Budget and Taxes

Debate Over Tolls Continues in CT: For the last year Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) and state lawmakers have been debating whether to start tolling drivers to help pay for the upkeep of the state’s roads and bridges. The governor’s latest proposal, released this month, called for the establishment of tolls on 14 bridges across the state.

The Democrat-controlled Senate rejected that plan, and leaders of the Democrat-led House proposed an alternate one last week, calling for the installation of electronic tolls just for trucks on 12 bridges.

“Trucks do 80 percent of the damage to our roads and bridges, and many come from out of state,” said House Majority Leader Matt Ritter (D). “We believe that truck-only tolls on select bridges, in a manner similar to what other states do, are legal and will provide Connecticut with the revenue stream needed to secure low interest federal transportation loans.”

Lamont issued a statement saying the House plan was a “thoughtful contribution” to the debate. But some toll opponents didn’t appear to be won over by the new proposal.

“We remain as committed as ever to no tolls in Connecticut because once the gantries are up and running, it is only a flip of the switch and every motorist in the state will be tolled,” said House Republican leader Themis Klarides. “There is simply no trust when it comes to this issue.” (HARTFORD COURANT)

Medicaid Reimbursement Rates Forcing Closure of Rural NE Nursing Homes: Fourteen nursing homes in rural counties of Nebraska have closed in 2019, about twice as many as last year, which set a record itself. Over the past eight years, 32 rural nursing homes have closed in the state. And that problem isn’t unique to Nebraska. According to a New York Times report, over 440 rural nursing homes across the nation have closed or merged in the last ten years.

Heath Boddy, president and CEO of the Nebraska Health Care Association, which represents most of the state’s nursing homes, and Jenifer Acierno, president and CEO of LeadingAge Nebraska, which represents nonprofit nursing homes in the state, blame the closure mainly on inadequate Medicaid reimbursement rates.

In 2017 reimbursement rates lagged nursing home expenses in Nebraska by $36 per day, on average, according to the American Health Care Association.

“We’ve just reached a point now where those operators can’t sustain it anymore,” said Acierno.

Closing the gap between nursing home expenses and Medicaid rates would cost the state about $30 million. But Sen. John Stinner, who chairs the Appropriations Committee of the state’s nonpartisan, unicameral Legislature, said it was critical for the state to keep rural nursing homes open so residents can obtain care close to their homes.

“This is a crisis that needs some kind of resolution,” he said. “We’re still a long way from breaking even.” (OMAHA WORLD-HERALD)

Budgets in Brief:

CA Budget Surplus Could Grow to $26B by 2021: A report from CALIFORNIA’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office indicates the state’s cash reserves could reach a record $26 billion by 2021. Over a quarter of that sum would be unrestricted funds that state lawmakers could spend as they see fit. (LOS ANGELES TIMES)

OR Counties Awarded $1.1B In Timber Lawsuit with State: A jury in Linn County, OREGON awarded 13 rural counties $1.1 billion in damages in a lawsuit with the state over timber harvesting. The jury found that the state breached its contract with the counties by not maximizing timber harvests on state lands over the past two decades. (OREGONLIVE.COM [PORTLAND])

Push Begins for AR Road-Funding Tax: The campaign for a proposed constitutional amendment on ARKANSAS’ 2020 general election ballot that would make a half-percent sales tax permanent kicked off last week. Voters approved the half-percent sales tax increase in 2012, which was supposed to expire after 10 years, but keeping it in place would provide about $205 million per year for the state’s highways and about $43 million per year for local governments. (NORTHWEST ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE [LITTLE ROCK])

AZ Will Consider Crackdown On Short-Term Rentals: A bill (HB 2001) prefiled for ARIZONA’s 2020 session would allow municipalities to crack down on problem short-term vacation rentals. The state enacted protections for short-term rentals through sites like Airbnb and VRBO in 2026 to promote growth of the “sharing economy,” but disruptive weekend parties at such properties have been a growing problem in cities and towns across the state. (ARIZONA REPUBLIC [PHOENIX], LEXISNEXIS STATE NET)

--Compiled by KOREY CLARK

Politics and Leadership

Expanding Voter Access Priority for New Democratic Majority in VA: Democrats won control of Virginia’s House and Senate in the state’s off-year legislative elections on Nov. 5. And last week the new Democratic majority showed that making it easier to vote would be one of its top priorities next year.

