While Congress Went for Broke, States Forged Ahead: October 2013 State Net® Capitol Journal in Review

Posted on 10-31-2013 by
Tags: Real Law

Brought to you by the Real Law Editorial Team

Arguing over positions can lead to unwise agreements—or no agreement at all. That much is made clear early in Getting to YES: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, the bestselling book based on work done by the Harvard Negotiation Project, which is part of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School.

The inherent folly of positional negotiating was recently on full display in Congress. Debate leading up to the federal government shutdown and the subsequent last-minute deal to avoid defaulting on the country’s loan obligations were classic examples of how badly things can turn out when entrenched positions are the basis for talks.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in state capitols across the country were occupied with other pressing matters and making strides toward finding common ground on numerous important issues, some of which are partly related to the ongoing political stalemate in Washington—a fact that drew the attention of State Net® Capitol Journal editors throughout October.

State(s) of Reform

“While Washington waffles, California’s forging ahead,” Gov. Jerry Brown declared early in the month as he signed a bill to increase civil, workplace and education protection for unauthorized immigrants.

But as Capitol Journal editorial advisor Lou Cannon noted in the October 21 edition, the Golden State is not alone in extending certain benefits to individuals who are in the country illegally.

“For example, 10 states and the District of Columbia allow illegals to obtain drivers’ licenses,” he reported. “Colorado, Minnesota and Oregon this year granted in-state college tuition to illegals, bringing to 15 the number of states that do so. Seven states enacted measures making it easier for pregnant women and children of illegals to receive health care.”

Altogether, Cannon observed, state legislatures in the first six months of 2013 enacted 146 laws and 231 resolutions on immigration-related matters, which is more than were passed in all of 2012.

“With Congress in seemingly perpetual gridlock, many states believe they cannot wait until the House gets its act together to do what they can on immigration reform.”

Ballot Battles

Meanwhile, as associate editor Korey Clark related in the October 14 edition, voters in a half-dozen states will weigh a total of 31 ballot measures in November. “Many of them are relatively minor,” he noted, “but a few are drawing plenty of attention and campaign cash.”

Indeed, some of the ballot battles are over measures that have wider relevance, and that makes their backstories all the more interesting from a national perspective.

In Colorado, for example, voters will decide whether to impose a double levy on newly legalized recreational marijuana sales. The pair of taxes would potentially generate a revenue windfall on a scale that many in the post-sequestration era would welcome. But as Clark reported, anti-tax sentiment runs deep in the Centennial State and any tax hike has to be approved by a popular vote. It’s not certain whether the measure will pass.

A separate measure that would alter the state’s income tax system to provide more money for education is also on the November ballot, but it’s the marijuana levy that’s drawing the most attention. This comes at a time when public opinion across the country regarding marijuana use is changing dramatically. Indeed, according to a recent Gallup poll, a clear majority of Americans (58%) now say the drug should be legalized.

“There’s going to be lots of money spent in favor of [the Colorado ballot measures], and not a lot of money opposed to them,” Clark noted.

Also covered in Clark’s roundup of noteworthy state ballot battles is a measure in Washington to determine whether genetically modified foods should have to be labeled as such, and a coming showdown in New York, where voters will weigh a constitutional amendment that would allow the Empire State to “authorize and regulate” up to seven new casinos. The latter proposal is part of a larger plan to lure more tourists, especially upstate, but it’s ended up mired in some controversy, including an allegation that the language used on the ballot is biased in favor of its passage.

Clark’s reporting of those issues is a worthwhile read.

To Drill or Not to Drill?

Finally, a question on the minds of many political observers dominates editor Rich Ehisen’s top story in the October 7 edition. California recently became the latest state (joining Arkansas, Illinois, West Virginia, Colorado and others) to sign off on the controversial oil and natural gas drilling practice known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” With that, Ehisen observed, “all eyes are again focused on New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who is under intense pressure from both drilling opponents and supporters to act on his state’s five-year-old fracking moratorium.”

California’s considered response to fracking—legislation that will impose “strong environmental protections and transparency requirements” through what are likely to be some of the country’s toughest regulations—may prove to be a model for other states. But whether New York will allow the practice with such enhanced oversight or continue the moratorium started in 2008 under former Governor David Paterson remains a closely watched issue.

“To date, Gov. Cuomo has offered precious little hint of what he might do, and he has repeatedly avoided making a decision in favor of doing more study about fracking’s pros and cons. He insists his decision, whenever he makes it, will be driven by ‘facts and science’ and not the highly charged emotions that surround the issue,” Ehisen reported.

In fact, other concerns may explain the delay. “The divisive nature of the issue is particularly sensitive for Cuomo, whom many observers expect to run for president in 2016,” Ehisen noted. “Endorsing new drilling and fracking would clearly bolster his bona fides with those who point to the process’s economic potential… But doing so would also undoubtedly push away fracking opponents.”

However the issue is resolved in New York, Ehisen’s examination of fracking and its connection to possible political aims presents an opportunity to highlight a fundamental tenet in the proven alternative to positional negotiating.

In principle-based negotiation, one should focus on a party’s real interests rather than their stated goals.

News and Views from the 50 States

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

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