Colorado recently passed a law authorizing civil unions between any two unmarried persons, regardless of gender. The act will provide the same legal benefits, protections, and responsibilities to couples that are granted in Colorado law to married spouses. The act includes a statement that it shall not be construed to create a marriage between the parties to a civil union nor alter the public policy of Colorado which recognizes only the union of one man and one woman as a marriage. This is because the Colorado constitution includes a DOMA provision that says that marriage is only between one man and one woman. The civil unions law takes effect May 1.
Colorado has passed three bills on gun control: a bill banning high capacity ammunition magazines capable of holding more than 15 rounds, a bill providing for universal background checks which covers private sales and transfers of firearms, and a fee for background checks on firearm purchases. As of this writing, other measures are still being debated.
In November 2012, the Colorado voters approved an initiated measure (Amendment 64) to allow for the legalization of marijuana by adults (persons over 21). The voters previously voted to allow medical marijuana in 2000. The governor convened a 24-member implementation task force to develop recommendations on how to implement Amendment 64. The task force issued a 165-page report with 58 policy recommendations. Now, a legislative committee is meeting to draft and introduce legislation to implement Amendment 64 before the end of the session. There are several issues to address, including the model for regulating recreational sales, how to tax the new industry, which, under our state constitution, would require voter approval, how the law would apply to tourists, and policies regarding use by employees. Amendment 64 also legalized the cultivation, processing, and sale of industrial hemp.
Just six legislative weeks into the 147th General Assembly (as of this submission)there are multiple hot button issues—almost none yet resolved. For sheer quantity, gun related bills top the list. Expanding background checks, increasing penalties for existing gun related crimes, and ideas for helping schools defend their occupants are all introduced and some may even become law (tune in for the update this Fall). Also making local headlines are bills to upgrade civil unions to full-fledged gay marriage, to repeal the death penalty and to remove the sunsetting (repeal) of tax increases initiated due to the Great Recession.
Leading up to the Easter break, the Senate passed the death penalty repeal (SB19) by a bare majority [11-10] after attaching an amendment to leave the current members of death row on death row. The House, which needs 25 votes to pass bills that increase taxes, passed almost completely along party lines four bills (HB’s 50-52 at 26-15 and HB 53 at 25-16) to keep the tax increases mostly in place.
On the last session day before Easter break, the Senate passed all four of the tax bills 13-8, the minimum necessary for the three-fifths vote requirement and completely along party lines, and the Governor wasted no time signing all four. The House took up the first of the Governor’s gun package: HB 35 requiring background checks for most purchasers of guns from people who are not licensed firearms dealers. Eleven amendments were introduced and 10 were attached prior to passage of the bill by a near party line vote of 24-17. Ten amendments may be a modern Delaware House record for quantity attached to one bill in one day.
Edith Elizabeth Pollitz
Florida’s Legislature is nearly halfway through session as of the writing of this report. It is too early to make many predictions. However, internet cafes are definitely on the menu. Committee Substitute for House Bill 155 has already passed the full House of Representatives. This bill would clarify existing law and prohibit electronic gambling devices.
House Bill 155
As internet cafes proliferated around the state in the last few years, there has been enhanced interest in doing something to deal with their activity. Although existing law arguably covered some activity, there has been confusion among local authorities. According to the staff analysis for CS/HB 155, the majority of sheriffs who responded to a 2011 survey on the subject indicated “the statutes were either vague, insufficient, or failed to provide sufficient direction as to whether the activities conducted through the use of electronic game promotions were legal.” A majority of state attorneys responding to the same survey felt internet cafes fell within the parameters of illegal gambling establishments. The allied Veterans of the World fraud investigation saga, which produced the resignation of Florida’s lieutenant governor, adds fuel to the fire and makes clarifying action imperative.
In December 2012, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled against the longstanding Illinois ban on carrying concealed firearms, finding the prohibition unconstitutional. The court remanded the two cases at bar to their respective district courts, but ordered their mandate stayed for 180 days to allow the General Assembly time to enact legislation that would place reasonable restrictions on concealed carry.
