Tag Archives: state legislatures

Danger list: A look at the Republican agenda for 2017

Republicans emerged from the November elections holding their greatest level of power in decades. Not only will Republicans control the White House and Congress, but the GOP also will hold 33 governors’ offices and have majorities in 33 state legislatures. A look at the GOP agenda for state legislative sessions.

ABORTION

• Ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

• Ban dilation and extraction abortions, a procedure more commonly used in the second trimester.

• Lengthen the time women must wait to have an abortion after receiving counseling about its effects.

• Block government funding from going to abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood.

BUSINESSES

• Reduce or eliminate corporate income taxes.

• Relax business regulations and professional licensing requirements.

EDUCATION

• Expand the availability of vouchers, scholarships or tax credits that allow taxpayer money to cover K-12 tuition costs at private schools.

• Expand opportunities for charter schools.

GUNS

• Allow people with concealed gun permits to carry weapons on college campuses.

• Reduce the costs for concealed gun permits and ensure that permits from one state are recognized elsewhere.

•  Allow people to carry concealed guns without needing permits or going through training.

LAWSUITS

• Limit how much money plaintiffs can win in medical malpractice and personal injury cases.

• Restrict where lawsuits can be filed in an attempt to prevent plaintiffs from bringing suit in jurisdictions perceived to be favorable.=

• Restrict who can qualify to provide expert witness testimony.

• Reduce the rates used to calculate interest on monetary judgments.

UNIONS

• Enact right-to-work laws, which prohibit workplace contracts that have mandatory union fees.

• Restrict the collective bargaining powers of public employee unions.

• Require members of public employee unions to annually affirm their desire for dues to be deducted from paychecks.

• Curtail or repeal prevailing wage laws, which set minimum pay scales on public construction projects.

On the Web

Pew’s Stateline reports.

 

 

Study identifies 12 most wasteful highway projects in U.S.

A new study by the United States Public Interest Research Group Education Fund and Frontier Group identifies the most wasteful highway projects across the country, slated to collectively cost at least $24 billion.

The study details how despite massive repair and maintenance backlog and in defiance of America’s changing transportation needs, state governments continue to spend billions each year on new and wider highways.

The study shows how some of the projects are “outright boondoggles.”

“Many state governments continue to prioritize wasteful highway projects that fail to effectively address congestion while leaving our roads and bridges to crumble,” said John Olivieri, national campaign director for 21st century transportation at the U.S. PIRG and co-author of the report.

“This in turn saddles future generations with massive repair and maintenance backlogs that only grow more painful and expensive to fix the longer we wait to do so,” he noted.

The report says these are examples of waste:

• I-95 Widening, Connecticut, $11.2 billion. Widening the highway across the entire state of Connecticut would do little to solve congestion along one of the nation’s most high-intensity travel corridors, while further investment in rail infrastructure has long been overdue.

• Tampa Bay Express Lanes, Florida, $3.3 billion. State officials admit that a decades-old plan to construct toll lanes would not solve the region’s problems with congestion, while displacing critical community job-training and recreational facilities.

• U.S. 20 widening, Iowa, $286 million. Hundreds of millions of dollars that could pay for much-needed repairs to existing roads are being diverted to widen a road that does not need expansion to handle future traffic.

• Paseo del Volcan extension, New Mexico, $96 million. A major landholder is hoping to get taxpayer funding to build a road that would open thousands of acres of desert to sprawling development.

• State Highway 45 Southwest, Texas, $109 million. Building a new, four-mile, four-lane toll road would increase traffic on one of the most congested highways in Austin and increase water pollution in an environmentally sensitive area critical for recharging an aquifer that provides drinking water to 2 million Texans.

• San Gabriel Valley Route 710 tunnel, California, $3.2 billion to $5.6 billion. State officials are considering the most expensive, most polluting and least effective option for addressing the area’s transportation problems: a double bore tunnel.

• I-70 East widening, Colorado, $58 million. While replacing a crumbling viaduct that needs to be addressed, Colorado proposes wasting millions of dollars widening the road and increasing pollution in the surrounding community.

• I-77 Express Lanes, North Carolina, $647 million. A project that state criteria say does not merit funding is moving forward because a private company is willing to contribute; taxpayers will still be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars.

