Capitol Comments

Today the EPA released its proposed update to the air quality standards for ground-level ozone.  The proposal lowers the ground-level ozone standard from 75 parts per billion, where it’s been since 2008, to a range of 65 to 70 parts per billion.   EPA estimates most areas will be in compliance with the standard by 2025. 

A revised ozone standard of 70 to 60 parts per billion was recommended by the Clean Air Science Advisory Committee, a scientific panel that advises EPA in setting the national ambient air quality standards...

Econ Piggy

According to The National Association of State Budget Officer's State Expenditure Report, total state spending (including both state and federal funds) grew by an estimated 5.7 percent in FY 2014, a significant jump from the 2.2 percent growth rate in FY 2013. In FY 2012, year-over-year total state spending fell by 1.1 percent. The recent boost in state expenditures is due primarily to a jump in spending from federal funds, which increased by 7.6 percent in FY 2014. Spending from state funds, on the other hand, grew by 4.8 percent.

Following the deluge of major transportation funding packages passed by states in 2013, elections and other factors combined to make 2014 a somewhat quieter year on that front. But as 2015 legislative sessions approach, a large number of states appear poised to tackle transportation funding. While some states are holdovers from years past as a result of previously unsuccessful efforts, there are also a handful of relative newcomers to the list this year. Their reasons for addressing the issue now and the urgency with which they are approaching it may vary, but there are plenty of common justifications and common solutions that already appear to be emerging.

President Obama addressed the nation in a prime time speech Nov. 20 to define his executive action on immigration. In a highly anticipated move, the president’s executive order has focused the nation on the future of U.S. immigration policy and aims to encourage Congress to pass comprehensive legislation. Congressional and some state leaders have threatened law suits, impeachment, and a government shutdown over the President's executive order.

On Thursday, Nov. 20 a group of state legislators and education officials met with staff from the White House Intergovernmental Affairs and representatives from the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services.  An update on the Administration's priorities, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and critical early education initiatives were discussed.

Only 36.4 percent of eligible voters voted in the 2014 midterm election – the lowest turnout since 1942. Voter turnout during presidential election years is higher than turnout during midterm elections. In 2012, 58.2 percent of eligible voters voted – nearly 20 percentage points higher than the turnout just two years later in a midterm year.   

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to release a new National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for ground-level ozone. Based on recommendations from EPA’s science advisers and staff, the EPA is expected to announce a more stringent standard, likely in the range of 70 to 60 parts per billion, down from the 2008 standard of 75 parts per billion. A more strict ozone requirement could be a challenge for some states and counties to attain, generating areas of noncompliance around the U.S. accompanied by a hefty...

What a difference a year makes. On Jan. 1, 2014, only 21 states had a minimum wage higher than the federal wage. One year later, more than half of states – 29 – are set to have a minimum wage higher than the federal rate of $7.25/hr. Ten states enacted minimum wage increases during the 2014 legislative session and four states passed a wage hike via ballot initiative.

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In just a few short years, the presence of ride-sharing companies such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar has spread to more than 60 metropolitan areas across the country — 15 of which are in the Midwest. With a simple tap of a button on a smartphone application, a passenger can connect with a driver. The driver, using his or her personal vehicle, then provides a ride to a desired location, oftentimes at much cheaper prices than a traditional taxi or car service.
 
Should these ride-sharing companies fall under the same licensing and insurance regulations as taxi and limousine services? Should they fall under a new type of classification of service, or not be regulated at all? These are some of the questions that states and municipalities have begun to address with the rise in ride-sharing.
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More than 100 years ago, the state of Wisconsin started what has since become an indispensable part of the daily work of state legislatures — the nonpartisan legislative service agency. From bill drafting to a host of research services, agency staff help make the legislative process work in capitols across the country, as political scientist Gary Moncrief noted this summer in a presentation to the Midwest’s state legislators.

Since the 1970s, he said, state legislatures have been professionalized and their role in public policy enhanced thanks to a series of reforms, among them a rise in legislative staff. For example, between 1979 and 2009, the median number of legislative staff per member of the legislature has risen from 2.7 to 3.9. (That also includes partisan staff and staff for individual legislators.)

“These reforms were largely effective in making legislatures co-equal branches of government,” Moncrief told the Midwestern Legislative Conference.
But while all states rely heavily on nonpartisan staff, the structure and duties of these agencies can vary.

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