The Colorado General Assembly passed a resolution calling for a comprehensive study of the state’s tax system. The privately funded study will be conducted by the University of Denver. Researchers will look at the state’s current tax system and how it relates to state services and the economy. Some critics of the state’s tax system say that it is outmoded, citing as an example the general lack of taxes on services, which now represent a much larger portion of the economy than in decades past. The study will examine the state’s system of tax credits and incentives and overall tax burdens on individuals and businesses. The study is due to be completed by 2011. The last time a similar study was conducted was in 1958.
The dome of the Colorado State Capitol was declared to be an endangered historical property by Colorado Preservation, Inc. The cast-iron pillars supporting the dome are rusting. In 2007, an 18-inch chunk of cast iron fell down from inside of the dome, leading to a partial closure of the dome.
Since there is no extra state money available to repair it, the dome was nominated by the Capitol Advisory Committee to be declared an endangered historical property in the hopes that the designation would help raise funds to repair it. Colorado Preservation, Inc, estimates that the repair will cost $15 million.
In response to feedback from legislators who wanted updated summaries for bills, the Office of Legislative Legal Services has begun providing a new service to the legislature and the public. A description of the bill's contents is printed as part of the introduced bill. In the past, the bill summary has not been updated as the bill is amended through the legislative process. The office is now preparing an updated bill summary after the bill has passed the first house and before the first committee meeting in the second chamber. The logistics of making updated bill summaries available had to be worked out. Updated versions of the bills, including amendments, are prepared by the House and Senate enrolling rooms (not by our office) and then sent to a printer. The original bill summary remains on the bill with a note that it has been updated. One of the issues was how to update the bill summaries without causing a delay in the printing of re-engrossed versions of the bill. As a result, we have started posting the updated bill summary on the General Assembly's website. The note on the bill now indicates that the bill summary for the re-engrossed version is available at http://leg.state.co.us/billsummaries. The updated bill summaries have proved to be quite popular. The office also changed the style of the bill summaries to make them more user-friendly.
Another innovation the office initiated was to change the style of amendments to be more readable and to eliminate the use of numerous punctuation marks and quotations, which generally only enrolling room experts and our office staff could interpret. Now, amendments include the page number of the bill or document being amended for every instruction, and every individual instruction ends in a period, instead of multiple sets of inscrutable punctuation.
In 2008, the voters narrowly passed an initiative restricting campaign finance donations from shareholders, directors of companies and nonprofit organizations with no-bid government contracts to any candidate for any elected office of the state or of a political subdivision. The amendment also banned political contributions from unions. The amendment also extended the ban to family members of people barred from making campaign donations. A Denver district judge imposed a preliminary injunction against the measure. On Feb. 22, 2010, in Dallman v. Ritter, the Colorado Supreme Court affirmed the injunction. It held that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed in claiming that Amendment 54 is an infringement on free speech and thus unconstitutional under the First Amendment.. The Supreme Court held that the provisions of the amendment are unconstitutionally overbroad, vague, and violate equal protection. After striking through the unconstitutional portions of the amendment, the court held that the remaining provisions do not constitute a "meaningful legislative enactment" and therefore the entire Amendment must be purged from the Colorado constitution. The court wrote that "[W]e find the Amendment's deficiencies so pervasive that we must nullify the amendment in its entirety".
Updates from the December 09 submission: after the call in the governor’s veto message for another try at bottle deposit legislation, there are strong rumors (but as yet no introduced legislation) of the 5¢ bottle deposit being replaced with a 4¢ bottle fee that would be earmarked for expanding recycling programs. At the end of last December, Delaware appealed the 3rd Circuit’s curtailment of sports betting to the U.S. Supreme Court. As of the end of March, no word as to whether the Supreme Court will hear the case. The three racetracks and slots casinos [known as racinos] ponied up cash toward the legal fees for the appeal.
Although authorized last year in the same legislation as sports betting, it wasn’t until January, 2010, that table games got the final go ahead and the hiring at the three racinos began. What constitutes a legal table game is anything that involves more chance than skill and that is authorized by the lottery director. One of the racino websites is saying they will be up and running by summer. There is still a battle within Legislative Hall between backers of racino exclusivity and those who want more venues.
With the recession in Delaware not leaving anytime soon, abolishing the Board of Parole is even being considered. Unlike some (maybe most) other states, Delaware, by establishing “Truth in Sentencing” in 1989, abolished the use of parole for crimes committed thereafter. The question is whether enough old-timers are left to justify the cost of a separate board.
