Volume XXIII No. 36 - November 23 2015

A Testing Time for Obamacare - An Article by Lou Cannon | 11-21-2015

 The Affordable Care Act (ACA), popularly known as Obamacare, has entered a new enrollment season with advocates singing its praises. This is understandable. In five and a half years of existence, the landmark law has survived two narrow Supreme Court rulings, a disastrous website rollout and redundant calls for repeal from Republicans, including the current GOP presidential candidates.

 

Largely because of the ACA, the number of Americans without health insurance has dropped to historically low levels, according to the Census Bureau. Nearly 90 percent of Americans now have health insurance. Administration officials claim the ACA has become a permanent feature of the nation’s social safety net, even as Republicans in Congress are trying to eviscerate it.

 

Boosters and critics give selective evaluations. Opponents belittle the subsidized health insurance plans offered on-line by the ACA by pointing out that a majority of those who sign up for policies fail to qualify and are instead enrolled in Medicaid, the federal-state health program for the poor and disabled. ACA supporters often cite the number of applicants for coverage rather than the smaller number who purchase policies. In 2015, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, 11.7 million signed up for coverage on ACA marketplaces and 9.9 million were enrolled as of September.

 

A RAND study last May provided a useful overview of what the Affordable Care Act has accomplished. The study estimated that 22.8 million Americans received coverage while 5.9 million lost coverage for a net of 16.9 million newly insured. The largest number of the newly enrolled were in employer-sponsored health plans (9.6 million) followed by Medicaid (6.5) million) and ACA on-line marketplaces (4.1 million.) Another 6.7 million were enrolled in a variety of individual plans.

 

RAND found that the ACA made no difference in the source of health care for 125 million Americans, about 80 percent of the nonelderly population, a majority of whom hold a negative view of the law. Gallup reported this month that 52 percent of Americans oppose the ACA while only 44 percent approve of it.

 

It’s another story for those on the economic margins, for whom the ACA fulfills a basic need. More than 80 percent of those covered for health insurance under the ACA are happy with their plans, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey. This is true everywhere even though the percentage of those covered varies from state to state. According to Census Bureau data, the percentage of those without health insurance in 2014 ranged from 3.3 percent in Massachusetts to 19.1 percent in Texas. Massachusetts pioneered state health insurance that became the basis for the ACA, while Texas is one of a score of states that has declined to expand Medicaid.

 

The intent of Congress when it passed the ACA in 2010 was to expand Medicaid to anyone with income up to 138 percent above the poverty line. But the Supreme Court ruling upholding the constitutionality of the law left decisions on Medicaid expansion to the states. Eighteen Republican governors rejected expansion on grounds that Medicaid would eventually become too expensive for the states. In Missouri and Virginia, GOP-controlled legislatures have prevented Democratic governors from extending Medicaid.

 

Expansion has made a difference. In states that expanded Medicaid the average rate of those without health insurance is 9.8 percent; in states that did not it is 13.5 percent. The Kaiser Family Foundation found that 3.1 million Americans in the non-expansion states are in a “coverage gap:” They can’t afford to buy health insurance but make too much to qualify for Medicaid.   

 

Medicaid aside, this is a testing time for Obamacare on several fronts.

 

The most immediate threat is a House-passed budget reconciliation bill that would remove requirements that Americans have health insurance and that large employers offer an insurance plan. The bill would also eliminate the excise tax on high-cost employer insurance policies, often called “Cadillac plans,” as well as a tax on medical devices. The tax on the Cadillac plans, which raise $87 billion in revenue, has been called by President Obama’s economic adviser Jason Furman “perhaps the single biggest leverage we have on health costs in the private sector.”

 

The fate of the bill, which the Senate is scheduled to take up after Thanksgiving, is uncertain. Some liberal senators think the House bill goes too far in the changes it would make to the ACA; some conservative senators think it does not go far enough. In its current form, the measure would face a likely presidential veto.

 

Obamacare meanwhile is reeling from the collapse of 12 of the 23 nonprofit cooperatives created by the ACA to increase competition. As Robert Pear of The New York Times put it: “The financial failure of more than half the nonprofit health insurance companies created under the Affordable Care Act has handed Republicans a new weapon in their campaign against the health law, thrown the Obama administration on the defensive once again and left more than a half-million consumers in the cold.”

