Capitol Comments

Prevailing wage laws are created by state governments or local municipalities to set a rate of pay that is thought to be standard for a labor group contracted to do public-sector projects in that area. Twenty-nine states currently have prevailing wage laws. Since 2015, three states have repealed their laws and a number of states are considering repeal this year. 

The fate of the most controversial case the Supreme Court has agreed to decide this term is uncertain now that the Department of Education (DOE) has issued a “Dear Colleague” letter withdrawing a previous letter requiring school districts to allow transgender students to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity.

Title IX prohibits school districts that receive federal funds from discriminating “on the basis of sex.” A Title IX regulation states if school districts maintain separate bathrooms (locker rooms, showers, etc.) “on the basis of sex” they must provide comparable facilities for the other sex. In a 2015 letter DOE interpreted the Title IX regulation to mean that if schools provide for separate boys’ and girls’ bathrooms, transgender students must be allowed to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity. The new “Dear Colleague” letter takes no position on whether the term “sex” in Title IX includes gender identity.

The labor force participation rate of teens between 16 and 19 has declined substantially over the past thirty years. The average teen labor force participation rate across the states was 37.1 percent in 2015, compared to 56.8% in 1981. A recent BLS study analyzed the factors contributing to the decline in teens working.

The Supreme Court’s 2016-2017 docket is now set. The Court is still down a Justice but has accepted as many cases as usual (about 75). In theory all the cases discussed below will be decided by June 30, 2017. The Court may decide to rehear tied (4-4) cases next term, when a new Justice will presumably join the bench.

This articles covers cases of interest to the states which the Court agreed to hear this term accepted after September 15, 2016. Here is a summary of cases of interest to the states which the Court agreed to hear before September 15, 2016.

Voting on H.J. Res. 66 and H.J. Res. 67 took place Wednesday afternoon, February 15, on the House Floor. These joint resolutions passed to roll back rules set in place in August and December 2016, respectively, by the Department of Labor, or DoL. The DoL rules allowed state and local governments flexibility in creating a marketplace of retirement options for employees of the private sector that otherwise could be interpreted as unallowable by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). If approved by the Senate and signed by the president, the DoL rules will then hold no force or effect and programs could be unallowable under the preemption of ERISA statute.

In Ake v. Oklahoma (1985) the Supreme Court held that if a criminal defendant’s mental health will be a significant factor at trial the state must ensure that the defendant has access to a “competent psychiatrist who will conduct an appropriate examination and assist in evaluation, preparation, and presentation of the defense.”

The question the Supreme Court will decide in McWilliams v. Dunn is whether such an expert must be independent of the prosecution.

In October 2016 the U.S. Department of Labor awarded $50.5 million in grants to help states develop and implement comprehensive strategies to support apprenticeship expansion. Grants were awarded to 36 states and one territory with grant awards ranging from $700,000 to $2,700,000.

Yesterday, in response to concerns about insurers pulling out of the ACA marketplaces and raising premiums, the federal government published proposed rules to stabilize the individual and small group health insurance markets.

In a press release, Dr. Patrick Conway, Acting Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services acknowledged the changes are short term relief “while future reforms are being debated.” 

Republicans in the House of Representatives are slowly moving forward with plans to resume use of earmarks, which are being rebranded as congressionally directed spending. The House Rules Committee plans to review the issue in the months ahead and issue a recommendation on whether to continue the current ban on the practice or allow it to resume. 

On Jan. 18, the Virginia Senate introduced an amendment to Senate Bill 1490 to the Committee on Privileges and Elections calling for a pilot program that would allow the use of Common Access Card, or CAC, digital signatures on election materials. The proposed pilot program was adapted from a recent report from CSG’s Overseas Initiative, Recommendations from The CSG Overseas Voting Initiative Technology Working Group, released in early December 2016.

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