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State Legislative Tracker: States finish up 2011 work, go on holiday break

Edited by Greg Janetka

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Note: The Tracker is going on vaction over the holidays and will return on January 9. Happy holidays and a very merry 2012 to all our readers!

This week's tracker features a spotlight on Texas, where redistricting troubles have forced the state to move the candidate filing deadline and primary election date.

Montana man challenges 2011 medical marijuana law

Jeff Essmann, who introduced S.B. 423 by request of the Senate Judiciary Standing Committee

HELENA, Montana: Jason Christ, a Missoula businessman, is challenging Montana's 2011 medical marijuana law. S.B. 423 , which became law on May 14, 2011 without the signature of Governor Brian Schweitzer, restricted the sale of medical marijuana in Montana.[1] The law repealed Montana's 2004 voter-passed law that allowed the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Christ helped Montanans sign up for medical marijuana cards prior to the passage of S.B. 423. He claims the law violates his constitutional rights to equal protection, due process, dignity and his right to pursue life's basic necessities.[2]

Montana voters will have the opportunity to reinstate the provisions of the 2004 medical marijuana initiative in 2012. By October 2011, Initiative Referendum-124 obtained enough signatures to appear on the 2012 statewide ballot. A spokeswoman for the IR-124 campaign stated, "This new program does not work. ... Montanans agree that patients with serious conditions should have access to medical marijuana and that government has no business interfering in medical decisions between those patients and their doctors."[3]

Michigan lawmakers approve rules for film incentive program


LANSING, Michigan: Michigan lawmakers passed a bill that would set up guidelines for dividing up the $25 million in state film and movie incentives for the next fiscal year. The bill passed on December 15 with a 35-3 vote in the Senate and a 92-15 vote in the House. The incentives in the bill are not as plenty as they once were, but supporters of the bill say the incentives would still stay competitive.[4]

Michigan's film industry boomed in 2008 after legislation passed under former Governor Jennifer Granholm that provided rebates of up to 42 percent of a production's expenses to film studios. The result of the film incentive program was a flocking of television and movie studios to Michigan. The original incentive program did not cap the rebates, and in 2010, Michigan approved $115 million. However, the state budget capped the program at $25 million in October 2011.[5]

Nebraska Governor supports speeding up Keystone XL process


OMAHA, Nebraska: Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman said on December 12 that he supports efforts to accelerate federal approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.[6] The U.S. State Department has said it plans to delay their decision until 2013, after the presidential election. The delay has prompted Congressional Republicans to pressure the Obama administration to expedite the Keystone permit. On December 13, the House voted 234 to 193 to accelerate the permitting decision. Obama has vowed to veto the bill if it makes it through the Senate.[7]

The pipeline is a $7 billion, 1,700 mile pipeline that would span between the oil sands of Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries. TransCanada have been working on the route for several years. Opposition to the project say the pipeline, which would be built over the Ogallala Aquifer, could put the natural resources of Nebraska at risk if an oil spill were to occur.[8] Heineman called a special election in early November to resolve the Keystone XL issue. Shortly after the special election and international attention, TransCanada agreed to work with Nebraska in finding a suitable route for the pipeline.

Alabama officials support changes to immigration law


BIRMINGHAM, AL: Earlier this year, Republicans in the state legislature passed a controversial immigration law.

After sweeping victories in the 2010 legislative elections, Republicans had the votes to enact their legislation. Among other things, the law requires schools to report students and parents who are not legal residents, and forbids illegal immigrants from engaging in any government contracts -- including paying a water bill to the public utilities company.[9]

Now, after recent controversies surrounding two arrests, some Republicans have expressed a desire to alter some of the bill.

Some groups have called for Bentley to call a special session to address the bill, but the governor says the legislature should address the issue in February 2012 when the regular session commences.[13]

The AFL-CIO released a report this week that criticizes the law and calls it "anti-worker."[14]

Alabama begins its session on February 7, 2012.

Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission releases 2010 analysis

Honolulu, Hawaii: The Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission has released its analysis of 2010 state legislative campaign spending. The report, which includes data from 1994 onward, tracks the cost of mounting a campaign for the Hawaii State Legislature. The following is a breakdown of the key figures.[15]

Historical Spending:

  • In 1994, the average House candidate spent $17,090. In 2010, the average House candidate spent $20,474. However, this figure is down from 24,237 in 2008 and $25,649 in 2006.
  • In 1994, the average Senate candidate spent $40,716. In 2010, the average Senate candidate spent $34,607. This figure is down from $72,537 in 2008 and $54,388 in 2006.

Winner/Loser Spending:

  • In 2010, the average House winner spent $39,880. The average House loser spent $10,165.
  • In 2010, the average Senate winner spent $$78,823. The average Senate loser spent $13,212.

Delaware GOP hopes to unite to capitalize on redistricting

DOVER, Delaware: This year's redistricting presents both opportunity and potential struggles for Delaware Republicans.

Following the results of the 2010 Census, Delaware's congressional district lines have been redrawn to reflect the higher population growth in the southern, more conservative, part of the state. The party sees the potential to re-establish itself in Delaware politics and has set sights on regaining control of the state Senate.[16]

As the race for the newly drawn 6th District shows, however, Republicans in southern Delaware are wary of too much northern influence. Some are suspicious of candidate Ernesto Lopez, who has ties to the GOP establishment. South Delaware Republican committeeman Christian Hudson sees Lopez as a candidate "upstate politicians... [are] cramming... down our throat."[16]

Previous U.S. House candidate and current Sussex County GOP Chair Glen Urquhart, who won a bitter 2010 primary thanks to support from Delaware's southern districts, quickly responded by announcing his candidacy to represent the 6th District.[16]

The south Delaware Republicans tend to be more conservative than their northern counterparts, and they flexed their muscles in the 2010 primaries, helping Urquhart upset Michele Rollins and putting Christine O'Donnell over the establishment candidate Mike Castle in the U.S. Senate race. Both Urquhart and O'Donnell ultimately lost in the general election.[16]

Former Sussex County GOP Chair Bruce Rogers says Urquhart's campaign is "certainly not helpful to the Republican Party," as it creates a fight in a solidly Republican district. Nevertheless, he says, the redistricting is overall "a huge opportunity to get closer to striking distance, if not control of the Delaware state Senate."[16]

Minnesota House Speaker releases proposed 2012 calendar

Minnesota Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers (R)

By Greg Janetka

ST. PAUL, Minnesota: In a memo to members yesterday, Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers (R) released a schedule for the 2012 legislative session.

The session begins on January 24, with a constitutional requirement to adjourn by May 21. Republicans, however, are aiming for an early end to the session on April 30. The last time the legislature finished in April was back in 1998.[17]

With a court panel scheduled to release new redistricting maps on February 21, it is believed many legislators are pushing for an earlier end in order to become familiar with their new districts and raise campaign funds, which they cannot do while in session.[18]

The calendar may still change, but current key dates are as follows:

  • January 12: pre-introduction of bills begins.
  • January 24: session convenes.
  • February 2-7: recess for precinct caucuses.
  • February 21: new district maps released.
  • February 29: new budget forecast released.
  • April 6-13: Easter-Passover break.
  • April 30: planned end of legislative session for the year.
  • May 21: Constitutionally required end of the session.

All 67 Senate and 134 House seats will be up for election on November 6, 2012.

Kentucky Dems say gambling amendment is a gamble

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear is renewing his push for expanded gambling. He hopes to get a constitutional amendment passed by the Kentucky General Assembly in time to put on the November 6, 2012 ballot.[19]

With strong conservative opposition to gambling, however, some Democrats worry that placing the issue on the ballot will increase conservative turnout in a critical election. In November 2012, all state House seats and half of the Senate seats are up for election.[19]

Church leaders have objected to the move and intend to fight any efforts to expand gambling in Kentucky. Nationally known evangelist Rev. Jeff Fugate said, ""We've got plans in place to fight against it... if legislators are going to vote for it in the majority of districts, they'll be gambling their seat away,"[20]

Beshear, whose 2007 campaign platform included a pledge to expand gambling, hopes the amendment would increase state revenue.[19] Kentucky currently allows betting on horse races, lotteries, and charity games, but not casinos and slot machines.[20]

Candidate declares for Arkansas State Senate


LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas: Arkansas state representative Bryan King (R) formally announced he will seek election to District 5 of the Arkansas State Senate in 2012.[21]

King is termed out of office in 2012 and is ineligible to seek re-election to the state house.

