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Connecticut Special Session

Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy (D) has called a special session of the state’s general assembly. During the session, which convenes Monday, June 29, the legislature will propose adjustments to the state budget, after weeks of complaints from state businesses concerning anticipated tax hikes. The narrowly passed budget included approximately $1.5 billion in tax increases. Additionally, the legislature will consider a bond package and two criminal justice bills.

Supreme Court Upholds Nationwide Healthcare Subsidies

This morning the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Obama administration in the case of King v. Burwell, the most recent challenge to the Affordable Care Act. The main issue at hand was whether the Internal Revenue Service could permissibly promulgate regulations to extend tax-credit subsidies to coverage purchased through federally funded exchanges. The language in Section 1401 of the Affordable Care Act says that federal tax credits should go to those who bought health insurance through “an exchange established by the state,” and the court Justices determined that in spite of this language healthcare subsidies are permissible nationwide.

Were the court to decide with the plaintiffs, an estimated 6.4 million people would have lost their subsidies in 34 states that use the federal health care marketplace, which could have potentially tripled their premiums. According to a report by The New York Times, the status of roughly 166,000 people in Nevada, New Mexico and Oregon was also at risk because those states had intended to run their own marketplaces, but now rely on the federal government for management.

Luckily for states like Florida, which relies most heavily on the federal subsidies, with eight percent of the population under 65 receiving subsidies, the subsidies will stand. Georgia, Maine, Montana and North Carolina are also in the clear with six percent of the population under 65 receiving subsidies.

States such as California, Colorado, Connecticut, Idaho, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington have their own exchanges already and would not have been affected by a negative ruling.

The effect of an adverse decision would have not only hurt those currently receiving subsidies in the federal marketplaces, but would extend to people who buy their own insurance without subsidies as well by surging prices and reducing choices for health insurance shoppers regardless of income.

The 6-3 decision was written by Chief Justice John Roberts, and joined by Justice Anthony Kennedy and the more liberal justices. This is a major victory for the Obama administration, who had no backup plan were the justices to vote adversely.

California Special Session

Governor Jerry Brown (D-CA) has called the legislature for a special session on Friday, June 19th.

Caltrans, the state’s Transportation Department, is currently underfunded and the Governor is calling the legislature back to adopt a permanent fix. The current fuel excise tax revenues provide $2.3 billion to Caltrans to make repairs, whereas the agency says they need at least $5.7 billion to make necessary repairs. The Governor is asking the legislature to permanently adopt “pay-as-you-go” funding to replace the current method which sees the California General Fund provide assistance for the funding shortage. The full text of the Governor’s proclamation can be found here.

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South Carolina Special Session

The South Carolina legislature will enter a three day special session beginning Tuesday, June 16th.  South Carolina’s fiscal year begins on July 1st, but the legislature has yet to approve a budget.  Much of the special session will be spent on transportation related issues. Democrats want more money to be allocated for road improvements and a raise on the gasoline tax. In addition, the state has $400 million more in revenue than projected so lawmakers will have to find ways to spend it.  Lastly, ride share company Uber, which has been operating on a temporary license, will lobby to have permanent changes made to the South Carolina Department of Transportation. Uber’s current license is set to end on June 30th.

Minnesota Special Session

The Minnesota Legislature will convene a special session on Friday, June 12th, at 10:00 AM. The legislature will debate six appropriation bills which they failed to pass during the regular session. One of the major votes will be around the agricultural and environmental appropriation bill. Legislators are unsure if they have the votes to pass the measure according to the Grand Forks Herald. Immediate impacts of failing to pass the bill would include barring the State Parks service from taking new reservations for camping.   The proclamation ordering the special session can be found here.

Support Growing for Juvenile Incarceration Reform

Juvenile incarceration has become an increasing problem amongst state legislatures. The case of Kalief Browder, who was 16 years old when he was arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack in 2010, is a perfect example. Unable to pay the $10,000 bail, Browder spent a confirmed 1,000 days at Rikers Island awaiting trial. Eventually in 2013 his case was dismissed and for years after he suffered mental and emotional turmoil, as well as multiple suicide attempts. Browder took his own life on Saturday, June 6 at the age of 22, reported The New Yorker. This is just one among the many high profile juvenile incarceration injustices that are forcing states to re-examine their use of lengthy out-of-home placements in the juvenile justice system.

