Stateline: March 2013 | STATE LEGISLATURES MAGAZINE
Florida lawmakers are considering several ideas to entice college students into majors that prepare them for jobs the state will need filled in the near future. One suggestion from a governor’s task force is to freeze tuition rates for three years for students in “desirable” majors like civil engineering, pre-med and computer science. A tiered tuition structure, for example, could make a class on molecular biology less expensive than one on the philosophy of ancient Greece. Likewise, geotechnical engineering might be a bargain compared to the theories of modern grammar. Needless to say, liberal arts professors criticized the idea, warning it would reduce the number of students studying the humanities. A humanities degree, University of Florida History Professor Lillian Guerra told The New York Times, “gives students a set of analytical skills and writing skills” valued in many careers today.
Are ferrets friend or foe? Foe, according to laws in Hawaii and California. Concerns about the extent of destruction a proliferation of escaped ones might do to local ecosystems led to the bans. Just look at what happened when Hawaiian farmers introduced the mongoose in 1883 to kill an over abundance of rats. Not only did they fail to kill many rats (since their sleeping habits kept them apart), with no predators, they’ve gone on to eat everything and anything they can find, spreading nasty diseases along the way. Importing, selling or possessing a ferret in Hawaii gets you a fine up to $200,000 and up to three years in jail. In California, where’s there’s been six attempts to reverse the ban since 1994, the penalties are softer: a $500 fine or six months in jail for owning one. Several cities prohibit the foot-long part weasel, part polecat as well.
The current GI bill offers all honorably discharged veterans federal money to attend college or university. Sounds good. Veterans can receive up to $17,500 a year at private schools, but at public institutions, the federal government will pay only the actual in-state tuition and fees. If veterans don’t meet the state residency requirements they have to pick up the difference. For many, this is making it difficult to cash in on the benefit. When you’re in the military, “home” is a moving target. Eighteen state legislatures have recently passed bills in response to the problem, setting in-state tuition rates for all veterans, no matter how long they’ve lived in the state. Five others are considering similar legislation this session, according to the Associated Press.
How do you measure a state’s propensity at being innovative? Political science professors at the University of Iowa were intrigued by this challenge. Choosing to define innovative to mean the willingness to adopt new policies before others, they filled a database of 180 different policies states passed between 1912 and 2009—from bottle bills to seat belt laws, according to the Pew Center on the States. Professors Frederick Boehmke and Paul Skinner then ranked the states in two time periods: 1912-1958 and 1959-2009. The winner? California. Also scoring high were Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Minnesota, Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Illinois, Florida and North Carolina. States that have become more innovative over time were Arizona, Florida, Iowa and Texas.
The federal government announced in mid-January a new low-interest, microloan program to help minorities, veterans and family farmers with the costs of renting land and buying seed, equipment and other things involved in starting a farming business. Loans have an upper limit of $35,000, and a fluctuating interest rate; in January it was 1.25 percent. Goals include promoting entrepreneurship in the farming industry and supporting the increasing interest in buying and eating locally grown food, according to the Associated Press. Loans aren’t limited to rural America. They can be used by urban farmers to grow fruits and vegetables, or raise chickens and bees.
It’s not just investors who are suffering from Facebook’s lower-than-expected stock share prices. The state of California also stands to lose money—or rather, not make as much as expected. Budget analysts had estimated the state would take in $1.9 billion from taxes on stock sales and vesting in the three fiscal years ending in June 2014, according to the Wall Street Journal. They now expect closer to $1.3 billion. It’s not a make-or-break situation, however. The state plans to collect $281 billion in revenues during the same time period.
Money from casinos would be used to help fund campaigns in New York under a proposal by Senator Liz Krueger (D) and reform advocate Bill Samuels of the New Roosevelt Initiative. Anticipating passage of a constitutional amendment this fall to allow casinos on non-Indian land, they propose the state’s share of this new gaming revenue be directed toward education, where lottery revenues currently go. But they would channel $56 million a year from the annual fees casinos pay for licenses into matching funds for contributions to candidates. Krueger said the money generated from the licenses would provide a stable, revenue stream to help fund elections in New York, making them more competitive and reducing the influence of money in politics.
With more and more state statutes and bills going digital, how do we know what we find online is the real deal? To ensure that electronic legal material is trustworthy, authentic and official, state lawmakers are considering the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act, approved by The Uniform Law Commission in 2011. The model legislation requires online material to be: authentic (unaltered through the use of electronic methods, such as digital signatures); preserved, either electronically or in print form; and accessible to the public permanently. The model legislation allows state legislatures to adapt it to their unique circumstances, including what kinds of legal material to cover and what specific technology to use. California and Colorado passed laws last year, and at press time, lawmakers in Hawaii, Massachusetts and North Dakota were considering the legislation.
Tennessee representatives are limited to filing no more than 15 bills a year under new rules adopted by the House in January. Deputy Speaker Steve McDaniel (R) told the Tennessean the measure will streamline the legislative process and save money. Opponents argued that a cap would impinge on legislators’ freedom. House data showed that Tennessee introduced the second-highest number of bills among Southern states—averaging 4,682 in their two-year sessions since 2005. The Senate has not imposed caps, and some senators were concerned such a limit would affect their ability to find House sponsors for their bills. Twenty-two chambers in 14 states impose a limit on bill introductions.
Massachusetts citizens who score above 70 on IQ tests will no longer automatically be denied state services under a law passed in January. The state Court of Appeals in July struck down regulations adopted in 2006 that allowed the Department of Developmental Services to deny eligibility to people whose IQs were above 70. Advocates say the new law will make it easier for those with developmental disabilities, including autism, to receive state services.