Budget and Taxes

AZ Could Make Cities Pay for Increasing Minimum Wage: During the final week of this year’s legislative session in Arizona, state lawmakers passed a bill (HB 2756) that, among other things, will require the state to calculate the additional state cost of any minimum wage increase above the state rate by a city or county, potentially resulting in the local government having to pay that added expense.

The legislation comes three years after voters in Flagstaff approved Proposition 414, incrementally raising the city’s minimum wage from the then-$8.05 state rate to $15 by 2021, and one year after the city’s voters rejected Prop. 418, which would have rolled back the 2016 minimum wage increase. And both of those initiative votes came despite the passage of a statewide ballot measure in 2016 (Prop. 206) increasing the state minimum wage rate to $12 by 2020.

Supporters of HB 2756 say the legislation is needed in case the state has to pay more for services in Flagstaff as a result of the city’s higher minimum wage.

“We don’t feel the taxpayers around the state should be forced to bear the burden of the additional cost,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Regina Cobb (R).

But others say HB 2756 was intended to discourage other local governments from raising their minimum wage rates above the state rate.

“The message is: Other cities, you do this at your own peril,” said Rep. Randall Friese (D), who opposed the measure when it came up for a vote in the Appropriations Committee.

It won’t be known whether Flagstaff’s minimum wage increase is actually going to cost the state more money until next month at the earliest. And if the state does incur additional expense, it will be up to the next Legislature to determine whether to hold the city accountable for it. (ARIZONA REPUBLIC [PHOENIX])

Thousands of 2018 Hurricane Insurance Claims Still Unsettled in FL: It’s been 10 months since Hurricane Michael slammed Florida’s Panhandle in October 2018. But more than 20,000 insurance claims from residential property owners - about 14 percent of the total number filed - remain open.

That rate is high compared to Hurricane Irma in 2017. Nine months after that storm, 9 percent of claims were still open. While Irma, a category 5 hurricane when it made landfall in the Florida Keys, impacted more properties, it generally caused less damage to them than Michael, a category 5 hurricane at landfall.

Still, Florida law requires residential property insurers to pay their claims within 90 days. And during storm season they used to report regularly to the state’s Office of Insurance Regulation how many claims were settled within that time frame.

But the department has shifted away from that practice, saying the number of open claims is “commonly misunderstood due to the fact that it is nuanced.”

The 90-day clock doesn’t actually start ticking when a claim is filed but only after the insurer has determined how much is owed and the homeowner has agreed to that sum. Chip Merlin, a property insurance claim attorney based in Tampa, said that allows insurers to take their time consulting with experts and performing inspections before providing homeowners an estimate.

“By the time a decision and an estimate for the amount of damages is made, it is literally six months after the hurricane,” he said.

The start of the 90-day timer can be delayed even longer if a homeowner disputes the insurer’s estimate.

State officials say those considerations diminish the value of knowing how many claims are over 90 days old. But Merlin says that information indicates how fast insurers are getting money to their customers.

“People need the money right away,” he said. “There shouldn’t be these inherent delays in paper-pushing.” (TAMPA BAY TIMES)

Budgets in Brief:

MN, NC MAY BE IN RECESSION: MINNESOTA and NORTH CAROLINA may be in a recession, according to research indicating that when a state’s unemployment rate rises by at least 0.4 percentage points above its lowest rate in the preceding 12 months, there’s a 50 percent chance the state is in a recession. North Carolina’s unemployment rate was 4.2 percent in July, up from a low of 3.7 percent in December, while Minnesota’s rate was 3.4 percent, up from 2.8 percent in October. (STATELINE.ORG)

CA POT TAX REVENUES STILL FAR BELOW PROJECTIONS: CALIFORNIA took in $74 million in cannabis excise taxes in the second quarter of this year, about $7 million more than it collected from January to March. But illicit sales and other problems have kept revenues from legal pot sales far below the $1 billion per year government analysts initially projected. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

COURT RULING COULD BE COSTLY FOR MN: A ruling last year by the MINNESOTA Supreme Court that the state can’t tax trusts set up by Minnesota residents in other states to avoid paying state income tax could cost the Gopher State more than $100 million per year for the next couple of years. The state’s Department of Revenue estimates it will now take in $33.4 million less in trust-related taxes each year and potentially pay out $66.8 million in refunds in the next couple of years for taxes that have already been paid. (MINNESOTA PUBLIC RADIO)