The current senator for District 5 is Stephanie Flowers (D). Flowers previously served in the Arkansas House of Representatives and first won election to the state senate in 2010.

Utah legislators battle over education funding


SALT LAKE CITY, Utah: A minor battle over education funding occurred Tuesday in Utah. Democratic legislators pushed for $41 million in order to pay for new students entering Utah's schools, but the measure was defeated by Republicans, saying the measure was premature.[22]

Senator Karen Morgan pushed for the funding, stating that the 12,500 students who will be entering Utah's school system "should be funded before we look at any other programs."[22]

Governor Gary Herbert recommended $111 million to cover public education next year, including the $41 million proposed to cover growth. Senate President Michael Waddoups said that the legislative committees should get a chance to make needed recommendations before any such measure is passed. He said, "I’m convinced that this is a piker’s motion. I’m not going to settle for that much in there. I’m going to put more into it." He also accused Democrats of "election-year electioneering, saying I’m a bigger friend to this group than someone else is."[22]

House Assistant Majority Whip Ronda Menlove said that committing funds now is premature and that the public should have an input over how much goes into education funding.[22]

Morgan said, "I don’t think there’s anything premature about this. There’s absolutely no electioneering going on here. That’s not what this is about and that’s a demeaning comment."[22]

Tennessee GOP leaders push for estate and Hall tax cuts


NASHVILLE, Tennessee: Tennessee's Republican leaders in the General Assembly plan to move forward with their efforts to reduce the Hall income taxes and the inheritance tax. Governor Bill Haslam has expressed concern that the state's increased revenues may not be enough to make up for the losses that this would cause.[23]

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey has stated a desire to implement an incremental approach toward doing away with the Hall tax on income from dividends and interest. He said, "I think it is doable. Obviously I think we should wait a little longer before we say ‘no’ to something like this."[23]

Speaker of the House Beth Harwell stated that she wanted to concentrate on reducing the current inheritance tax. She has said, "I respect that the governor has concerns about filling potential budget gaps, but House Republicans have wanted to address this issue for a long time." She also said, "The fact that we don’t have an income tax has done wonders for the state. "The Republican caucus just wants to move that ball down a little bit further and work on specifically the death tax."[23]

The state's inheritance tax only applies to estates worth over $1 million, and it earned the state roughly $107 million in revenue last year. Tennessee collected around $189 million in revenue from the Hall taxes. This totaled about 2.8% of the state's revenue in the 2010-2011 budget year.[23]

Harwell states that the reason for these tax cuts is the following: "There’s no doubt that these taxes chase away retirees, and break up family farms and family businesses."[23]

Democrats have criticized Republicans for focusing on these specific taxes instead of the state's 5.5% tax on groceries. "Democrats are proposing a tax cut on groceries that helps working and middle class families, while Republicans are cooking up tax giveaways for Tennessee’s millionaires," Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester said.[23]

Challenger who nearly defeated speaker to seek re-election in New Mexico again in 2012

SANTA FE, New Mexico: In the 2010 state house election in New Mexico, Speaker of the House Ben Lujan, Sr. was nearly defeated in the Democratic Primary, winning by only 84 votes.[24] His opponent, Carl Trujillo, has announced he will once again seek election to District 46 of the New Mexico House of Representatives.[24]

Lujan has not yet declared whether he will seek re-election to a 19th term. The signature filing deadline for candidates is February 14, 2012. The primary takes place on June 5, 2012.[24]

Trujillo is the nephew of state representative Jim Trujillo (D).

Lujan said he will make his decision once the redistricting process is completed. Currently, the courts are holding hearings on maps. The legislature was unable to complete new maps during the 2011 session.

New Mexico House of Representatives District 46 Primary Democratic Primary, 2010
Candidate Vote % Votes
Green check mark transparent.pngBen Lujan, Sr. Incumbent 51% 2,140
Carl Trujillo 49% 2,056
Total Votes 4,196

North Carolina Republicans seek immigration law in 2012

North Carolina

RALEIGH, North Carolina: Last week, the House Committee on the State's Role in Immigration Policy met to consider tougher laws targeting illegal immigrants in the state. The meeting drew a standing-room only crowd of supporters from both sides.[25]

The issue of illegal immigration came to the forefront this year following the 2010 Republican wave that took control of the House. Legislation in past years focused mainly on limiting illegal immigrants' access to public services, but to limited success.

