Capitol Affairs: June 2013 in Review

Posted on 06-28-2013 by
Tags: Real Law

Brought to you by the Real Law Editorial Team

The uncertainty principle is a fundamental concept in quantum physics. It refers to a dynamic imbalance that occurs when properties of a particle are observed. For example, the more precisely the position of a particle is determined, the less can be known about its momentum—and vice versa.

It could also be a more general rule in life. Stated simply: the more we know about one thing, the less we know about another. And, of course, it works the other way around.

That’s certainly a quandary for many in politics and law at the moment. One cause of their predicament is a long-awaited federal bill covering immigration reform.

Potential Budget Buster

For years, state and local governments with heavy concentrations of illegal immigrants have clamored for the legislation. In its current form, it’s viewed an “economic winner” inasmuch as it could boost growth by increasing the number of legal workers in the country. That’s hoped to provide added stimulus that can help solve America’s perceived productivity problem.

But others are growing increasingly wary of S. 744, known as the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act. As regular columnist Lou Cannon notes in the top story of the June 17 edition of State Net® Capitol Journal, just as the bill finally seems to be making headway through Congress with broad bipartisan support, there is mounting uncertainty—and deep concern—that states and localities may be in line to bear the brunt of the costs of providing health-care, education and other services to newly legal residents.

There might be a case for such alarm, says Cannon. “When the federal government at President Ronald Reagan’s behest last overhauled immigration laws in 1986, states and local governments received $4 billion in impact aid to help defray costs. The present bill includes no such funding.”

He adds: “Lack of impact aid could impose financial hardships on states and localities that only recently emerged from years of belt-tightening during the Great Recession.”

Disaster (or Disastrous?) Spending

Meanwhile, another uncertainty is growing—in this case, in proportion to a greater awareness that significant natural disasters are becoming more frequent in the United States. As Capitol Journal associate editor Korey Clark reports in the June 10 edition, while the $62 billion reported in losses from Superstorm Sandy last year “may be a harbinger of the future of U.S. disaster spending,” a larger issue is whether Congress really knows how much will be actually needed to cover the sum of federal relief efforts over coming years.

According to one estimate, the U.S. government spent at least $136 billion—or roughly $400 per American household—on such relief between 2011 and 2013. However, as Clark notes, “Congress wasn’t actually aware of that fact itself because no federal agency keeps a tab on the full amount the federal government spends on disaster relief.” Indeed, the numbers Clark cites come from a recent report from the Center for American Progress, whose authors “had to sift through three years’ worth of appropriation bills and disaster-relief supplementals to obtain their estimate,” he explains.

Again, the less we know of one thing (how much natural disasters are actually costing taxpayers), the more certainty we can have about another (Congress will continue underbudgeting for disaster relief and recovery).

“Even the partial accounting of how much the federal government is spending on disaster relief has been enough to raise concerns among some members of Congress,” Clark reports.

Prying Eyes

Finally, amidst mounting concern over individual privacy rights, a handful of states adopted laws last year to prohibit employers from forcing workers to hand over their social media passwords. Now, as Capitol Journal editor Rich Ehisen writes in the top story for the June 3 edition, a growing number of states are following suit.

In fact, according to Ehisen, a majority of states across the country have introduced social media legislation this year. But while privacy advocates have hailed the slew of new restrictions, the laws also raise questions. Some measures are deemed to be overly restrictive, Ehisen reports, and that could potentially expose employers to “frivolous lawsuits.”

There is also considerable variation in proposed and enacted legislation across the country, and that’s created some murky legal terrain for multi-state employers. Compliance will be an issue for some. According to Ehisen, that makes it likely there will be legal challenges to some of the laws’ tenets.

Actually, you can probably be sure that there will be challenges, if only because you can’t be certain about so many other things.

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.

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