 

Another Pear story reported that some of those who have purchased policies through the ACA are “feeling nearly as vulnerable as they were before they had coverage” because of high deductibles, $3,000 or more in many states. These come atop premium increases. The Department of Health and Human Services predicts that premiums for the most popular “silver” plan will rise 7.5 percent in 2016 in the 37 states using the federal Obamacare exchange. Premiums will decline in a few states, notably Indiana, but will increase 37 per cent in Oklahoma and more than 25 percent in Alaska, Montana and New Mexico.

 

Premiums have also increased by double digits in some of the 13 states that operate their own exchanges. In Minnesota, officials approved increases averaging 49 percent for the market’s largest insurer. In Hawaii the insurance commissioner approved 27 percent to 34 percent hikes for the two insurers in the market. In contrast, rates will rise only 4 percent in California, one of the few states that actively negotiates prices.

 

Experts say that the combination of premium increases and high deductibles could prompt people to opt-out of coverage and pay the federal tax penalty, often called a mandate, imposed on those without health insurance. In 2015 those who did not buy insurance were required to pay a $325 tax penalty or 2 percent of their income, whichever was greater. In 2016 this fine will rise to either $695 or 2.5 percent of taxable income.

 

The ACA is also involved in the tangled debate about economic inequality. Writing in The New York Times, economist Tyler Cowen praised the ACA for reducing the number of uninsured at relatively low cost but said the law had exacerbated inequality. Cowen said the “losers” from Obamacare were those making 250 percent above the poverty line, an annual income of about $30,000. Individuals in the $30,000-$35,000 income bracket in most cases do not qualify for tax-credit subsidies but may not have enough money to purchase health insurance.

 

Viewed through a non-partisan lens, Obamacare has accomplished much while falling short of its lofty goal of providing affordable health care for most U.S. citizens. Some 32 million Americans still lack health insurance, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis. Seven million of these are unauthorized immigrants who are not covered by Obamacare (California has begun a limited program to help some of these immigrants.) Of the rest, according to Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, about 10.5 million would qualify for subsidized policies under Obamacare.

 

Burwell acknowledges that the pace of ACA sign-ups is likely to decrease in the current enrollment period, which began Nov. 1 and lasts until Jan. 31, 2016. In a recent speech she said that many of the uninsured are younger, live in underserved communities and have less than $100 in savings.

 

“People are worried about fitting premiums into their budget,” Burwell said. “Almost 60 percent of people who are uninsured are either confused about how the tax credits work or don’t know they are available.”

 

Obamacare is ill-served by supporters who fail to recognize the imperfections of the law. The ACA is ripe for deft reforms, assuming it survives the meat-ax of the pending budget reconciliation bill. Proposals have been advanced to broaden the ACA’s funding base, increase and extend subsidies or convert them to tax credits and revise (or eliminate) the tax penalty for those who don’t sign up for health insurance. Such proposals, many of which would require a tax increase, are unlikely to make headway in an election year. But something will have to be done in 2016 to repair the ACA, especially if United HealthGroup, the nation's largest health insurer, follows through on its announcement Thursday that it will cut back on policies offered on the federal exchange.

 

The fundamental obstacle to fixing the Affordable Care Act is that it is a partisan accomplishment, passed on a party line vote by Democrats and opposed almost entirely by Republicans. Reform won’t come until Democrats admit that changes are necessary and Republicans acknowledge that the ACA is here to stay.

 

 

Bird’s Eye View

Medicaid Expansion Big Factor in State Insured Rates | 11-20-2015

 Massachusetts had the lowest percentage of residents without health insurance last year, 3.3 percent, according to a recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau. Texas had the highest percentage of such residents, at 19.1 percent. All five of the states with the lowest uninsured rates had agreed to the Medicaid expansion provisions of the Affordable Care Act, while all five of the states with the highest uninsured rates had not.

 

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

 

Legend:

 

States with lowest uninsured rates: Massachusetts, Vermont, Hawaii, Minnesota, Iowa

 

States with highest uninsured rates: Texas, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma

 

Budget & Taxes

Trouble With Tax Cut ‘Triggers” | 11-20-2015

In January, nearly every Oklahoma taxpayer earning more than $9,000 a year will receive a break on their state income taxes, thanks to a tax cut “trigger” the state instituted two years ago. Unfortunately, due largely to plummeting oil prices, state revenues have fallen short of the estimate that triggered the coming tax cut, and the state could actually face a shortfall even bigger than the $611 million hole it had to fill last fiscal year.

