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West Virginia 2nd Special Session

West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin (D) has called a special session of the state’s legislature. During the session, which convened on Monday, May 19, the legislature will consider various actions to correct errors in and omissions from bills passed in the regular session. Issues under consideration include removing unintended changes to minimum wage and overtime pay rules, appropriating up to $4.7 million in state funds for the Courtesy Patrol Fund, and other supplemental budget measures.

States Making Progress to Opt Out of Affordable Care Act

A fight is brewing in one of the smallest states that will have big implications for how health care is funded in the rest of the nation. In 2011, Vermont enacted Act 48, which laid the foundations for what is to become ‘Green Mountain Care,’ a publically-financed, single-payer health care system intended to cover all citizens of the state. Several other states have also begun to follow suit, with Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and the U.S. Congress all currently in the process of considering proposals.

The act takes advantage of a little known provision of the ACA, Section 1332, which allows states to effectively opt out of the controversial act beginning in 2017 if certain standards are met. Specifically, states that opt out must provide coverage that is at least as comprehensive and affordable to a comparable number of residents without raising the federal deficit.

According to Tess Taylor, Vermont’s former House Assistant Majority Leader and current Executive Director of The VT CURE, a non-profit advocacy group leading an effort to promote GMC, “This is a paradigm shift in the way we deliver health care to Vermonters.” Says Taylor, “It will require all parties, legislators, administrators, health care providers and Vermont citizens, to understand and support Green Mountain Care. We know that this is a heavy lift, and the VT CURE, alongside everyday Vermonters, is committed to seeing it through.”

The next step to obtaining the waiver comes in 2015, when the legislature will be asked to adopt a funding mechanism meant to shift the cost of health care from the backs of small business and more fairly and evenly distribute it across Vermont taxpayers. In 2017, Vermont will require the Section 1332 federal waiver that was set up in the Affordable Acre Act to allow the enactment of Green Mountain Care.

The state led the nation on major national issues such as the abolishment of slavery, marriage equality and most recently the labeling of GMOs and is looking to do so again. If successful in clearing the current hurdles needed to implement GMC, it will again be able to claim the first in the nation title de facto. However, Vermont is not the first state legislature to push a single-payer system into law. Two other states were able to successfully pass single-payer bills through the legislature, however administrative hurdles also derailed them on their path to implementation:

California’s legislature successfully passed SB 840 in both 2006 and 2008, a proposal that would have implemented a single-payer style health care system in the nation’s largest state. Then-Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed the bill both times. Though it has been reintroduced in each successive legislative session, the bills have yet to see the same progress as previous iterations.

Hawaii Act 11 of 2009 created the Hawaii Health Authority, to be tasked with establishing a health plan for all individuals in the state. After overriding the veto of then-Republican Gov. Linda Lingle, the Governor refused to implement the bill and it has languished since. Current Governor, Democrat Neil Abercrombie, stated earlier this year that implementing single-payer was the ‘ultimate goal’ for health care reform in the state.

Introducing Connectivity from CQ Roll Call

Earlier this month CQ Roll Call introduced Connectivity, a new blog on issue advocacy and engagement, bringing much-needed coverage to the vital and fast-changing aspect of political activism.

connectivityLaunching this blog was a natural fit for the company. CQ Roll Call has long been a provider of the best tools for managing advocacy campaigns — first with Capwiz and Knowlegis and more recently through our powerful new Engage platform. Connectivity will draw upon that experience, the resources of the CQ Roll Call newsroom, and the knowledge of our editorial advisory board to identify best practices, new trends and the key players in the advocacy world. Through guest-authored posts, the blog also will provide professionals a place to share their know-how and gain insight from the larger advocacy community.

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Mississippi Special Session

A special session has been called by Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant to begin at 1 p.m. on Thursday, May 8, 2014 so that lawmakers can find a way for the state to pay its share of $20 million in recovery costs following the series of tornadoes that hit residents in late April.

“Residents across Mississippi are suffering as a result of last week’s deadly tornadoes, and it is imperative that we provide the necessary resources for response and recovery,” Bryant said in a statement. “I am hopeful the Legislature will appropriately address the funding needs for this most recent disaster and will provide a sustainable method for satisfying responsibilities the state has for ongoing work from other disasters.”

During that time, 23 tornadoes hit the state, according to the National Weather Service, killing 14, and leaving behind several counties in need of services offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). State and local governments are expected to provide a one-eighth match to money spent by FEMA. In addition to paying some administrative costs, initial estimates of state costs already surpass $13.5 million as damage assessments are still ongoing.

Evoking Prohibition Era Tactics, Lawmakers Look to Keep ‘Dry’ Powdered Booze Off Shelves

Earlier this month, the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) granted label approval for a new product that immediately caused a firestorm across national media outlets. The product? Powdered alcohol, or palcohol, a powdered substance manufactured in several distinct flavors meant to mimic spirits or cocktails and only requires the addition of water or your favorite mixer to create a refreshing alcoholic beverage on the go. Predictably, the outrage was immediate and intense, leading TTB to rescind approval only, claiming it was an error that approval was granted in the first place. However, this does not mean that the product will not be put on the market eventually, it simply requires the manufacturer, Lipsmark LLC, to reformulate the products packaging and subsequently re-apply to the Alcohol Trade Bureau for approval. Should the product be re-approved, further outrage is to be expected.

Powdered alcohol has already been for sale for years in several other liberal democracies, including Germany, Japan and the Netherlands. However, given the nations tumultuous history with alcohol, from prohibition to the current binge drinking culture that exists on college campuses across the nation, it’s unsurprising that the reaction to a new, more discreet way of imbibing alcohol would be looked down upon by the general public.

While some have dismissed powdered alcohol as simply a new marketing gimmick, lawmakers in several of the states that are still in session this late in the year, always eager to curry favor with constituents, have begun to take steps to keep this product off the market and out of the hands of children should it eventually hit the shelves.

On Tuesday, Minnesota Rep. Joe Atkins introduced HF 3364, which would make it unlawful for any person or business to possess, purchase, sell or use powdered alcohol, however it contains an exemption for hospitals and other similar institutions for the purpose of scientific research. The bill is currently pending in the House Commerce and Consumer Protection Finance and Policy Committee. Minnesota is scheduled to adjourn for the biennium in just under 20 days, making the bill unlikely to become law this year.

Similarly, Vermont Senate lawmakers also moved quickly to tack an amendment onto another alcohol related bill, S. 299, which would direct the Commission or Liquor Control alongside the Department of Health to study the product, and make sale and possession of powdered alcohol illegal until the study is completed in January of 2015. Unlike the proposal in Minnesota, Vermont’s has teeth, and sharp ones at that, creating a two year jail penalty for those convicted of selling the product. Also unlike the Minnesota proposal, Vermont’s is very likely to pass prior to the legislatures sine die adjournment.

With most states out of session until 2015, when a new biennium begins, expect this to be an issue that legislators will pounce on to regulate, similar to the way e-cigarette regulation has been handled and the state level following their meteoric rise in popularity in 2013.