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California Wildfires Headed to Capitol Hill

  Lawmakers thought they fixed the U.S. Forest Service’s “fire borrowing” problem earlier this year. But the breadth and intensity of fires scorching the West this year is likely to prompt the agency to raid other accounts one last time before budgetary changes go into effect in fiscal 2020.

The issue could come to a head once again on Capitol Hill in the coming weeks and months, as lawmakers and the administration weigh the need for another infusion of taxpayer dollars ahead of the midterm elections — and California’s devastating fires have already become a campaign issue.

To continue reading the full text of this article please go to RollCall.com

Governor’s Signing Deadline Causes Confusion in Maine, Other States

Maine’s Supreme Court recently sided with the state’s legislature in a bitter and odd dispute over the Governor’s signing deadline and whether Republican Gov. Paul LePage had waited too long to take action on a group of 65 bills. Because the Governor took too long to take action on the bills, they took effect without his signature per the state’s constitution. This was seen as a big win for Democrats in the legislature, who have long had a contemptuous relationship with the Tea Party affiliated Governor. Earlier this year, LePage had pledged to veto all bills presented to him that were sponsored by Democrats. The unanimous decision by the state’s highest court found that Governor LePage misinterpreted the state constitution, thinking it allowed him more than 10 days to veto the bills, and that the bills will take effect without his signature. A full list of the bills in question can be found here.

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Are Tax Incentives for the Film and Television Industries Worth the Cost?

A number of states began to enact film and television production incentives in the early 2000s to encourage in-state film production as a way of boosting their economies. The earliest states to offer such packages were Louisiana and New Mexico, both hoping to attract film business that had begun to flee to Canada for their tax breaks and favorable exchange rates. This phenomenon of “runaway production,” grew rapidly from just a few states in 2002 to its peak in 2010, where a total of 42 states, plus the District of Columbia, were offering incentives. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 39 states and Puerto Rico have tax incentives of some sort provided to the film and television industries as of 2014.

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Florida Special Session

The Florida Legislature will reconvene August 10 for a 12-day special session, during which they will attempt to redraw the state’s congressional districts. This session marks the second time that lawmakers will redraw the lines in as many years due to legal challenges and comes almost a year to the date since the last redistricting. The Florida Supreme Court threw out the current map – itself a response to a circuit court judge’s ruling – on July 9, on the grounds that it favored Republicans and incumbents in violation of the Fair Districts Amendment to the Florida Constitution that voters passed in 2010.

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Alabama Special Session

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) on Thursday called for a special session of the Alabama Legislature to begin July 13. Lawmakers adjourned on June 4 without passing a budget for the General Fund, which provides for most state government functions besides education.

The fund is poised to miss its mark by at least $200 million in the coming fiscal year, and new taxes supported by the governor to address this hole failed to secure the legislature’s approval during the regular session. The legislature previously passed a reduced budget which Bentley vetoed. One possible source of revenue is the $2.3 billion Deepwater Horizon settlement from BP that the state accepted last week, $1 billion of which will go to General Fund over the next 18 years. The governor’s full press release can be read here.

States Take Wait and See Approach on Fracking Regulation

A debate over how and whether to regulate hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is gaining momentum in state legislatures and municipal councils across the country. Fracking refers to the method of extracting natural gas from shale rock embedded within the earth by injecting water, sand and a mixture of chemical additives deep into the ground at high pressures. The mixture breaks through rock to allow oil and gas to flow to the surface. Evolving technologies in this process have not only made fracking easier, but also much less expensive. These cuts in price have led to a shale revolution across the states, one that has completely changed the shape of the United States energy economy.

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Supreme Court Upholds Nationwide Healthcare Subsidies

This morning the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Obama administration in the case of King v. Burwell, the most recent challenge to the Affordable Care Act. The main issue at hand was whether the Internal Revenue Service could permissibly promulgate regulations to extend tax-credit subsidies to coverage purchased through federally funded exchanges. The language in Section 1401 of the Affordable Care Act says that federal tax credits should go to those who bought health insurance through “an exchange established by the state,” and the court Justices determined that in spite of this language healthcare subsidies are permissible nationwide.

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California Special Session

Governor Jerry Brown (D-CA) has called the legislature for a special session on Friday, June 19th.

Caltrans, the state’s Transportation Department, is currently underfunded and the Governor is calling the legislature back to adopt a permanent fix. The current fuel excise tax revenues provide $2.3 billion to Caltrans to make repairs, whereas the agency says they need at least $5.7 billion to make necessary repairs. The Governor is asking the legislature to permanently adopt “pay-as-you-go” funding to replace the current method which sees the California General Fund provide assistance for the funding shortage. The full text of the Governor’s proclamation can be found here.

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South Carolina Special Session

The South Carolina legislature will enter a three day special session beginning Tuesday, June 16th.  South Carolina’s fiscal year begins on July 1st, but the legislature has yet to approve a budget.  Much of the special session will be spent on transportation related issues. Democrats want more money to be allocated for road improvements and a raise on the gasoline tax. In addition, the state has $400 million more in revenue than projected so lawmakers will have to find ways to spend it.  Lastly, ride share company Uber, which has been operating on a temporary license, will lobby to have permanent changes made to the South Carolina Department of Transportation. Uber’s current license is set to end on June 30th.

Minnesota Special Session

The Minnesota Legislature will convene a special session on Friday, June 12th, at 10:00 AM. The legislature will debate six appropriation bills which they failed to pass during the regular session. One of the major votes will be around the agricultural and environmental appropriation bill. Legislators are unsure if they have the votes to pass the measure according to the Grand Forks Herald. Immediate impacts of failing to pass the bill would include barring the State Parks service from taking new reservations for camping.   The proclamation ordering the special session can be found here.