 

“Oklahoma can stand as a model for the terrible thing about triggers,” said David Blatt, executive director of the nonpartisan Oklahoma Policy Institute. “Our experience shows that it is very hard to get them right and very easy to get them wrong.”

 

Along with Oklahoma, six other states - Colorado, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Oregon - have adopted tax cut triggers in the last two years, according to Stateline. The appeal of the triggers is that they potentially allow politicians to grant tax cuts only when there’s enough revenue to pay for them. But as the case of Oklahoma shows, they don’t always work out that way. And it is politically difficult to reverse a trigger once it’s in place.

 

Michael Leachman of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said triggers can also financially hamstring state lawmakers in fiscal emergencies.

 

“If you have a tax based on a blind formula, that formula doesn’t know when the next recession might hit or when another need might arise in the state,” he said. “Emergencies come up.” (STATELINE.ORG)

SD Considering Changes to Budget Process | 11-20-2015

All too often state budgets are passed in the final days of legislative sessions - or sometimes even later, in special sessions - with lawmakers rushing to meet deadlines. But South Dakota lawmakers may put an end to that practice in their 2016 session, which begins on Jan. 12.

 

Members of the state Legislature’s Executive Board are considering a number of changes to the budget process, including setting revenue estimates in February instead of the last week of the session in March and making major policy decisions for the coming year in mid-February. The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Appropriations could also set aside two weeks toward the end of the session for lawmakers to decide how much money should be allocated to each department, ending the habit of churning through a long list of amendments in just a couple of frenetic days.

 

House Speaker Dean Wink (R) said the changes would potentially allow the budget process to be more deliberative.

 

“I think we can all agree we want more legislative input into the appropriations process,” he said. “But the devil is always in the details.” (RAPID CITY JOURNAL)

CT Grants Tax Break to GE | 11-20-2015

This past summer Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (D) quietly engineered a major tax break for General Electric, in an effort to keep the company’s headquarters in Fairfield. The break will allow any company with at least $6 billion in carried-forward losses by 2013 to use a higher percentage of those losses to offset taxes, potentially saving it tens of millions of dollars. But the measure came in June, after GE issued a public letter critical of proposed business tax increases and threatening to pull out of the state. And that measure was buried in a 702-page tax bill that was passed just hours before the end of the fiscal year with no public debate. Even Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano (R) didn’t find out about the measure until weeks later.

 

Whether the tax break will be enough to keep GE’s headquarters and 800 employees in Connecticut is uncertain. But Sen. Fasano made the point that the measure doesn’t do much to alter the state’s reputation as an unstable place to do business.

 

“The whole reason why companies don't stay in Connecticut is there's no sustainability or predictability,” he said. “We’re psycho, we don’t know what we’re giving and what we're taking.” (HARTFORD COURANT)

Budgets In Brief - November 23 2015 | 11-20-2015

SC Expecting Big Budget Surplus

SOUTH CAROLINA budget forecasters say the state will have an extra $1.2 billion to spend in the 2016-17 budget year. About $380 million of that sum will come from the state’s growing economy, with the rest coming from unallocated and unspent money from the current and previous budget years (POST AND COURIER [CHARLESTON]). 

Cuts Coming to LA Health Care

Higher education was spared in LOUISIANA Gov. Bobby Jindal’s (R) plan to rebalance the state’s operating budget. Health care will bear the brunt of the cuts to reduce the state’s $487 million mid-year deficit (ADVOCATE [BATON ROUGE]).

 OK Education Benefitting Big from Indian Gaming

Indian gaming has generated $1 billion for education in Oklahoma over the last decade, according to a new study commissioned by the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association (OKLAHOMAN [OKLAHOMA CITY).

RI Agencies Awash In Red Ink

Half a dozen RHODE ISLAND state agencies are $54 million over budget three months into the fiscal year, according to a report from the state’s Budget Office. Most of the overruns are in agencies related to health and human services (PROVIDENCE JOURNAL).

