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Washington Governor Jay Inslee has called a Special Session

Washington Governor Jay Inslee has called a special session of the state legislature after lawmakers acknowledged this week that they would not reach a budget deal by the April 26 deadline. The session, which begins April 29, will last 30 days and will focus on continued negotiations over how the two-year budget will fund increases in public education spending that have been mandated by the state’s supreme court. The Democratic-controlled House supports creating new tax revenues while the Republican-controlled Senate is arguing that current tax revenues are sufficient. Washington’s fiscal year begins on July 1 and the state could face a government shutdown if no deal is reached by then. In addition to the budget, legislators are expected to consider a transportation package that would raise the state’s gasoline tax by nearly 12 cents per gallon to fund road and bridge projects.

Alaska Governor Bill Walker has called a Special Session

Alaska Governor Bill Walker has called a special session of the state legislature after lawmakers were only able to pass a temporary budget that will last until the fall. While the Democrats are minorities in both legislative chambers, they have been able to slow up the process because the Republican proposal would require a withdrawal from the constitutional budget reserve, a rainy day fund that requires a three-quarters vote in each chamber to access. Democrats are hoping to use this leverage to force concessions on Republican-supported education funding cuts. In addition to the budget, the legislature is expected to debate Medicaid expansion and a bill known as “Erin’s Law” that would establish sexual abuse prevention programs in schools .

Concierge Medicine Poses Problems for State Regulators

One of the main effects of the Affordable Care Act has been that it’s incited substantial changes to the health care system, among them the required inclusion of certain essential benefits, such as maternal care, newborn services and preventative care. In turn, these new mandated benefits have led to a spike in the use of primary care services and providers. According to a report by the United Health Center for Health Reform and Modernization, the ACA has created 25 million more annual primary care visits to already stressed primary care physicians. In response to the rising costs of health care and increased primary care physician workload, an alternative and privatized option for health care has developed over the past 20 years known as concierge medicine.

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A Twofold Approach to Federal Emission Standards

Greenhouse gas emissions have been a hot topic for states since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its controversial Clean Power Plan in June 2014. The plan, which aims to reduce carbon pollution from power plants by 30 percent by 2030, has been met with a variety of responses at the state level to either conform with or resist these standards. Under the rules, each state would be required to provide the EPA with its own plan for cutting emissions from power plants within its borders by June 2016. The rules are expected to be finalized and promulgated by the EPA by mid-summer.

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States Consider Renewable Portfolio Standards for Debate in 2015

As the use of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, have taken off across the U.S. in recent years, so too have state-based legislative policies that promote and incentivize growth in these burgeoning sectors. To this effect, many states have been actively adopting and tailoring policies that invest in new and alternative green energy technologies in order to benefit their own economies and the environment at the same time. The most popular among these policies has been the adoption of renewable portfolio standards, or RPS standards. Currently, 38 states and the District of Columbia have adopted these standards, and they remain an active topic of debate in committee chambers and on the floors of numerous state legislative chambers.

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Broadband Expanding in Wake of FCC Ruling

Last week the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took two controversial votes that are likely to affect the nation’s broadband landscape for decades to come, assuming that the rules are not struck down in the courts, where they are likely to be challenged. While the so-called ‘net neutrality’ ruling had been widely publicized and spurred its own grassroots campaign to urge the Commission to approve the measure, the other far less publicized ruling is likely to have a much bigger impact on the average Internet user. In this ruling, the FCC struck down numerous statewide bans on municipally owned cable and broadband providers.

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States Look to Fill Pot Holes and Budget Holes

States are facing three major hurdles to filling their transportation and infrastructure coffers in 2015: continued fallout from the recession, crumbling infrastructure and an increase in the utilization of alternative transportation fuels. Much of the current funding for state infrastructure needs comes from two sources – federal funding and state gas taxes. Pressure has been on both federal and state lawmakers to raise their respective gas taxes in order to shore up infrastructure maintenance, but the move remains unpopular among the public despite plummeting gas prices.

