On the eve of Veterans Day, Congress took a major step in supporting the nation’s 22.3 million veterans by passing the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations, or MilCon—VA, bill with overwhelming bipartisan support. The first of 12 appropriations bills to pass both chambers of Congress in 2015, the Senate version provides $82 billion in discretionary funding for U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Pentagon construction projects. The fiscal year 2016 bill provides about $8 billion more than the fiscal year 2015 level.

Recently, the Supreme Court’s already interesting docket got even more high profile. First, it agreed to decide whether the Affordable Care Act (ACA) birth control mandate violates religious nonprofits rights. Then, it agreed to decide whether a Texas abortion law is unconstitutional.

CSG Midwest
For most new state legislators, only a few weeks separate their November election victories and their first day in office. There is a lot to learn in that short time frame — everything from the legislative process and constituent services, to information about the staffing and resources available to them.
Orienting these new members, then, is crucial to helping make the legislative branch run smoothly, especially in states and in election years with high rates of turnover due to term limits and other factors. Offered in every Midwestern state legislature, new-member orientations are run by nonpartisan staff, often with oversight from legislative leaders or a joint or bipartisan legislative committee.

The American judicial system is complicated. How does a case get to the United States Supreme Court? Why are some cases heard in federal court and others in state court? Why do courts refuse to decide some issues? This free CSG eCademy webcast features Lisa Soronen, executive director of the State and Local Legal Center, and Paul Clement, partner at Bancroft PLLC and former U.S. solicitor general who has argued more than 75 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. The presenters explain the basics of how our court system works and how the decisions of this complex judicial system impact state governments.

In late October, outgoing Speaker of the House John Boehner of Ohio announced his intention to “clean the barn” as much as possible before his successor took the gavel. In keeping his promise, Boehner succeeded in brokering a bipartisan, two-year budget deal to avoid a government shutdown and prevent a government default on its debt. To offset the increased spending caps for defense and discretionary programs, the budget deal included cost-saving provisions for certain programs, some of which—including the following—will have an impact on state governments.

During its state budget debate in 2015, Louisiana turned to a relatively new sin tax. It joined North Carolina and Minnesota and added taxes on e-cigarettes to its revenue sources. Legislators from Louisiana, North Carolina and Minnesota will join a panel discussion on taxation and regulation of e-cigarettes during a policy workshop from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Dec. 12, at the CSG 2015 National Conference in Nashville, Tenn. An official from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will address proposed federal regulations on e-cigarettes. The FDA is using its statutory “deeming” authority to issue regulations on products that it determines fall under the legal definition of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, hookah tobacco and novel products such as nicotine gels and dissolvable tobacco

Last week, the Senate passed the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2015, or CISA, 74-21. The bill is essentially an information-sharing bill, designed to allow companies that are hit by a hacker to share information--called “cyber threat indicators”--with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, or DHS. DHS can then put out an alert, share suspicious code and warn other firms about the threat. Cybersecurity is not just a hot topic in Washington, D.C., but also in statehouses across the country.

The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) has filed an amicus brief in the Ohio Supreme Court urging it to rule that Ohio’s commercial activity tax (CAT) applies to online vendors who sell in the state. The SLLC argues the holding of Quill Corp. v. North Dakota (1992), that states cannot require retailers with no in-state physical presence to collect use tax, should not be extended to a privilege-of-doing-business tax.  

Since the Supreme Court’s term began in early October it has agreed to hear 15 cases—13 at its “long” conference before the term began and two subsequently. Many will have an impact on the states. And a number will only impact specific states (and a territory!).   

Economics webcast

What do autonomous vehicles, an aging population and cybersecurity have in common? These are all policy topics in which a basic knowledge of risk management and insurance can help state leaders make better policy decisions. In collaboration with the Griffith Foundation, The Council of State Governments addressed these topics and more throughout a four-part webinar series designed to provide public policymakers with a greater understanding of risk management insurance through the lens of emerging issues. Participants in this series gained a solid understanding of risk management and insurance fundamentals, property, casualty, life and health insurance, and insurance regulation and legislation. <--break->