Capitol Comments

“Shoeaholics” across the nation could be enjoying an increase in their shoe budget if some lawmakers get their way.   A bill sponsored by a bipartisan group of senators titled the Affordable Footwear Act could result in the elimination of the nation’s “shoe tax” which has been around since the 1930’s.

I have an article in this week’s edition of the Capitol Ideas E-Newsletter that recaps last week’s InfraAmericas U.S. P3 Infrastructure Forum in New York City, which brought together state and federal transportation officials, representatives of global infrastructure investment firms and others to discuss the present and future of public-private partnerships in the United States. I encourage you to check it out. But there is plenty more I wasn’t able to squeeze into the article. Here’s some more interesting stuff gleaned from the two-day conference.

Calling addressing health disparities a moral imperative, Maryland Lt. Governor Anthony Brown annouced the formation of a high-powered group to come up with programs, policies, and legislation to reduce disparities.

The U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) recently notified the South Carolina Department of Education that they have to restore $111 million for services to students with disabilities or face a penalty of the same amount.  Policymakers in the state reduced their budget by $36 million in the 2009/10 school year and $75 million in the 2010/11 school year.

Seventeen states no longer fund circumcisions through Medicaid, in an effort to save money in cash-strapped budgets, while the city of San Francisco attempts to ban the procedure on ethical grounds.  

One more silver bullet for reducing the seemingly inevitable rise in health care costs has been called into question.

Yesterday, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley released a study finding that the so-called “global payment” system instituted in 2009 has not saved health care costs. This payment system provides a per-patient monthly payment rather than making payments in the more traditional fee-for-service way.

In 1919, North Dakota officials created the Bank of North Dakota (BND), the nation’s only state-owned bank.  The bank initially fulfilled farmers’ unmet financing needs.  Its role in the state economy evolved over time.  During the financial crisis and Great Recession of 2007-09, the BND provided liquidity assistance to other North Dakota banks, limiting their need to draw on emergency funding from the federal government.  The action generated significant interest in public banking among policy makers, and since then, legislation to establish or study state-owned banks has appeared in at least nine states. 

The New England Public Policy Center (NEPPC), a research unit at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, recently released a report on public banking for the Massachusetts legislature (one of the aforementioned nine).  While the report emphasizes Massachusetts, its findings are applicable to all states contemplating a state-owned bank.

Carolyn Cournoyer writes for Governing on a Texas bill that would make sending and receiving text messages illegal for lawmakers, in the interest of keeping public business open.

As Cournoyer explains:

The measure, introduced in March by Rep. Todd Hunter, would make it illegal for Texas legislators to send or receive a text, e-mail or instant message, or make posts to websites, during public meetings. It’s not a question of whether lawmakers are paying


A recent opinion issued by the Legislative Counsel in Oregon reaffirms the role the state’s legislature must play in the interstate compact adoption process.  Specifically at issue is Section 4 of Oregon HB 2679, which allows the Director of the Department of Consumer Protection and Business Services to enter into an interstate agreement to allocate state surplus line premium taxes without first seeking legislative approval.  In the opinion, the Legislative Counsel argues that the legislation as drafted represents an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority.  

A new law requiring Florida teachers to contribute 3 percent of their salaries toward their retirement benefits faces a legal challenge. The Florida Education Association filed the lawsuit June 20 against Gov. Rick Scott and others.

The lawsuit asserts the legislature acted unconstitutionally when it required that 3 percent of the salaries of active members of the Florida Retirement System (FRS) be withheld and applied toward their retirement benefits. The teacher’s union is referring to this requirement as a “pay cut.” The lawsuit further contends that the actions by the legislature to reduce the cost-of-living benefits of those employees were also unconstitutional.