• Puget Sound Gateway, Washington, $2.8 billion to $3.1 billion. The state is proposing to spend billions of dollars on a highway to relieve congestion in an area where traffic has not grown for more than a decade, and where other pressing needs for transportation funding exist.

• State Highway 249 extension, Texas, $337 million to $389 million. The Texas Department of Transportation relies on outdated traffic projections to justify building a 30-mile six-lane highway through an area already suffering from air quality.

• Portsmouth bypass, Ohio, $429 million. Despite roads across Ohio being in dire need of repair, the state Department of Transportation is embarking upon its most expensive project ever: building a new road to bypass a 20,000-person city where driving is decreasing.

• Mon-Fayette Expressway extension, Pennsylvania, $1.7 billion. A new toll road long criticized because it would damage communities is moving forward in an area where residents are calling instead for repairs to existing roads and investment in transit improvements.

Recent federal data show that more than 61,000 bridges or roughly one in 10 are structurally deficient nationwide. While other data show that states are overwhelming investing scarce transportation dollars in expansion rather than repair — collectively spending 20.4 billion (55 percent) expanding 1 percent of the current system, while spending just 16.5 billion (45 percent) repairing and maintaining the other 99 percent.

At the same time, the research shows states are failing to account for changing transportation trends, especially among millennials.

“America’s long-term travel needs are changing, especially among Millennials, who are driving fewer miles, getting driver’s licenses in fewer numbers, and expressing greater preferences to live in areas where they do not need to use a car often,” said Tony Dutzik senior policy analyst at the Frontier Group.

“Despite the fact that millennials are the nation’s largest generation, and the unquestioned consumers of tomorrow’s transportation system, states are failing to adequately respond to these changing trends,” he added.

The study recommends states:

• Adopt fix-it-first policies that reorient transportation funding away from highway expansion and toward repair of existing roads and bridges;

• Invest in transportation solutions that reduce the need for costly and disruptive highway expansion projects by improving and expanding public transit, biking, and walking options;

• Give priority to funding transportation projects that reduce the number of vehicle-miles people travel each year, thereby also reducing air pollution, carbon-emissions, and future road repair and maintenance needs;

The report also looks back at the 11 highway “boondoggles” identified in 2014, including in Wisconsin.

Since that original report came out, several states revisited plans to expand and build new highways. The Trinity Parkway project in Dallas was revised from a six-lane road to a more limited four-lane road and the proposal to create a double-decker tunnel for I-94 in Milwaukee was postponed for the foreseeable future. Also, the Illiana Expressway, a proposed $1.3 billion to $2.8 billion toll-way intended to stretch from I-55 in Illinois to I-65 in Indiana was placed on indefinite hold.

“Investing so heavily in new and wider highways at a time when so much of our existing infrastructure is in terrible disrepair is akin to putting an extension on your house while the roof is leaking. It just doesn’t make any sense,” said Olivieri.

Stalled progress for women in state legislatures

With Hillary Clinton likely to top the Democratic presidential ticket in 2016, it might seem as if women are finally coming into their own politically. And in some ways, they are: Female candidates for state legislative seats were just as likely to win as their male competitors in 2015.

The challenge is getting them to run.

A quarter of the nation’s state legislators are women. That’s up dramatically from the 5 percent figure of the early 1970s. But the percentage hasn’t budged much in more than a decade, prompting many to question what can be done to encourage more women to seek state elective office.

Sixty percent of female state legislators are Democrats, while 40 percent are Republicans. More than a third of Democratic state legislators are women, compared to less than a fifth of Republicans. Given those disparities, Republican gains at the state level over the past decade may be one reason the overall percentage of women in state legislatures has been stuck at 25 percent.

Party leaders are less likely to recruit female candidates — and women are less likely than men to run without being asked. Many younger women worry about balancing a political career with family obligations. And because Republicans have been less successful in recruiting female candidates, that party’s recent dominance at the state level has contributed to the stalled progress.

It may not take a woman to speak up on issues that are important to women, but state legislators and researchers who have studied the issue say regardless of party, women often bring a different working style and more varied life perspectives to the legislative arena, in addition to a stronger focus on women, children and family issues.

“Women bring different perspectives and considerations,” said Kira Sanbonmatsu, a Rutgers University professor who studies women in politics.

