Round-up of this week's noteworthy legislation
A lot has been happening this week in state legislatures as many congressional sessions are coming to a close. Some states are still hashing it out, hoping to not cut too much time out of their summer recesses. Here's a quick round-up of what's been passed, what hasn't been passed, and what's still being fought over in the states.
EDUCATION - Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania, legislators are a tad bitter over the failure to get a school voucher bill passed. The bill would have created a statewide voucher program, using tax dollars to subsidize private school tuition. With the session ending, leaders in the PA House and Senate weren’t able to reach an agreement about the bill in time. Now they’ll have to wait until after their summer recess. Maybe this is a blessing in disguise. Maybe while on vacation, legislators will come to their senses and realize that private school subsidy money would be better applied to improving public schools. Why pay for a few more kids to go to private school, when you could put that money toward making public schools better for all kids? Just a thought.
ENVIRONMENT - New Jersey
New Jersey democrats are adamant about continuing the state’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Governor Christie said last month that he wants out of this pact. Nine other states are part of the RGGI, and the goal is for those states to remain committed to reducing their emissions of greenhouse gases. A bill has been passed by both chambers of the New Jersey legislature, which requires the state to stick with the RGGI. It’s pretty obvious that Christie will veto this bill. But there’s another bill working it’s way through Congress, stating that Christie’s decision to withdraw from RGGI is in conflict with Congress’ commitment to end global warming. Props to the NJ legislators who aren’t giving up on this one! Too bad Governor Christie doesn’t seem to value honoring commitments and keeping promises.
REPRODUCTIVE FREEDOM - Iowa
Due to the Iowa state legislature’s inability to agree on Medicaid abortions, the state budget has still not been passed and the legislative session is being extended even further (it’s already the third-longest session in Iowa history). The current policy, which has been in place since 1978, allows state-funded Medicaid abortions at University hospitals. But republican legislators are opposed, and they’re not budging. This is just one example of the war on women being waged by state governments across the country. Kansas is on the verge of having to close it’s last two abortion clinics, Ohio is voting on a fetal heartbeat bill, and several states like Wisconsin and Texas are no longer funding Planned Parenthood. When the heck will this country realize that women deserve the freedom to make their own decisions??
WORKERS’ RIGHTS - New Hampshire
Wednesday night, a pension reform law went into effect in New Hampshire. Thursday morning, lawsuits were already being filed. Public employees unions are suing over the fact that the law requires workers to make higher pension contributions, as well as the fact that the law scales back on worker benefits. Another lawsuit was filed by the New Hampshire Retirement System (NHRS), the organization that is supposed to be making these kinds of decisions. They are arguing that the legislature had no right to step into their territory and regulate what is usually regulated by the NHRS. Sounds like the state kinda did step over the line with this one. But I’m no judge; we’ll see what the court says.
LGBT RIGHTS - Rhode Island
Both chambers of the Rhode Island congress have passed a same-sex civil union bill, and it’s ready to be signed by Governor Lincoln Chafee, who has already indicated that he’ll sign it. Many LGBT advocacy groups, however, are pushing for Chafee to veto the bill and for the congress to work towards a full fledged marriage equality bill instead. And they’re probably right; the civil union bill has several flaws. For example, the “religious exemption” clauses go a little too far. Under the bill, religious hospitals would be able to refuse to allow a civil union partner to make emergency medical decisions. I guess you could say civil unions are better than nothing. But let's hope this is just a temporary stepping stone before Rhode Island joins in the triumph of marriage equality.
CIVIL RIGHTS - South Carolina
South Carolina is the latest to hop on the anti-immigration bandwagon. This week, Governor Nikki Haley signed a bill modeled after the notorious Arizona anti-immigrant bill. This bill requires police officers to ask to see the papers of anyone who they suspect may be undocumented. It also requires adults to have official identification on them at all times. It’s estimated that it will cost the state $84 million to implement and enforce the law, which is set to go into effect January 1st. Civil rights organizations are already planning their attacks against this law in the court. If this anti-immigration craze continues, the ACLU will certainly have their work cut out for them for the next several years.
And an update on anti-union legislation...
In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker’s anti-collective bargaining law goes into effect today. The controversial law is a massive blow to union workers’ rights, and has spawned recall elections of some state senators. The bill was initially marketed as a necessary measure to balance the state budget, but now a lot of legislators and residents are feeling lied to. Keep fighting, Wisconsinites!
Let's end on a positive note, shall we? Good news for the fight against Ohio SB5! A record number of signatures have been collected for the petition to put SB5 on the ballot. Boxes of signatures were delivered to Secretary of State Jon Husted’s office yesterday. About 1.3 million signatures were collected. That means 1 out of 6 registered Ohio voters signed. Only 231,000 signatures are needed to get a referendum. Those Ohioans are such overachievers.
That's all folks! Enjoy the long weekend (unless you're a congressman)!