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North Dakota Legislature will Reconvene

The North Dakota Legislature will reconvene on Tuesday, June 16, 2015 to debate Senate Bill 2022, the appropriations bill for the North Dakota Public Employees Retirement System (NDPERS). The Grand Forks Herald is reporting that the legislators have come to an agreement on the bill and it is expected to pass. The dispute focused on the board which oversees NDPERS which approved a change to its health insurance contractor.

The press release from the North Dakota Legislature is below:

Posted June 10, 2015 – 10:48am
The Legislative Management, pursuant to North Dakota Century Code Sections 54-03-02 and 54‑35‑16, voted to issue a call for the 64th Legislative Assembly to reconvene at 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday, June 16, 2015.

New Mexico Special Session

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez (R-NM), has called a special session of the New Mexico Legislature to convene at noon on June 8, 2015. The purpose of the special session is to address four bills which failed to receive final passage before the adjournment of the legislature. The purpose of the four bills to account for different spending and taxation numbers for FY 2015. The first bill would change many provisions of the Revenue and Taxation Department. The second bill will allow the issuance of severance bonds. The third bill provides supplemental appropriations to the Department of Health and the Administrative Office of the Courts. The final bill is the legal authorization for the lawmakers to get paid for the daylong session. The GOP controls the House while the Democrats control the Senate.

The full text of the proclamation can be found here.

States Expand Voter Registration in 2015

The trend of allowing citizens to register to vote online has been quickly sweeping through state legislatures over the past two years. Online voter registration follows the same process as traditional paper-based registration, however the application is hosted on a website, not a physical paper copy, and is submitted electronically to election officials. The form is then validated by comparing the information on the online registration form against the information provided on an individual’s driver’s license or state identification card, according to NCSL. This method of registration boasts reduced costs, enhanced government efficiency, and voter lists that are more inclusive and accurately representative of the populous.

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Arkansas Special Session

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has officially called a special session of the state legislature that will begin on May 26.  Lawmakers have been asked to consider providing incentives to bring a Lockheed Martin project to the company’s Camden, Ark. production facility. The proposal would make use of the legislature’s Amendment 82 authority to use the state’s general revenue budget to issue bonds to finance economic development projects. Lockheed Martin has expressed interest in building 5,500 Joint Light Tactical Vehicles at the Camden facility and Hutchinson’s office says the project would create nearly 600 new jobs. However the project would be contingent on the company winning a U.S. Army contract to build the vehicles.

The legislature is also expected to vote on a minor change to the state’s DWI law that is needed to prevent a loss of federal highway funding, and it will debate moving Arkansas’ primary elections from May to March.

Florida Special Session

A special session of both houses of the Florida state legislation will begin on June 1 at 1 pm and conclude on June 20 at 11:59 pm. Legislators are returning to Tallahassee to forestall a shutdown of the state government that could occur if lawmakers fail to pass a budget by the end of June. Debate over Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act hampered previous attempts to come to an agreement. The leaders of the House and Senate announced that in addition to health care, the session will address tax cuts and bills that were due for conference before the regular session was cut short by the House adjourning in April. A statement from the office of Senate President Andy Gardiner can be read here.

Budget Gaps Hit States Hard

In the fifth year of an economic recovery since the recession, states are still struggling to balance their budgets, as an unexpected trend of deficits has emerged despite the current overall successes of the nation’s economy. According to the Associated Press at least 22 states project shortfalls for the coming fiscal year, posing serious challenges for state governments both red and blue. These deficits range from the relatively small, in states such as Vermont and Rhode Island, with deficits of $17 and $34 million respectively, to large states like Illinois with a gaping $6 billion hole that somehow needs to be filled. Unlike the federal government, states cannot legally run a deficit. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that 49 states have statutory and constitutional provisions mandating budgets are balanced, Vermont being the only exception. This often forces state officials to make aggressive tax cuts to government-funded programs or borrow from “rainy day funds.”