Many political observers have credited women with helping to end the 2013 federal government shutdown, generally describing women as better at setting aside egos to get work done.

But even with the good qualities they may bring to politics, women tend to be more hesitant to seek office.

Recruited to run

Another challenge is that it takes more time to convince female recruits to take the plunge, which means recruiters have to be determined — and patient.

Many recruited women delay candidacies because they worry about how their families will be affected, especially if their children are young. Even as men take on a greater share of family responsibilities, research shows that in most households, women still bear the heavier load.

Some state legislatures are full-time while others are part-time, but the structure of the legislature doesn’t have much impact on the percentage of female members. Either way, it’s a time commitment that many women are reluctant to make.

Emerge America, created by Democrats to recruit like-minded women into office, has established campaign schools in 14 states. Emerge Maryland Director Diane Fink said she has seen women with all kinds of family situations go through the program and make sacrifices to serve — including one woman who interviewed for the program only to give birth later that night.

“If it means sitting there half in labor to get the training you want, that’s what you do,” Fink said.

American University, in Washington, D.C., runs a similar program, WeLead, for young women of both parties, but promoting the campaign spirit early is no guarantee they’ll run.

“Some want to work on other campaigns, or be a lobbyist or be a campaign consultant,” she said of the participants. “Even in a politically active group of women, the desire to run is not universal.”

Sidelined

The percentage of female state legislators varies widely from state to state—but in no state do women make up close to 50 percent.

States legislatures in the conservative South, where traditional gender roles hold greater sway, have the lowest percentages of women.

Until recently, Republican Sen. Katrina Shealy was the only woman in the South Carolina Senate. Shealy said most of her colleagues have been respectful — but not all of them. Shealy’s said her neighbor on the Senate floor, Republican Sen. Tom Corbin, often made comments to her, once joking about her wearing shoes, saying women should be barefoot and pregnant. During a dinner where reporters were present, he referred to women as a “lesser cut of meat.”

In legislatures with few women, those who are elected say they are more likely to be kept on the sidelines.

While they may be present at committee meetings, women may not always be part of the socializing that takes place outside of the statehouse, where many informal decisions are made.

“There are a lot of networking and social situations where you get a lot of information and you can get a lot of support to get your bills passed,” said Rep. Cathy Connolly, the only woman in the Wyoming Senate.

Her colleague, Democratic State Sen. Bernadine Craft, agreed. Craft said a female colleague in the House complained to her about returning to a committee meeting after a quick break, only to find her male colleagues had made some informal decisions on legislation. 

“She joked, ‘Have you guys moved these meetings to the men’s room because if so maybe I should come too,’ ” Craft said.

Fierce legislative campaigns expected in 2016 elections

With the November 2016 elections just one year away, Republicans, Democrats and outside groups are preparing for expensive battles over state legislative seats.

Increasing activity by independent groups could push next year’s campaign fundraising totals past those of previous election cycles. Since 2006, contributions to state legislative candidates have ranged between $900 million and $1 billion.

In some states, control of a chamber is at stake. In others, parties are seeking to gain or thwart a supermajority. Elsewhere, one party is merely looking to cut into the other’s majority. Some of the states expected to attract the most legislative interest in the coming year.

In Wisconsin, Democrats are hoping for gains in the Senate in a state currently under full Republican control. The GOP’s Senate majority stands at 19-14.

In other states …

Arizona:

– Republicans control both chambers but hold a relatively slim 17-13 majority in the Senate, creating an opportunity for Democrats.

California:

– Democrats are just one Senate seat and two Assembly seats away from gaining the two-thirds supermajorities needed to raise taxes, pass emergency legislation and override gubernatorial vetoes without the need for any Republican votes.

Colorado:

– Both the House and Senate are up for grabs. Republicans currently hold an 18-17 Senate majority while Democrats hold a 34-31 House advantage.

Florida:

– Republicans hold sizeable House and Senate majorities, but Democrats are hoping to pick up some seats as part of a long-range goal of gaining control of one chamber before the 2021 redistricting.

Illinois:

– Democrats currently hold a three-fifths supermajority in both chambers needed to override vetoes of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. A gain of just one House seat by Republicans would wipe that out.