Edith Elizabeth Pollitz
Florida’s Legislature meets a little later in the year than some others, so legislation is not quite as far along by the state news deadline as readers might wish. The major issue affecting everything is—no surprise—budget constraints. At this point, rumors are flying, but it remains to be seen what will happen by the end of session (April 30).
In technology news, legislative support offices are migrating to their own version of the Leagis system. Final testing (and lots of overtime) wrapped up in order to meet the goal of going into production for many of the Division of Statutory Revision’s functions the last weekend in March. The House and Senate each work through versions of Leagis (each house has its own); now Legislative Information (bill tracking) and Statutory Revision (codification) are following suit. The Statutory Revision application of Leagis is particularly complicated given the assortment of work the division does. The contractor, Sogeti, has done some wondrous things in the effort to take the office from an old cut-and-tape (literally) system for manuscript production into the electronic world where all work will now be done on-screen. Phil Herron and Jean Marsh of the division’s staff have worked tirelessly as the office’s technology experts and liaisons with the Sogeti team. Tweaking will continue to be necessary, and the indexing portion of the system will not go into production until the 2011 session. Meanwhile, the Division of Statutory Revision is surplusing lots of file cabinets!
The Illinois General Assembly and Governor Pat Quinn are confronted with a multitude of challenges this spring legislative session. Illinois’ growing budget deficit, estimated at $13 billion, continues to be a primary concern for the General Assembly and Governor Quinn. In order to help reduce the deficit, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1946. It has been signed by the governor. The bill reforms the state's pension system and addresses the state's large unfunded pension liability. According to the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, the state's unfunded pension liability is $77.8 billion.
Senate Bill 1946 creates a two-tiered pension system. Current employees remain unaffected by the pension reforms as they apply only to new employees hired by the State on or after Jan. 1, 2011. The bill increases the retirement age for new employees to 67 to receive full benefits, and eliminates the compounding of annual cost-of-living benefit increases. The bill also limits the highest salary that pension benefits may be based on to $106,800.
The Legislature is grappling with budget woes, as are other legislatures. We have not had to use furloughs, but legislative agency heads have had their salaries cut. Additional staff salary cuts have been proposed but not adopted at this time. We are continuing to hold open several vacant positions to achieve savings and have not been able to give any staff raises. We certainly are looking forward to better economic times!
Completion of restoration of the Capitol is set for 2013. Work on the south wing has been completed, and the north wing restoration began last fall. Restoration of the rotunda and construction of a new visitors center will follow. The work completed is beautiful. It will be wonderful when the project is completed.
Work continues on the new legislative computer system. The bill drafting system is nearly complete. Conversion to it will take place before the 2011 session.
The Oregon Legislative Assembly met in special session during February 2010. Some highlights are listed below.
Annual Legislative Sessions
Oregon is one of the few states that still hold biennial legislative sessions. The February 2010 special session was part of a “test drive” of a proposed move to annual legislative sessions. To that end, the Legislative Assembly referred a constitutional amendment to the people to require annual legislative sessions. In odd-numbered years, the session would not exceed 160 calendar days. In even-numbered years, the session would not exceed 35 calendar days. The sessions could be extended for five calendar days by a two-thirds vote of each house. Finally, the Legislative Assembly could hold a separate organizational session not subject to the limits on session days. The amendment will be voted upon at the November 2010 general election.
During its 2009 regular session, the Legislative Assembly passed two tax bills raising individual and corporate taxes. Both bills were referred to the people by referendum petition and were subsequently approved by the people at a special election held on Jan. 26, 2010, only days before the 2010 special session began.
First, the passage of House Bill 2649 (Measure 66) raised taxes on income at and above $250,000 for households and $125,000 for individual filers. The tax rate was increased by 1.8 percentage points on amounts of taxable income between $250,000 and $500,000, and by 2 percentage points on amounts above $500,000 for households. For individual filers, the rate increases began at $125,000 and $250,000, respectively.
Second, the passage of House Bill 3405 (Measure 67) raised the $10 corporate minimum tax toa $150 tax for most businesses, or approximately 0.1 percent of total Oregon revenues for some corporations with $500,000 or more in revenues. It also raised the tax rate some corporations pay on profits by 1.3 percentage points and increased certain business filing fees.
Senate Bill 991 authorizes transfers of short-term care and control of minor children to third parties for the purpose of providing parents in crisis with relief from the demands of child care. The respite services are provided upon execution of a valid power of attorney. The transfer may occur without declaring the child a ward of the court. The bill clarifies that governmental oversight or intervention is not required, although respite providers must obtain criminal background checks.
