New Year’s Greeting from Senator Martinez

I am delighted to send you warm wishes for this New Year and hope that your holidays were spent with family, friends and loved ones.  As 2011 begins, it brings me great pleasure to share with you our priorities for the coming year through our ongoing e-newsletter.  The Hispanic community continues to be faced with great challenges as well as even greater opportunities.

Our work is more important than ever and I want to thank you for your support and commitment to NHCSL.  I look forward to our continued collaboration and to keep you up to date with our progress and challenges to federal and state policy through our E-newsletter.
 
Saludos!

Iris Y. Martinez
Illinois State Senator
NHCSL President

DREAM Act Update

As you are aware, Congress did not pass the DREAM Act.  This failure was disappointing to the entire Latino community as well as President Obama given that the legislation made significant progress by passing in the House but ultimately was held up in the Senate. 

As the new year begins, immigration battles have moved to the states given the lack of a clear path for reform at the federal level.  A number of state legislators from across the country have announced their intention to bring up proposals to push against the Constitution to repeal the 14th Amendment and deny birthright citizenship to U.S.-born children if their parents cannot provide proper documentation.  In addition, it seems likely that several states may attempt to pass an Arizona-style law (SB1070) to address the broken immigration system as a direct result of the federal inaction.

Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind

In August 2010, the Administration announced the winners of its Race to the Top competition designed for states to spur systemic reform and embrace innovative approaches to teaching and learning in America’s schools.  While Race to the Top has moved states to consider changes, the question remains on what happens next. 

With the White House planning a re-write of President Bush's No Child Left Behind law, education reform could be one of the few issues that still draw bipartisan support.  It is important for the Hispanic community to take notice that, according to the Education Trust, “Nearly a decade after federal law was enacted to ensure that low-income students and students of color had a fair shot at being assigned to strong teachers, students in high-poverty schools are still disproportionately taught by out-of-field and rookie teachers.”

As federal legislation is considered, states have begun the work of implementing reform according to “common state academic standards”.  The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) released a set of state-led education standards, the Common Core State Standards.

NHCSL Joins the Country in Mourning the Victims of the Arizona Shooting

On the morning of January 8, The Nation faced a senseless and cowardly act of violence when a gunman opened fire and critically wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was meeting with constituents outside a Safeway grocery store in Tucson, Ariz., as well as wounding at least 16 others and killing 6 more.

Killed in the mass shooting were John M. Roll, the Chief Judge for the United States District Court for Arizona, a 9-year-old girl and at least four others, including an aide to Giffords, Congressional staffer Gabe Zimmerman.

NHCSL joins the country in mourning the deaths of these victims and wishing for the speedy recovery of those wounded.  NHCSL decries this attack that is especially disturbing as it was targeted while Congresswoman Giffords was performing her representative duties of reaching out to her constituents.

Before being elected to Congress in 2006, Giffords served in Arizona's statehouse. She was elected to and served in the state House of Representatives, from 2001 until 2003. Giffords served in Arizona's state Senate from 2003 until 2005.

FCC Compromise Ruling on ‘Net Neutrality’

On December 21st, the Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday approved rules regarding net neutrality by a vote of 3-2.  The FCC order has drawn divided opinions on the wisdom and effectiveness of the new rules from both sides of the issue.

In supporting the compromise, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski stated: "On one end of the spectrum, there are those who say government should do nothing at all. On the other end of the spectrum are those who would adopt a set of detailed and rigid regulations," Genachowski continued, "I reject both extremes in favor of a strong and sensible framework – one that protects Internet freedom and openness and promotes robust innovation and investment."

President Obama heralded the FCC's action as "an important component of our overall strategy to advance American innovation, economic growth and job creation."

Detractors however include House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) who blasted the FCC ruling stating: "The FCC's hostile actions toward innovation, investment and job creation cannot be allowed to stand."  Upton continued, "Despite FCC claims that these are just rules of the road that everyone agrees with, anyone can recognize that what the commission claims to be statements of broad industry support are really cries of 'uncle' resulting from threats of even more onerous regulation." 

As the ramifications of the compromise begin to unfold, it may be clear that the wireless companies fared better than land-line networks.  The full rules won’t apply to wireless networks, which are becoming increasingly important as people use mobile phones for more things.

While it is unclear what legal challenges or Congressional action the FCC order will face, the recommendations made in NHCSL’s White Paper, focused on broadband access, are more important than ever to the Hispanic community.  In this new regulatory landscape, the Digital Divide continues to disproportionately impact the Hispanic community, USF reform must include a strategy to address the high cost of building out infrastructure in the American Southwest and Puerto Rico as well as the allocation and distribution of spectrum in manner that provides affordable solutions for the Hispanic community to access the internet.

HCR Update

As the 112th Congress begins its work, the new House leadership moved forward with plans to debate and vote on a repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The measure passed the Republican-led House, but is expected to stall in the Democratically-controlled Senate.

Even as the effort to repeal continues, the work of implementing the law goes on.  Starting this year, aspects of the law will begin to take affect including required insurance coverage for children even with preexisting conditions and extending family coverage to children up to age 26 even if they are not in school.

In addition, a government advisory panel met this week to answer key questions on which benefits insurers will be required to offer in order to participate in the health insurance exchanges that begin in 2014. 

The ACA outlines broad categories of coverage, such as outpatient and inpatient care, emergency services, mental health care and others.  The Institute of Medicine panel will offer specific recommendations to HHS.  Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius will have the final say on what even the most bare-bones plans must cover if they are for sale in the state exchanges.

Currently, states are making use of $49M in grants from HHS to plan for the establishment of these health insurance exchanges.

Repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

The Lame Duck Congress, which saw the defeat of the DREAM Act, was successful in repealing the long-standing ban on gays serving openly in the military know as Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

President Obama’s signature does not immediately implement the repeal but instead begins the process of ending the ban on gays serving openly in the military. The law will not actually change until the Pentagon certifies to Congress that the military has met several conditions, including education and training programs for the troops.

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

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