 2015 and drivers logged far more miles than the national average.

 

“We adjust rates very carefully to charge properly for the risk we assume and ensure our ability to help protect customers from life’s uncertainties,” the company said in a written statement to CNBC, adding that the increase applied to only one of its three underwriters in the state and affected less than half of its auto insurance customers there.

 

Most recent rate increases have been more modest. And the federal Consumer Price Index for April 2016 showed that motor vehicle insurance prices rose 6 percent from April of the previous year, although that was still the largest 12-month increase since October 2003.

 

State lawmakers have been far from idle on the issue. As of 2015 most states had laws restricting the use of cell phones while driving, including “primary enforcement” bans on handheld cellphone use - allowing law enforcement officers to pull over drivers without their having to commit some other traffic offense such as speeding first - in 14 states, bans on all cellphone use by novice drivers in 37 states and bans on texting while driving by all drivers in 46 states.

 

Those laws have their shortcomings, however. They generally don’t deal with the growing use of cellphone apps, for instance. The penalties they impose for violations can be relatively mild. Many don’t address distractions other than cellphone use, such as eating or talking to passengers. And none ban all cellphone use - handheld and hands-free - by all drivers.

 

California addressed the cellphone app loophole last year with the enactment of AB 1785, prohibiting anyone from holding a cell phone at any time while driving. But the base fine for a first-time violation of the law is still just $20 and $50 for a second offense, although additional assessments can increase those amounts significantly.

 

Penalties are stiffer in some other states. First-time violators of Maine’s ban on texting while driving, for instance, are subject to a fine of “not less than $250” and repeat offenders can be fined $500 or more. Talking or texting on a cellphone while driving in New York is punishable by both a fine and the addition of 5 points on an offending driver’s DMV record, with drivers receiving 11 points in 18 months subject to having their license suspended. Drivers caught texting while driving in Alaska, meanwhile, face up to a $10,000 fine and a year in prison.

 

Some states have also sought to address distracted driving more broadly. Maine passed a law in 2009 making it illegal to operate a motor vehicle while distracted, which it defined as “engaged in an activity (1) That is not necessary to the operation of the vehicle; and (2) That actually impairs, or would reasonably be expected to impair, the ability of the person to safely operate the vehicle.” New Jersey Assemblymembers John Wisniewski (D) and Nicholas Chiaravalloti (D) are trying to get a similar measure (AB 1908) passed in their state but with tougher penalties, including a fine of $200 to $400 for a first offense, a fine of $400 to $600 for a second offense and a fine of $600 to $800 and license suspension of up to 90 days for a third or subsequent offense. A number of states have also passed “careless driving” or “inattentive driving” laws, such as the one passed by Utah in 2014 making the operation of a motor vehicle “while being distracted by one or more activities taking place within the vehicle that are not related to the operation of a motor vehicle, including: (1) searching for an item in the vehicle; or (2) attending to personal hygiene or grooming” - a class C misdemeanor.

 

But not even any of the 37 states that ban all cellphone use by young drivers have extended that ban to all drivers, with adult drivers still allowed to use the devices hands-free in every state. That’s a problem, according to Maureen Vogel of the private, non-profit, Illinois-based National Safety Council.

 

“Science tells us that it is as dangerous to use a hand-held device or a hands-free device because the distraction is not with the hands, but with the brain,” she told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

 

According to her group, cellphone use decreases the performance of the part of the brain that processes moving images by 37 percent, and drivers distracted in that way miss stoplights, stop signs and traffic hazards up to 50 percent of the time.

 

“If hands were the problem, we would have outlawed manual transmission cars long ago,” she said.

 

Lawmakers have been disinclined to consider banning cell phones by motorists altogether, however.

 

“Wireless communication devices are an integral part of society,” said Minnesota state Rep. Mark Uglem (R), according to the Tribune.

 

At least 28 states and the District of Columbia have introduced over 100 bills relating specifically to distracted driving this session, according to LexisNexis State Net’s legislative tracking system. None of the measures would ban hands-free cellphone use while driving, but many would increase the penalties for violating existing distracted driving laws.

 

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit organization funded by auto insurers, questions whether such laws will actually make a difference, noting that cellphone laws haven’t had the same impact on driver behavior as seat belt laws did.

 

“With education and vigorous enforcement of safety belt laws, we saw immediate effects with fewer deaths,” said Russ Rader, a spokesman for the organization, as NJ.com reported. “We're not seeing the same kind of immediate safety benefits with education and enforcement of cellphone laws.”

 

He added: “Addressing distracted driving through new laws is not likely to be an effective approach to make roads safer.”

 

What may be effective, ironically, or perhaps unsurprisingly, given that it’s been such a major contributor to the problem of distracted driving, is technology. For example, functionality could be incorporated into cell phones that deactivates texting and other features when in a moving vehicle. Cellphone users, and consequently cellphone makers, are unlikely to be very receptive to that idea, though, unless the functionality could be deactivated, potentially limiting its usefulness. A bill introduced in California - AB 970, which would allow wireless service providers to disable phone capabilities in a moving vehicle at the request of customers and which has a high probability of passage given its author’s party affiliation and success rate, according to LexisNexis State Net’s legislative prognosis tool - would presumably have that same drawback.

 

Potentially more promising are the collision avoidance features trickling down from automakers’ luxury lines and the autonomous vehicles being developed by Google and others. Joe Salerno, vice president of claims at Arbella Insurance Group headquartered in Quincy, Massachusetts, suggested to the Boston Globe that driverless technologies would reduce the frequency of accidents once they’re in wide enough use. And a 2015 white paper from the accounting firm KPMG stated that replacement and retrofitting of U.S. vehicle stock with autonomous technology could reduce accident frequency 80 percent and shrink the personal auto insurance sector to “less than 40 percent of its current size” by 2040.

 

Contrary to the contention of the IIHS, however, there is evidence that laws also help curb distracted driving. A study from April 2010 to April 2011 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that high-visibility enforcement (HVE) involving “strong laws, vigorous targeted law enforcement” and “extensive” media coverage - decreased handheld cellphone use while driving by 32 percent in Syracuse, New York and by 57 in Hartford, Connecticut. A similar NHTSA study from November 2012 to June 2013 found that HVE programs decreased driver handheld cellphone use in the Sacramento area of California by 34 percent and throughout the state of Delaware by 33 percent.

 

“We know education, enforcement work,” said the National Safety Council’s Vogel.

 

Forty-two percent of the respondents to State Farm’s distracted driving survey also said “Financial and/or legal consequences (e.g., fine, losing license, jail time, insurance cost increase, etc.)” and 36 percent said “Getting caught by police” would deter them from reading or responding to text messages while driving.

 

“These responses about deterrents highlight the need for a multi-pronged approach to curbing distracted driving,” said State Farm’s Mullen. “Potential solutions lie in a combination of education and awareness, technology, regulation and enforcement.”

 

Ferreting Out the Law | 05-04-2017

For three decades ferret lovers have been trying to get California lawmakers and regulators to overturn a law that bans folks from owning ferrets. For the uninformed, ferrets are a member of the weasel family and bear a strong connection to the European polecat. Ferret owners love them and contend they make great pets. Others say not so much. Supporters came close to realizing their dream in 2004 when a legalization bill made it to then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, but “The Governator” clawed it to death. Ferret folks took another run at it last week by seeking a legalization exemption for ferrets that have been neutered or spayed, but state regulators said no. So for now California and Hawaii remain the only states where ferrets are persona non grata. So to speak.

A Real Numbers Game | 05-04-2017

As LexisNexis State Net notes, each state sends anywhere from hundreds to thousands of bills to the governor each year for consideration. For the 2017 session, LNSN estimates California will ponder 2,900 bills, almost five times the 600 we estimate Delaware could send to Gov. John Carney. But the Golden State isn’t even close to being the bill producing champ, and lots of states in fact actually outdo it by a lot. Illinois, for instance, is likely to consider about 8,500 measures, while Massachusetts will file 6,700. And if you think things are bigger in Texas, you are right. The Lone Star State is expected to introduce 12,400 bills before they shut out the lights in June. But while that’s big, it’s still just second best. The real champ is New York, which is expected to ponder over 16,000 bills before lawmakers leave Albany next February. Which means New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is looking at a serious case of writer’s cramp.

Living the Law | 05-04-2017

It seems pretty clear that Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens really enjoyed signing legislation recently that enacted statewide regulations on ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft. How clear? Well, as The Hill reports, he signed the bill while taking a ride with a Lyft driver. The duo proceeded to a Taco Bell where he and his new buddy had lunch. And this being 2017 he put a video of it all on his Twitter account, joking that “This might be the first bill that’s ever been signed in a Lyft car with a chalupa.” Yep, Pretty sure that’s correct.

 

 

- By RICH EHISEN

Business - May 8 2017 | 05-04-2017

Vermont Approves HB 196

The VERMONT House approves HB 196, which would require business owners to provide workers with six weeks of family leave at 80 percent of their salary, paid for by a statewide payroll tax on all workers. The measure moves to the Senate, which won’t consider it until next January (U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT).

Indiana Signs HB 1496

INDIANA Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) signs HB 1496, which requires restaurants seeking new restaurant permits to have 60 percent of their alcohol sales in on-premises consumption to be able to sell carryout cold beer and liquor (FT. WAYNE JOURNAL GAZETTE).

Texas Signs HB 89

TEXAS Gov. Gregg Abbott (R) signs HB 89, which prohibits all state agencies from contracting with, and certain public funds from investing in, companies that boycott Israel (SE TEXAS RECORD).