No specific bills were addressed at the meeting, but legislation is pending that would prohibit use of consular and other embassy documents as official identification, specify documents required to receive public benefits, and add an identifying mark to the driver's licenses of people who are not permanent citizens. A bill similar to the controversial Arizona law has been filed but not yet considered by either chamber.[26]

State Legislative Tracker: Candidates file in Illinois and Ohio

Edited by Greg Janetka

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This week's tracker features a spotlight on the 2012 state legislative candidate filings in Illinois and Ohio.

Three races decided, one to run-off in Georgia special elections

By Tyler Millhouse

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On Tuesday, Georgia held four special elections, two for the House of Representatives and two for the State Senate. Three of the special elections, House District 25 and Senate Districts 28 and 50, were runoff elections triggered by the special elections held on November 8 to replace recent political appointees. The fourth race, House District 68, was triggered by another appointment by Governor Nathan Deal (R). Notably, former Rep. Rick Austin (R), who resigned to seek the District 50 Senate seat, was defeated by fellow Republican John Wilkinson. Wilkinson is the Executive Secretary of the Georgia FFA.[27]

So far in 2011, 91 special elections have been held (runoffs excluded) and one more is scheduled. Political appointments are the primary reason for special elections--37.4% of this year's special elections were triggered by appointments. The complete results from Tuesday are as follows:

State Legislative Tracker: Collective bargaining on the agenda for 2012

Edited by Greg Janetka

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This week's tracker features a spotlight on legislative attempts to curb the influence of unions, set to be a major issue in 2012.

Pennsylvania state senator enters race for state attorney general


HARRISBURG, PA: The first Republican has entered the race for attorney general in Pennsylvania. John Rafferty, a state Senator first elected in 2003, declared his candidacy on Wednesday.

The current attorney general, Linda Kelly, was appointed by Gov. Tom Corbett in February 2011, after Corbett himself vacated the office to assume the governorship. Following a long-standing tradition for mid-term appointees, Kelly agreed, when she was appointed, not to run for re-election in 2012.[32]

Rafferty earned his J.D. from Temple Law School in 1988 and worked in the state attorney general's office for 3 years. He entered private practice in 1991 and continues to practice law when the senate is not in session. If elected, Rafferty has said he would vigorously fight crime and use the grand jury system to prosecute cases involving sexual abuse of children, political corruption and Meidcaid fraud."[33]

Redistricting hearings start next week

New Mexico

SANTA FE, New Mexico: Next week a series of redistricting hearings will begin to decide the fate of new maps for New Mexico's congressional, state legislative and Public Regulation Commission districts.

First up will be the congressional hearings, from December 5-8.

Meanwhile, earlier this week a district court judge told lawyers for Governor of New Mexico Susana Martinez and Republicans that they could obtain emails, notes and other correspondences relating to the redistricting process that involved consultant Brian Sanderoff and legislators. Democratic legislative leaders had contended that such communication would be confidential and protected under state law.[34]

District Judge James Hall said that because Sanaderoff will be a witness, that the privilege of confidentiality is waived.[34]

Former Montana representative announces 2012 candidacy for state senate


HELENA, Montana: Dee Brown, a former Montana District 3 Representative, has announced her candidacy for District 2 of the Montana State Senate in 2012. Brown represented the 3rd District of the Montana House of Representatives from 2008 to 2011 and 2000 to 2007. State term limits disqualified her from running for re-election in 2010.

Brown and her husband are the owners of Canyon RV and Campground. She earned her Bachelor's in elementary education from the University of Montana-Missoula and her Master's in guidance and counseling from Montana State University-Northern. She currently the president of the Columbia Falls Area Chamber of Commerce and a past president of the Montana Tourism Coalition.

The current Senate District 2 incumbent, Ryan Zinke (R), is running for lieutenant governor. House District 6 incumbent William Beck, Sr. (R) has also declared his candidacy to Senate District 2.[35]

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