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Medicaid Expansion Again Takes Center Stage

As in years past, Medicaid expansion is quickly shaping up to be the top health policy issue in many of the states this year and the one that state legislators will undoubtedly spend the most time debating. One of the key provisions of the ACA, or Obamacare, was an expansion of the federal government’s Medicaid program to cover all those under 65 who make less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) on an annual basis. As a result of the 2012 Supreme Court case National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, states were granted the right to choose whether or not they would participate in this expansion. Most blue states chose to do so, while most red states have been vehemently opposed.

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Legislative Dockets Across the Nation Packed for 2015 Sessions

Bolstered by their overwhelming success in the 2014 elections, Republicans have charged into 2015 prepared to harness their strength for significant reform across diverse policy platforms. Republicans now hold total control in 24 states, 31 total governorships and 68 of the 98 partisan legislative chambers, up from their control of 59 chambers last year. Democrats hold total control in just seven states, down from last year’s claim on 13 states.

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Net Neutrality Proposals Will Impact State Regulators

For years now, a debate has been raging throughout the nation over how access to the Internet should – or should not – be regulated. Commonly referred to as ‘Net Neutrality’, this debate focuses on Internet traffic, and whether or not Internet service providers (ISPs) should be permitted to prioritize traffic based off where it is coming, and where it is going. Naturally, most website operators are opposed to any rules that would allow an ISP to have control over their traffic, as they fear it may prohibit or hinder access to their domains. ISPs, on the other hand, believe that they should be able to control and prioritize traffic that is carried over their equipment. Earlier this year, we got a sign that this debate may be coming to an end.

On May 15, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that it is weighing two regulatory proposals relating to Net Neutrality. The first, favored by ISPs, would allow them to create ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ broadband lanes, or otherwise prioritize Internet traffic based off its source and its destination. This route is widely opposed by most Internet domains as it would effectively end ‘Net Neutrality’, or the practice of treating all Internet traffic equally, as it currently exists. Though there are currently no clear rules against prioritizing traffic, it is not considered widespread. Netflix claimed earlier this year that it was being throttled by major ISPs and was forced to pay them directly for its users to have prioritized access to its services.

The other approach, favored by major Internet domains as well as President Obama, would reclassify broadband Internet as a telecommunications service and thus bring it under the same regulatory oversight that telephone service providers fall under. This approach would effectively allow broadband Internet to be regulated as a public utility. Not only would this allow the FCC to preserve Net Neutrality, it would open the door to numerous other federal and state-level regulations that do not apply to broadband providers.

As of right now, states legislators and regulators are at a standstill while they eagerly await a decision from the FCC on how it will act on these rules; under the Communications Act of 1996, the FCC has the authority to preempt state-level restrictions, making them hesitant to take up any proposals that could potentially be thrown out by federal regulators in the coming months. Should the FCC choose to decide in favor of regulating broadband Internet as a telecommunications service, the entire framework in which both state and federal regulators operate would be turned on its head, and states would be forced to react to this new regime.

The earliest the FCC could make a decision would be at their first meeting of 2015, on January 29, though there is currently no indication as to whether they will be prepared to. Before a final proposal can be voted on by the five Commissioners tasked with policymaking, it also must be presented to all of them at least three weeks prior to any meeting, meaning the final proposed rule would need to be circulated by January 8 to be eligible for consideration on the 29th. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has personally stated that he would like the agency to take its time and create sustainable rules that can live up to a court challenge, “The big dogs are going to sue regardless of what comes out,”

Elections Bring Power Changes in State Legislative Control

The Republican takeover of the U.S. Senate and the GOP’s retention of many governors’ seats was mirrored on the state legislative level following November’s elections. The results of the elections show that in many legislative chambers considered “tossups” or “battlegrounds” prior to the elections, Republicans were consistently far safer than initially projected.

