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.

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.

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 U.S. Export-Import Bank may receive a new breath of life after a small group of Republicans joined Democrats in filing a discharge petition Oct. 9 to force a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives that would renew the bank’s charter.

Soon after U.S. House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio shook up Capitol Hill by announcing his retirement at the end of October, Congress narrowly avoided a government shutdown by passing a funding bill that will keep the federal government operational until December.

Ohio and Massachusetts are expected to consider legislation this fall aimed at regulating rideshare services such as Uber and Lyft. CSG has partnered with the Griffith Insurance Education Foundation to provide academic, non-partisan seminars in both states for state policymakers and staff, including one taking place Sept 28 at the Massachusetts State House in Boston.

CSG Midwest
In most states, it doesn’t take long for a bill passed by the legislature to be acted on by the governor. The governors of Iowa, Minnesota and North Dakota have only three days to veto a measure once they’ve received it, and in most other state constitutions, the time frame for gubernatorial action is between five and 10 days.
But in Illinois, weeks can, and often do, go by between legislative passage and the governor’s signing or veto of legislation.
“There is lobbying that goes on with the governor’s office for sure,” Rep. Elaine Nekritz says of the waiting period. “The three governors I have served with have taken their time in evaluating and signing the bills. I believe all three took full advantage of the 60-day time frame.”
No state comes close to the 60-day window allotted to Illinois’ governors, but this unique constitutional provision is consistent with the “extraordinary veto power” granted to the executive branch, says former Illinois state senator Rick Winkel.

The 2014 election resulted in Republican dominance of state legislative control unmatched in nearly a century. Riding a surge of disaffection with a president in the sixth year of office, combined with low, midterm voter turnout among Democrats, Republicans won big. They also continued to benefit from a built in redistricting advantage stemming from the 2010 election success by the party. Essentially, everything went one direction in the 2014 election—the direction of the Grand Old Party.