 

-- Compiled by KOREY CLARK





Politics & Leadership

Airbnb Sends Mixed Political Signals | 11-20-2015

This month Airbnb defeated a ballot measure in its hometown of San Francisco (Proposition F) that would have limited its operations there and possibly encouraged similar efforts in other cities. The company spent more than $6 million on a sophisticated political campaign that involved veteran field organizers and hundreds of volunteers who contacted tens of thousands of voters.

 

At a news conference the day after Election Day, the company announced that it planned to mobilize its “hosts” and “guests” in 100 cities into a voting bloc rivaling the National Rifle Association in size and influence.

 

“We’re going to use the momentum of what took place here to do what we did in San Francisco around the world,” said Chris Lehane, a former aide to Bill Clinton who now heads Airbnb’s policy team.

 

That prospect is worrisome to affordable housing advocates in Los Angeles, where new rules for “home sharing” companies are currently being deliberated.

 

“If [Airbnb] did something like that here and were successful, it would be disastrous,” said Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival. “Who would oppose them? What type of forces would have the resources to go against them?”

 

The Los Angeles Times said organized labor had long been “the big dog in L.A. politics,” but the recent developments in San Francisco had “raised the possibility that one day there could be an even bigger dog in town -- if tech companies like Airbnb choose to assume that role.”

 

Last week, however, Airbnb issued a document pledging its commitment to working with cities. The “Airbnb Community Compact” stated the company would, among other things, “provide anonymized information regarding hosts and guests in our community to city officials to help inform the development of home sharing policies” and “ensure that the Airbnb community pays its fair share of taxes.”

 

“Given the size of the Airbnb community, this just seems like the right time for us to be very specific about the types of commitments we’re willing to make,” Lehane said in an interview with The New York Times. “Cities are looking to do the right thing, and they need the right information to do so.

 

Lehane also said his company’s messages weren’t inconsistent, and the statement about mobilizing the Airbnb community was directed at the hotel industry, which hasn’t been receptive to home sharing.

 

“We have always said we want to partner with cities,” he said. “As Prop F in San Francisco made clear, our community will fight and win if the hotel interests are threatening the economic lifeline of home sharing, but on the natural we would prefer to be lovers of cities and not fighting with the hotel industry.”

 

But at least one city official wasn’t impressed with Airbnb’s Community Compact. New York AG Eric T. Schneiderman (D), who has been battling with the company for over a year, said the document was “a transparent ploy by Airbnb to act like a good corporate citizen when it is anything but.”

 

“The company has all of the information and tools it needs to clean up its act,” he said. “Until it does, no one should take this press release seriously.” (NEW YORK TIMES, LOS ANGELES TIMES, WALL STREET JOURNAL, WIRED, AIRBNB.COM)

 

OK Dems Opening Primaries to Independents | 11-20-2015

The Oklahoma Democratic Party announced last week - on the 108th anniversary of Oklahoma statehood - that it will open its primary elections to independent voters, who have long been disenfranchised during primaries.

 

Republican voters slightly outnumber Democratic ones in the state, 886,153 to 882,686 as of January, and Republicans dominate Oklahoma state government. But independents, who currently number about 260,000, are the state’s fastest growing voter bloc. And Mark Hammons, chairman of the Oklahoma Democratic Party, admitted his party is hoping that by including independents in its primaries, some of them will return to the polls in general elections invested in Democratic candidates. But he said that isn’t the party’s only motivation.

 

“We want to show that there is an ability to step away from partisanship, to be inclusive and to make a commitment to the selection of candidates whose first goal is representing people not simply getting elected, or not simply advancing a partisan issue,” he said.

 

Daniel Diorio, an elections policy specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures, said it was “very rare” for a state to change its primary system.

 

“States are hesitant to mess with their primary systems,” he said. “They do it in rare instances.”

 

And the political impact of Oklahoma’s primary change remains to be seen. But Bryan Dean, a spokesman for the Oklahoma State Election Board, said the financial impact of that change would be a $150,000 increase in the cost of statewide elections. (ENIDNEWS.COM, OK.GOV, LEXISNEXIS STATE NET)

Politics In Brief - November 23 2015 | 11-20-2015

High Court to Hear TX Abortion Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to take up a legal challenge to the abortion restrictions passed in TEXAS in 2013 as part of HB 2. Those provisions require abortion facilities to meet hospital-like ambulatory surgery center standards (TEXAS TRIBUNE [AUSTIN]).