The Arizona Senate was considered a close race to watch for a Democratic takeover. Despite the concerns, Republicans maintain their control of the upper chamber with a 16-11 seat lead over the Democrats, with just three seats still undecided at the time of reporting. The Arkansas legislature, which up until 2012 had been considered strongly Democratic, saw a major uptick in Republican seats. Their narrow 51-49 lead in the House has been expanded to 64-36. GOP gains in California could derail Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown’s plans for a high-speed rail line, and the GOP took a two-thirds supermajority over the Georgia House. In the Kansas House, where Republicans were predicted to lose seats, the GOP picked up at least two seats.

Prior to Election Day, Republicans controlled 59 of the 98 partisan legislative chambers. According to the current polling data reported by NCSL, the Republicans flipped both chambers in Nevada and West Virginia, the Senate chambers in Colorado and Maine and the House chambers in Minnesota, New Hampshire, and New Mexico. This gives the party a net gain of six chambers for a total of 68. The numbers also signify Republican control in 24 states, where they hold both chambers of the legislature as well as the governor’s office. This number includes Nebraska, which is technically nonpartisan, though in practice Republicans control the chamber by a wide margin, the Washington Post reports.

With the U.S. Congress and President Obama in an ongoing deadlock, state legislatures will play a more crucial role in addressing key policy issues. If history is any indicator, the GOP’s strong showing on Tuesday is likely to portend the introduction of more laws governing taxes, voting and abortion heading into the 2015 legislative sessions.

Direction of State Policy on the Line in Gubernatorial Elections

This year 36 states have scheduled gubernatorial elections to determine who will hold their state’s highest executive office, a significant increase over 2012 when only 11 governors’ races were contested across the nation.

Republicans currently hold a numerical edge with 29 seats to the Democrats 21. This landscape should shift slightly however, with incumbent and retiring Republicans vulnerable in some states where Democrats have fielded strong candidates. When the dust settles next Wednesday, Republicans will still control more governors’ offices but we believe Democrats will have narrowed the gap.

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Wisconsin and Wyoming all have scheduled gubernatorial elections this year.

While most of these races are not expected to be competitive, a number are not only extremely close but hold important policymaking implications. Even the looming threat of the governor’s veto power is enough to sway policy towards the center in states where one party does not control a supermajority. Below we’ve outlined some of the closest governors’ races where the direction of state policy in the upcoming years is on the line:

