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State of the States: Virginia and Wyoming Legislatures Adjourn

It’s the last day of February, and already two states have wrapped up their legislative business for the year.

The top headline coming out of the Virginia General Assembly (which convened Jan. 9 and adjourned Feb. 24) was a historic transportation plan. It had been decades since Old Dominion lawmakers changed the methods by which Virginia funds transportation projects. And with commuters in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads suffering through some of the worst traffic in the nation, the new plan’s results could make or break careers.

Under the last-minute deal, the fixed 17.5-cents-per-gallon gas tax will be replaced by a 3.5 percent wholesale fuels tax indexed for inflation. Additional funds will be raised by increasing the sales tax on items other than food from 5 percent to 5.3 percent; increasing regional taxes in NoVa and Hampton; and rerouting some funds that had been appropriated for public safety and schools. Advocates of the deal have highlighted the “tax more, spend less” compromise as a model for Congress to follow.

While transportation led the coverage, other issues — some important, some a bit more trivial — also won headlines.  Virginia joining a growing list of states led by Republican governors that decided to accept the Medicaid expansion offered through the Affordable Care Act.

Among the items the legislature did not pass: Gov. Bob McDonnell’s effort to privatize the liquor retail business and legislation by Del. Robert Marshall (R) to consider establishing a new currency for the state. Legislators also defeated a number of gun control measures, including an effort to close the “gun show loophole” and legislation restricting ownership of assault weapons and large magazines.

Meanwhile, legislators in Wyoming (who were in session Jan. 8 through Feb. 27) fought over their own gun control and Medicaid legislation right up until the end.

After failing to advance a pair of House bills, senators amended legislation designed to limit the state’s bison population so that the bill would block efforts by the federal government to limit ownership of large-caliber weaponry. Though the bill passed, its constitutionality remains in question and Gov. Matt Mead, a Republican, has yet to sign it.

While approving some changes to the state-run Medicaid system, the legislature voted to block Mead from expanding the system without lawmakers’ approval. According to the Casper Star-Tribune, Mead has never expressed any intention to accept the optional expansion.

Wyoming remains among a handful of states that ban lotteries. That would change if Mead signs a bill that would permit a Equality State lottery as well as multistate lotteries such as Powerball or Mega Millions, but not scratch-off games.

Washington State Leads the Way With Online Bill Commenting System

Kudos to Washington state legislators for launching E-Comment, a pilot program allowing registered users to more easily share their opinions on pending legislation with lawmakers. As we read on Social Capital Review, the commenting system kicked off last week and will run through the 2013 legislative session.

While we acknowledge this is just the public testing stage and admire the state’s willingness to lead the way, we’d like to see the legislature take some steps to make the system easier to use.

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Connecting Individuals, Creating Communities

Quick hit from Al Gore, discussing his new book The Future – Six Drivers of Global Change today on Morning Joe:

Transcript:

I honestly believe…that one of the healing forces for our politics is the progressive shift towards the Internet. And I say that…in spite of the fact that people associate the internet with all of this vitriol.

Actually I think that it empowers individuals to connect with one another and to pursue reason and logic and to lift up ideas that gain support from larger groups of people.

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Bringing in the Best of the Web

It’s been a frustrating reality of advocacy for a long time now. And we’ll admit, we weren’t exactly helping things for the last few years. While we delivered more than 25.5 million messages to the hill in 2011, we did so with a clunky interface, one with a singular goal in mind – to allow your users to deliver their opinions to the Hill.

The problem is, or good news for the rest of us, the web continued to evolve as Capwiz marched on delivering messages to Capitol Hill. It’s with that in mind that we created CQRC Engage.

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