 WI Overhauls Ethics, Election Laws

WISCONSIN lawmakers passed legislation loosening oversight of elected officials and restrictions on campaign spending. Gov. Scott Walker (R) is expected to sign it into law (WISCONSIN STATE JOURNAL).

 

GA Women Sue State Over Data Breech

A pair of GEORGIA women have filed a class action lawsuit against Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R) for allegedly releasing the Social Security numbers and other private information of over six million voters statewide to the media, political parties and others who purchase voter information from the state (ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION).

 

-- Compiled by KOREY CLARK




Governors

Refugee Debate Falls along Party Lines | 11-20-2015

In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 that claimed 129 lives and left hundreds more critically injured, a majority of America’s governors now vigorously oppose allowing refugees escaping Syria’s civil war to relocate in their states. A smaller number, while expressing caution, say they are still in favor of letting refugees in, a stance mirrored by a growing number of U.S. mayors. Not surprisingly in a nation as evenly divided as America, those stances have fallen predominantly along party lines.

 

At least 30 governors have said they will seek to prevent refugees from locating in their states. All but one – New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan – are Republicans. Meanwhile, a handful of Democratic governors, including California Gov. Jerry Brown, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, have said their states will continue to accept refugees. They have been joined by a number of high-profile mayors, including New York’s Bill de Blasio, Boston’s Marty Walsh, Houston’s Annise Parker, Baltimore’s Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Phoenix’s Greg Stanton and Tallahassee’s Andrew Gillum. Several of those mayors are in states where the governor opposes refugee relocation.

 

One notable mayoral exception has been Roanoke Virginia Mayor David Bowers, a Democrat who likened blocking aid and services to Syrian refugees to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s internment of “Japanese foreign nationals after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.” Bowers further claimed that the “threat of harm to America from ISIS now is just as real and serious as that from our enemies then.”

 

Many critics were quick to point out that FDR’s order was carried out against United State citizens of Japanese descent and not foreign nationals. The federal government also eventually issued a formal apology to those interned for what it deemed “race prejudice, war hysteria and a failure of political leadership.” It also paid out over $1.6 billion in reparations to internment survivors.

 

How much governors may actually be able to do to prevent refugees from locating in their state is unclear. Under the Refugee Act of 1980, the president has purview over allowing refugees from any nation into America. Those decisions are usually based on the available means of support in a particular location, such as if the refugee has family or friends there. While it is expected the federal government will work with and take into consideration the wishes of governors, it is under no legal obligation to do so. But since the federal funds used to pay for such settlements are often “pass through” dollars administered through state agencies, governors do have some power to influence what happens by refusing to accept that money and barring agencies from doing it in their place.

 

That is specifically what Republican governors like Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal and Alabama’s Robert Bentley have done via executive order. Even so, there is nothing a governor can do to stop a refugee settled in one state from relocating to theirs.

 

The ongoing debate has led to some harsh feelings between governors. Last week, Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (D) sharply criticized Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) for rejecting a Syrian family that had been waiting in Jordan for three years while seeking to be allowed to move near family in the Hoosier State. The family of four was diverted to Connecticut after Pence ordered state agencies to halt any resettlement activities for Syrian refugees. Gov. Malloy met the family at the airport in New Haven. Speaking later to reporters, Malloy said, “I told them that people in the United States are generous and good people but sometimes things happen elsewhere that cause people to forget about their generosity, forget about their native warmth and spirit.”

 

Malloy wasn’t done venting about Pence’s actions.

 

“This is the same guy who signed a homophobic bill in the spring surrounded by homophobes,” he said, a reference to legislation earlier this year supported by Pence that critics said would have legalized discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. “So I’m not surprised by anything the governor does.”

 

A Pence spokesperson called Malloy’s comments “sad, unfortunate and simply not true.” (WASHINGTON POST, VOX, PBS, CHICAGO TRIBUNE, CNN, INDIANAPOLIS STAR, NEW YORK TIMES, NPR, CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR’S OFFICE)

Baker Overhauls MA Child Welfare Policies | 11-20-2015

Calling it “a much needed systemic reform of DCF policies and practices,” Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R) announced last Tuesday he is doing away with a Department of Children and Families policy that requires the triaging of child welfare cases into high- and low-risk categories. Baker says the system has exposed some of the state’s most vulnerable children to abuse.