  • In Alaska, incumbent Republican Gov. Sean Parnell is facing an uphill battle against a unique coalition between a former Republican and a Democrat who are running as an Independent union. The outcome remains murky, as Alaska is a heavily Republican state, but Walker has shown a slight edge in some of the most recent polls. A win here would give the opposition coveted veto power over the state’s Republican dominated legislature.
  • Arkansas Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe ineligible to run for office due to term limits, and Republican candidate Asa Hutchinson has been polling ahead of Democratic challenger Mike Ross. A win for the GOP here would give them total control of state government.
  • Colorado’s incumbent Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper is polling neck-and-neck with Republican challenger Bob Beauprez, in a race that appears to be among the tightest in the nation, in a state that is increasingly leaning more and more to the right after several years of Democratic control.
  • Deep-blue Connecticut may also see its highest executive office go red following Novembers election. Incumbent Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy is polling almost identically with GOP challenger Tom Foley, who he defeated by a razor-thin margin in 2010. This would be a big win for the GOP in a state where the legislature is dominated by Democrats.
  • Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott is seeking a second term in office and is seen as having one of the most vulnerable seats in the 2014 election. Governor Scott will face former governor and Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist, who served as governor from 2007 to 2011. Crist is currently seen as a narrow frontrunner to retake his old seat, but Scott has pumped $41 million into the race to hold onto his seat which has become one of the most expensive races in the country.
  • Georgia Republican incumbent Gov. Nathan Deal is running for a second term against Democratic state Sen. Jason Carter, grandson of former President Jimmy Carter. Libertarian candidate Andrew Hunt is also on the ballot. The race has been neck and neck so far, with the most recent polls showing Governor Deal narrowly ahead.
  • Illinois Democratic incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn faces an uphill climb in his effort to be reelected. His opponent, businessman Bruce Rauner, has shown a slight lead in the polls as backlash towards some of Quinn’s unfavorable policies. A win for Rauner would give the GOP significant power in the overwhelmingly democratic state.
  • The governor’s race in Kansas has exploded into one of the most hotly contested in the country during this election cycle. Incumbent Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is facing an uphill battle against state House Minority Leader Paul Davis, in a race that has become a referendum on the incumbent governor’s policies that have pushed the state into severe economic decline. This decline has resulted in numerous sitting and former Republican officials endorsing the Democrat.
  • Maine’s incumbent Republican Gov. Paul LePage is seen as one of the most vulnerable gubernatorial incumbents facing reelection. The race features former Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud and Independent candidate Eliot Cutler, who also ran in 2010 and received over 36 percent of votes, narrowly losing to LePage. Independents are largely seen as the deciding factor in the race. LePage has recently taken a commanding lead in the polls, where a win would continue to frustrate the overwhelmingly Democratic state legislature.
  • Massachusetts Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick is eligible to run for reelection, but chose not to seek a third term. The race pits Democratic Attorney General Martha Coakley against Republican venture capitalist Charles Baker. Recent polls have shown Baker to have a slight edge against Coakley in the race. While traditionally one of the most Democratic states, Massachusetts has a history of electing Republican governors.
  • Michigan Republican incumbent Gov. Rick Snyder is running for reelection to a second term this November against former Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Schauer. Governor Snyder has lost a lot of momentum in the state through passing controversial initiatives such as “right-to-work” and his tax reform plan of 2011. A win for Schauer would be a major victory for Democrats looking to break up the Republican stronghold in the state.
  • Wisconsin Republican incumbent Gov. Scott Walker is running for reelection to a second term against Democrat Mary Burke. Despite a statewide vote overturning legislation that Walker signed limiting the power of public-sector unions, he has continued to support right-to-work measures during his campaign. Recent polls have shown Walker holding a narrow lead within the margin of error.

Nevada Special Session Paves Way for Gigafactory

Nevada is one of the few states whose legislature typically meets once every two years, in contrast to the vast majority, which hold a legislative session once per year. While they are generally not scheduled to meet in even-numbered years, earlier in September Nevada legislators were suddenly called to work in a special session by Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval. The issue? To pass a massive tax incentive deal for Tesla Motors as a reward for choosing the state at the site of a massive new lithium-ion battery producing gigafactory.

After months of speculation and jockeying by southwestern states to curry favor and self-promote, it was announced on September 3 that the state would be the site of Tesla Motors new gigafactory, a massive $5 billion manufacturing facility that the all-electric motor vehicle manufacturer will use to create batteries for its popular and industry-leading electric-powered motor vehicles. While the automaker had previously hinted that they would like to have 10 percent, or $500,000 of the bill to construct the facility footed by the state, Nevada went above and beyond to cater to Tesla during the special session, pledging an estimated $1.25 billion in numerous tax incentives and breaks in order to win the nod of approval. As part of the deal, the state has reportedly agreed to waive property taxes on the factory through 2024 and all sales taxes levied on the factory through 2034, provide tax credits for each full time job created in the state and offer transferrable tax credits on further investment in the state by the Manufacturer. The fact that Nevada does not currently levy a corporate sales tax also undoubtedly played a role in the company’s decision making process.

The project itself has been described as one of the biggest economic development and manufacturing wins for an area in U.S. history and the largest project in the state since the Hoover Dam. The factory is expected to create up to 6,500 jobs in the state and at its peak supply batteries for 500,000 electric motor vehicles per year by 2020. “This factory is very important for the future of Tesla, because without it we can’t do the mass market car,” said Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk.