Iowa:

– Republicans are targeting the Senate, where Democrats currently hold a 26-24 majority that provides them a check against a Republican House and governor. Democrats, meanwhile, are targeting the GOP’s 56-43 House majority.

Kentucky:

– Republicans, who already have a sizeable Senate majority, are hoping to flip the House, where Democrats are defending a 54-46 majority.

Maine:

– Democrats, who control the House, will be looking to regain the Senate majority they lost to Republicans in 2014. The GOP currently controls the upper chamber 20-15.

Massachusetts:

– Democrats have solid supermajorities in the Legislature. But national Republicans have set a goal of chipping away at those to make it harder for Democrats to get the two-thirds majority needed to override vetoes of Republican Gov. Charlie Baker.

Michigan:

– Republicans currently control both chambers and the governorship. The Democrats’ best chance for gains is in the House, where the GOP has a 61-46 majority.

Minnesota:

– Both chambers are in play, although it will take decent gains to flip either one. Democrats currently hold a 39-28 Senate majority while Republicans hold a 72-62 House advantage.

Missouri:

– Democrats will be trying to chip away at Republican supermajorities in both chambers, which the GOP has used to ding Democrat Jay Nixon with the distinction as the governor with the most overridden vetoes in state history.

Montana:

– Democrats are targeting both chambers, although Republicans hold a 29-21 Senate majority and 59-41 House majority.

Nevada:

– Democrats are looking to wrest control from Republicans, who currently hold an 11-10 Senate majority and 25-17 majority in the Assembly.

New Hampshire:

– Both chambers are controlled by Republicans, but Democrats are looking for gains in a presidential election year that typically bodes well for them. The House has a history of frequent flips in party control.

New Mexico:

– Political parties will be battling over both chambers. Republicans currently hold a 37-33 House majority while Democrats have a 25-17 majority in the Senate.

New York:

– Democrats, who already hold a commanding House majority, are looking to reverse a slim Republican majority in the Senate.

North Carolina:

– Republicans hold supermajorities in both chambers, but Democrats are hoping to cut into those margins as part of a long-term goal of controlling at least one chamber by the next round of redistricting.

Ohio:

– Republicans hold a roughly two-thirds majority in both chambers, but Democrats are looking to regain seats in the House, where they lost the majority in the 2010 elections.

Oregon:

– National Republicans are targeting both legislative chambers with hopes of cutting into Democratic majorities that currently stand at 18-12 in the Senate and 35-25 in the House.

Pennsylvania:

– Republicans hold majorities in both chambers but have targeted their 120-83 House advantage as a defensive priority against potential Democratic gains.

Vermont:

– With an open governor’s race also on the ballot, Republicans are targeting both legislative chambers with a goal of chipping away at sizeable Democratic majorities.

Washington:

– Both chambers are in play in the closely divided Legislature. Republicans currently hold a 26-23 Senate majority, thanks partly to one Democrat who caucuses with them, while Democrats control the House 51-47.

West Virginia:

– Democrats are looking to regain the Senate after Republicans wrested control of both chambers from them following the 2014 elections. The GOP holds a slim 18-16 Senate majority but has a comfortable House advantage.

U.S. businesses uniting to oppose anti-LGBT legislation in states

Major U.S. corporations this week launched a statement by businesses speaking out against an onslaught of anti-LGBT legislation being considered in states around the country, including measures to sanction discrimination on the basis of religious beliefs.

The statement, circulated by the Human Rights Campaign, calls on public officials to defeat or abandon efforts to enact anti-LGBT measures at the state level and offers business leaders an opportunity to join the campaign.

In a recent op-ed for The Washington Post, Apple CEO Tim Cook decried pro-discrimination laws as dangerous and called on business leaders to speak up.

Joining Apple and Cook in the statement for equality are American Airlines, Inc.; Levi Strauss & Co; Microsoft Corp.; Orbitz Worldwide; Replacements, Ltd; ​Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc.; Symantec Corporation; and Wells Fargo & Company.

And the list continues to grow.

“Business leaders have made it abundantly clear that these anti-LGBT bills undermine their core values and set dangerous precedents that stifle investment and economic growth,” said HRC president Chad Griffin in a news release. “Anti-equality lawmakers who value corporate investments in their state should sit up, pay attention, and abandon these bills attacking LGBT people.”