Arizona Signs SB 1341

ARIZONA Gov. Doug Ducey (R) signs SB 1341, which allows 16- and 17-year-olds in the foster care system to buy auto insurance. It takes effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns (ARIZONA REPUBLIC [PHOENIX]).

Crime & Punishment - May 8 2017 | 05-04-2017

Crime In Wisconsin

A federal judge in WISCONSIN rules that the Badger State’s so-called “cocaine mom” law, which allows adult pregnant women suspected of current or past drug or alcohol use that could affect their fetus be held in secure custody and subjected to involuntary medical treatment, is unconstitutional. State officials are pondering an appeal (MILWAKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL).

Education - May 8 2017 | 05-04-2017

Louisiana Approves HB 79

The LOUISIANA House unanimously approves HB 79, which would ban the paddling of disabled students at Pelican State public schools. The bill moves to the Senate (ADVOCATE [BATON ROUGE]).

Arizona Signs SB 1042

ARIZONA Gov. Doug Ducey (R) signs SB 1042, which allows school districts, not the state Board of Education, to decide whether an applicant is eligible to teach. It takes effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns (ARIZONA REPUBLIC [PHOENIX]).

Texas Approves SB 179

The TEXAS Senate approves SB 179, which requires Lone Star State public schools to create cyberbullying policies and establish methods for students to anonymously report cyberbullying. Under those guidelines schools would have 24 hours to tell a victim’s parents about reports of bullying, and would also be required to inform a bully’s parents if an investigation confirms a violation. The measure, which also creates a class B misdemeanor, rising to a class A misdemeanor, for those previously convicted of cyberbullying or if the bullying was done toward a victim under age 18 with the intent to provoke a suicide or self-harm, moves to the House (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN).

Environment - May 8 2017 | 05-04-2017

Colorado Approves HB 1339

The COLORADO House approves HB 1339, which would use public bonds to help ease the way to decommissioning aging coal plants. The measure, which would also use some of the bond sale revenue to help displaced workers from shuttered coal plants, moves to the Senate (DENVER POST).

Health & Science - May 8 2017 | 05-04-2017

Oregon Approves SB 719

The OREGON Senate approves SB 719, which would establish a process for a judge to issue an “extreme risk protection order” if a person is found by clear and convincing evidence to pose a risk of suicide or threat to family members or roommates. If an order is issued, that person would have to surrender his or her deadly weapons within 24 hours to a law enforcement officer, gun dealer or third party. The measure moves to the House (OREGONIAN [PORTLAND]).

Florida Approves HB 1397

The FLORIDA House approves HB 1397, which would allow patients with ailments included in a list of conditions — including cancer, HIV/AIDS and epilepsy — to be prescribed medical marijuana by a doctor. The bill, which would also allow patients with chronic pain to access the drug but only if that pain is directly linked to a debilitating condition that would have qualified them anyway, moves to the Senate (TAMPA BAY TIMES).

Vermont Approves SB 16

The VERMONT House approves SB 16, which would add Crohn’s disease, Parkinson's disease and post-traumatic stress disorder to diseases eligible for a patient to treat with medicinal marijuana. It returns to the House (MYNBC5.COM [BURLINGTON]).

Arizona Signs HB 2493

ARIZONA Gov. Doug Ducey (R) signs HB 2493, which will create a review team to investigate every drug overdose that occurs in the Grand Canyon State. The team will be tasked with collecting data on drug overdoses and coordinating with local stakeholders to prevent future overdose deaths (LEXISNEXIS STATE NET).

Immigration - May 8 2017 | 05-04-2017

Texas Approves SB 4

The TEXAS Senate gives final approval to SB 4, which would make it a crime for law enforcement to refuse cooperation with federal immigration officials. Local jurisdictions could also face fines of up to $25,000 per day for violating the law. It moves to Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who pushed the measure and is expected to sign it into law (TEXAS TRIBUNE).

Social Policy - May 8 2017 | 05-04-2017

Nevada Approves Joint Resolution 2

The NEVADA Senate approves Assembly Joint Resolution 2, a constitutional amendment that would codify recognition of same-sex marriage in the Silver State in the instance the Supreme Court of the United States reverses its earlier decision to legalize such unions. It returns to the Assembly (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL).

Tennessee Approves SB 1189

The TENNESSEE Senate approves SB 1189, which would bar women from obtaining an abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy. It moves to the House (TENNESSEAN [NASHVLLE]).

Potpourri - May 8 2017 | 05-04-2017

Indiana Signs HB 1085

INDIANA Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) signs HB 1085, which would allow someone to break into a car to rescue a dog or cat that had been left inside during a time of extreme heat or cold without facing criminal liability. The law does, however, require the rescuer to pay half of the cost to repair the car unless the vehicle owner agrees to pay for it all (CBS4INDY.COM [INDIANAPOLIS]).

Arizona Signs SB 1122

ARIZONA Gov. Doug Ducey (R) signs SB 1122, which bars all levels of government from requiring the owner of any personal property – including guns – to search a federal or state database before transferring the item. The law also bars governments from requiring the involvement of a third party in such transfers of personal property (ARIZONA DAILY STAR [TUCSON]).

 

- Compiled By RICH EHISEN

Scott Finally Declares FL Opioid Emergency | 05-04-2017

Amidst criticism he has not done enough to deal with the growing opioid abuse issue in Florida, Gov. Rick Scott (R) last week declared such abuse to be a public health emergency. The declaration allows the state to accept $54 million in federal grant money over the next two years to combat the epidemic. 

 

State data shows that opioids were directly responsible for the deaths of over 2,500 Floridians in 2015, the latest year for which data is available, and contributed to the deaths of 1,358 more. But as recently as last month Scott resisted calls from lawmakers and health advocates to make the emergency declaration. He instead suggested that law enforcement and public agencies in counties hit hardest by the opioid epidemic hold workshops to better educate their communities about the issue.

 

“The individuals struggling with drug use are sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and friends and each tragic case leaves loved ones searching for answers and praying for help,” Scott said in a statement. “Families across our nation are fighting the opioid epidemic and Florida is going to do everything possible to help our communities.”

 

The declaration came on the same day the Senate approved HB 477, a measure that would impose tough criminal penalties on people who traffic in fentanyl, a vastly more potent synthetic opioid that is often mixed with organic opioids like heroin. Fentanyl has become a leading factor in the spike in overdose deaths across the nation. At press time the measure was set to return to the House but is expected to make it to Scott for his signature.

 

Lawmakers and health advocates welcomed the emergency declaration but questioned why Scott waited so long to make it, particularly in light of his rapid willingness to declare emergencies over wildfires and other health concerns like Ebola and the Zika virus. 

 

“The state of emergency coalesces everybody behind the problem,” Sen. Jeff Clemens (D) said last month. “I’m a little perplexed and confused why we have thousands of deaths in Florida and we don’t declare a state of emergency, but we have wildfires that have caused zero deaths and we do.”

 

But on Wednesday, Sen. Jack Latvala (R) praised the move, essentially saying it was better late than never.

 

“The governor has the power now with an emergency order to take over the funding in that area, so that’s one of the pluses there,” Latvala said. “I think the important thing is he’s done it, and not what day or how many days did it take him to do.” (MIAMI HERALD, PALM BEACH POST, ORLANDO SUN SENTINEL)

Baker Orders Review Of Wiretap Law | 05-04-2017

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) joined with Attorney General Maura Healey (D) and law enforcement officers last week to announce legislation that would update the Bay State’s wiretapping law for the first time since its inception in 1968. Under that statute, electronic surveillance can only be used if the subject is suspected of involvement in organized crime. Baker’s proposal would eliminate that requirement, allowing law enforcement to utilize wiretaps for a much broader range of suspected crimes, including rape, murder and human trafficking. Baker said the change is needed to allow police to keep pace with criminal activity.

 

“The world has changed. Times change; things change. And we’ve been unable, as a commonwealth, to secure judicial support for wiretaps in situations that involve all sorts of serious crimes,” Baker told the Patriot-Ledger [Quincy] prior to the official announcement. He later told reporters at a press conference the changes were “a common sense” update that would help police investigate serious crimes.

 

He noted that under current law if someone had warned police about the Tsarnaev brothers, who bombed the Boston Marathon in 2013, law enforcement would not have been allowed to wiretap them because they were not part of an organized crime ring. The proposal would not change any other current standards for obtaining a wiretap order, which include demonstrating probable cause for a particular crime, getting approval from a judge, and showing that other techniques have been tried and failed to solve the crime.

 

While law enforcement hailed the proposal, civil liberties advocates were less thrilled. Gavi Wolfe, legislative council for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said the bill was unnecessary, too far reaching and “a serious intrusion into people’s privacy.”

 

“What they’re talking about is change to many different facets of the wiretap statute, and there’s cause for concern about each one of them - expanding the length of time that wiretaps can be in process, changing the nature of the kinds of crimes that can be subject to a wiretap... making it possible to wiretap individuals as opposed to coordinated criminal activity,” he added. (BOSTON GLOBE, PATRIOT-LEDGER [QUINCY])

Governors In Brief - May 8 2017 | 05-04-2017

Hickenlooper Orders Oil & Gas Inspections

In the aftermath of an explosion caused by a gas leak, COLORADO Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) ordered oil and gas companies statewide to inspect and pressure-test oil and gas flowlines within 1,000 feet of occupied buildings. A report issued by firefighters revealed the fatal explosion was caused by odorless gas seeping from a cut-off underground pipeline into the house through French drains and a sump pit. (DENVER POST, KDVR.COM [DENVER])

 

LePage Sues Maine AG

MAINE Gov. Paul LePage (R) sued Maine Attorney General Janet Mills on Monday, accusing her of abusing her power by refusing to represent him in federal lawsuits. He accused her of costing the state “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in private legal fees. (PORTLAND PRESS HERALD)

 

Christie Vetoes Trump Tax Bill

Calling it an effort to “score cheap political points,” NEW JERSEY Gov. Chris Christie (R) vetoed a measure last week that would have required presidential and vice presidential candidates to disclose their federal income tax returns for at least the five most recent taxable years for which they have filed returns. (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER)

 

 

 

-- Compiled by RICH EHISEN

Some KS Lawmakers Gearing Up For Override Fight | 05-04-2017

This year marked a rift between Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) and many of the state’s lawmakers, including some of his fellow Republicans, with both chambers of the GOP-led Legislature voting to roll back a major tax cut the governor championed and to expand Medicaid, which he has opposed doing, and then coming within just a few votes of overriding the governor’s vetoes of those measures.

 

For some lawmakers the tensions have not subsided. Sen. Barbara Bollier (R) said they may make another push to raise revenues with more supporters behind it.

 

“For me it looks more that we’re going to have to go to an override, which means some people are going to have to change their position,” she said.

 

She also made it clear that change of position wouldn’t be coming from moderate Republicans like herself, whom she says have repeatedly given in to the will of more extreme conservatives like Brownback.

 

“We’re tired of giving,” she said. “We’ve given and given and given; we’ve had cuts and cuts and cuts and cuts. We have to be the ones to stand up and save the state.”

 

Sen. Anthony Hensley, the Senate’s top Democrat, is also gearing up for an override fight, saying the governor won’t agree to any tax changes big enough to fix the $900 million budget shortfall projected for the state over the next two fiscal years.

 

“I don’t think we want him to be relevant to this process,” he said. “Up until now, he really hasn’t brought much to the table in the way of tax reform.”

 

But Senate President Susan Wagle (R), who has been working with Brownback on a new tax plan, said his use of the veto pen is just “a normal part of the process.”

 

“He’s elected statewide and he has that right,” she said.

 

And Rep. Dan Hawkins (R) said if lawmakers are having to resort to veto overrides, maybe they aren’t coming up with the best way of addressing the issues.

 

“If we continually are looking at nothing more than veto overrides, what are we doing?” he said. “We’re really not trying to put something together that will work for the state. We’re trying to put something together that will work for that faction that has the control.” (KCUR [KANSAS CITY])

Nursing Home Industry Flexes Muscle In LA | 05-04-2017

In August 2015, after spending over two years working on a plan that would have reduced Louisiana’s reliance on nursing homes and saved the state $77 million a year, the administration of then-Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) abruptly announced that any effort to overhaul the state’s healthcare system would have to be undertaken by the state’s next governor. That individual, Gov. John Bel Edwards (D), pledged during his campaign for the office that he would take up the cause of nursing home reform. But after more than a year in office, and in spite of estimates showing the state could save over $100 per year and improve patient outcomes, that reform hasn’t come.

 

The reason the reform hasn’t happened under two governors who’d publicly expressed support for it may be because of the nursing home industry’s fundraising efforts. Between 1998 and 2017, the industry, its lobbyists and individuals associated with it have given over $3.3 million to 20 state officials, including former Gov. Jindal, who has received over $774,000, and Gov. Edwards, who has received over $720,000.

 

That seemed to gall Hugh Eley, a former administrator of the state’s Department of Health.

 

“This is an industry that's almost totally taxpayer-funded,” he said. “The vast majority of their income is from taxpayers through Medicaid and Medicare, and then they turn around and use it with their contributions to influence policy to limit taxpayers' long-term care choices.” (ADVOCATE [BATON ROUGE])

Politics In Brief - May 8 2017 | 05-04-2017

AK House Advances Same-Day Voter Registration:

ALASKA’s House voted 22-17 last month in support of legislation (HB 1) allowing residents of the state to register to vote and then immediately cast a ballot on Election Day. The Senate isn’t expected to consider the measure this year. (JUNEAU EMPIRE)

 

NE LAWMAKERS, GOV SPAR OVER FELON VOTING RIGHTS:

NEBRASKA’s unicameral Legislature voted last month to do away with the requirement that felons wait two years after completing their sentences to vote. But Gov. Pete Rickets (R) vetoed the measure (LB 75), and it wasn’t clear if there were enough votes in the 49-member body for an override, with 30 votes required and 9 members having abstained or been absent from the 27-13 vote for LB 75. (OMAHA WORLD-HERALD, HILL)

 

-- Compiled by KOREY CLARK

USPS Upsets AK Marijuana Tax Payment System | 05-04-2017

When one of the owners of Rainforest Farms in Juneau, Alaska tried to mail a box of cash to Anchorage last month to make a regular tax payment, the U.S. Postal Service refused to deliver it. Not because of insufficient postage or missing address information. But because Rainforest Farms is a marijuana retailer, and the Postal Service said the cash was drug money.

 

“Any proceeds from the selling of [marijuana] is considered drug proceeds under federal law, so you can’t mail that,” said U.S. Postal Inspector Aaron Behnen.

 

The Postal Service’s action throws a monkey wrench in the state’s plan to help its legal marijuana businesses pay their taxes, which consists of simply letting them make cash payments to the state’s Department of Revenue in Anchorage. That plan was necessitated by the fact that even though the state legalized marijuana businesses two years ago, banks in the state have refused to handle those businesses’ money because marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

 

“Until there is an act through Congress, I understand why the banks are very concerned, said Alaska banking regulator Kevin Anselm. “Just because the law is not being enforced today does not mean it won’t be enforced tomorrow.”

 

U.S. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) is working on that act of Congress, having joined a bipartisan group of over two dozen lawmakers - including those from other states that have legalized marijuana like California and Colorado - to introduce legislation (HB 2215) that would allow financial institutions to service marijuana businesses without the risk of federal sanction.

 

In the meantime, owners of marijuana businesses in Alaska may have to do what some are reportedly already doing: funneling money through their personal savings and checking accounts or setting up accounts under parent companies to conceal that the accounts are being used for marijuana-related business. But that’s not the preference of some of those business owners. As Lacy Wilcox, Southeast chapter president of the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association put it, “it feels a lot like hiding, and we don’t want to hide.” (JUNEAU EMPIRE, LEXISNEXIS STATE NET)

HI Lawmakers Agree On Rail-Funding Plan | 05-04-2017

Hawaii House and Senate leaders reached a tentative agreement last month on a plan that would increase the state’s hotel tax to help fund Honolulu’s high-speed rail project. Pitched by House conferees on Senate Bill 1183, the plan would increase the state’s transient accommodations tax (TAT) from its current 9.25 percent rate to 12 percent for 10 years and end the general excise tax (GET) - the rail project’s current primary funding source - in 2027 as scheduled. The plan would generate $1.3 billion for the rail project, on top of the GET proceeds generated through 2027, as well as provide an additional $50 million per year for education.

 

Rep. Sylvia Luke (D), who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, said shifting the rail project’s funding source to the hotel industry made sense, considering that Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell has repeatedly said tourists pay a third of the GET. She also said the TAT is less burdensome on the elderly and working poor than the GET, which is a regressive tax.

 

Sen. Jill Tokuda (D), chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, meanwhile, was appreciative of the House’s “innovative” approach to funding the rail project and the fact that it would provide more money for schools, and she said her chamber would “take a good, hard look” at the plan. (HONOLULU CIVIL BEAT)

Tax Cuts Creating Distress In OK | 05-04-2017

A few years ago when Oklahoma’s economy was booming, Republicans who control the state’s government pushed through a permanent reduction in the state’s top income tax rate and slashed the oil production tax rate by 5 percent (from 7 percent to 2 percent). But the boom has ended and state revenues have fallen about 20 percent short of budgeted levels for three years in a row.

 

Things have gotten so bad that state troopers are being told not to fill up their gas tanks, drunk drivers are being allowed to keep their driving privileges because there aren’t enough administrative personnel to revoke them, and school districts are shifting to four-day school weeks.

 

Lawmakers have cut spending. A recent analysis showed that last year’s budget, adjusted for inflation, was $6.9 billion smaller than the one passed in 2009. But the state still faces a projected budget gap of $900 million, and lawmakers are now considering more drastic measures like cutting Medicaid payments, which could force the closure of hundreds of nursing homes.

 

“We’re not running the state based on a plan and a strategy. We’re trying to operate it on a philosophy,” said Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones (R). “It seems like weʹre afraid to admit we’ve made mistakes and correct them.”

 

But not all of the Republicans in the state feel the same way.

 

“I think we need to...make sure we’ve squeezed every nickel, dime and penny out of every corner that we can before we just start raising taxes,” said Senate President pro Tem  Mike Schulz (R). (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

SC House, Senate Pass Differing Infrastructure Bills | 05-04-2017

After much tinkering with amendments that lasted late into the night, South Carolina’s Republican-led Senate passed an infrastructure funding bill (HB 3516) last month.

 

“The Senate passed a bill tonight that will fix our roads, repair our broken DOT structure and do it in a way that is responsible to the S.C. taxpayer,” said Sen. Larry Grooms (R).

 

As amended, the Senate’s version of HB 3516 would increase the state’s 17 cents-per-gallon gas tax by 12 cents over six years, two cents more than the version of the bill passed weeks earlier by the House. But because of tax rebates and cuts tacked on to the Senate bill, it would actually provide slightly less new revenue for road and bridge repairs than the House version - $580 million per year versus $600 million - and require money to be drawn from state reserve and revenue funds.

 

House Majority Leader Gary Simrill (R), whose chamber became so frustrated with the Senate’s dickering at one point that it passed a measure inserting its version of HB 3516 into the state budget, said the Senate’s plan complicates the primary focus of the bill: providing money to fix the state’s crumbling roads.

 

“I don’t even understand how it could be workable,” he said on the House floor. “In my opinion, it was unintelligible.”

 

Simrill also said he wasn’t entirely sure the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill could be worked out in conference committee, which must happen for the bill to go to Gov. Henry McMaster (R). (POST AND COURIER [CHARLESTON], LEXISNEXIS STATE NET)

Budgets In Brief - May 8 2017 | 05-04-2017

ND LAWMAKERS ROLL BACK SPENDING

NORTH DAKOTA’s Republican-led Legislative Assembly passed a budget for the 2017-19 biennium last month that reduces general fund spending to 2011-13 budget levels. The $4.3 billion in general fund spending included in the current $13.6 billion budget is also $1.7 billion less than the amount approved two years ago. (FORUM OF FARGO-MOORHEAD)

 

INCOME TAX REVENUES PLUMMETING IN CT

CONNECTICUT is facing an estimated $413 million drop in income tax revenues this fiscal year and a projected $1.46 billion drop in income tax revenues over the next two fiscal years. A key reason for the steep decline is that millionaires and billionaires have been leaving the state in recent years for tax reasons. (HARTFORD COURANT)

 

PA FACING BIGGEST BUDGET SHORTFALL SINCE GREAT RECESSION

Last week PENNSYLVANIA’s Department of Revenue reported a budget shortfall for the current fiscal year - which has just two months remaining - of more than $1 billion. Comprising over 4 percent of the budget, that deficit is the largest of any fiscal year since 2010. (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER)

 

CO LAWMAKERS CONSIDER TAPPING POT TAX FOR GENERAL EXPENSES

Tucked into a major spending bill (SB 267) under consideration in the COLORADO Senate is a provision that would raise the state’s recreational marijuana special sales tax from its current 10 percent rate to its maximum allowable 15 percent rate to provide money for rural schools and a personal property tax break for business owners. The ballot measure voters approved in 2013 legalizing recreational marijuana (Proposition AA) stated that the revenue generated from the tax would go toward regulating the new pot industry and other associated expenses like drug treatment. (DENVER POST, LEXISNEXIS STATE NET)

 

-- Compiled by KOREY CLARK

Loose Geographic Pattern To White, Middle-Aged Male Suicides | 05-04-2017

 Of the 42 states for which reliable data is available, New Mexico had the highest rate of suicides in 2015 among white men between the ages of 45 and 54, at 67.9 deaths per 100,000 residents, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s WONDER Online Database. The 10 states with the highest rates were congregated in the Mountain West and South. New York had the lowest rate, at 24.3 percent. And the 10 states with the lowest rates were located in the Midwest and Northeast.

 

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Spike In Middle-Age Mortality Rates Defies Easy Answers | 05-04-2017

 Life expectancy for most of the developed world has risen for years. But ongoing research by Princeton University economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton reveals that over the last two decades mortality rates have spiked sharply for one specific group of people: middle-aged white Americans with less than a college education. And much like the complex and varied causes behind it, the problem has no easy solution.

 

According to Case and Deaton, the reversal in mortality fortunes for white non-Hispanics has been startling, particularly given that mortality rates for other population segments have fallen drastically over that same time frame. In a paper released in March – a follow up to their blockbuster 2015 study – they lay out just how significant the problem has become: 

 

“Mortality rates among blacks and Hispanics continue to fall; in 1999, the mortality rate of white non-Hispanics aged 50-54 with only a high school degree was 30 percent lower than the mortality rate of blacks in the same age group; by 2015, it was 30 percent higher,” they write. “There are similar crossovers between white and black mortality in all age groups from 25-29 to 60-64.”

 

More recently-released data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta shows that between 1999 and 2015 the death rate among African-Americans dropped by 25 percent; for white Americans it only fell by 14 percent.

 

As with their 2015 study, Case and Deaton point to an array of factors contributing to what they call “deaths of despair,” including increased alcohol and drug abuse – particularly of opioid pain medications – unrelenting economic struggles, loss of marriages and family, the ravages of chronic diseases like diabetes and higher rates of suicide. But for all that, they find no single clearly definable root cause as to why those factors affect one demographic group so much more than any other.

 

“We knew suicides were going up rapidly, and that overdoses mostly from prescription drugs were going up, and that alcoholic liver disease was going up. The deeper questions were why those were happening — there’s obviously some underlying malaise, reasons for which we [didn’t] know,” Deaton told NPR after the paper was released. 

 

While direct causation may be hard to pin down, the education level attained would seem to be an extremely significant factor, with mortality rates among middle-aged whites without a college degree on the rise while rates for those with a college diploma are falling. That prompted Case to tell Vox “It looks like there are two Americas. One for people who went to college and one that didn’t.”

 

Case and Deaton note the impact of economic changes brought about by the long, slow outmigration of American manufacturing and other high-paying jobs that often did not require a college degree, a trend exacerbated by the onset of the Great Recession in 2008. And while people with college degrees also suffered through the economic downturn, they appear to have recovered far better than those with a high school diploma or less.

 

That is not surprising to observers like Dr. Tony Iton of the California Endowment, which advocates for expanding access to health care for underserved communities in the Golden State. His organization has conducted similar research on mortality rates in California’s Central Valley, with comparable results. While death rates among both younger and middle-aged whites are decreasing across most of California, death rates among those groups in the four counties they studied have risen dramatically. He argues that over the last several decades America has systematically undermined or eliminated several key tools people often need to rise above meager economic beginnings or to adequately adapt to an ever-changing job market: education, job training and social welfare services. 

 

“When you look at the data, the American Dream is dead,” he says. “That is in great part because among the world’s developed countries we have one of the lowest rates of economic mobility. We’ve broken the ladder, so to speak, that allows people to be nimble and respond to changes in the economic environment.

 

“Other countries have made the consequences of job loss much less punishing,” he adds. “In this country the consequences of job loss are extremely punishing. You lose your health care. You essentially lose all of your income. You lose your self-esteem, and there’s very little for you to fall back on and regroup and take a shot at another kind of employment.”

 

Deaton expressed similar thoughts to Vox in March. “You could graduate high school, work at Bethlehem Steel, get more money every year as you get more experienced and turn yourself into one of the famed blue-collar aristocrats of the 1970s,” he said. “There’s a feeling that life has gone, and remainders of that life are getting less and less for each generation.”

 

But if all demographic groups have also suffered through these historic economic changes, why is rising mortality impacting only white, middle-aged Americans with limited education? And if education is the key factor here, why does it seem unimportant in Europe, where mortality rates among lower educated whites actually are falling even faster than among the college educated? Researchers like Iton believe the roots are at least partly in the historic expectations that white Americans have for themselves.

 

“This is particularly hard on this group of people who have traditionally invested so much of their identity in their work,” Iton says. “In that instance, the emotional consequences of job loss are devastating.”

 

That kind of unrelenting emotional stress, he says, often results in physical pain, illness and addiction. Case and Denton also say expectation plays a role, but more in relation to the belief among many middle-aged whites that they should have a better life than their parents did and the bitter disappointment they experience if they do not. 

 

“It’s the life you expected to have relative to your father or grandfather — it’s just not there anymore,” Deaton told Vox.

 

But what to do about it? Just as no one element can be directly blamed for the problem, no single government solution is likely to fix it. In recent years lawmakers have attacked various aspects of the issue. Several states and the federal government have adopted new restrictions or guidelines on the prescribing of opioids. Over a dozen states have ramped up efforts to address mental health and depressive disorders and many of them have invested in vocational and Linked Learning education programs designed to give kids who don’t go to college a better chance to make a good living in a trade.

 

Other efforts to bolster the social safety net that some researchers suggest would be helpful – a single payer health care system, for instance – are politically problematic. As this is being written, Congress and President Donald Trump are in fact still negotiating a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which could conceivably cost millions of people their health care coverage. And even if this latest effort fails, Republicans that control Congress and many statehouses have made it clear they will continue to work to overturn the law. And while they have promised to replace it with something better, no such plan has yet materialized.

 

With that in mind, two California lawmakers are pushing a proposal (SB 562) to implement a single payer health care system in the Golden State. That measure would cover every resident, including unauthorized immigrants, and drastically reduce the role of insurance companies in health care coverage. The bill’s authors - Sens. Ricardo Lara and Toni Atkins, both Democrats – say it would be paid for with “broad based revenue,” though they have not yet offered specifics. They have said a detailed financial analysis will be ready by this month.

 

The plan is a longshot at best. Gov. Jerry Brown (D), who has made fiscal frugality a major element of his governorship, has expressed reservations about the plan’s expense. It would also require multiple waivers from the federal government, including one to allow the redirection of federal Medicaid dollars that currently isn’t allowed by law.

 

“The single payer plan is just not plausible at the state level,” says Micah Weinberg, a health care expert for the Bay Area Council, a pro-business group in San Francisco that has long supported the ACA. “We already learned this from the failure in Vermont, where single-payer was tried and found wanting. If you can’t do it in a state with a half a million socialists you sure can’t do it in a state with 40 million diverse people like California.”

 

A proposal to replace existing health insurance plans with a state-run single-payer plan was overwhelmingly voted down last November in Colorado. Weinberg says states and the federal government would be far better off financially – and would likely see better outcomes for those facing higher mortality risks – if they increased their focus on retraining workers who have been displaced either by outsourcing or automation. 

 

According to the Government Accountability Office, the federal government already spends about $18 billion annually on worker training programs. But Heritage Foundation research fellow Dr. David Muhlhausen argues the federal government does a poor job at retraining workers and should hand the task off to states, which he contends have a better handle on the specific needs of industries in their locales. Although President Trump made job creation a major part of his campaign, observers like Muhlhausen doubt he and Congress will address the retraining issue any time soon.

 

Case understands the political challenges facing lawmakers of both parties who might want to take on these issues. Adopting a social safety net akin to those found in many European nations is simply not likely to happen any time soon. But like most problems, ignoring it isn’t much of an option either.

 

“Americans like to think of themselves as individuals who can look after themselves and their families, and expect the same of their neighbors. A stronger safety net may not be politically feasible,” she told The Guardian in March, but adding “The difference between a ‘helping hand’ and a ‘handout’ may be in the eye of the beholder.”

This Bud’s For You | 04-28-2017

California pharmacists unfamiliar with the high and low points of medicinal marijuana can take heart: help is on the way. As KCBS in San Francisco reports, Sacramento resident Shayna Schonouer has been certified by the state as the nation’s very first pharmaceutical cannabis technician, or “budtender.” Yes, over 20 years after the Golden State legalized it medicinal weed has finally gone mainstream. Schonouer is not a doctor nor a pharmacist, but she has completed a two-year course that gives her the expertise to help those who are to better help their patients. For example, she would be able to assist a pharmacist in choosing just the right bud to help ease someone’s chronic pain. Like the kind I get every time I have to write a sentence like that one.

CalExited To Russia | 04-28-2017

Those darned Russians are everywhere! Case in point comes from California, where a group pushing to have the state secede from the rest of the nation has abandoned its quest after its leader bailed out and moved to a city on the edge of Siberia. Or should we say, moved back to Russia. As KQED radio in San Francisco reports, CalExit leader Louis Marinelli first moved to Russia from his home in upstate New York almost a decade ago. He later returned to America, settling this time in California specifically to battle against LGBTQ rights. Now he’s back in Russia, where he has been working on a plan to get the Golden State to follow him out the door. Now, as the Sacramento Bee reports, the rest of the leadership he left behind has dropped the cause, citing a desire to avoid the perception of being a puppet of Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. Maybe he should relax – that doesn’t seem to have hurt President Trump.

Coach ‘Em Up | 04-28-2017

A governor can wield lots of power, sometimes even over stuff that matters. And then there is new West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, who is taking a more, ahhh...varied approach. As the Charleston Gazette-Mail reports, Justice has apparently been using his position to lobby Marshall University to dump its football coach and hire one of his cronies instead. Justice’s folks have denied the gov has specifically asked for head coach John “Doc” Holliday to get the boot, but they admit Justice has leaned on them to get the program “back to greatness.” Riiiight. And if you wonder if the gov doesn’t have better things to do with his time...you are not alone. And if you are further wondering if it is an actual law that anyone with the last name of Holliday be given the nickname “Doc”...you are also not alone.

Spreading The Bull | 04-28-2017

And speaking of Gov. Justice, let’s just say he knows how to make an impression. When lawmakers sent the gov a budget he didn’t like, he decided it was the perfect time to go big or go home. As the McClatchy News Service reports, Justice added some flourish to his veto ceremony...and by flourish we mean he covered the document with a big pile of bull poo. If you are wondering, this is the same gov who showed up at his inauguration brandishing an axe and a fishing pole he said he bought from a woman selling everything she owned just to get by.

 

-- By RICH EHISEN

Business - May 1 2017 | 04-28-2017

Texas Approves HB 100

The TEXAS House approves HB 100, which would establish a statewide framework for regulating ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft. The measure, which would also override local regulations already in place, would establish a state licensing fee and require companies to perform background checks on their drivers. It is now in the Senate (TEXAS TRIBUNE [AUSTIN]).

Missouri Signs HB 130

MISSOURI Gov. Eric Greitens (R) signs HB 130, which establishes state wide regulations for ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft. The new law requires companies to pay state licensing fees and conduct background checks on drivers (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH).

Florida Approves SB 106

The FLORIDA House approves SB 106, which would repeal a Sunshine State law that requires liquor to be sold at stand-alone facilities. It moves to Gov. Rick Scott (R) for consideration (PALM BEACH POST).

Illinois Approves HB 2462

The ILLINOIS House approves HB 2462, legislation that would bar Prairie State employers from asking job applicants for prior wage or salary history unless it’s already public information or the applicant is moving within the company. The bill moves to the Senate (CHICAGO TRIBUNE).

Crime & Punishment - May 1 2017 | 04-28-2017

Crime In Colorado

The United States Supreme Court rules that people freed from prison when their convictions are reversed deserve a refund of what they paid in fees, court costs and restitution. The ruling also orders COLORADO to refund several thousand dollars to two defendants, a woman and a man, who were convicted of sex crimes but had their convictions reversed (GOVERNING).

Texas Approves HB 122

The TEXAS House approves HB 122, which would move 17-year-old offenders from the adult criminal justice system to its juvenile justice counterpart starting in 2021. It moves to the Senate (TEXAS TRIBUNE [AUSTIN]).

Mississippi Vetoes HB 1033

MISSISSIPPI Gov. Phil Bryant (R) vetoes HB 1033, which would have allowed employed parolees to schedule online interviews with probation officers so the parolees would not have to miss work to go to an interview in person and eliminated automatic prison time for failure to pay a fine. Bryant said a typo in the bill’s language would have allowed prisoners to be paroled after serving only 25 percent of their sentence (HATTIESBURG AMERICAN).

West Virginia Signs SB 240

WEST VIRGINIA Gov. Jim Justice (D) signs SB 240, so-called “revenge porn” legislation that makes it a crime to post online sexual images or video of someone without their consent (REGISTER-HERALD [BECKLEY]).

Washington Signs SB 5272

WASHINGTON Gov. Jay Inslee (D) signs SB 5272, a bill that allows sex trafficking victims to vacate prostitution convictions even if they committed other crimes as a result of being trafficked. Previous law required that such vacations could only happen if the victim had not committed other crimes (SEATTLE TIMES, LEXISNEXIS STATE NET)

Education - May 1 2017 | 04-28-2017

Oklahoma Approves HB 1693

The OKLAHOMA Senate approves HB 1693, which would overhaul the Sooner State’s public school accountability system to give equal weight to student performance in English language arts and mathematics as well as student growth in these subjects. It moves to Gov. Mary Fallin (R) for consideration (CLAREMORE DAILY PROGRESS).

Texas Approves SB 693

The TEXAS Senate approves SB 693, which would require all new school busses purchased in the Lone Star State to have seat belts. It moves to the House (KHOU.COM [HOUSTON]).

Environment - May 1 2017 | 04-28-2017

Oregon Approves HB 3158

The OREGON House approves HB 3158, which would award “preference points” to Beaver State hunters who provide law enforcement with detailed information that can help prosecute poachers. The points could be applied hunting tags approved by the Fish and Wildlife Commission or a cash reward. It moves to the Senate (OREGONIAN [PORTLAND]).

Health & Science - May 1 2017 | 04-28-2017

Health In Texas And Arizona

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration rules that states may not import drugs used for lethal injection. The agency said the drugs states like TEXAS and ARIZONA were seeking to bring in were unapproved and misbranded (TEXAS TRIBUNE [AUSTIN]).

West Virginia Signs SB 386

WEST VIRGINIA Gov. Jim Justice (D) signs SB 386, which legalizes the use of marijuana for medical purposes. The Mountain State becomes the 29th to legalize some form of marijuana use (CHARLESTON GAZETTE-MAIL).

Indiana Signs HB 1438

INDIANA Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) signs HB 1438, which allows local governments to establish their own needle exchange programs. Gov. Holcomb also signs SB 226, which limits the initial prescription of an opioid medication to no more than a seven day supply (LEXISNEXIS STATE NET).

Health In New York

The NEW YORK Senate approves an eight-bill package designed to combat opioid and synthetic drug abuse in the Empire State. Those measures include SB 933, which would add new derivatives of fentanyl to the controlled substance schedule and increases criminal penalties for the sale of an opiate containing a fentanyl derivative, and SB 3518, which would classify synthetic marijuana like K2 and Spice as Schedule I controlled substances. The bills move to the Assembly (WYOMING COUNTY FREE PRESS).

Virginia Signs HB 2267

VIRGINIA Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) signs HB 2267, which will require health insurance plans that cover contraceptives to allow women to purchase a year’s supply of birth control pills at one time (AUGUSTA FREE PRESS). 

Delaware Signs SB 17

DELAWARE Gov. John Carney (R) signs SB 17, which allows HIV-positive residents to donate organs to HIV-positive recipients and allows organs from HIV-positive donors to be used for clinical research (DOVER POST).

Social Policy - May 1 2017 | 04-28-2017

Social Policy In Missouri

A federal judge issues a ruling that blocks two MISSOURI laws that require clinics which perform abortions to meet standards for surgical centers and for their doctors to have hospital privileges. U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs said the laws were unconstitutional. State officials are planning an appeal (ST. LOUISPOST-DISPATCH).

Indiana Signs SB 404

INDIANA Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) signs SB 404, which allows judges to notify parents if their daughters are seeking an abortion through the court system without parental consent. The MINNESOTA House approves HB 812, which would set new licensing and inspection policies for clinics that perform abortions. The House also approves HB 809, which would prohibit the funding of abortions under state-sponsored health care programs. Both bills move to the Senate (MINNESOTA PUBLIC RADIO).

Illinois Approves HB 40

The ILLINOIS House approves HB 40, which would allow women whose health care costs are covered by Medicaid or state employee health insurance to use that coverage for an abortion and remove a “trigger provision” in state law that would make abortion illegal in Illinois if the landmark Roe v. Wade decision is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. It moves to the Senate (STATE JOURNAL-REGISTER [SPRINGFIELD]).

Potpourri - May 1 2017 | 04-28-2017

Alabama Approves HB 315

The ALABAMA House approves HB 315, which would allow midwifes to legally practice in the Heart of Dixie. It moves to the Senate (BIRMINGHAM NEWS).

 

-- Compiled by RICH EHISEN

Baker Goes After Revenge Porn | 04-28-2017

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) filed legislation last week that criminalizes so-called “revenge porn,” the posting of sexually explicit photos or videos of someone online without that person’s approval.

 

“We here in Massachusetts not only don’t tolerate this type of behavior, [we] believe it is in many cases worthy of a felony conviction or certainly a felony charge,” he said in announcing the bill.

 

Current law makes it illegal to record someone without their consent, but it does not specifically bar posting consensually acquired images without permission. Under Baker’s proposal, posting such images – or even threatening to do so – would become a felony that carries a penalty of up to five years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

 

While the measure would come down harder on practitioners of revenge porn, it would ease penalties for teen “sexters,” those who text nude or sexually-oriented photos to one another over the Internet or on their phones. Law enforcement and school officials have complained that the only option at their disposal under current Bay State law is to charge a student with trafficking in child pornography. Baker’s bill would give district attorneys the leeway to charge teen sexting as a misdemeanor, with minors who might be otherwise charged with distributing child pornography to be instead placed in an educational diversion program. Schools would also be tasked with educating students on the dangers of posting such images online.

 

According to the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative, if lawmakers endorse Baker’s proposal Massachusetts would become the 37th state to adopt a law banning revenge porn. (BOSTON GLOBE, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Governors In Brief - May 1 2017 | 04-28-2017

AK Lawmakers Dodge Walker Call for Action On Appointments

Saying it was “time to bring [them] to a close,” ALASKA Gov. Bill Walker (I) issued a proclamation last week calling for a joint session of the Last Frontier Legislature to force lawmakers to act on his appointments to boards, commissions and key administration posts. But lawmakers were not in a cooperative mood: they showed up but quickly adjourned without acting on his request. Appointees Walker is seeking approval for include Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth and Commissioner of Public Safety Walt Monegan, who are both serving in their positions but are still subject to legislative approval. (NEWS & OBSERVER [ANCHORAGE])

 

CA Climate Change Pact Adds Canada, Mexico

CALIFORNIA Gov. Jerry Brown (D) announced that Canada and Mexico have joined the Under2 Coalition, a global pact of cities, states and countries that have pledged to limit the increase in global average temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius. Brown noted that 170 governments – representing six continents, 1.8 billon people and 37 percent of the global economy - have now signed on to the Coalition. (CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR’S OFFICE, CANADA NEWS WIRE)

 

Fallin Orders OK Rape Kit Audit

OKLAHOMA Gov. Mary Fallin (R) issued an executive order last week (Executive Order 2017-11) to create a task force charged with auditing Sooner State police forces to locate untested rape kits. The order doesn’t mandate untested kits be processed, but does require the group to report to lawmakers by the end of the year with suggestions for a pathway to getting that processing completed. (OKLAHOMAN [OKLAHOMA CITY], TULSA TODAY)

 

Hickenlooper Signs CO Wage Theft Bill

COLORADO Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) signed legislation last month (HB 1021) that makes “wage theft” violations in Colorado, including nonpayment of wages or overtime compensation, public record and subject to records requests under the Colorado Open Records Act. Employers will have 20 days to object if documents released under the law would disclose trade secrets. (COLORADO SPRINGS GAZETTE, LEXOLOGY)

 

Justice Company Cited in WV Worker Death

One of WEST VIRGINIA Gov. Jim Justice’s (D) family mining companies was cited for six violations in the investigation of the death of a worker at a McDowell Valley coal processing plant. State inspectors issued five safety violations and one “special assessed notice of violation” that said the mine operator had failed to ensure compliance with a rule that repairs and maintenance not be performed on equipment until the power is off and the equipment is blocked against motion. (CHARLESTON GAZETTE-MAIL)

 

-- Compiled by RICH EHISEN

Republican Judge Derails GOP Court Reduction Plan in NC | 04-28-2017

Last month Republicans who control North Carolina’s General Assembly overrode a veto by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper to enact a bill (HB 239) reducing the size of the state’s intermediate appellate court, the Court of Appeals, from 15 judges to 12, maintaining the action was motivated by the court’s reduced workload. But Cooper and Democratic lawmakers said it was a purely political move intended to deny him the opportunity to appoint Democratic replacements for three Republican judges nearing mandatory retirement age, part of a larger effort to reduce his power.

 

Two days before the override vote, however, Court of Appeals Judge Doug McCullough, one of the three Republicans approaching retirement, threw a monkey wrench in Republican lawmakers’ plan by opting to retire early.

 

“I did not want my legacy to be the elimination of a seat and the impairment of a court that I have served on,” the judge said.

 

Cooper promptly appointed Democrat John Arrowood to serve out the year and a half left in the term McCullough was elected to in 2010. The judge served on the court briefly after being appointed to fill a vacant seat in 2007 by then-Gov. Mike Easley and then failing to retain the seat in 2008. He also finished second out of a field of 19 candidates who vied for a seat on the court in 2014.

 

His selection drew sharp criticism from state Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R).

 

“After his nonstop rhetoric about ‘partisan politics having no place on the judges’ bench,’ Gov. Cooper needs to explain why he put his partisan allegiance above the voters by singlehandedly changing the party makeup of the Court of Appeals with a Democrat who was soundly rejected by them in 2014,” Amy Auth, a spokeswoman for Berger, said in a statement.

 

Cooper said Arrowood’s “experience as a judge on this court makes him uniquely qualified to hit the ground running and ensure that justice is swiftly delivered.”

 

But insiders said the judge, who is openly gay, was a strategic choice after the fallout with the LGBT community over Cooper’s support of compromise legislation (HB 142) instead of a repeal of the state’s controversial “bathroom bill” (HB 2) alone. (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, NORTH STATE JOURNAL [RALEIGH])

Democrat Nearly Wins GA Congressional Seat | 04-28-2017

Jon Ossoff, a Democrat and first-time political candidate, narrowly missed winning a crowded special election last month to fill the U.S. House seat in Georgia’s heavily conservative Sixth District vacated by President Donald Trump’s appointment of Republican Tom Price as health and human services secretary. Ossoff, a former congressional staffer, was the top finisher in the 18-candidate field, receiving 48.1 percent of the vote, just shy of the 50 percent vote he needed to win the seat outright. He will now face the top Republican vote-getter, former Secretary of State Karen Handel, who received about 20 percent of the vote, in a runoff on June 20.

 

“This is already a remarkable victory,” Ossoff said in a statement. “We defied the odds, shattered expectations, and now are ready to fight on and win in June.”

 

The race was considered a referendum on the administration of President Trump, and Ossoff’s campaign raised $8.3 million - over four times more than the candidate with second-largest campaign war chest - from a highly motivated liberal base. His strong showing, and that of another Democrat in a special election for a U.S. House seat in Kansas last month, will likely boost Democrats’ fundraising and recruitment efforts going into the 2018 midterms. But it’s unlikely Ossoff will fare as well in the head-to-head contest with Handel in June, given that Georgia’s Sixth District, in the suburbs of Atlanta, hasn’t elected a Democrat to Congress since the administration of President Jimmy Carter. (NEW YORK TIMES)

Politics In Brief - May 1 2017 | 04-28-2017

AL SENATE VOTES TO LET CHURCH CREATE OWN POLICE FORCE

The ALABAMA Senate passed a bill (SB 193) that would allow the Briarwood Presbyterian Church, located in the suburbs of Birmingham, to establish its own police force. The measure on behalf of the church, which has a K-12 school with 2,000 students and teachers, was reportedly motivated by the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CONNECTICUT in 2012. But the Alabama chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union says the move would violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. (NEWSWEEK)

 

BACKERS OF ‘CALEXIT’ PAUSE EFFORT

Supporters of a proposed constitutional amendment in CALIFORNIA to make the state its own country have stopped gathering signatures for the measure, out of concern that a leader of the campaign who lives in Russia could taint the effort. Two of the Calexit measure’s backers say they’ll retool the proposal and try to qualify it for the ballot next year. (SACRAMENTO BEE)

 

FEDERAL APPEALS COURT RULES TX HOUSE REMAP INTENTIONALLY CURBED MINORITY VOTING CLOUT

A three judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of TEXAS ruled 2-1 that TEXAS lawmakers intentionally diluted the political power of minority voters when they drew the state's House districts in 2011. The decision comes a month after the same three-judge panel ruled the state’s lawmakers intentionally discriminated against minorities when they drew the state’s congressional districts. (TEXAS TRIBUNE)

 

-- Compiled by KOREY CLARK

PA Eyeing Online Gambling | 04-28-2017

Facing a $3 billion budget shortfall through next summer, Pennsylvania, the nation’s second biggest commercial casino state after Nevada, is considering a host of gambling expansion ideas, including becoming the first state to take both its casino and lottery games online.

 

“Legislators have put out a smorgasbord of gambling expansion options that we're not seeing anywhere else in terms of a whole platter of possibilities,” said Joe Weinert, executive vice president of Spectrum Gaming Group, a consulting firm based in Atlantic City.

 

One of those possibilities would be to allow the state’s licensed casinos to operate gambling websites, something only three states - Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey - currently do. Another would be to expand the state lottery into cyberspace, which only four states - Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky and Michigan - have done.