Support Growing for Juvenile Incarceration Reform

Juvenile incarceration has become an increasing problem amongst state legislatures. The case of Kalief Browder, who was 16 years old when he was arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack in 2010, is a perfect example. Unable to pay the $10,000 bail, Browder spent a confirmed 1,000 days at Rikers Island awaiting trial. Eventually in 2013 his case was dismissed and for years after he suffered mental and emotional turmoil, as well as multiple suicide attempts. Browder took his own life on Saturday, June 6 at the age of 22, reported The New Yorker. This is just one among the many high profile juvenile incarceration injustices that are forcing states to re-examine their use of lengthy out-of-home placements in the juvenile justice system.

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North Dakota Legislature will Reconvene

The North Dakota Legislature will reconvene on Tuesday, June 16, 2015 to debate Senate Bill 2022, the appropriations bill for the North Dakota Public Employees Retirement System (NDPERS). The Grand Forks Herald is reporting that the legislators have come to an agreement on the bill and it is expected to pass. The dispute focused on the board which oversees NDPERS which approved a change to its health insurance contractor.

The press release from the North Dakota Legislature is below:

Posted June 10, 2015 – 10:48am
The Legislative Management, pursuant to North Dakota Century Code Sections 54-03-02 and 54‑35‑16, voted to issue a call for the 64th Legislative Assembly to reconvene at 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday, June 16, 2015.

New Mexico Special Session

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez (R-NM), has called a special session of the New Mexico Legislature to convene at noon on June 8, 2015. The purpose of the special session is to address four bills which failed to receive final passage before the adjournment of the legislature. The purpose of the four bills to account for different spending and taxation numbers for FY 2015. The first bill would change many provisions of the Revenue and Taxation Department. The second bill will allow the issuance of severance bonds. The third bill provides supplemental appropriations to the Department of Health and the Administrative Office of the Courts. The final bill is the legal authorization for the lawmakers to get paid for the daylong session. The GOP controls the House while the Democrats control the Senate.

The full text of the proclamation can be found here.

States Expand Voter Registration in 2015

The trend of allowing citizens to register to vote online has been quickly sweeping through state legislatures over the past two years. Online voter registration follows the same process as traditional paper-based registration, however the application is hosted on a website, not a physical paper copy, and is submitted electronically to election officials. The form is then validated by comparing the information on the online registration form against the information provided on an individual’s driver’s license or state identification card, according to NCSL. This method of registration boasts reduced costs, enhanced government efficiency, and voter lists that are more inclusive and accurately representative of the populous.

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Arkansas Special Session

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has officially called a special session of the state legislature that will begin on May 26.  Lawmakers have been asked to consider providing incentives to bring a Lockheed Martin project to the company’s Camden, Ark. production facility. The proposal would make use of the legislature’s Amendment 82 authority to use the state’s general revenue budget to issue bonds to finance economic development projects. Lockheed Martin has expressed interest in building 5,500 Joint Light Tactical Vehicles at the Camden facility and Hutchinson’s office says the project would create nearly 600 new jobs. However the project would be contingent on the company winning a U.S. Army contract to build the vehicles.

The legislature is also expected to vote on a minor change to the state’s DWI law that is needed to prevent a loss of federal highway funding, and it will debate moving Arkansas’ primary elections from May to March.

Florida Special Session

A special session of both houses of the Florida state legislation will begin on June 1 at 1 pm and conclude on June 20 at 11:59 pm. Legislators are returning to Tallahassee to forestall a shutdown of the state government that could occur if lawmakers fail to pass a budget by the end of June. Debate over Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act hampered previous attempts to come to an agreement. The leaders of the House and Senate announced that in addition to health care, the session will address tax cuts and bills that were due for conference before the regular session was cut short by the House adjourning in April. A statement from the office of Senate President Andy Gardiner can be read here.

Budget Gaps Hit States Hard

In the fifth year of an economic recovery since the recession, states are still struggling to balance their budgets, as an unexpected trend of deficits has emerged despite the current overall successes of the nation’s economy. According to the Associated Press at least 22 states project shortfalls for the coming fiscal year, posing serious challenges for state governments both red and blue. These deficits range from the relatively small, in states such as Vermont and Rhode Island, with deficits of $17 and $34 million respectively, to large states like Illinois with a gaping $6 billion hole that somehow needs to be filled. Unlike the federal government, states cannot legally run a deficit. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that 49 states have statutory and constitutional provisions mandating budgets are balanced, Vermont being the only exception. This often forces state officials to make aggressive tax cuts to government-funded programs or borrow from “rainy day funds.”

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E-cigarettes Regulations Stumps States

E-cigarettes are a nearly $2 billion industry that has operated largely outside the scope of federal regulators since its inception. E-cigarettes are battery-operated products designed to deliver nicotine, flavor and other chemicals by turning nicotine into an aerosol that is inhaled by the user, known as “vaping”. Since these products generally do not contain tobacco, e-cigarettes currently fall outside the jurisdiction of most traditional state laws regulating tobacco products. Due to this lack of regulation, state legislatures, the U.S. Congress, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have been exploring means of regulation via indoors use bans, tobacco taxes, and sales bans.

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Idaho Governor Butch Otter has called a Special Session

Idaho Governor Butch Otter (R) has called a special session of the state’s legislature. During the session, which convenes Monday, May 18, the legislature will consider changes to the state’s child support program. The proposed bill, which was tabled shortly before the regular session adjourned, would amend existing laws relating to the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (UISFA). State officials have stated that the passage of such legislation is imperative, as the state could potentially lose $16 million in federal funding for failing to maintain compliance with UIFSA. The full statement from the governor’s office can be read here.

For related information, please see FiscalNote.com