Capitol Affairs: A May Review

Posted on 05-30-2013 by
Tags: Real Law

Brought to you by the Real Law Editorial Team

In Casablanca, “they wait—and wait, and wait.” So the narrator intones darkly over the montage that opens the riveting 1942 film set in Morocco’s exotic and largest city—a place depicted as steeped in intrigue and teeming with behind-the-scenes activity.

State officials across the United States might easily find themselves in a similar frame of mind these days. While summer approaches, they can only watch and wait as Congress tackles several major issues that will affect them and their constituents.

Feds at the Forefront

In the top story of the May 20, 2013, edition of State Net® Capitol Journal, editor Rich Ehisen notes that the U.S. Senate has overwhelmingly endorsed two long-awaited pieces of legislation, the Marketplace Fairness Act and the Water Resources Development Act, both of which could have a major impact on states.

What remains unclear is how the bills will fare in the House of Representatives.

U.S. SB 743, the Marketplace Fairness Act, is intended to address a widespread call to “level the playing field between Main Street and e-street” by requiring Internet retailers to collect sales tax for online purchases. At stake are billions of dollars in annual tax revenue at the state level. Nevertheless, the measure is strongly opposed by some House Republicans who say it amounts to a new tax grab on consumers.

Then there’s U.S. SB 601, the Water Resources Development Act—a $12.5 billion bill that would authorize the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to carry out flood control and mitigation projects across the country. It would also green-light a myriad of critical port improvement and coastal storm protection efforts.

In the Senate, the proposed water resources legislation garnered even more support than the online tax bill; however, it has plenty of critics elsewhere. Says Ehisen: “Some Republicans have complained that the bill allows the Obama administration too much power to choose which water facilities receive support. Meanwhile, Democrats contend that Republicans are too spending-averse to give the bill a fair shot.”

The Price of Reform

While they wait as Congress debates new legislation, state officials are struggling to meet fast-approaching deadlines for creating online marketplaces, known as exchanges, in which individuals and families can purchase health insurance policies—a requirement imposed by the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Following an unsuccessful challenge before the Supreme Court, which upheld the act’s constitutionality, those exchanges are supposed to be in place by this coming October and fully operational by January 2014.

Many states are finding the deadlines to be overly ambitious and challenging, notes Capitol Journal columnist Lou Cannon in the top story for the previous week’s May 13, 2013, edition. In a wide-ranging assessment of the impact of the legislation, Cannon declares that the Obama administration’s “vaunted plan for overhauling the nation’s health care system will cost more, insure fewer people and probably take longer to implement than originally planned.”

In a previous issue, Cannon observed that state legislatures across the country have been “experimenting avidly in all directions.” With the Affordable Care Act, that mood for creativity seems to be absent. Even so, time is running out to implement measures required by the legislation.

Greyhound Therapy for Others

Meanwhile, the price of health-care reform of a different kind has had a disturbing impact in at least one state. Nevada has been rocked by a scandal that, if nothing else, seems to defy the conventional wisdom that what happens in Las Vegas is supposed to stay there.

Significant funding cuts prompted at least one state-run mental facility in the self-styled Entertainment Capital of the World—also known, ironically in this case, as the Capital of Second Chances—to implement a stunning policy for dealing with patients: loading them onto Greyhound buses and shipping them to cities in neighboring California and elsewhere across the country.

In the May 6, 2013, edition, Capitol Journal associate editor Korey Clark takes an in-depth look at the story that made national headlines earlier this year.

News and Views from the 50 States

There’s more that fills each weekly edition of Capitol Journal. It’s all compiled by State Net’s expert editorial staff and freely available on the State Net website or in various formats via email.

Stay ahead of legislative and regulatory changes with LexisNexis State Net. Learn more >>