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Brought to you by the Real Law Editorial Team
“Quarter to three is the new ten to two.” That mnemonic refers to where the American Automobile Association, the National Highway Traffic Safety Authority and many driving instructors now say you should grip a vehicle’s steering wheel.
Some experts go even further, recommending eight and four as envisioned on a clock. The reason: evidence suggests that the higher one’s hands are placed on the wheel, the more they and other body parts are likely to be severely injured in the event that the vehicle’s airbag deploys.
So, out with the old, in with the new, as the saying goes.
That sanguine notion was clearly on the minds of State Net® Capitol Journal editors as they set their critical gaze on the road ahead in 2014.
As editor Rich Ehisen observed in the first of a two-part preview, lawmakers will have no lack of critical issues to face as the year unfolds. “Some will be new, but most will be very familiar,” he predicted of the issues that are likely to make headlines.
Associate editor Korey Clark shared Ehisen’s outlook, remarking in a follow-up edition that the majority of issues expected to be hot in 2014 were hot last year and even before, although they have been stoked by recent Supreme Court decisions and continued Congressional inaction.
At the same time, those issues will undoubtedly be affected by the countdown to midterm elections, in which 38 governorships, 46 legislative chambers, 33 United States Senate seats and all 435 House of Representatives seats are currently up for grabs.
Here, then, are highlights from the Capitol Journal’s two-part preview, starting with Ehisen’s informed musings in the December 9 edition about what’s expected to draw the attention of those in the legal profession in coming months.
Measures related to health, taxes, the environment and human rights are among the issues that rank highly in Ehisen’s anticipated hot topics for the year.
Health benefits exchanges—The initial rollout of the federal healthcare.gov website in October was, to say the least, troubled. That led President Obama to give states the option of allowing insurers to continue offering for one year health coverage policies that were set to expire by January 1, 2014. Meanwhile, with a few notable exceptions, state-run exchanges have worked demonstrably better. With consumers facing a March 31 deadline to either obtain insurance or potentially pay a tax penalty, it is safe to presume that all eyes will be on the ongoing performance of the exchanges.
Medicaid expansion—So far, 25 states and the District of Columbia have indicated they will expand eligibility in line with the Affordable Care Act to cover adults to up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line, while a handful of others have submitted or are considering proposals that would allow them to use federal Medicaid dollars on alternative plans to cover more low-income residents. The remaining states are opting out. This promises to be a major issue throughout the year, particularly as gubernatorial and legislative campaigns heat up.
Online gambling—Enthralled by the prospect of potential new tax revenues, several states are considering following the lead of others that have legalized online gambling within their individual borders. Meanwhile, Congress could get into the game. Several bills have been introduced in the House, including one that would allow states and the federal government to levy taxes. The bet is this issue could lead to more raucous debate in 2014.
Biosimilars—Among the many tenets of the Affordable Care Act is a provision allowing for a shortened pathway to licensure for drugs deemed to be biologically similar or interchangeable with those already approved by the Food and Drug Administration. But ongoing turmoil around implementation of the ACA, along with a failure by the FDA to issue clear guidelines for biosimilar approval, could result in a fresh wave of state-level laws.
Fracking—A growing debate concerning the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, was a major issue in 2013 (Ehisen reported on it for Capitol Journal in October and it was the subject of a post on This Is Real Law in 2012). Altogether, 26 states collectively introduced 176 bills concerning the practice. Expect more such legislative activity in the new year, along with increased pressure to require drillers to disclose the chemicals they inject deep into the ground to break up oil- and gas-bearing shale deposits, and to monitor nearby groundwater supplies.
Workplace bullying—As Ehisen points out, this issue has been around statehouses for a decade; however, with the economy slowly improving there is renewed interest in passing legislation. Even before stories broke about practices among some professional athletes, workplace bullying bills were pending in numerous states. Expect other lawmakers to follow suit.
Rounding out the two-part Capitol Journal preview with the top story in the December 16 edition, Clark extends the list of issues that are likely to be hotly debated in statehouses and Congress throughout the year. His report includes:
Pension reform—There is growing alarm stemming from this issue. In 2012, for example, legislation was introduced in every state but six and enacted in 33. The pace fell off somewhat in 2013, but states continue to face massive unfunded pension liabilities. Also, a surprise ruling by the federal bankruptcy court judge presiding over the bankruptcy case in Detroit is likely to resonate in cities across the country. The issue is bound to get increased attention from lawmakers.
Voter ID—Following the June 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder, several states formerly subject to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act went ahead with implementation of new voter ID restrictions. The U.S. Department of Justice has filed lawsuits challenging those restrictions in two states, and voting laws recently passed elsewhere are also facing legal hurdles. Meanwhile, with the entire U.S. House and a majority of state legislative seats up for grabs in this year’s elections, voter ID law is certain to come under intense scrutiny.
Same-sex marriage—Supporters of the issue say they plan to be active in several key states in 2014. Meanwhile, recent headlines suggest a potential new front in the battle over same-sex relationships: divorce among same-sex married couples.
Transportation/infrastructure funding—An ever-widening gap between the supply of federal dollars and the needs of states with their aging transportation systems is likely to spur states to pass legislation that will increase gas taxes and motorist fees over the next five years to help finance infrastructure projects.
Internet sales tax—Congress could put the issue to rest by passing the Marketplace Fairness Act, which would allow states to impose sales and use taxes on online retailers. The measure has already been passed by the Democrat-controlled Senate but is hung up in the Republican-led House. At stake are billions of dollars each year, and that figure is growing as consumers continue to shift their buying habits away from brick-and-mortar outlets. Thanksgiving through Black Friday and Cyber Monday in 2013 saw a record five-day online sales period, for example. Given that states derive much of their sales tax revenues from purchases made during the holiday season, the issue of taxing Internet purchases is bound to heat up.
Additional background information about those and other issues that the Capitol Journal editors expect to see in the spotlight in 2014 can be found in the complete December 9 and December 16 editions. Editorial advisor Lou Cannon’s year-end retrospective in the December 23 edition is another worthwhile read.
There’s also 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.
When you are pressed for time, Capitol Journal delivers an intelligent overview of current events and other important issues that matter to the legal profession.
From everyone at State Net, State Net® Capitol Journal and the Real Law Editorial Team, best wishes for the new year.
And remember: drive safely.*
* Skipper-style “hand over hand” turning is also no longer encouraged. Instead, drivers should “push-pull”—i.e., push the wheel up with one hand and pull it down with the other—to further avoid what can happen if an accident occurs and super-hot nitrogen gas inflates the airbag in milliseconds.
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