The last important detail of the package included an agreement to lift the ban on direct manufacturer-consumer motor vehicle sales in Nevada, an issue which has been a thorn in Tesla’s side for years. Many states currently require vehicles to be sold through a franchised dealer rather than directly by the manufacturer; effectively outlawing Tesla from doing business in many states. Tesla has been intent on bucking that trend and selling vehicles directly to interested consumers and has seen legislative success in many states, such as New Hampshire which lifted the ban in 2013. While this legislative victory paves the way to more modern, mainstream success in the American motor vehicle market, the company still has many policy-driven hurdles to overcome before they become commonplace on U.S. roads.

Nations Capital Looking to Become 51st State

Residents of the District of Columbia have long bemoaned their lack of representation in the U.S. Congress. Its nearly 650 thousand citizens – more than the states of Vermont and Wyoming – are not afforded the simple luxury of having a say in government affairs and laws they do pass must first go through the grueling process of congressional approval, which like most congressional affairs is never a speedy process. One does not need to look far to realize that DC citizens are disgruntled about this state of affairs – their license plates are adorned with the phrase ‘taxation without representation’ referring to the fact that even though they pay federal income taxes, they have not yet been granted voting representation in Congress.

Residents, however, are hoping that could all change shortly as a result of S. 132, The New Columbia Admission Act. For the first time in over 20 years, congress is considering a bill that would finally grant statehood to the district under the moniker of ‘New Columbia’, which would encompass all of the non-federally owned land that currently comprises the district. Under the bill the federal government would maintain ownership of most buildings relating to the functioning of the federal government and all military lands. These areas would continue to be referred to as the District of Columbia. It would also prohibit the new state from imposing any taxes on federal property.

On Tuesday, residents, activists, and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Norton, the District’s sole non-voting member of the House, packed the room for a hearing in the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. Among those speaking included Delegate Norton and District Mayor Vincent Gray. However, The Washington Post reports that only two senators – the chair and vice-chair of the committee – actually attended the hearing, one of whom left shortly after commencement, calling the exercise a waste of time.

Granting statehood and thus congressional representation to the district would undoubtedly tip the balance of Congress, as the district is considered to be overwhelmingly Democratic. Should the bill even pass the Senate, for which prospects are dim, it would be dead on arrival in the Republican leaning House. Because of its heavily Democratic skew, granting representation would essentially hand two senators and one representative to that party – a nonstarter for House and Senate Republicans. While it is unlikely that the district will attain representation in this congressional cycle, supporters are hopeful that this hearing is symbolic of good things to come.

Voter ID Laws Loom Over 2014 Elections

In 2011, Texas enacted a strict voter identification law that mandated those wishing to vote present a photo ID at the polls in order to be permitted to do so. In 2012, the law was struck down under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which mandated that certain states and counties receive prior approval from the federal government before enacting any change to voting laws.

Then, in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down this provision of the Voting Rights Act in the landmark case Shelby County v. Holder. This ruling opened the floodgates for many states to alter their voting laws that had previously been prohibited from doing so on their own accord. Today, the Federal government is using another still-standing provision of the act to push back against strict voter ID laws that have been passed by many states in the wake of the decision, and is having much success, opening up another chapter in this years long power-struggle between Federal and State governments.

The current challenge to the Texas law, among the strictest in the country, represents a microcosm of what has been going on in numerous states around the country in the lead up to the 2014 mid-term elections, where seats in 42 state senates and 45 state houses will be up for election. Earlier this year strict voting restrictions similar to those being challenged in Texas were struck down by federal judges in Arkansas, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, a premonition that does not bode well for the Lone Star State. Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia also have similar strict identification requirements, with New Hampshire and North Carolina scheduled to join these ranks in 2015 and 2016 respectively. In total, 34 states currently have enacted some kind of voter ID requirement, according to NCSL data.