 

“As a father of three children, I understand there’s nothing more important than the safety and the security of our kids,” Baker told reporters at a news conference.

 

The new rules do away with the multi-tiered assessment system, which critics contend has too often seen kids incorrectly placed into a lower risk category. They will also require every person 15 years or older in a household to undergo a Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) check and to be cross-checked through sex offender and national criminal history databases. Supervisors within the DCF’s 29 offices will be required to spend at least one hour per week providing “individual supervision” to a social worker, to ensure high-risk cases are getting the proper attention.

 

Baker said the changes are an attempt to create what he called a standardized playbook for screening and investigating allegations of abuse and neglect rather than letting individual offices take their own approach. The new rules go into effect in February. (BOSTON HERALD, BOSTON GLOBE, BOSTON.COM) 

Governors In Brief - November 23 2015 | 11-20-2015

Brown in Paris

CALIFORNIA Gov. Jerry Brown (D) said he is still planning to attend a United Nations climate change summit in Paris next month. The summit is scheduled to go on in spite of the wave of terrorist attacks carried out in the City of Light on Nov. 13, including an attempt to kill President François Hollande. But, citing security concerns, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced last week the government will not allow several planned demonstrations to go on as originally planned. Approximately 120 heads of state and government are expected to attend the summit (LOS ANGELES TIMES, AFP).

Hogan Cancer Free

MARYLAND Gov. Larry Hogan (R) declared himself “100 percent cancer free” last week, saying new tests showed the aggressive chemotherapy treatment he underwent this summer has completely eradicated the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma doctors found in June. Hogan’s doctor said the governor is in full remission and stands only about a 20 percent chance of having a relapse (BALTIMORE SUN).

 

-- Compiled by RICH EHISEN


Hot Issues

Business - November 23 2015 | 11-20-2015

Business In MA

The MASSACHUSETTS Senate approves SB 2054, which would bar employers and schools from requiring employees, students and job applicants to share their social media passwords or provide the employer or a school official access to those accounts. The bill is now in the House, which will take it up when the session reconvenes next year (STATEHOUSE NEWS). Also in MASSACHUSETTS, state Attorney General Maura Healey (D) announces first-in-the-nation regulations to govern the fast-growing daily fantasy sports industry (See “Fantasy Sports Come Under Legislative Scrutiny” in the Nov. 16 issue of SNCJ). The new rules bar players under age 21, ban games based on NCAA college sports and prohibit advertising for such games at high school and college campuses (STATEHOUSE NEWS). 

Crime & Punishment - November 23 2015 | 11-20-2015

Crime In OH

The OHIO Supreme Court upholds the constitutionality of requiring sex offenders to register their addresses with authorities (DAYTON DAILY NEWS).

Crime In MA

The MASSACHUSETTS House and Senate give final approval to HB 1641, which makes it a crime to falsely claim to be a veteran, service member or recipient of military honors in order to obtain money or other benefits. Violators would face up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. It moves to Gov. Charlie Baker (R) for consideration (STATEHOUSE NEWS). Also in MASSACHUSETTS, lawmakers give final approval to HB 3798, a bill that would impose a prison sentence of up to 20 years on someone convicted of trafficking more than 10 grams of the synthetic opioid fentanyl, which can be many times more potent than morphine. The measure moves to Gov. Baker (STATEHOUSE NEWS). 

Education - November 23 2015 | 11-20-2015

Education in WV

The WEST VIRGINIA Board of Education endorses a repeal of the Common Core-based K-12 math and English language arts standards and replacement of them with standards developed by state education officials. The proposal is now in a 30-day public comment period (CHARLESTON GAZETTE).

MI Signs HB 4390

MICHIGAN Gov. Rick Snyder (R) signs HB 4390, which allows Wolverine State high school students to satisfy a half-credit economic requirement by completing a course in personal economics that includes a financial literacy component (MICHIGAN GOVERNOR’S OFFICE).

MA Approves SB 2048

The MASSACHUSETTS Senate approves SB 2048, a bill that would require schools that offer sexual health education to provide “medically-accurate, age-appropriate” information. The measure is now in the House (STATEHOUSE NEWS). 