Among the bills that have been introduced regarding firearms is House Bill 997. This bill was introduced to create the Family and Personal Protection Act and would require that the Department of State Police issue a license to a person to carry a loaded or unloaded handgun on or about his or her person, concealed or otherwise; keep or carry a loaded or unloaded handgun on or about his or her person when in a vehicle; and keep a loaded or unloaded handgun openly or concealed in a vehicle.
Another bill, House Bill 1155, was introduced as a shell bill amending a part of the Criminal Code of 2012 that deals with the unlawful use of weapons. Of the 53 House floor amendments that have been introduced, 16 have been adopted. Some of the amendments prohibit carrying firearms into schools, day cares, government buildings, gambling facilities, hospitals, libraries, stadiums, amusement parks, any form of public transportation and other areas. One amendment requires that handguns be registered with the Department of State Police. Other amendments establish restrictions concerning prior gang activity and the manner in which a firearm must be stored. Both bills are in the House and have yet to be sent to the Senate.
The 118th Indiana General Assembly is nearing the end of its 2013 session and is scheduled to adjourn sine die on April 29. Preparing the state's biennial budget will dominate the remaining weeks of the 2013 session. Other significant issues on the agenda in the closing weeks are public transportation, taxation, education, healthcare, and economic development.
The 2013 session began with leadership changes occurring throughout the legislative branch of state government. Indiana's new Lt. Governor, Sue Ellspermann, serves as the president of the Senate following her election in November after one term in the Indiana House of Representatives. Senator Tim Lanane was chosen to lead the Senate Democrat caucus. Representative Scott Pelath is the new leader of the House Democrat Caucus. Senator David Long and Representative Brian Bosma retained their respective positions as President Pro Tempore of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives.
A number of veteran staff members have been promoted to leadership positions in the Legislative Services Agency. George Angelone was elevated from his post as the Deputy Director of the Office of Bill Drafting and Research to replace the retiring Jack Ross as the Executive Director of the agency. Diane Powers is the agency's new Deputy Executive Director after serving for many years as the Director of the Office of Fiscal & Management Analysis. Jim Landers is the new Director of Office of Fiscal & Management Analysis. Ed Gohmann and Ross Hooten are now serving as the Deputy Directors of the Office of Bill Drafting and Research.
The Legislative Services Agency has chosen a vendor who has already begun working on the overhaul of Indiana's legislative information systems. A paperless committee management system will be will be implemented for the 2014 session as the first phase of the project which will require multiple sessions to fully install.
The Maryland General Assembly is set to adjourn at midnight sine die on Monday, April 8. As of April 1, out of over 2,600 bill introductions, 13 measures have passed and thus reached the desk of the governor, who is expected to sign all of the measures. Among the more prominent of the passed bills are those that repeal the death penalty, increase the sales tax on motor fuel, add a customer rate increase to develop offshore wind energy, and include a surcharge on customers’ gas bills to speed up replacement of failing infrastructure.