NEW TOURISM SLOGAN HELPS NE BREAK LODGING TAX RECORD: NEBRASKA took in a record $5.9 million in state lodging taxes from July 2018 through June 30, 2019, 4 percent more than the state collected the previous fiscal year. John Ricks, executive director of the Nebraska Tourism Commission, attributed the increase in part to the state’s unconventional new tourism slogan: “Nebraska. Honestly, it’s not for everyone.” (OMAHA WORLD-HERALD)

FARM BANKRUPTICES DOWN IN WI BUT UP IN KS, MN: WISCONSIN had the most family-farm bankruptcies in the nation in the 12 months from July 2018 to June 2019, with 45 Chapter 11 filings. Although that’s five fewer than in the previous 12-month period, farm bankruptcies were up in KANSAS and MINNESOTA between July 2018 and June 2019, by 11 and 13, respectively, bringing their totals to 31 and 39. (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL)

-- Compiled by KOREY CLARK

 

Politics and Leadership

Big Tech Quashes State Data Privacy Bills: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and executives of other big tech companies have been saying recently that they want a federal data privacy law. But this year the companies and their lobbyists helped kill data privacy bills introduced in at least 13 states, according to analysis of lobbying records and committee hearings by Yahoo Finance.

Data privacy bills in at least 12 other states failed to reach the committee hearing stage, when lobbying efforts start appearing on public records. Only two states, Nevada and Maine, passed data privacy measures, which were initially opposed but ultimately supported by the industry.

“The tech companies have enormous resources,” said Anthony Nownes, a professor of political science at the University of Tennessee.

“They can deploy a lobbyist anytime, anywhere” he added.

Washington was one of the states where the tech companies deployed those resources. A data privacy bill (SB 5376) that was passed by the state’s Senate in March dies in the House the following month after negotiations between the governor’s office, lawmakers and tech lobbyists.

“It was heavily lobbied — the tech folks really did lean in,” said Washington state Rep. Zack Hudgins (D).

The tech companies maintain there’s no contradiction between their advocacy of federal data privacy regulation and their opposition to state regulation. They’re simply seeking uniformity, they say.

“Our work in states around the country demonstrates that as a company we are making a concerted effort to engage policymakers and privacy experts on the right approach to create consistent rules around privacy,” said Will Castleberry, vice president of state and local public policy for Facebook.

But some privacy advocates and state lawmakers say the industry’s efforts are really aimed at avoiding being subject to tough state data privacy laws like the one passed by California last year (AB 375), which is based on the European Union’s strict General Data Protection Regulation and has served as a model for other states. (YAHOO FINANCE, CNBC, LEXISNEXIS STATE NET)

Dems Spending Big on 2020 Statehouse Races: Democrats are pouring money into next year’s state legislative races.

In Dallas, Shawn Terry, the Democratic challenger in a longtime Republican district, has already raised $235,000. In Virginia, where the GOP holds narrow majorities in both legislative chambers, Democrats, for the first time in years, have raised more money than Republicans. And the Democratic Party is even putting money into the deep red state of Louisiana.

Democrats aren’t just motivated by their opposition to President Trump. They’re also very conscious that the party that controls the states’ legislatures after the 2020 elections will also control the redrawing of congressional and legislative districts after next year’s decennial census, a lesson they learned all too well after Republicans flipped 21 legislative chambers in 2010.

“There is, especially for this cycle, a very strong focus on redistricting,” said Terry.

The stakes have grown even higher since the Supreme Court’s June ruling that policing the partisan gerrymandering of political districts was not the responsibility of the federal courts, freeing state lawmakers to gerrymander even more aggressively.

“Everybody knows everything is at stake,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List, a group that helps pro-choice Democratic women get elected to political office. “We just have to go in and win chambers.” (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

‘Staggering’ Disparity in Dismissal Rates Among MA Courts: Dismissal rates in certain types of criminal cases in Massachusetts - including some that involve public officials - vary widely from court to court, according to analysis of court data by the Boston Globe.

In Massachusetts, when someone is accused of a misdemeanor crime but not arrested, they’re typically entitled to a confidential hearing, at which a court clerk determines whether their case should go before a judge. Clerks also hold such so-called show-cause hearings in some felony cases.

The Worcester District Court approved 83 percent of applications for criminal charges after show-cause hearings in 2018, while the Chelsea District Court approved only 26 percent of such requests.

Chris Dearborn, a professor at Suffolk University Law School, called that range of dismissal rates “staggering.”

“We would want an evenhanded administration of justice across the board,” he said.