On Monday, Del. Charniele Herring (D), who is about to become majority leader, filed HB 1, which would effectively introduce early voting in the state. The bill would actually allow residents to vote absentee in person without an excuse in the 45 days before an election. Currently, absentee voting is available only to those who provide one of 20 acceptable reasons for being unable to make it to the polls on Election Day, such as being sick or out of town.

Democrats have wanted to make the change for years, but Republicans have opposed it over concerns about election fraud and staffing and equipment costs. Now they may not stop at early voting. They could also revisit other voter access initiatives that have failed in the past, including automatic voter registration and repealing the state’s voter ID requirement. (VIRGINIAN-PILOT [NORFOLK], WASHINGTON POST)

Politics in Brief:

NC Dems Contest New Congressional Map: NORTH CAROLINA’s Republican-led General Assembly approved a new court-ordered congressional district map this month that could cost the party at least two seats in the U.S. House. But Democrats still immediately contested the new map, saying it “fails to respond to the court’s order” and still gives Republicans -- who hold 10 of the state’s 13 total U.S. House seats -- “an unfair partisan advantage.” (POLITICO)

PA Eyes Presidential Primary Move: Lawmakers in PENNSYLVANIA are weighing holding the state’s presidential primary election earlier in the year, beginning in 2024. Despite being a key battleground state, it currently has little say in picking the Democratic and Republican presidential nominees because it doesn’t hold its primary until the end of April, after the majority of other states have voted. (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER)

WI Student Group Challenges Voter ID Requirements: The Andrew Goodman Foundation, a national advocacy group that promotes student voting, has filed a lawsuit claiming WISCONSIN’s voter ID law imposes requirements for the use of student IDs that make it too difficult for students to vote. Among other things, the law requires student IDs to have an expiration date that isn’t more than two years from the issue date and holders of such IDs to prove through other documentation, such as a tuition receipt or class schedule, they are enrolled. (WISCONSIN PUBLIC RADIO)

-- Compiled by KOREY CLARK

Governors

CA Gov Cuts Out Trump-Allied Car Companies: California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said the Golden State government will no longer buy cars from carmakers that don’t adhere to the state’s strict emissions rules.

The boycott is a direct response to a bevy of car companies that recently sided with the Trump administration in its attempt to overturn the Golden State’s longstanding power to set trougher tailpipe emissions standards than other states. It came less than a week after California was joined by 22 other states, Washington D.C. and the cities of Los Angeles and New York in filing suit challenging the attempted rule change.

Newsom said the state will immediately stop buying gas-powered vehicles from regardless of manufacturer, and will specifically cease buying any cars at all from Toyota, Fiat-Chrysler, Hyundai, Isuzu, KIA, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, Suzuki, Aston Martin, Maserati, Ferrari, and McLaren. Four other carmakers – Honda, Ford, BMW, and VW – have previously agreed to continue making cars that line up with California’s standards.

“The state is finally making the smart move away from internal combustion engine sedans,” Newsom said in a statement emailed to Sacramento news service CalMatters. “Carmakers that have chosen to be on the wrong side of history will be on the losing end of California’s buying power.”

California officials will also be skipping the L.A. Auto Show, one of the auto industry’s signature events, for the first time in over 50 years.

The overall impact on the companies will fluctuate greatly. California spent slightly more than $74 million on 2,672 new fleet vehicles in 2018 alone. That figure is hardly an outlier. Reuters reports that between 2016 and 2018, California bought $58.6 million in vehicles from GM, $55.8 million from Fiat Chrysler, $10.6 million from Toyota and $9 million from Nissan. It spent another $69.2 million on cars from Ford, but only $565,000 with Honda and none from the two German automakers.

The companies facing the boycott criticized Newsom’s action, saying it would prove more harmful than beneficial.

“Removing vehicles like the Chevy Bolt and prohibiting GM and other manufacturers from consideration will dramatically reduce California’s choices for affordable, American-made electric vehicles and limit its ability to reach its goal of minimizing the state government’s carbon footprint, a goal that GM shares,” GM said in a statement. (LOS ANGELES TIMES, CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR’S OFFICE, CAL MATTERS, REUTERS, CNN BUSINESS)

Murphy Orders Doubling of NJ Wind Power: New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) issued an executive order last week to more than double the Garden State’s goal for offshore wind power production. Under Executive Order No. 92, the state will seek to produce 7,500 megawatts of wind power by 2035, a significant jump over the current goal of 3,500 megawatts by 2030.