The immediate electoral ramifications of these laws are unclear; 2014 is the first major election year since the Supreme Court made way for many states to pass such laws. Proponents argue that they will reduce voter fraud and make elections fairer; opponents have successfully argued before federal judges that they are discriminatory in nature and are aimed at suppressing entire blocks of voters akin to the Jim Crow laws that existed in the South up to the Civil Rights era, laws that were effectively struck down by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Should these new voter ID laws have the effect that those on the left fear, it could lead to further partisanship in state legislatures, where Republicans currently have a major advantage, holding a total of 58 chambers to the Democrats 40.

Currently Ballotpedia estimates that Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin could all see one or both chamber flip partisan affiliation during the elections, which would have major ramifications for policymaking and state government for years to come. With Democrats expected to be on the defense at both the state and federal level, these laws may push the country into deeper red territory until the next set of national elections in 2016.

State Budgets Continue to Grow, But Less Than Expected

The long budget season in state legislatures is finally over, with Massachusetts and North Carolina rounding out the pack as the last states to enact a budget for fiscal year 2015, which for 46 states began on July 1. While the process is arduous, it serves as an effective measure how well states, and the nation as a whole, are doing economically. According to a recent nationwide summary of state finances by the National Association of State Budget Officers, or NASBO, while growth has been slow in most states, overall they are doing well. Expenditures in all 50 states are expected to increase by 2.9 percent over fiscal year 2014, marking the fifth straight year of growth following two straight years of decline following the great recession. While positive, this level of growth is considered sluggish compared to the 5 percent increase projected earlier in the year.

The continued growth in state budgets has been a direct result of overall increases in state revenues, with most states meeting or exceeding their budget forecasts for the year. According to NCSL, nine states including California were expected to exceed their budget forecast for the year; thirty-six other states were expected to meet their forecasts while seven were doubtful to do so. Twenty-two states will go over their expected budget for FY 2014.

A result of this continued positive growth in both state budgets and state revenue collection has led to a trend towards cutting taxes and fees, with those states making such cuts claiming them a way to further spur economic growth and pass some of this prosperity along to the citizenry. Overall, states have enacted $2.5 billion in tax and fee cuts across the board. This, however, has not always led to the anticipated results.

North Carolina, as a result of recently enacted tax cuts, was unable to meet its revenue forecast. Kansas is anticipating a major budget shortfall due to a now deeply unpopular tax cut package spearheaded by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. These cuts, which Governor Brownback was elected campaigning on, may now see him ousted from office during the upcoming November elections in protest of these policies which have ravaged the state’s finances and economic outlook. The state is expected to have a $238 million budget shortfall by 2016, with deep cuts expected across the board. Kansas may well serve as a warning to other states that may be contemplating tax cut packages ahead of the 2015 legislative session.

NASBO has warned that while the outlook for states currently remains stable, this may not hold true long-term, as continued sluggish growth will likely create difficult budgetary choices in fiscal 2015 and beyond, since the current level of revenue growth may not be sufficient to cover continually increased spending in areas such as health care and higher education. With the 2015 legislative season only a few months away, all 50 states will once again need to begin the difficult budgetary process, and would be wise to keep the long-term view in mind, while heeding the lessons learned from Kansas.

Airbnb’s Success Confounds Regulators

Alongside many other high profile tech industry battles shaping up around the country, one of the biggest and most well-known revolves around Airbnb, an online service that allows users to rent out their home or certain rooms to travelers as a hotel-type service. The benefits of Airbnb are obvious, according to its proponents – it’s a cheaper, easier, perhaps faster way to access temporary lodging. Going further, Forbes’ Adam Ozimek argues that Airbnb’s success despite getting around safety regulations communicates the idea that those laws may not be necessary. Because Airbnb is so popular and functions well, it is possible that the additional requirements such as fire safety regulations and zoning standards are unnecessarily hindering the market. It’s not the illegal service that’s the problem; it’s the law. State and local officials however have not taken to this argument so keenly, claiming that the service operates illegally in the face of laws meant to regulate the hotel industry.

