Capitol Comments

In certain cities across the United States, there is a battle for broadband brewing in the halls of municipal and state legislatures. Currently, 19 states have laws in place that make it difficult for municipal governments to provide broadband service via public power utilities. Cities like Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina are petitioning the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to preempt state laws that restrict the right to offer broadband.

In T-Mobile South v. City of Roswell the Supreme Court will decide whether a letter denying a cell tower construction application that doesn’t explain the reasons for the denial meets the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (TCA) “in writing” requirement.  The State and Local Legal Center’s (SLLC) amicus brief argues it does.  This case will...

Even though the Supreme Court’s next term won’t officially begin until October 6, the Court has already accepted about 40 of the 70 or so cases it will decide in the upcoming months. 

For a more detailed summary of all the cases the Court has accepted so far affecting states, read the State and Local Legal Center’s Supreme Court Preview for State Governments.

Here is a quick highlight of what is on the Court’s docket right now that will...

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Earlier this year, Roll Call — the news source dedicated to covering Capitol Hill — ran a short headline that summed up much of U.S. policymaking today. "It’s the states, stupid,” the magazine declared. Gridlock continues to reign in the nation’s capital, with power divided among two political parties that have become more ideologically distinct and among members of U.S. Congress who have become more ideologically distant from one another. That contrasts with trends at the state level, where a single party now controls the governor’s office and both legislative chambers in close to 80 percent of state capitols. That is the highest rate of unified government in more than 50 years.

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In Michigan, the state’s legislators meet year-round, earn among the highest legislative salaries in the nation, and get support from a staff of more than 700 people. For a time earlier this year, some inside the Capitol wondered if that might all soon change.
A petition drive to make Michigan a part-time legislature — with much lower staffing levels and legislative pay, along with session days limited to 60 days per year — was being pushed with plans to put it on the ballot later this year.
That drive has since stalled, though supporters of the change have vowed to continue to seek wider support statewide. And the recent activity in Michigan begs the question: Is one model, part-time legislature or full-time legislature, better than the other?
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With the passage of SB 2727, Illinois has become the first U.S. state to ban the manufacture and sale of personal care products and over-the-counter drugs that contain plastic microbeads. The bill is in large part a response to arecent two-year survey of plastic pollution in the Great Lakes. It found that microbeads (tiny particles often too small to be captured by wastewater systems) account for the highest count of plastic pollution in the freshwater system. 
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The millions of people going to a Great Lakes beach might not see and probably don’t want to think about the E. coli bacteria present in the freshwater system’s near-shore waters. But the bacteria are there — and sometimes at counts that exceed a standard for swimmer safety set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Bacteria counts, in fact, are more likely to be higher on a beach in the Great Lakes than in any other coastal region of the country, according to “Testing the Waters,” a June report by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The study was based on a survey of nearly 3,500 beaches in 30 different states.
Thirteen percent of the water samples taken at Great Lakes beaches exceed the Beach Action Value, the EPA’s most protective benchmark for swimmer safety. That compares to the national average of 10 percent.
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The millions of people going to a Great Lakes beach might not see and probably don’t want to think about the E. coli bacteria present in the freshwater system’s near-shore waters. But the bacteria are there — and sometimes at counts that exceed a standard for swimmer safety set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Bacteria counts, in fact, are more likely to be higher on a beach in the Great Lakes than in any other coastal region of the country, according to “Testing the Waters,” a June report by the Natural Resources Defense Council. The study was based on a survey of nearly 3,500 beaches in 30 different states.
Thirteen percent of the water samples taken at Great Lakes beaches exceed the Beach Action Value, the EPA’s most protective benchmark for swimmer safety. That compares to the national average of 10 percent.
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Low-income workers in Ohio will get additional tax relief as the result of changes made in June to the state’s biennial budget. Following last year’s creation of an earned income tax credit, the legislature chose to expand it — from 5 percent of the federal credit to 10 percent.
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When the Great Recession began to hit states, they had a total of $59.9 billion in reserves. A year later, total budget gaps were nearly double that figure, $117.3 billion.
“States found themselves woefully short in terms of the amount of savings they had to offset the budget shortfalls created by the crisis,” Robert Zahradnik of The Pew Charitable Trusts told lawmakers at the Midwestern Legislative Conference Annual Meeting. “A lot of that is because savings is not the highest priority when it comes to making state budgets.”
The fiscal crisis is over, but it has opened new questions about budget planning and management. Prior to the Great Recession, for example, a fiscal reserve of 5 percent of the total budget was considered a sound target. Now, Zahradnik said, the preferred goal tends to be between 8 and 10 percent.
Part of the reason is that state revenue sources have simply become more volatile, thus the need to better plan for more-extreme “rainy days.”

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