The variation in dismissal rates is due in part to the different philosophies of the court clerks who handle the cases, many of whom don’t have a law degree. For instance, Brendan T. Keenan, the Worcester District Court’s acting clerk magistrate, said he generally relies on the testimony of law enforcement officers and victims, while Chelsea District Court Clerk Keven G. Murphy said he usually dismisses cases when victims or witnesses don’t testify at the hearings.

A Globe report last year revealed that Massachusetts is the only state in the nation where court clerks decide the disposition of criminal cases behind closed doors. (BOSTON GLOBE)

Politics in Brief:

FEDERAL COURT RULES CO PRESIDENTIAL ELECTORS DON’T HAVE TO VOTE IN ACCORDANCE WITH STATE ELECTORATE: The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled last month that COLORADO’s presidential electors don’t have to vote for the candidate chosen by the state’s electorate. The case stemmed from the 2016 presidential election, in which three of the state’s nine electors attempted to vote for candidates other than the winner of the state’s popular vote, Democrat Hillary Clinton. (COLORADO SUN [DENVER])

NJ UPDATES VOTE-BY-MAIL LAW: NEW JERSEY Gov. Phil Murphy (D) signed a bill last month, passed by the state’s Democrat-controlled Legislature, that updates the state’s 2018 vote-by-mail law to require that voters who requested mail-in ballots in 2017 and 2018 continue to receive them in future elections unless they opt out. The original law only mandated that mail-in ballots be sent to those who requested them in 2016. (NJ.COM, NBC 4 [NEW YORK])

ME LAWMAKERS APPROVE RANKED-CHOICE VOTING: MAINE’S Democrat-led Legislature approved a bill that would allow the use of ranked-choice voting - which allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference and the votes cast for the lowest-ranked candidates to be automatically redistributed among the higher-ranked candidates, if necessary, until a candidate receives 50 percent or more of the vote - in the state’s March presidential primaries. The bill was sent to Gov. Janet Mills (D) who hasn’t said whether she would sign it but who won the Democratic nomination for governor in June 2018 in the first-ever ranked-choice vote to decide a statewide contest. (PORTLAND PRESS HERALD)

DIALYSIS INDUSTRY SPENDING MILLIONS TO AVOID REGULATION IN CA: The dialysis industry spent about $2.5 million on lobbying and campaign donations in CALIFORNIA in the first six months of 2019 to kill legislation aimed at altering its business model. Last year the industry spent a record $111 million to defeat Proposition 8, which would have capped the profits of dialysis companies. (LOS ANGELES TIMES)

 -- Compiled by KOREY CLARK

 

Governors

Newsom Brokers CA Charter School Deal: After months of negotiations, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced an agreement last week among charter school advocates, teacher unions and legislative leaders on a bill that will impose new restrictions on the state’s charter schools.

California charters are privately run but publicly funded. New charters must first meet some basic statewide requirements and then apply for approval from local school districts.

The legislation, AB 1505, will now allow districts to weigh the financial impact of a new charter and whether its curriculum duplicates something already offered by a public school within the same district. It also grants districts more power to reject new charter applications, enacts a two-year moratorium on new virtual charter schools and requires charter school teachers to pass stricter credentialing standards. Newsom’s office noted the agreement will also make it easier to shut down charter schools that don’t perform well.

The legislation was sponsored by the California Teachers Association, which has spent over $4 million lobbying lawmakers this year, almost double its total from the entire previous two-year session.

While the deal was seen as a major victory for the CTA, the California Charter School Association noted it also got major concessions it wanted: more protection for high-performing charters and an appeal process for those applications which get rejected.

The deal marked a rare peace between public education and privately-run – but publicly funded - charter schools, which have for years spent millions of dollars on lobbying and statewide ballot measures aimed at accessing millions more in state education funds. In a statement, Newsom cast the agreement as a win for both sides, saying he was “grateful that leaders on both sides of this conversation” worked toward the deal.

“This agreement focuses on the needs of our students. It increases accountability for all charter schools, allows high-quality charter schools to thrive, and ensures that the fiscal and community impacts of charter schools on school districts are carefully considered,” he said. (CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR’S OFFICE, SACRAMENTO BEE, LOS ANGELES TIMES, LEXISNEXIS STATE NET)

Murphy Pitches Changes to NJ Expungement Bill: New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) conditionally vetoed a measure that would have overhauled the Garden State’s process for expunging convictions for those who have stayed out of further legal trouble for at least 10 years. In his veto message for AB 3205, Murphy offered lawmakers several suggestions to earn his signature, including removing a proposal to create a separate expedited process for those convicted of low-level marijuana offenses. He also wants lawmakers to make expungement automatic for those who qualify, and to create a state task force to study the fiscal, technological and practical issues involved in developing the system. It was unclear if lawmakers will reconsider the measure with the governor’s inclusions. (NJ.COM, BURLINGTON COUNTY TIMES)