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E-cigarettes Regulations Stumps States

E-cigarettes are a nearly $2 billion industry that has operated largely outside the scope of federal regulators since its inception. E-cigarettes are battery-operated products designed to deliver nicotine, flavor and other chemicals by turning nicotine into an aerosol that is inhaled by the user, known as “vaping”. Since these products generally do not contain tobacco, e-cigarettes currently fall outside the jurisdiction of most traditional state laws regulating tobacco products. Due to this lack of regulation, state legislatures, the U.S. Congress, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have been exploring means of regulation via indoors use bans, tobacco taxes, and sales bans.

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Idaho Governor Butch Otter has called a Special Session

Idaho Governor Butch Otter (R) has called a special session of the state’s legislature. During the session, which convenes Monday, May 18, the legislature will consider changes to the state’s child support program. The proposed bill, which was tabled shortly before the regular session adjourned, would amend existing laws relating to the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UISFA). State officials have stated that the passage of such legislation is imperative, as the state could potentially lose $16 million in federal funding for failing to maintain compliance with UIFSA. The full statement from the governor’s office can be read here.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee has called a Special Session

Washington Governor Jay Inslee has called a special session of the state legislature after lawmakers acknowledged this week that they would not reach a budget deal by the April 26 deadline. The session, which begins April 29, will last 30 days and will focus on continued negotiations over how the two-year budget will fund increases in public education spending that have been mandated by the state’s supreme court. The Democratic-controlled House supports creating new tax revenues while the Republican-controlled Senate is arguing that current tax revenues are sufficient. Washington’s fiscal year begins on July 1 and the state could face a government shutdown if no deal is reached by then. In addition to the budget, legislators are expected to consider a transportation package that would raise the state’s gasoline tax by nearly 12 cents per gallon to fund road and bridge projects.

Alaska Governor Bill Walker has called a Special Session

Alaska Governor Bill Walker has called a special session of the state legislature after lawmakers were only able to pass a temporary budget that will last until the fall. While the Democrats are minorities in both legislative chambers, they have been able to slow up the process because the Republican proposal would require a withdrawal from the constitutional budget reserve, a rainy day fund that requires a three-quarters vote in each chamber to access. Democrats are hoping to use this leverage to force concessions on Republican-supported education funding cuts. In addition to the budget, the legislature is expected to debate Medicaid expansion and a bill known as “Erin’s Law” that would establish sexual abuse prevention programs in schools .

Concierge Medicine Poses Problems for State Regulators

One of the main effects of the Affordable Care Act has been that it’s incited substantial changes to the health care system, among them the required inclusion of certain essential benefits, such as maternal care, newborn services and preventative care. In turn, these new mandated benefits have led to a spike in the use of primary care services and providers. According to a report by the United Health Center for Health Reform and Modernization, the ACA has created 25 million more annual primary care visits to already stressed primary care physicians. In response to the rising costs of health care and increased primary care physician workload, an alternative and privatized option for health care has developed over the past 20 years known as concierge medicine.

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A Twofold Approach to Federal Emission Standards

Greenhouse gas emissions have been a hot topic for states since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its controversial Clean Power Plan in June 2014. The plan, which aims to reduce carbon pollution from power plants by 30 percent by 2030, has been met with a variety of responses at the state level to either conform with or resist these standards. Under the rules, each state would be required to provide the EPA with its own plan for cutting emissions from power plants within its borders by June 2016. The rules are expected to be finalized and promulgated by the EPA by mid-summer.

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States Consider Renewable Portfolio Standards for Debate in 2015

As the use of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, have taken off across the U.S. in recent years, so too have state-based legislative policies that promote and incentivize growth in these burgeoning sectors. To this effect, many states have been actively adopting and tailoring policies that invest in new and alternative green energy technologies in order to benefit their own economies and the environment at the same time. The most popular among these policies has been the adoption of renewable portfolio standards, or RPS standards. Currently, 38 states and the District of Columbia have adopted these standards, and they remain an active topic of debate in committee chambers and on the floors of numerous state legislative chambers.

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Broadband Expanding in Wake of FCC Ruling

Last week the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took two controversial votes that are likely to affect the nation’s broadband landscape for decades to come, assuming that the rules are not struck down in the courts, where they are likely to be challenged. While the so-called ‘net neutrality’ ruling had been widely publicized and spurred its own grassroots campaign to urge the Commission to approve the measure, the other far less publicized ruling is likely to have a much bigger impact on the average Internet user. In this ruling, the FCC struck down numerous statewide bans on municipally owned cable and broadband providers.

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