The statement that businesses and business leaders are signing says:

“Corporate leaders are speaking out against bills that could allow individuals and businesses to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and other minorities — several versions of which are actively being considered in states across the country.

This proposed legislation is bad for business.

• Equality in the workplace is a business priority to foster talent and innovation, and these state laws undermine this core value.

• These state laws set a dangerous precedent that stifles investment and economic growth by jeopardizing a state’s status as a welcoming place for employees to live and thrive, undermining the success of a business at large.

• It is unreasonable for job creators to recruit a diverse workforce from states that encourage businesses to discriminate against our community of employees or consumers.

• While these bills won’t alter our commitment to equality in the workplace, this legislation sends the wrong message about the states in which we operate and threatens our core corporate commitment to respect all individuals. 

On the Web …

Businesses and business leaders wishing to sign on the statement can download a PDF at http://goo.gl/gKEic2.

Abortion opponents push new bills in state legislatures

Buoyed by conservative gains in the November 2014 election, foes of abortion are mobilizing on behalf of bills in several state legislatures that would further curtail women’s access to the procedure.

On both sides of the debate, activists are highlighting their hopes and concerns in conjunction with today’s 42nd anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 that established a nationwide right to abortion.

Coinciding with the annual March for Life in Washington, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives had planned a debate today on a bill that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy on the disputed premise that a fetus can feel pain at that stage. However, the House leadership decided late Jan. 21 to scrap those plans after objections from Republican women and other lawmakers left them short of votes.

Several proposed bills at the state level may have a better chance of enactment.

Notable among them is a first-of-its-kind measure being drafted in Kansas, with the backing of the National Right to Life Committee, which would ban doctors from using forceps, tongs or other medical implements to dismember a living fetus in the womb to complete an abortion.

Proponents have titled the bill the Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act and say it targets a procedure used in about 8 percent of abortions in Kansas. “Dismemberment abortion kills a baby by tearing her apart limb from limb,” said National Right to Life’s director of state legislation, Mary Spaulding Balch, who hopes the Kansas bill will be emulated in other states.

Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri has vowed to fight the bill “every step of the way.” “Kansas women are smart enough to make their own decisions about their families and their lives,” said a Planned Parenthood spokeswoman, Elise Higgins.

Among other measures surfacing in state legislatures:

• Bills in West Virginia and South Carolina that would — like the measure in the U.S. House — ban abortions after 20 weeks of gestation. A similar bill was vetoed in West Virginia last year by Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, but Republicans now control both chambers of the legislature and may have better prospects for overriding another veto.

• A bill in Arkansas that would require women seeking abortion-inducing medication to take it in the presence of a doctor. Supporters of the bill say they want to prevent any instances of abortion medication being administered from afar by a physician using video conferencing technology.

• A bill in Mississippi that would increase the minimum waiting time from 24 hours to 72 hours before a woman could obtain an abortion.

• A bill in Missouri that would require pregnant women to get permission from the fathers before having abortions, except in cases of rape and incest.

• Several anti-abortion measures are expected in Tennessee, where voters in November overturned a court ruling holding that abortion was protected by the state constitution as part of a woman’s fundamental right to privacy.

According to abortion rights groups, about 230 laws restricting abortion have been enacted nationwide in the past four years.

Activists on both sides of the issue suggest there might be fewer such bills winning approval this year, in part because some conservative states already have adopted the most common restrictive laws and in part because of political caution by GOP leaders in swing states.

“There are some politicians who’d rather not take a position on any controversial issue, especially when they’re looking for higher office,” said Spaulding Balch.

Jennifer Dalven, who directs the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project, suggested that some of the Republican governors and other GOP leaders eying presidential runs in 2016 may shy away from backing some of the toughest anti-abortion measures.

“Politicians are starting to understand this is politically toxic,” she said. “They can’t win if they are seen as wanting to take this decision out of women’s hands.”

Several of the most sweeping measures passed by state lawmakers in recent years have been blocked by court rulings and remain in limbo. These include a Texas law imposing regulations that could force many abortion clinics to close, an Arkansas law that would ban most abortions after 12 weeks and a North Dakota law that could ban abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy.