Capitol Comments

Dry counties could soon be a thing of the past in Arkansas. On November 4, voters will decide by ballot initiative whether or not to keep the current system of dry and mixed counties. Passage of the measure would effectively take away the power of counties to regulate their own alcohol sales. The Alcoholic Beverage Initiative is being met with resistance from religious groups, local rights groups, and the Arkansas Beverage Retailers Association.

Transportation for America is a Washington, DC-based alliance of elected, business and civic leaders from around the country that advocates for locally driven transportation solutions as a key to economic prosperity. Next month in Denver, the organization will host a two-day conference entitled “Capital Ideas: Raising Money for Transportation Through Innovative State Legislation” (register here; see full agenda here). The conference, which is geared towards state legislators and others, will look back on the experiences of states that have recently had success in passing transportation funding measures, examine innovative state policies and provide a how-to guide for policymakers on messaging, campaign strategy and coalition building to move funding initiatives forward. Transportation for America Director James Corless discussed the conference in this recent interview, portions of which also appear in the October 23rd edition of the CSG Capitol Ideas E-Newsletter.

CSG Energy and Environment

Ballot Measure 4 touches on a familiar topic to many Alaskans – the Bristol Bay.  The bay is a 36,000 square mile fisheries reserve established by the Alaska state legislature in 1972.  As part of the legislation it required that a surface entry permit for oil and gas on state owned or controlled lands be subject to approval of the legislature to protect the fishery.  Proposed...

Two firearms initiatives are on the upcoming November 2014 ballot in Washington State. Initiative 594 would require background checks on all gun purchasers and Initiative 591 would prevent the confiscation of firearms without due process and would also prevent the state from implementing background checks unless a federal standard is established.  

The U.S. Census Bureau announced today that the national poverty rate fell from 15.0 percent in 2012 to 14.5 percent in 2013 - the first time the rate has fallen in eight years. The poverty rate for children under 18 also declined in 2013 for the first time since 2000 - from 21.8 percent in 2012 to 19.9 percent in 2013.

Crady deGolian, Director of CSG’s National Center for Interstate Compacts (NCIC), and Rick Masters, who serves as Special Counsel to NCIC will present on the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact at the annual Administrators in Medicine conference later this week.  The compact is intended to create an expedited licensing  process for physicians wishing to practice in multiple states.  It aims to increase access to health care services, facilitate licensure portability and telemedicine.   Participation in the compact is voluntary, both for states and physicians.

From tolling to gas taxes to light rail transit projects, transportation issues are factoring into numerous 2014 state races as Election Day approaches. One example is the question of how to fund the replacement of a bridge over the Ohio River, which has come up as an issue in both Ohio and Kentucky. I also have updates this week on the chances for a new long-term federal transportation bill, the work of several state transportation funding committees, the evolution of public-private partnerships and the debate over streetcar systems and other transit projects in many communities.

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Nebraska Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh didn’t mince words two years ago when asked about the demise of his state’s 20-year-old law on campaign finance. “Good riddance,” he said after the state Supreme Court overturned the law.
His problems with the old law, then and now, were twofold. First, he says, it had the practical effect of driving money to third parties and away from the candidates themselves.

“With the candidate, there is at least some responsibility for what is being said; you can’t say that so much with third parties,” notes Lautenbaugh, a seven-year veteran of the Unicameral Legislature who will leave office after this year due to term limits.

His second concern was that the law — which provided a public subsidy to Nebraska candidates who agreed to a campaign spending limit and whose opponent exceeded it — violated free-speech protections as well. This same constitutional argument is behind a series of recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings that have reshaped election systems not only in Nebraska, but several other Midwestern states.

As Ian Vandewalker of the Brennan Center for Justice puts it, the nation’s highest court has been on a “deregulatory tear.”

Not all legislators, like Lautenbaugh, are saying “good riddance” to old rules that had sought to “level the playing field” in campaigns or limit spending and contributions.

But nearly everyone can agree that a new era in campaign finance began with the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 2010 Citizens United decision. It has continued with rulings such as one earlier this year in McCutcheon v. Federal Elections Commission.

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Every legislature and governor relies on a revenue forecast to build a state budget, but as a recent study shows, the process itself can vary considerably around the country. Indiana and Iowa were among the U.S. states that employ all five of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ “best practices” in revenue forecasting.
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Indiana residents had a new way of registering to vote this election season — via a “full-service” application on their smartphone. The app allowed Hoosiers not only to register to vote, but also to view the candidates on their ballot and how to get to their polling location. Other features include the ability to track absentee-ballot applications and contact local election officials.

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