Murphy said that achieving the goal would pay big dividends for both the environment and the state’s economy.

“Think about it for a second — when we meet this goal, our offshore winds will generate enough electricity to power more than 3.2 million New Jersey homes,” he said at a signing ceremony for his directive. “We will meet half of our electric power need. We will generate billions of dollars in investments in our state’s future that will, in turn, generate thousands of union jobs.”

The wind power goal is intended to help the state achieve two larger overall energy goals: obtaining half of its power from clean sources by 2030 and all of it by 2050. (NJ.COM, PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, NORTHJERSEY.COM

Governors in Brief:

Raimondo Will Seek Legal RI Pot in 2020: Calling it “the next logical step” after legalizing medical use, RHODE ISLAND Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) said she will make another attempt to legalize adult recreational marijuana use in the Ocean State next session. Raimondo made her comments after meeting with MASSACHUSETTS Gov. Charlie Baker (R) and other Northeast governors, who she said are working together to develop a regional approach to legalization. (PROVIDENCE JOURNAL, MARIJUANA MOMENT)

DeSantis Trying to Ease FL Prison Worker Shortages: Faced with  “exceptionally high turnover rates” in Sunshine State prisons, FLORIDA Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has proposed spending an additional $114 million on the state corrections system, with the additional funds being used to create as many as 380 new positions. Almost 300 of those would be new correctional officer jobs. (CBS MIAMI, ORLANDO WEEKLY)

Pritzker Restricts Use of IL School Isolation Rooms: Saying their use “traumatizes children, does lasting damage to the most vulnerable and violates the most deeply held values of my administration,” ILLINOIS Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) ordered the State Board of Education to issue emergency rules governing so-called timeout rooms. Such rooms are often used to place children as young as five years old into solitary confinement if the student is thought to present a danger to themselves or others. In a statement, Pritzker said: “The use of this unacceptable practice in districts around the state for several years is appalling, and I am demanding complete and immediate accountability.” (JACKSONVILLE JOURNAL-COURIER, WIFR [ROCKFORD])

-- Compiled by RICH EHISEN

Hot Issues

Business: The MASSACHUSETTS Senate approves SB 2410, a bill that would prohibit the distribution of single-use plastic bags and require customers to pay a fee of at least 10 cents for recyclable or reusable bags. The ban, which would not apply to plastic bags used to hold prescription medications, produce, meats, poultry, fish, and some other items, moves to the House (STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE [BOSTON]). The MASSACHUSETTS House and Senate approve a ban on all tobacco products, including cigarettes, e-cigarettes, chewing tobacco, cigars, pipe tobacco, and snuff. The measure, which would also place a 75 percent excise tax on vaping products and require health insurers, including the state’s Medicaid program, to cover tobacco cessation counseling, moves to Gov. Charlie Baker (R) for consideration (STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE [BOSTON]). The PENNSYLVANIA Senate approves SB 79, a bill that would incrementally raise the Keystone State minimum wage to $9.50 by Jan. 1, 2022. The measure moves to the House (PATRIOT-NEWS [HARRISBURG]).

Education: The MASSACHUSETTS House and Senate approve SB 2412, a bill that would reformulate how Bay State school districts receive state money by directing more to those serving students living in poverty or with language barriers. The measure, which would also require each school district to submit a three-year plan detailing how the money will be spent, moves to Gov. Charlie Baker (R) for consideration (STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE [BOSTON]).

Environment: CALIFORNIA Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) imposes a moratorium on new hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and steam-injected oil drilling in the Golden State until the permits for those projects can be reviewed by an independent panel of scientists (CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR’S OFFICE).

Health & Science: The MASSACHUSETTS House and Senate unanimously approve HB 4210, which would extend MassHealth coverage until age 26 for young adults formerly in Department of Children and Families custody, require insurers to maintain accurate online provider directories, and create several commissions to study other youth-related health topics. It moves to Gov. Charlie Baker (R) for consideration (STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE [BOSTON]). The ILLINOIS House and Senate approve SB 667, a bill that would cap the out-of-pocket cost for insulin at $100 for a 30-day supply. The bill moves to Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D), who is expected to sign it into law (CHICAGO TRIBUNE). The COLORADO Supreme Court unanimously rules that a person who is sentenced to probation can use medical marijuana unless there’s evidence that it would counter the goals of a sentence. The court said a lower court’s ruling that barred such use violated the state constitution (DENVER POST). WISCONSIN Gov. Tony Evers (D) vetoes AB 76, a bill that would have prohibited state health officials from requiring nurses to exceed 75 hours of training (WISCONSIN NEWS [EAU CLAIRE]).