House Bill 3706 adds loans and extensions of credit to the types of services actionable under the state’s Unlawful Trade Practices Act. The legislation authorizes the state attorney general to investigate and sue financial institutions and other lenders on behalf of the state to prevent actionable conduct, and authorizes civil suits for damages by private individuals and classes of plaintiffs.
Senate Bill 993 clarifies laws requiring payday loan lenders and title loan lenders to obtain a license to conduct business. It sets requirements for licensing and duties of and prohibitions for licensees, and the allowable rate of interest for payday and title loans.
House Bill 3624 requires appraisal management companies to register with the Department of Consumer and Business Services and file a surety bond or irrevocable letter of credit. It authorizes the department to require fingerprints of applicants and prohibits appraisal management companies from attempting to influence appraisals or substantively altering completed appraisal reports. It directs the department to adopt rules requiring appraisal management companies to establish a dispute resolution process.
Senate Bill 1059 directs the Oregon Transportation Commission to adopt a statewide transportation strategy on greenhouse gas emissions and to work with local governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
House Bill 3700 allows credit unions to serve as depositories of public funds on a basis similar to that of bank depositories. The new provisions become operative in 2013.
The Virginia General Assembly convened Jan. 13, 2010, for its 60-day or "long" regular session. Republicans took control over all three statewide offices after the November elections of Governor Bob McDonnell, Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling, and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. Although not an election year for the 40-member Senate, the Democrats increased their majority by a margin of 22 to 18 after a special election to replace Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's former seat in the state Senate. The Republicans in the House of Delegates fared strongly in the November elections and strengthened control of the 100-member House of Delegates to 59 Republicans, 39 Democrats, and two independents who generally support Republican positions. Despite a grim revenue picture and the difficult task of balancing cuts with economic development incentives, approval of the new budget took only one extra day. The General Assembly adjourned the regular session sine die on March 14, 2010, with a new budget. The new Governor, however, has publicly discussed his openness to call the legislature into special session to address transportation funding and the streamlining or consolidation of state agencies if he is able to gain support for his initiatives over the interim. The General Assembly considered 2,964 bills and passed 1,598 of those measures during the 2010 session, three of which will allow for constitutional amendments to be placed on the ballot in the fall to (i) provide property tax exemptions for disabled veterans, (ii) increase the size of the "rainy day" fund, and (iii) allow localities to reduce the property tax burdens for seniors and disabled people. The legislature failed to adopt provisions to decriminalize marijuana, the first time such efforts have been introduced in the Old Dominion. Legislation to push back federal authority brought mixed results--the General Assembly passed a provision stating that residents are not required to obtain health insurance, but failed to enact measures stating that guns manufactured and sold in Virginia would not be subject to federal law or that carbon dioxide shall not be considered a pollutant.
The Governor convened the 79th Legislature into a brief 4th extraordinary session of 2009 in November, during which 10 bills were passed. Among the bills were provisions creating a pilot program for military and overseas voters (HB406); amending the recently enacted Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Act (HB408); clarifying legislative intent relating to expungement orders (SB4001); authorizing the issuance of federal recovery zone bonds (SB4003); and establishing an alternative retirement plan for new hires of municipal police and firefighter forces (SB4007).
The 79th Legislature’s 2nd Regular Session began January 13, 2010 and concluded March 20 with the passage of 219 bills out of 2079 introduced. General law legislation passed this session includes bills that create a pilot program for the public financing of an upcoming judicial election (HB4130) and address the regulation of communications during elections generally (HB4647); regulate tattoo artists (HB2503), athletic trainers (HB3152) and residential mortgage brokers, lenders and loan originators (HB4285); establish a new tax credit for certain patent development and uses (SB185) and require the study of disparate taxation of telecommunications (SB345); authorize municipalities to require registration of vacant properties (HB4034) and to impose a lien on fire insurance premiums for real property losses (HB4038); authorize the issuance of federal subsidy bonds (HB4037) and permit special electric utility rates for energy-intensive industrial electric power consumers (SB656); address procedures for filling legislative (SB557) and judicial (HB4036) vacancies; provide criminal penalties for certain street gang activities (HB4188) and increase the penalties for littering (SB627); authorize the creation of a Business Court system (HB4352); and limit the liability of bee keepers (HB4527). Gubernatorial action on these and the remaining bills may be monitored at the legislative website below.
The Legislature will meet monthly to study various topics during the interim period between regular sessions. May 11 brings primary elections and November 2 brings general elections for all 100 House of Delegates seats and half (17) of the Senate seats. The 1st Regular Session of the 80th Legislature will convene January 12, 2011 for 60 days. To monitor legislative activity, please visit the West Virginia Legislature’s website at http://www.legis.state.wv.us/. For toll-free access, dial 1-877-56LEGIS.