May 07, 2006
Legislative Trends and Tensions: Year to Date
State Net Capital Journal's most recent report includes an overview of state legislative trends so far this year. Among the highlights are: Maryland's requirement that major employer pay 8% of wages toward employee health benefits; Massachusetts' universal healthcare program; Washington State's ban on phosphates in dishwashing detergents; South Dakota's near-total ban on abortions; eminent domain amendments post-Kelo; lobbying reform post-Abramoff; limits on disruptions of funerals (such as those created by anti-gay church members from a Kansas church); energy assistance; minimum wages; and use of deadly force to protect homes. Also of note--some states have significant budget surpluses, including Wyoming, Washington and Utah (reported to have better than $1 billion each).
As to tensions: two stories stand out. There is reportedly a deep division within the Virginia legislature regarding funding strategies for major transportation improvements (the Senate wants to pay for them through tax hikes and the House strongly objects). Governor Timothy Kaine is preparing an executive order that would declare police, prisons, and hospitals among other state agencies as "necessities of government" that would continue operating in the event of a budget impass on July 1. Lawmakers and academics disagree on whether the Governor would have power to exercise executive authority in this way. If the Governor acts in this way, various legal challenges are predicted:
"Employees at agencies not deemed essential, for example, could be inclined to ask a court to force Kaine to keep their agency open. Previous situations like this in other states offer little guidance for how a court might respond.
Legal scholars say it is unlikely that any court will order all of government to be either shut down or kept open, and judges are usually unwilling to make judgment calls that are normally left to politicians. A similar stalemate in KENTUCKY in 2004, for instance, left the Bluegrass State without a budget for months. In that case, the courts simply sat on the challenge to the governor's authority until the dispute was resolved in the Legislature. The judge then declared the case moot. (WASHINGTON POST)
Finally, Governor Jeb Bush of Florida had his own tangles with legislative colleagues regarding his proposal to seek voter approval of an expanded voucher programs allowing use of public money to send children to private schools, after a recent Florida Supreme Court decision ruled a 1999 voucher program unconstitutional The Republican-controlled State Senate rejected the proposal by a single vote, and the Republican majority leader (who opposed the measure) was subsequently stripped of his office by the State Senate president. The Senate is expected to take up an alternative bill.
January 23, 2006
Blogs re State Capitols and more
Wisconsin (where I went to college) has an outstanding Legislative Research Service website which includes podcasts on topics of interest to legislatures and others. Glad to see the coming thing and the commitment to the public. Recent subjects of podcasts include federal preemption of state law and the public trust doctrine.
Residency Requirements for Public Employees
It's been the practice in a number of places to require local government employees (particularly teachers and public safety officers) to reside within city limits. The justifications are generally given in terms of building strong ties between such personnel and community members, and helping build loyalty and a stronger tax base. The Ohio House has just passed legislation that would limit the power of local governments to impose such requirements. The Columbus Dispatch has a related story.
The bill (SB 82 as amended) passed the Senate previously. Legislative analysis has raised the question whether the new provisions violate the Ohio constitutional provisions relating to home rule. The bill was opposed by the Ohio municipal league.