Happy New Year from NHCSL! 2010 brings new challenges and new opportunities for states in recovery, as Hispanic Legislators’ policy agenda is even more important than ever.   

The President’s address reflects the changed climate created by the off-year elections that resulted in the seat formerly held by Senator Edward M. Kennedy for almost 50 years, going to Republican, Scott Brown, removing Senate Democrats once filibuster-proof 60-vote majority. The health care reform debate has changed in Washington. The Senate, having passed a bill and the House having its own bill, the fate of reform now rests in conference.

There are significant differences in the House and Senate versions of the bills, including provision that affect the number to be covered, mandatory coverage provisions and other factors. The differences may be so significant, that the House would not pass the Senate bill as is. Most recently, a House Panel was appointed to look at the ‘special deals made to get the Senate bill passed. Clearly, the legislative work continues, if at a slower pace. See further reporting here on this. It has been reported that Speaker Pelosi is contemplating a “two tiered process” in which easier to pass reforms are enacted now, leaving more difficult provisions to the future.

States continue to stretch toward recovery in the wake of the worst financial disaster in decades. State budgets are in continued difficulty while awaiting tax revenues to recover. Even prior to the State of the Union, the White House began evolving its strategy. See the President announcing that left over TARP and stimulus funds would be directed toward job growth strategy – focused on Green jobs.  

Green jobs, including those in the broadband and “green” technology sector continues to be a key economic development strategy. Progressive States Network has posted Green Building Model Legislation, for legislators to reference in developing green building strategies across states. Legislators around the country have also signed this CLEAN petition, calling for the development of clean energy options.

The U.S. Virgin Islands has recently used the revenue from the federal cover-over program, which pays back a portion of every dollar in federal excise taxes collected from rum produced in the VI and PR, to lure the Diageo rum production away from Puerto Rico and into the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Diageo ratified an agreement to move production of Captain Morgan to St. Croix from Puerto Rico. The company will own its facility there, which is already under construction. NHCSL President, Senator Iris Martinez (IL) sent a letter to Diageo CEO Walsh, calling for the company to rethink this strategy, and not jeopardize the federal cover-over program in the future through an unwise and unsound use of this federal tax subsidy that has been a boon to the hurting economies of the Islands.

NHCSL congratulates Mari-Carmen Aponte for her nomination to serve as Ambassador to El Salvador. Several national Hispanic organizations, including the Hispanic National Bar Association, the Hispanic Leadership Agenda, and the US Hispanic Leadership Institute, have endorsed Ms. Aponte’s nomination to this post. Senate hearing on her nomination are still to be scheduled.

NHCSL members are asked to nominate Hispanic legislators to serve on Federal Industry Trade Advisory Committees (ITACs), through the United States Department of Commerce. ITACS play a critical role as industry’s voices in developing U.S. trade policy. Through the ITACs, business leaders have an opportunity to work side-by-side with U.S. Government officials and trade negotiators in advising the Secretary of Commerce and the United States Trade Representative (USTR) on industry specific issues related to, among others, market access, customs matters, foreign investment and intellectual property protection. 

Commerce and the USTR jointly administer 13 industry specific and 3 functional ITACs plus a Committee of Chairs, and consider these ITACs, and the advisors who serve on them, to be a vital part of the U.S. trade policy-making process.  As an ITAC advisor, you would have direct access to policymakers and negotiators to offer industry positions on U.S. trade policy and negotiating objectives and you would serve as a critical link between the private sector and government.    

ITACs typically meet an average of four to five times a year in Washington, D.C. and sometimes there are meetings outside the beltway.  Some ITACs may meet more often, depending upon the work of the committee and the nature of the agreements being negotiated, and members pay their own travel expenses to attend meetings.  Please note that we are currently in the process of looking at ways to leverage our technological capabilities so that people can potentially join meetings via teleconference or video conference.     

Please contact NHCSL for more information on the nomination process and materials.

President Obama’s first State of the Union address focused on job creation and continued, targeted economic stimulus. Some of the most important aspects of the speech included:

  • Economic expansion through Green Jobs and Increased Exports – A central component of the President’s address called for continued focus on economic growth through continued investments in clean energy facilities and infrastructure, supported by targeted tax credits for homeowners and businesses. The President further encouraged Congress to pass a jobs bill. The House has passed a bill. The President wants the Senate to do the same. The President also called for increased focus on export – helping US businesses to seek new markets globally.
  • Clean Energy Agenda  -- The President called for us to grow the economy by “encourage[ing] American innovation… no area is more ripe for such innovation than energy .” The President called for development of a “new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country … opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development … investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies …  and passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America.”
  • Investment in Skills and Education – The President said, “In the 21st century, one of the best anti-poverty programs is a world-class education. “ He called for Congress to renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), and for states to expand reforms across the fifty states. The President also called for reforms that would expand Pell grants and make college affordable through cost-cutting at the college level and loan forgiveness for college graduates.   
  • Health Reform – The President said, “after nearly a century of trying, we are closer than ever to bringing more security to the lives of so many Americans.” The President called for Congress to continue the work of developing health reform legislation. The President also acknowledged the First Lady, Michelle Obama, who this year is creating a national movement to tackle the epidemic of childhood obesity and make our kids healthier.
  • Immigration Reform – The President called for us to “continue the work of fixing our broken immigration system – to secure our borders, enforce our laws, and ensure that everyone who plays by the rules can contribute to our economy and enrich our nations.”

Comprehensive immigration reform legislation was introduced by Congressman Gutierrez in the House (H.R. 4321). No legislation has been introduced in the Senate.

Some advocates are calling on the President to stand more firmly on other elements of the Latino agenda. NALEO issued a statement decrying the President for not calling the national to full participation in the Census: “The President missed an opportunity in calling our nation to task and encouraging full participation in the 2010 decennial Census. As the US Census Bureau begins its process of enumeration, we urge the Administration to promote the Census and work towards a full count and to strongly counter any attempts to suppress participation in this important civic process.”

The recent earthquake in Haiti has left a death count of tens of thousands, throwing the troubled nation further into chaos. Relief efforts in Haiti will be difficult and protracted over the months and years to come. NHCSL joined in advocacy by releasing a statement calling upon Secretary Janet Napolitano to grant undocumented Haitians living in the United States Temporary Protective Status (TPS) so that they may seek work permits to support their families without the specter of deportation during this time of crisis. Secretary Napolitano heeded the request, granting TPS to undocumented Haitians for 18 months on the evening of Friday, January 15th. See Secretary Napolitano’s announcement here.

Americans have raised over 20 million dollars for Haiti through the text message donations alone (You may text HAITI to 90999 to donate $10 to the American Red Cross for Haiti relief).

Donations continue to pour in generously, including $100 million in aid committed by the Obama administration. Several NHCSL partners are also taking action, including:

  • Frank Gomez of ETS, is the past president of the board of the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF), which has 150 employees on the ground in Haiti.  Their relief efforts began the same day of the earthquake. PADF issued this appeal for donations.  
  • Pfizer has taken the following actions:
    • $1 million in medicinal product donations to relief organizations pledged
    • Product donations are being coordinated locally by Pfizer Latin America and will be finalized once authorities in Haiti identify specific needs.
    • $250,000 in cash contributions ($125,000 to U.S. Fund for UNICEF and $125,000 to CARE)
    • Pfizer colleagues’ contributions of $25 or more will be matched 1:1 by the Pfizer Foundation’s matching gifts program up to the maximum annual contribution of $15,000 per colleague
  • AT&T is providing a $50,000 donation to Télécoms Sans Frontières (TSF) to support their relief work on disasters in Haiti and around the globe. TSF has deployed an emergency team from its American base in Managua to provide vital support for emergency telecommunications in Haiti, taking with it satellite mobile and fixed telecommunications tools. In addition, wireless customers of AT&T can send $10 donations to the Red Cross International Relief Fund by typing the word HAITI and sending it to 90999 via text message from their mobile device. Standard text messaging charges will be waived for all donations after January 13, 2010. A confirmation message will arrive within a few minutes, to which the customer replies “yes” to finalize the donation. The donations will appear as a line-item on the customer’s bill or be debited from a prepaid account. 
  • The Allergan Foundation is donating $20,000 each to two international charitable organizations: Direct Relief International (DRI) and CARE, for a total of $40,000. In addition, the company will work with DRI to donate eye drops. CARE is a well-established organization already on the ground in Haiti, and Direct Relief will provide much-needed medical supplies. Allergan employees are encouraged to contribute to CARE, DRI or any of the many organizations working in Haiti.  
  • Eli Lilly and Company has initially pledged $250,000 in direct cash contributions. Half of this amount will be for short-term relief, with the balance donated over the next 12 months in support of the longer-term rebuilding efforts. The company will also match contributions of its U.S. employees, up to a total of $250,000. In addition, Lilly will work with non-governmental organization partners working in Haiti on appropriate donations of medicines.
  • Amgen announced that the company will donate $2 million to Haiti relief efforts. Amgen staff are being encouraged to be generous and that effort should also generate meaningful additional support.
  • The Verizon Foundation has made $100,000 in grants to World Vision and Food for the Poor. The Foundation has activated its employee Disaster Relief Incentive Program (DRIP) where it matches Verizon employee gifts of $25 to the two nonprofit organizations, up to $1,000 per employee. To date Verizon employees have donated a total of $335,000 via DRIP. With the Foundation's match, the total donation exceeds $650,000.

With so much to be done, NHCSL commends everyone who has given so generously, and encourages the giving to continue in this time of suffering for Haiti.

The FCC’s rule making in the area of broadband continues. See NHCSL resolution here on net neutrality, and the broadband priorities report, calling on the FCC to carefully tread in its rulemaking so that any policies created neither hinder broadband adoption nor shift costs to consumers.

NHCSL Spring Executive Committee &BBA Meeting
April 8-10 – Washington, DC

NHCSL Summer Executive Committee &BBA Meeting
July 25-29 – Louisville, KY

NHCSL 8th National Summit
November 18-21 TBD

The National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators (NHCSL) is the preeminent organization representing the interests of 300 Hispanic state legislators from all states, commonwealths, and territories of the United States. Founded in 1989 as a nonpartisan, nonprofit 501(c)3, NHCSL is a catalyst and advocate for joint action on issues of common concern, such as health, education, immigration, homeownership and economic development to all segments of the Hispanic community. NHCSL also works to design and implement policies and procedures that will impact the quality of life for Hispanic communities; serves as a forum for information exchange and member networking; an institute for leadership training; a liaison with sister U.S. Hispanic organizations; a promoter of public/private partnerships with business and labor; and a partner with Hispanic state and provincial legislators and their associations representing Central and South America. For more information visit www.nhcsl.org