One of the most high profile spats has been between the ‘sharing economy’ service provider and the Attorney General of New York, who has demanded that Airbnb turn over all customer records over to the state as part of an investigation. Under state law, the way the company operates is thought to be illegal by the AGs office. Airbnb seems to have pulled out a win for the time being in this battle, as according to The New York Times a state judge has ruled that for the time being the company does not need to turn over customer records as part of the AG’s investigation, however this is unlikely to be the last chapter in this ongoing saga between the state and Airbnb.

Airbnb however has also been seeing many high profile successes, as it recently came to an agreement with the city of Portland, Oregon, allowing it to legally operate – the first agreement of its kind. Under the agreement, Airbnb will provide the city with one payment without providing the names and addresses of users out of concerns for privacy. It is possible that Airbnb would provide some information, such as anonymous ID numbers, during a tax division audit which the city carries out on most hotels every three years. The agreement was released Friday July 18 via public records request. A similar agreement is being worked on with the city of San Francisco, California, which has recently seen major opposition to their continued operation in the city, with residents claiming that it is a major force in driving up the cost of renting in the city.

While the issue has been brewing mainly at the municipal level at this point and has largely stayed out of state legislatures, the start of a new biennium in 2015 means a flood of new legislation in most states – undoubtedly some of this will be focused on reining in, taxing and regulating the innovative house-sharing service.

Special Session to Redraw the State’s Congressional District Map

On Monday, House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz, called a special session to redraw the state’s congressional district map. The session will begin at noon on Thursday, August 7.

In a ruling issued last Friday,  Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis, declared the state’s current congressional map to be illegal. Lewis ruled the Legislature has until Aug. 15 to fix the map. Legislators will meet to draw a new map that fixes two districts that the judge declared invalid. One district stretches from Jacksonville to Orlando, while the other is in central Florida.

Ridesharing Debate Heating Up

A revolution in personal transportation is underway in many major cities across the US, led by technology companies such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar– collectively referred to as Transportation Network Companies, or TNCs. All of the major TNCs follow a similar model: a person uses an app on his or her smartphone to request a car. The driver receives notification of the ride request through the app, picks up the passenger in the driver’s personally owned vehicle, and takes the passenger to the desired destination. The passenger pays through the app using saved credit card information, and may then rate the driver and service.

The services have been described by users as simple, efficient, cheap and pleasurable – a stark difference from how many would describe the experience of trying to hail a taxi in any large metropolis. However, states, cities, regulators, lawmakers and insurance companies are trying to determine whether a person that works part- or full-time as a driver for a TNC is performing professional activities or personal activities with the vehicle. Proponents for TNC services refer to it as “ride-sharing”, while the growing opposition maintains that TNC services are nothing more than unregulated cab driving.

According to Robert Callahan California’s executive director of The Internet Association, via The Sacramento Bee, “The sharing economy and those who are disrupting established business models are definitely drawing the ire of traditional special interest groups, in this case in the transportation sector,” Callahan’s group represents a number of these TNC’s as they work their way through the legal and political fights that have popped up against them around the nation.

In addition to the many perceived quality-of-life benefits these companies provide, the Washington Post is reporting that the industry may have had a hand in reducing the number of DUIs in the Philadelphia area – a city which coincidently has banned these companies from operating. Such evidence has also been seen in Seattle, Washington, and San Francisco, California. Opposition groups, however, have referred to the services as both unsafe and unregulated; an argument echoed by many taxi companies who bemoan that the regulations they must adhere to do not apply to TNCs. As a result, regulators have been increasingly setting their sights on these new companies.

Over the past year oppositional attempts to regulate TNCs have begun to snowball – Arizona, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and West Virginia all saw bills relating to these services during the 2013-2014 biennium. In Virginia, Uber and Lyft, the two largest TNCs received cease and desist notices from the state’s Attorney General, while Maryland’s Public Service Commission has proposed to regulate these businesses as a taxicab company, a move that would surely stifle their growth and innovation. With many of the large municipalities that TNC’s operate in also taking regulatory steps, it may be in their best interest to push for more lenient state-level regulation rather than a patchwork of municipal ordinances.