Energy - November 23 2015 | 11-20-2015

Energy in MA

The MASSACHUSETTS House and Senate fail to reach agreement on legislation to raise the cap on the amount of net solar metering credits allowed in a particular utility’s system. Each chamber passed legislation of its own (HB 3857 and SB 1979) but lawmakers were not able to work out significant differences in those proposals before the legislative session ended last Wednesday (BOSTON GLOBE, STATEHOUSE NEWS). 

Environment - November 23 2015 | 11-20-2015

Environment in MI

MICHIGAN Gov. Rick Snyder (R) signs a trio of bills addressing poaching: SBs 244, 245 and 246, which collectively increase fines and jail time for killing certain game and protected species (MICHIGAN GOVERNOR’S OFFICE).

 

Health & Science - November 23 2015 | 11-20-2015


Health In MI

MICHIGAN Gov. Rick Snyder (R) signs SB 152, which requires amateur mixed martial arts fighters to undergo pre-fight medical exams similar to those used with professional fighters, including testing for blood-borne diseases and drugs and alcohol. The measure also requires that participants compete in similar weight classes (MICHIGAN GOVERNOR’S OFFICE).

 

Social Policy - November 23 2015 | 11-20-2015

The OKLAHOMA Supreme Court rules that a non-biological parent in a same-sex relationship who has acted as a parent has the same rights as the biological parent. The ruling came in the case of a same-sex couple who split after 10 years of co-parenting a child born to one of them via a sperm donor (TULSA WORLD). 

Potpourri - November 23 2015 | 11-20-2015

The OHIO House approves HB 48, which would allow people to carry a handgun in a school safety zone if the person has a license and leaves the weapon inside a locked motor vehicle. The measure, which would also allow universities to adopt policies permitting people to carry concealed handguns on campus, moves to the Senate (COLUMBUS DISPATCH).  

 

 

-- Compiled by RICH EHISEN

Once Around the Statehouse Lightly

Twice As Nice | 11-20-2015

If being sworn into office is fun, why not do it twice? That’s what new Massachusetts state Sen. Michael Brady did a few weeks ago. As Statehouse News reports, Brady believed he was to be sworn in at 1:00pm on the 10th. Alas, Gov. Charlie Baker, who by law must be present for the ceremony, understood it to be at 10:00am. Needless to say, by 10:05 Brady had got a call at home asking him why in the name of Tip O’Neill he wasn’t there. Knowing a smart lawmaker doesn’t keep the governor waiting, Brady hotfooted it to the Capitol. After being forced to cool his heels for an hour, Baker was finally able to issue him the oath of office. A second swearing in, this one ceremonial, was held later in the day in the Senate. Baker was not at this one.

 

In My Expert Opinion | 11-20-2015

We’re still in election silly season, which means we are elbows deep in candidates spewing the kind of stuff that usually exits the southbound end of a northbound bull. In that regard the venerable New York Times recently investigated a claim from famously fact-averse presidential candidate Ben Carson that raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour would lead to a huge loss of jobs. The NYT asked 100 economists for their opinion. The result? “About 40 percent said they were not sure; the rest were evenly divided between yes and no.” Which sparked our own Lou Cannon to recall the time former President Ronald Reagan tossed off this observation: “If all the economists were laid end to end, they wouldn’t reach a conclusion.” Indeed.

 

Don’t Hate the Playa, Hate the Game | 11-20-2015

It’s just too dad gummed easy to get a shootin’ iron in Texas, according to state Rep. Tony Dale. Now Dale is no namby pamby gun-control lovin’ peacenik. He’s a red-blooded gun lover with a 100 percent rating from the NRA, ooooh wheeeee! Nope, as Talking Points Memo reports, what’s got Rep. Dale’s barrel red hot is the idea that Syrian refugees might actually want to come to Texas. If they do, he says, under the Lone Star State’s oh-so-lax gun laws they’ll be able to get themselves a gun and carry out a Paris-like attack. So in other words, it is so easy to get a gun in Texas that it is actually more susceptible to a terrorist attack than a state where guns are not so prevalent? Hmmm...but what about all those alleged good guys with guns? Wouldn’t they be able to stop such an attack? Just askin’...

 

-- By RICH EHISEN