Passed legislation repeals the death penalty and all provisions relating to it. Under the bill, a person found guilty of murder in the first degree must be sentenced to either imprisonment for life or imprisonment for life without the possibility of parole. If the state has already properly filed a notice of intent to seek a death sentence, that notice must be considered withdrawn. In such instance, the state must instead be considered to have properly filed notice to seek a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The bill also alters the authorization for the governor to commute or change a sentence of death; under the bill the Governor may change a sentence of death into a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. This replaces the governor’s current statutory authority to commute or change a sentence of death into a period of confinement that the governor specifies. (Senate Bill 276)
Other controversial legislation increases funding for transportation by imposing additional motor fuel taxes on all fuels except aviation gasoline and turbine fuel, based on the retail price of gasoline and/or inflation. The bill indexes motor fuel tax rates to inflation beginning in fiscal 2014; it imposes a 1 percent sales tax equivalent rate on motor fuel beginning in fiscal 2014, increasing to 2 percent beginning Jan. 1, 2015, and to 3 percent beginning in fiscal 2016. Unless federal legislation on sales tax collection is enacted by Dec. 1, 2015, the sales and use tax equivalent rate increases from 3 percent to 4 percent beginning Jan. 1, 2016, and then increases to 5 percent beginning in fiscal 2017. If federal legislation on sales tax collection is enacted and takes effect by Dec. 1, 2015, the sales and use tax equivalent rate remains at 3 percent and the state is then required to distribute 4 percent of total state sales tax revenues to the Transportation Trust Fund. (House Bill 1515)
The Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013 creates a market in the State for offshore wind energy and requires electricity sales in Maryland to include approximately 2.5 percent derived from offshore wind beginning in 2017. Qualified offshore wind projects must be approved by the Maryland’s Public Service Commission (PSC). Among the criteria for PSC approval, the project’s projected rate impact cannot exceed $1.50 per month for the average residential customer in 2012 dollars and does not exceed 1.5 percent of nonresidential customers’ total annual electric bill. (House Bill 226)
Passed legislation also authorizes gas companies to request authorization to include a surcharge on customers’ bills to recover costs associated with proposed eligible infrastructure replacement projects. The limit for the surcharge is $2 per month for each residential gas customer. The surcharge for a nonresidential customer must not be less than the fixed annual surcharge applicable to a residential customer account, but also must be capped. (Senate Bill 8)
Perhaps the most contentious and divisive issue during the 2013 session has been gun control. This legislation is still pending, but is expected to pass during the last week of the 2013 session. The bill bans assault weapons and high capacity magazines and requires a licensing system including a background check and finger printing for those who purchase, rent, or receive handguns. Over 1,000 people were drawn to Annapolis to demonstrate primarily against the legislation and to testify before a Senate committee. An equal number of people testified during the House committee hearing which lasted until 4:00 AM, after everyone who signed up to testify had done so.
On March 20, the governor signed the Minnesota Insurance Marketplace bill into law. This is Minnesota's new health insurance exchange developed in compliance with The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
The Minnesota Office of the Revisor of Statutes has published the 2013 edition of the Minnesota Revisors Manual that contains the styles and forms for drafting bills, resolutions, and amendments; interpretation of statutes; clarity in drafting; and practical aids to research and drafting. The manual can be found at www.revisor.mn.gov.
On Feb. 23, the 2013 General Assembly adjourned a packed 46-day session that considered nearly 2600 bills and resolutions and concluded with a landmark Transportation funding package that will highlight Governor Robert McDonnell's legacy and bring new funding to badly depleted road maintenance and construction funds.
The package is expected to generate $5.9 billion dollars for transportation over the next five years. It involves a move away from the 17.5 cent per gallon gasoline tax and shift to reliance on an increase in the state sales tax from 5 percent to 5.3 percent statewide and possibly to 6 percent in certain congested areas. Other components of the Transportation package involve a vehicle titling tax increase, an annual fee on alternative fuel vehicles, and assurances that the transportation funds be used for transportation purposes.
There was bipartisan support for the package in both houses of the General Assembly that overcame opposition by a number of members to any tax increase. Final action on the package took place on April 3 when the General Assembly met to act on the governor's suggested amendments to the transportation package as well as other bills and vetoes.
After concluding the Legislature’s monthly interim study meetings, the 81st Legislature convened its 1st Regular Session. Work began Feb. 13, , and after West Virginia’s 60 day constitutional limitation, work on general law legislation will conclude April 13. That limitation does not apply to appropriations, and practice has been to extend the regular session for a week or so to conclude work on the budget bill for the upcoming fiscal year. A significant enactment early this session has been Committee Substitute for Senate Bill No. 359 which is intended to improve the state’s pre-K to 12 education system. Another high profile bill being considered is Senate Bill No. 371, introduced to reduce prison overcrowding by various means, including an expansion of drug treatment opportunities to address drug and other substance abuse behaviors found to be directly contributing to this problem.
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.