Governors in Brief:

COURT SAYS KY GOV CAN REJECT PRIVATE LAWYERS: The KENTUCKY Supreme Court rules that Gov. Matt Bevin (R) and legislative leaders were within their legal authority to cancel an employment contract that Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear awarded to private lawyers to help his office sue the pharmaceutical industry over the opioid epidemic. Beshear said he would seek a rehearing before the court. (LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER)

NH GOV VOWS LICENSE REFORMS AFTER DEADLY CRASH: NEW HAMPSHIRE Gov. Chris Sununu (R) said a review of DMV files has led the state to suspend the driver’s licenses of almost 4,000 drivers with serious infractions on their records. The review was sparked by a June incident in which a driver killed seven motorcyclists when he ran into them with his truck. An investigation showed the MASSACHUSETTS man should have had his license suspended for a previous drunk driving arrest. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

EAST COAST GOVS PUSH FEDS ON SOLAR, WIND POWER: In a letter Tuesday to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, the governors of MASSACHUSETTS, CONNECTICUT, MAINE, NEW HAMPSHIRE and VIRGINIA called on the federal government to not hinder or block the advancement of renewable energy projects in the states. The governors specifically noted the recent decision to delay final permitting of a planned 84-turbine Vineyard Wind project south of Martha’s Vineyard, saying further delay would have “negative impacts on this project, offshore wind development along the east coast and the further expansion of American jobs that support this industry.” (REUTERS)

EVERS EXPANDS EFFORT TO FIGHT ‘FOREVER’ CHEMICALS: WISCONSIN Gov. Toney Evers (D) directed the state Department of Natural Resources to undertake greater efforts to combat so-called “forever chemicals” in Badger State waterways. Perfluorinated chemicals, or PFAS, have long been used in a wide range of products, including cookware, fast-food containers and some types of firefighting foam. (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL-SENTINEL)

 -- Compiled by RICH EHISEN 

 
Hot Issues

Business: ILLINOIS Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) signs HB 3394, a bill that will require companies headquartered in the Prairie State to submit an annual report on their board membership and how they identify and appoint diverse candidates to their boards. The report, which must be submitted to the Illinois Secretary of State by Jan. 1, will be used to develop a system to rate companies based on their diversity (CHICAGO TRIBUNE). Also in ILLINOIS, Gov. Pritzker signs HB 2156, a bill that bans companies from issuing rebate cards that charge consumers dormancy fees or other post-issuance fees (LEXISNEXIS STATE NET). Staying in ILLINOIS, Gov. Pritzker signs HB 3405, which clarifies that tips are the property of employees and gives state labor officials the power to enforce wage decisions in court (LEXISNEXIS STATE NET).

Education: The ARIZONA Board of Regents unanimously approves a proposal to charge undocumented students who graduate from high school in the Grand Canyon State 150 percent of the in-state tuition rate, a 50 percent reduction from the out-of-state rate previously charged (ARIZONA REPUBLIC [PHOENIX]). ILLINOIS Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) signs HB 2078, a measure to raise the state’s minimum pay for teachers to $40,000 per year by 2024 (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES). The CALIFORNIA Assembly approves SB 223, which would allow Golden State public and charter schools to adopt policies that allow parents to administer medical marijuana to their children on K-12 campuses. The measure returns to the Senate for concurrence (ASSOCIATED PRESS).

Environment: DELAWARE Gov. John Carney (D) signs HB 65, which bars covenants or other restrictions that would halt or unreasonably limit the use of roof or ground-mounted residential solar systems. The measure also lowers the voting margin for a homeowners’ group to ease restrictions from a two-thirds vote to a simple majority (DELAWARE BUSINESS NOW).