Social Policy: The MASSACHUSETTS House and Senate overwhelmingly approve HB 4203, which would ban Bay State drivers from talking on a handheld device while behind the wheel. It moves to Gov. Charlie Baker (R), who is expected to sign it into law (STATE HOUSE NEWS [BOSTON]). A federal judge in CALIFORNIA rules that a Trump administration rule that allows any health care workers, from doctors to receptionists, to refuse to provide abortions or other procedures for religious or moral reasons is unconstitutional. The decision follows similar rulings in courts in NEW YORK and WASHINGTON (SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE). NEW YORK Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signs SB 3419, a bill that allows adult adoptees, their descendants or legal representatives to obtain a certified copy of their original birth certificate (ASSOCIATED PRESS). The PENNSYLVANIA Senate approves HB 321, which would ban abortions performed solely because of a prenatal diagnosis of Down Syndrome. The bill heads to Gov. Tom Wolf (D), who has previously said he would veto any bill that restricts abortion rights in the Keystone State (PENNLIVE.COM).

Local Front: The BALTIMORE City Council approves a new regulation that bans retailers from offering plastic bags to customers at checkout. The new law allows retailers to use small plastic bags to wrap deli products, meats and fish (FOXBALTIMORE.COM). The SAN DIEGO City Council approves a rule that will require massage parlors to obtain a permit from local law enforcement, which will then have the power to regulate those establishments. The permits will be required starting Jan. 1 (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE). The STOCKTON City Council approves a new rule that bars landlords from evicting tenants without cause and imposes a cap on rent hikes. Under the new rules, landlords will be able to evict someone only if they fail to pay rent, breach their lease agreement, are a nuisance, or commit a crime (CBS [SACRAMENTO]).

-- Compiled by RICH EHISEN

Once Around the Statehouse Lightly

High Noon for Civility: It’s not news that our political and social discourse has taken a turn toward the crude, rude and – in years past anyway – socially unacceptable. It’s easy to blame he who shall not be named, but he’s hardly the only one who too often loses control of their mouth...or their Twitter fingers. Which is why New York film producers Bobbie Birleffi and Beverly Kopf are doing something about it. As the Wyoming Tribune Eagle reports, the Equality State was the locale for the pilot episode of a new documentary series called “High Noon in America,” which features conversations between folks “whose values, beliefs and ideologies are diametrically opposed to see if they can find common ground.” The episode featured former U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis and current state Rep. Tyler Lindholm, both Republicans, chatting with Teton County Commissioner Natalia Macker and University of Wyoming professor Jacquelyn Bridgema, Democrats. While no earth-shattering conclusions were reached, nobody screamed at anyone either. Baby steps, people, baby steps. 

They Are Definitely On...Something: You have to give South Dakota credit for knowing how to get the public’s attention, even if it can be for the wrong reasons. As the Sioux Falls Argus Leader reports, Gov. Kristi Noem has unveiled the state’s new anti-meth campaign, and it’s a doozy. It isn’t every day, after all, that a campaign to stop drug abuse would have the tagline “Meth. I’m On It.” No, really. Noem pushed back against what should have been the anticipated social media ridicule, saying the goal is to get everyday South Dakotans to accept there is a problem to solve and to get on it. All fine and good, though we’re not sure how Noem could miss the obvious double meaning here. Then again, this is the same state that five years ago had to pull a campaign to discourage drivers from overreacting on icy roads that had the epic tagline “Don’t Jerk and Drive.”

Geaux Tigers: If you wonder how important football is in certain parts of the country, I submit the recent razor thin re-election of Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards. Some folks credit that win to a general sense of good feeling in the Pelican State over the ascension of the LSU Tigers to the top of the college football rankings. What? But wait, as the New York Times reports, the man himself thinks there’s something to all this. As Edwards told the NYT: “It is an easier state to govern when the Saints and LSU are winning. People are just in a better mood.” Much was made leading up to the election of the support Republican Eddie Rispone was getting from national Reeps, including President Donald Trump. But you might say Edwards trumped all that by getting the endorsement of an even more popular person with Louisianans – LSU football head coach Ed Orgeron. Geaux Tigers!

-- By RICH EHISEN