 

But both of those actions are unlikely to solve Pennsylvania’s budget problem. Online gambling generated only $18.7 million in sales in New Jersey in February, although that amount was 25 percent more than generated the same month last year. Michigan, meanwhile, is forecasting about $60 million in annual sales from online play of its lottery. (ASSOCIATED PRESS, SENTINEL [LEWISTOWN])

NM High Court Agrees To Consider Budget Dispute | 04-28-2017

Last month, New Mexico’s Democrat-controlled Legislature approved a $6.1 billion budget slightly boosting spending and increasing several taxes to bolster faltering revenues tied to a downturn in the energy industry and the state’s high unemployment rate. Gov. Susana Martinez (R) responded by rejecting the tax hikes and issuing line-item vetoes defunding the Legislature and cutting $745 million in annual funding for higher education.

 

There wasn’t enough Republican support in the House and Senate for the two-thirds majority needed to override the governor’s vetoes. But the New Mexico Legislative Council, comprised of leading lawmakers from both parties, petitioned the state Supreme Court to invalidate some of the vetoes, alleging they upset the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches.

 

“The undue encroachment by one coequal branch of government upon another, through the imposition of improvident vetoes which attempt to eviscerate the ability of the other branch to perform its essential functions, violates the essence of the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers,” the Legislative Council’s petition states.

 

Last week the court agreed to consider that challenge and scheduled oral arguments for May 15. But Martinez, who maintains the state Constitution grants her the authority to use line-item vetoes on appropriation bills, remained defiant.

 

“They’re suing the governor because they want to raise taxes, and she’s the only one standing in their way,” said the governor’s spokesman Michael Lonergan. (ASSOCIATED PRESS, ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL)

NC Senate Proposes $1B In Tax Cuts | 04-28-2017

North Carolina’s Republican-controlled Senate has proposed a tax cut plan (SB 325) that would increase the state’s standard income tax deduction and reduce the individual tax rate from 5.499 percent to 5.35 percent, as well as reduce the corporate tax rate from 3 percent to 2.5 percent over two years. The measure sets up a three-way battle with Republicans who control the state’s House and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, both of whom have proposed more modest tax cut plans.

 

Cooper said the Senate’s plan gives too much to corporations and the rich.

 

“These tax giveaways to corporations and the wealthiest will punch a hole in the budget costing the state $336 million in the second year and almost $635 million four years out,” he said. “This is money that could instead go to middle class tax cuts and education.” (NEWS & OBSERVER [RALEIGH], LEXISNEXIS STATE NET)

Budgets In Brief - May 1 2017 | 04-28-2017

AK HOUSE PASSES INCOME TAX

ALASKA’s House, run by a coalition of 17 Democrats, three Republicans and two independents, passed a bill (HB 115) that would institute an income tax on the state’s highest earners as part of a plan to address a nearly $3 billion budget deficit. The measure is not expected to make it through the state’s Republican-controlled Senate. (ALASKA DISPATCH NEWS [ANCHORAGE], LEXISNEXIS STATE NET)

 

AK SENATE APPROVES RAFFLE TO FUND EDUCATION

ALASKA’s Senate has passed a bill (SB 78) that would create a raffle that residents could enter with their Permanent Fund dividend checks, with the government’s take going toward education. The bill is now in the House Committee on Finance. (ALASKA DISPATCH NEWS [ANCHORAGE])

 

NYC MAYOR PROPOSES CIGARETTE TAX HIKE

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) has proposed a package of legislation that would, among other things, raise the base price of a pack of cigarettes from $10.50 to $13, which would be the highest price in the country. The bills are part of an ongoing smoking-cessation campaign that has included jarring public service announcements featuring people who have faced amputations or the impending loss of their life due to cigarette smoking. (USA TODAY)

 

CA COMPLETES BULLET TRAIN BOND SALE

Last month CALIFORNIA completed its first bond sale - a $1.25 billion issue - to help fund the construction of its planned $64 billion high-speed rail line from San Francisco to Los Angeles, despite roadblocks to the project including the delay of a federal grant by the Trump administration. A state judge also delayed a final ruling on a lawsuit seeking to block the state from using the proceeds from the bond sale, allowing the rail project to move forward in the meantime. (BLOOMBERG, SACRAMENTO BEE)

 

-- Compiled by KOREY CLARK

Partisan Divide On ‘Sanctuary’ Legislation | 04-28-2017

 Legislation prohibiting or otherwise opposing local government adoption of policies restricting cooperation with federal immigration authorities has been introduced in at least 22 mostly Republican-controlled state legislatures this session. Three of those measures - Georgia’s HB 37, Mississippi’s SB 2710 and Virginia’s HB 2000 - have been passed, and SB 2710 was signed by Gov. Phil Bryant (R). But HB 2000 was vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D). Measures supporting state and local government “sanctuary” policies have been introduced in at least seven mostly Democrat-controlled state legislatures, while measures on both sides of the issue have been introduced in at least nine states.

 

Source: LexisNexis State Net

Sanctuary Cities Split Country | 04-28-2017

 To anyone who has watched the national political culture split into two poles over the last decade or so, it should be little surprise that the country is moving in opposite directions on so-called sanctuary cities, those which bar local officials from helping the federal government deport unauthorized immigrants.

 

To date, most of the controversy around helping the federal government round up the unauthorized for deportation has surrounded local jurisdictions. But California - home to the most unauthorized immigrants in the country – is now leading the way at the state level by considering legislation to become a “sanctuary state” that offers safe haven from federal authorities for those in the country illegally.

 

Authored by Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León (D), SB 54 would bar state and local government agencies from investigating, questioning or detaining people for being in the country illegally. In the face of criticism that it could allow violent offenders who otherwise would be deported to continue committing serious crimes, the bill’s supporters have proposed requiring prison or parole officials to give the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency advance notice before violent felons are released and allowing officers to contact ICE if they arrest people who had previously been deported for a violent felony.

 

Supporters, including de León, have also reversed the safety argument, saying the public may be at greater risk if local law enforcement becomes an agent of the federal government through duplication of resources and loss of trust in the community.

 

“Our precious local law enforcement resources will be squandered if police are pulled from their duties to arrest otherwise law-abiding maids, busboys, laborers, mothers and fathers,” de León said in a statement after the measure passed the Senate and headed to the Assembly. “Trust will be lost. Crimes will go unreported for fear of deportation. Criminals will remain free to victimize others.”

 

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, a former state senator who preceded de León as the Senate leader, said mayors who lead sanctuary cities believe the issue is one of civil rights, and that history is on their side.

 

“History is full of examples where people turned their backs on others because of fear and we’re not going to do that,” Steinberg told Capitol Journal. “We’re not compromising civil rights.”

 

But much of the rest of the country is pushing back against sanctuary policies. Lawmakers in more than 30 states are in fact considering efforts to block local governments from serving as safe havens for unauthorized immigrants.

 

In March Mississippi became the first to enact a statewide sanctuary ban. Gov. Phil Bryant’s (R) signature on SB 2710 did away with the only such city policy, that of the state capital of Jackson. The measure also covers counties and state-funded colleges and universities, a reaction to reports that the University of Mississippi was considering becoming a sanctuary campus.

 

Other measures include Colorado HB 1134, which would allow crime victims to sue politicians over sanctuary policies like those in Denver and Boulder, while Florida bill (HB 697) would fine governments or law enforcement agencies that don’t comply with ICE requests. In Pennsylvania SB 10 would withhold grant money from cities that don’t hold detainees at ICE’s request for up to 48 hours. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has promised to hold back funding from sanctuary communities, including Travis County, which includes the state capital of Austin. The Texas Senate passed a bill (SB 4) in February that makes police chiefs and sheriffs subject to criminal charges if they don’t cooperate with federal agents and honor requests to detain non-citizen inmates. The House passed a highly amended version last Wednesday, and the bill must return to the Senate.

 

Meanwhile, 16 states are considering legislation that would support the right of local governments to adopt sanctuary policies. Illinois lawmakers are debating legislation (HB 426) which would create “safe zones,” including schools and healthcare facilities, where officials would be barred from cooperating with law enforcement to detain unauthorized immigrants. Lawmakers in Connecticut are considering legislation similar to California’s SB 54, and Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) sent a memo to local police in February saying they shouldn’t impede federal law enforcement, but they shouldn’t “take action that is solely to enforce federal immigration law” either. The memo reminded them that federal requests to detain people for deportation are just that - requests - not warrants or orders. Two of Connecticut’s biggest cities, Hartford and New Haven, are already among a dozen or so sanctuary cities in the state.

 

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) signed a bill there that gives him the authority to approve agreements between federal immigration officials and local law enforcement. Scott has said he’s concerned about “federal overreach” by the Trump administration, but denies the bill makes Vermont a “sanctuary state,” saying it merely clarifies the rules for helping the feds. The measure also prevents collection of information for any kind of registry of Muslims or other targeted group.

 

Sanctuary opponents say their concern is that cities are essentially harboring criminals at peril to their residents. Assemblyman Travis Allen (R), among the California bill’s most outspoken opponents, says it doesn’t make any sense to protect unauthorized aliens who may have committed serious crimes.

 

“These are bad people that have committed crimes and they don’t belong in our state in the first place,” Allen said this past week on Southern California’s KFI Radio. He filed HB 1252, which would have barred sanctuaries, but the measure was quickly quashed in the Democrat-controlled Assembly.

 

Groups like the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which opposes local safe haven policies, say sanctuary policies are a burden to local taxpayers. The organization also argues the policies violate the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Responsibility Act and raise the prospect that some cities may be harboring potential terrorists. Opponents also argue sanctuary policies are unfair to legal immigrants who have waited for the chance to work legally in the United States. And while sanctuary supporters often say opposition is motivated by racism, Sen. Charles Perry (R), author of the Texas bill, denies that’s his motivation. He says it’s unrealistic to be anti-immigrant in a state like his.

 

“I want to make it clear ... we honor legal immigration,” Perry said at a news conference earlier this spring. “We honor those that are seeking opportunities. There is a process in place... For those that choose to go outside of that and then once they’re inside these borders commit a crime, we cannot have multiple jurisdictions around this country or around this state pick and choose which laws they will implement.”

 

 

While Trump campaign rhetoric and executive orders have thrust the issue into the limelight, immigrant advocates note that deportations were already occurring at a record pace during the Obama administration. This is in part because most local police agencies do help federal officials, in some cases extensively.

 

“It is because of this assistance from local law enforcement that the Obama administration gained the capacity to detain and deport so many people,” the Immigrant Legal Resource Center wrote last year in an analysis of local cooperation on federal deportations. “That massive infrastructure will now be led by an administration with an even more ambitious nativist agenda.”

 

But the organization also argues that some agencies’ decisions to leave deportation to the feds is merely a common sense division of responsibility.

 

“The provisions of these sanctuary policies lie in line with, not in defiance of, our federal system,” the organization said. “Local jurisdictions have no legal obligation to assist with civil immigration enforcement, which is the responsibility of the federal government.”

 

Some local sanctuary policies go back more than two decades. San Francisco’s was one of the earliest. Then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein signed the “City of Refuge” ordinance back in 1985, offering local refuge to immigrants from El Salvador and Guatemala fleeing right-wing governments backed by the Reagan Administration. A handful of cities around the country quickly enacted similar protection policies. Four years later, San Francisco expanded its policy to all immigrants. Other cities soon followed suit, some officially, some not.

 

Although there isn’t an official list of sanctuary cities, groups that track immigration law estimate there are now about 600 such jurisdictions nationwide. The actual numbers are murky because there’s no real definition of a sanctuary city, which also can be problematic for those seeking to ban them. Some cities cooperate with federal agents on certain requests but not on others. For example, Providence, Rhode Island Mayor Jorge Elorza, the son of Guatemalan immigrants, has said Providence isn’t a sanctuary city, noting it detains some serious criminals for federal officials. But it doesn’t refer unauthorized immigrants to ICE when they’re accused of certain low-level offenses.

 

Opposition to sanctuary cities has existed from the beginning, but it broadened and intensified after the 2015 murder of Kate Steinle in San Francisco. She was killed by Francisco Sanchez, who was in the country illegally despite seven criminal convictions and five previous deportations. He also reportedly said he went to San Francisco to look for work specifically because he knew it was a sanctuary city. It was also reported that the Department of Homeland Security had issued a detainer order for Sanchez, but wasn’t getting cooperation from local law enforcement. Steinle’s family has been among those pushing for the federal government to deny funds to cities with sanctuary policies.

 

Then-candidate Donald Trump seized on the crime to build support for his presidential campaign. Now president, he has promised to end the sanctuary city movement and is threatening to withhold billions in federal grant money from those jurisdictions. If he succeeds, federal officials will see the results up close; Washington, D.C. would likely be the city affected the most by such a policy. The Washington Post reported late last year that the District relies on direct federal funding for 25 percent of its budget. New York would also be hit hard, with 9 percent of its budget coming from Washington.

 

The administration’s plan hit a snag this past week, however, when a federal judge in San Francisco issued an injunction, preventing federal officials from withholding funding from sanctuary cities pending lawsuits by San Francisco and California’s Santa Clara County over Trump’s executive order that would bar funding for such jurisdictions.

 

In California, Sacramento Mayor Steinberg says his city could lose several million dollars for law enforcement if the money is eventually withheld, but he notes most of the city’s federal grants are for infrastructure, which the Trump administration cares about. Steinberg also believes that withholding money is unconstitutional.

 

“You can’t ask states or local governments to do things that are the responsibility of the federal government and threaten to withhold funds as a result,” Steinberg said. “That was clearly decided in the Affordable Care Act case.”

 

Chicago city officials have said that city stands to lose about $13.4 million in funding, most of which is used for law enforcement purposes. But Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has also insisted his city would continue to be a sanctuary.

 

“Chicago has been and will be a welcoming city because people that come to Chicago — make the sacrifice, the struggle, the journey — are believing in a better tomorrow,” Emanuel said in the Chicago Sun Times in March. “And they’re part of keeping the American dream alive.”



By SNCJ Correspondent David Royse

SNCJ Editor Rich Ehisen contributed to this story

Let’s Decide All Elections This Way | 04-14-2017

If you darned people aren’t going to cast enough votes then by golly we’ll just decide this election with the flip of a coin! That is the message clearly being sent by the tiny hamlet of Colp, Illinois to residents after two candidates for village president ended up in an epic 11-11 tie. Silly as it sounds, UPI reports that under Prairie State law the race must now be decided by the toss of a coin. Even sadder, it came to this because while at least 225 townsfolk were eligible to vote, only 29 did. Sigh...

Memorable Memo | 04-14-2017

Folks who hate paying their taxes are rarely shy about letting everyone and anyone within earshot hear all about it. But one Montana man may have found a way around his annual tax bill: putting something obnoxious on his check! Yes, as the Billings Gazette reports, Treasure State resident Scott Dion paid his annual property taxes with a check that listed “s*xual favors” in the memo line. Ha – he’s soooo funny! But when Dion got done congratulating himself for being so clever he got foot-stomping angry. Why? Because the county treasurer hasn’t cashed his check yet. So now the ever-indignant Dion has lawyered up in an effort to force them to take his money. More so, he says, the county has previously cashed other checks with similarly obnoxious statements. In other words, he’s been a tantrum-throwing buffoon for a long time, so why get angry now?

Gone To The Dogs | 04-14-2017

There is clearly no issue on which Maine Gov. Paul LePage won’t weigh in. This week’s example involves a Husky mix named Dakota that twice in the last year has got out of her yard and attacked a neighbor’s dogs, killing one and injuring another. That led to Dakota being removed from the home and subsequently being sentenced to death. Enter LePage, who last week issued Dakota a gubernatorial pardon. Alas, as news station WPXI in Pittsburgh reports, the district attorney handling the case told the governor “down boy,” noting he didn’t have any legal authority to pardon a dog. Alas, Dakota has a new owner who adopted the pooch not knowing of the death sentence hanging over her furry head. As such, the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry has got involved in an effort to make sure the new owner is afforded proper due process. A new hearing for Dakota has been scheduled. Stay tuned.

 

-- By RICH EHISEN

Business - April 17 2017 | 04-14-2017

West Virginia Approves HB 3093

The WEST VIRGINIA House gives final approval to HB 3093, which would allow communities to form ”internet co-ops” that would work together with a service provider to become their community’s own provider. It is now with Gov. Jim Justice (D), who is expected to sign it into law (WEST VIRGINIA PUBLIC BROADCASTING).

Tennessee Approves SB 1215

The TENNESSEE House approves SB 1215, which would also allow for the creation of internet co-ops. It moves now to Gov. Bill Haslam (R), who is expected to sign it (CHATTANOOGAN).

Oregon Approves SB 863

The OREGON House approves SB 863, which would bar marijuana retailers from retaining information on their customers for more than 48 hours. It moves to Gov. Kate Brown (D) for consideration (PORTLAND OREGONIAN).

Connecticut Approves HB 5591

The CONNECTICUT House approves HB 5591, which would require that women retain their workplace seniority when out on maternity leave. The measure moves to the Senate (HARTFORD COURANT).

Iowa Endorses HB 134

The IOWA Senate endorses HB 134, which would bar local governments from enforcing regulations related to the occupancy of residential rental property based on family or non-family relationships of the occupants. It moves to Gov. Terry Branstad (R) for consideration (DES MOINES REGISTER).

Crime & Punishment - April 17 2017 | 04-14-2017

Texas Approves HB 281

The TEXAS House approves HB 281, which would create a statewide database for DNA evidence from sexual assault. It moves to the Senate (AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN).

Iowa Approves SB 444

The IOWA Senate gives final approval to SB 444, which would require Hawkeye State drivers arrested for or convicted of impaired driving to participate in twice-daily sobriety monitoring as well as require some drivers to install ignition interlocks. It moves to Gov. Terry Branstad (R) for consideration (COURIER [WATERLOO]).

Alabama Signs SB 16

New ALABAMA Gov. Kay Ivey (R) signs SB 16, which strips Heart of Dixie judges of their authority to override a jury’s sentencing recommendation in a capital case. Alabama had been the only state where judges had such discretion (BIRMINGHAM NEWS).

Arizona Signs HB 2477

ARIZONA Gov. Rob Ducey (R) signs HB 2477, a measure that, among several things, places a higher burden of proof for police to seize the property of private citizens (ARIZONA DAILY STAR).

Education - April 17 2017 | 04-14-2017

Indiana Approves SB 423

The INDIANA Senate gives final approval to SB 423, so-called “sanctuary city” legislation that would mandate that Hoosier State public and private colleges comply with the enforcement of federal immigration laws. It moves to Gov. Eric Holcomb (R), who has endorsed it and is expected to sign it into law (INDIANAPOLIS STAR).

Environment - April 17 2017 | 04-14-2017

Florida Approves SB 10

The FLORIDA Senate approves SB 10, which authorizes the use of state and federal funds to build a deep-water reservoir to store and clean water before it is released into the Everglades and to avoid toxic discharges into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers. The measure now moves to the House (TAMPA BAY TRIBUNE).

Health & Science - April 17 2017 | 04-14-2017

Maryland Signs HB 631

MARYLAND Gov. Larry Hogan (R) signs HB 631, which allows Old Line State officials to force drug manufacturers whose products are incorporated in state-run health programs to explain and justify dramatic price increases. The measure applies only to generic and off-label medications (LEXISNEXIS STATE NET).