Health: WASHINGTON State Health Officer Dr. Kathy Lofy issues a statewide standing order to allow any person or organization in the state to purchase the overdose reversal drug naloxone from a pharmacy. The Evergreen State joins more than two dozen other states that have a similar policy (ASSOCIATED PRESS). An OKLAHOMA court orders Johnson & Johnson to pay the state $572 million for its role in the state’s epidemic of opioid addiction. The court said the company had intentionally played down the dangers of the drugs while overstating their benefits. The company said it will appeal the ruling (NEW YORK TIMES). ILLINOIS Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) signs HB 2276, which bars smoking in a motor vehicle with a minor present. Violators face a fine up to $100 for a first offense and up to $250 for a second or subsequent offense (LEXISNEXIS STATE NET). Also in ILLINOIS, Gov. Pritzker signs SB 111, which raises the age limit from 19 to 26 for health insurance to cover anesthetics provided with dental care to individuals diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder or developmental disability (LEXISNEXIS STATE NET). Also in ILLINOIS, Gov. Pritzker signs HB 465, a bill that creates a comprehensive regulatory framework for pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs, which negotiate drug prices and benefits on behalf of insurance plans. Among several things, the new law requires insurers to apply third-party payments, discounts, vouchers and co-pay cards to the deductible, co-pay or out-of-pocket maximum associated with health insurance, and bars gag clauses that limit pharmacists from advising patients when lower-cost alternatives may be available or when paying cash is cheaper than using insurance. The law takes effect on Jan 1, 2020 (LEXISNEXIS STATE NET).

Immigration: ILLINOIS Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) signs SB 1290, which bars landlords from intimidating or threatening to disclose immigrants’ citizenship status to any person, agency, or law enforcement officer. If that happens, the tenant is allowed to sue for damages with penalties up to $2,000 for each violation. The law takes effect immediately (CHICAGO CURBED).

Social Policy: A NEW JERSEY appeals court rules the state can move ahead with a new law allowing terminally ill patients to seek life-ending drugs. The plaintiffs seeking to overturn the law indicated they would appeal to the state Supreme Court (ABC NEWS). ILLINOIS Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) signs HB 3101, which requires participation in human trafficking training for hotel and motel employees (LEXISNEXIS STATE NET). A federal court blocks parts of a MISSOURI law that bans abortions after the eighth week of pregnancy. U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs allowed a tenet of the law that bars abortions based on the sex of a child or the presence of Down Syndrome to remain in place. The ruling mirrors similar recent rulings in OHIO and MISSISSIPI (NEW YORK TIMES).

Local Front: NORTH CAROLINA Gov. Roy Cooper (D) vetoes HB 370, which would have required sheriffs in the state to closely cooperate with federal immigration enforcement or face removal from office (CNN). BIRMINGHAM Mayor Randall Woofin announces that starting in 2020 any student who graduates from a city high school will be eligible “to attend any in-state two- or four-year school tuition free.” He did not expound on how that would be funded (BIRMINGHAM NEWS).

 -- Compiled by RICH EHISEN


Once Around the Statehouse Lightly

Trouser Wildfire: Some people believe we’re officially in a post-truth world. That’s the only rationale I can come up with for California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent claim that “the vast majority” of the homeless folks in San Francisco migrated to the City by the Bay from Texas. Now anyone who has spent time around the former SF mayor knows he is fond of the sound of his own voice, but this head scratching nonsense is so easily disproven it seems incredulous that a smart guy like him would toss it off like fact. Needless to say, it took no time at all for a lot of folks to point that out. As one homeless advocacy group noted, a whopping 70 percent of the city’s homeless population had in fact lived there for a decade or more before ending up on the street. Post-truth indeed.

Sleepless Nights Ahead: Speaking of things that defy logic...Rick Perry. Nobody will ever accuse the former Texas governor and current U.S. Secretary of Energy of being, uh, a rocket scientist. As AFP reports, Perry recently fell for an Internet hoax dealing with the sharing of photos on Instagram. Now we are very aware that Perry is far from the only person of a certain age to fall for one of these scams, but he is the only one who is also in charge of the nation’s nuclear arsenal. Let that sink in. And then try to sleep well at night. I dare you.  

Florida Man Times Two: We’ve all seen the tales of “Florida Man,” i.e. news stories of egregiously stupid criminality or other moronic behavior from men who reside in the Sunshine State. But this one really takes the cake. As Reuters reports, Florida man Brendan Dolan-King was recently arrested and charged with selling fentanyl and ecstasy. That is hardly news these days, but the fact that the X tabs were shaped in the likeness of America’s national “Florida Man” – President Donald Trump – absolutely is. The bust mirrors a similar one in Indiana last year. In both cases the pills were orange. Because of course they were.

Corndogs and Recall Petitions: Visitors to this year’s Alaska State Fair had more than the usual fried food, cheap carnival games and livestock to peruse. As KTUU in Anchorage reports, fairgoers could also sign a petition to recall Gov. Michael Dunleavy. Or...they could sign one to show support for the governor. Because who doesn’t need a heaping dose of hyperpartisan politics to go with all that greasy fair cuisine and ride on a rickety roller coaster. One thing is for sure – the latter doesn’t make you want to hurl, the former will.

-- By RICH EHISEN