State Net Capitol Journal: More Hot - And Reheated - Issues For States In 2013

State Net Capitol Journal: More Hot - And Reheated - Issues For States In 2013

Last week, SNCJ took a look at some of the most pressing issues facing states in 2013. Here are a few more, some of which are either ongoing considerations for state lawmakers or matters likely placed square on their radars by last month's elections.

VOTER ID - According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, voter ID measures - backed mostly by Republican lawmakers - were introduced in 32 states in 2012, which isn't too surprising for an election year. Only four of those measures were enacted, however: Pennsylvania HB 934; New Hampshire SB 289, by a legislative override of Gov. John Lynch's (D) veto; Minnesota HB 2738; and Virginia (HB 9/SB 1). And Minnesota's measure - which sought voter approval to impose its requirements - was rejected by that state's electorate, while Pennsylvania's law was held up by a legal challenge. Evidence also suggests that the more restrictive recent voter ID laws, which some Democrats and voting rights groups have contended were designed to suppress turnout among young and minority voters who tend to vote Democratic, actually spurred turnout of those voters.

Still, voter ID doesn't appear to be a dead issue in the states. Montana state Rep. Ted Washburn (R) has filed draft legislation for next session (D 239) that would make Montana driver's licenses, state ID cards and tribal ID cards the only acceptable forms of voter photo identification, according to the Huffington Post. The Times-Republican has reported that Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz (R) intends to seek legislation creating a signature verification process for absentee ballots. Virginia state Del. Mark Cole (R) has prefiled legislation (HB 1337) to eliminate utility bills, bank statements and paychecks from the list of allowable forms of identification included in the voter ID law the state enacted last year, according to the Virginian-Pilot. And even a Democrat has jumped on the voter ID bandwagon, Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller, who has proposed using the state's DMV database to verify voters, the Las Vegas Review-Journal has reported. Another state to keep an eye on, according to NCSL's Jennie Drage Bowser, is Arkansas. Republicans, who introduced but failed to pass a voter ID bill there in 2011, claimed the majority in both legislative chambers in last month's election and could revisit the issue next year, she said.

The U.S. Supreme Court has also agreed to hear a challenge to Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act, which requires sixteen states with a history of racial discrimination in voting to pre-clear changes to their election laws with the federal government. The provision was central to the U.S. Justice Department's successful challenge to restrictive voter ID laws in Florida, South Carolina and Texas this year, and if it is overturned by the high court's conservative majority - which some veteran court watchers say is likely - a slew of even more restrictive voter ID laws could follow.

GAY MARRIAGE - Until last month's elections, voters had consistently chosen over the last decade-and-a-half to prohibit gay marriage when given the choice, approving 30 of the 31 constitutional bans placed on state ballots since 1998. (Arizona voters narrowly rejected a ban on gay marriage and civil unions in 2006 but approved a ban on gay marriage alone in 2008.) But that virtually unbroken streak came to an abrupt end on Nov. 6 when Maine voters approved a citizen initiative (Question 1) legalizing same-sex marriage rather than banning it; Maryland and Washington voters passed referendums approving legislative measures legalizing gay marriage, Question 6 and R-74, respectively; and Minnesota voters rejected a constitutional amendment (Amendment 1) defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

Those results signified a seismic shift on the issue, although a change NCSL's Bowser said had been coming for some time, with voters having been moving in that direction since 2005 when "yes" votes banning gay marriage peaked. Same-sex marriage advocates have said they plan to pursue their cause mainly in state legislatures and the courts rather than at the ballot box now with few states likely to be appropriate battlegrounds for future ballot fights, given their expense and organizational demands. Among the states where they see potential for legislative gains are Delaware; Hawaii; Illinois; Minnesota; Rhode Island; and New Jersey, where Gov. Chris Christie (R) vetoed a bill legalizing gay marriage earlier this year.

TRANSPORTATION/INFRASTRUCTURE FUNDING - In June Congress passed a long-term transportation bill for the first time since 2005. Although the measure (HR 4348) does more than just extend federal transportation funding at current levels - as Congress had done nine times since the last long-term transportation bill expired nearly three years ago - it still relies mainly on revenue from the federal gas tax, which has remained at 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993 and is projected to fall between $85 billion and $115 billion short of states' needs by 2021, if current spending levels continue.

Federal inaction on the transportation funding bill had spurred more than half of the states to take on the issue themselves before the passage of HR 4348, including Illinois, which approved a $1.6 billion transportation funding package. The ever-widening gap between the supply of federal dollars and the demand of states' aging transportation systems under the current funding system is likely to force other states to act. The uphill battle New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) have faced in trying to obtain federal disaster relief for Hurricane Sandy from a Congress focused on the federal deficit and "fiscal cliff" demonstrates both that the states' federal funding problem extends to their broader infrastructure needs and that the situation is unlikely to change any time soon.

UNION RIGHTS - The expected push for right-to-work laws in Republican-dominated states after Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) signed HB 1001 in February making that state the first in a decade to adopt legislation allowing workers to avoid paying union dues even if a union bargains on their behalf never really materialized, presumably because of the recall backlash against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) and GOP lawmakers over their union-unfriendly efforts there.

There have been some significant developments over the course of the year, however, most notably Walker surviving his recall election in June. Right-to-work measures have also been enacted in two additional states: South Carolina (HB 4652) and Tennessee (HB 1605 and SB 2821). Whether those developments will be enough to induce other stats to take on labor remains to be seen.

Some of the results from last month's elections suggest that the winds of fortune may have shifted in labor's direction after blowing at it head-on for much of the last two years. Union support helped Democrats take control of the state legislatures in Maine and Minnesota. In Michigan, unions succeeded in repealing a law allowing financially troubled cities to suspend collective bargaining contracts. And in California, they defeated a ballot measure (Proposition 32) that would have barred them from using union dues collected through payroll deductions for political purposes. They also achieved their top Election Day goal: re-electing President Obama.

But in traditionally labor-friendly Michigan, unions lost a first-ever ballot effort to make collective bargaining a constitutional right (Proposal 12-2). That failed effort has actually given rise to a move in the state's Republican controlled Legislature to pass a right-to-work law.

PENSION REFORM - Pension reform definitely lived up to its billing as a hot issue this year. Legislation pertaining to pensions was introduced in every state but six - Arkansas, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin - and enacted in 33, according to data compiled by State Net.

California lawmakers passed a major pension reform bill (AB 340) on the last day of the legislative session. Among other things, that measure will increase the retirement age for new employees, cap annual payouts and require new workers to cover at least half of their retirement costs.

Major pension reform looked to be coming to Illinois as well when a measure approved by the Senate last year - SB 1673 - cleared a House committee in mid-May. But after a controversial provision shifting teacher pension costs onto schools was removed from the bill, it failed to come up for a vote of the full House before the session ended on May 31.

With states facing a collective unfunded pension liability estimated at $2.9 trillion, according to a recent report by The States Project, a joint venture of Harvard University's Institute of Politics, the University of Pennsylvania's Fels Institute of Government, and the American Education Foundation, pension reform will likely be coming to Illinois and many other states next year.

- By KOREY CLARK

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