may 2011

Maryland DREAM Act Stalled

After Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed the bill into law in May, the Dream Act would have allowed recent high school graduates who are undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition if they meet certain requirements.  However, opponents have submitted twice the necessary number of validated signatures putting the July 1st enactment of the law on hold and sending it to referendum next year.

The Republican-led petition drive used an online tool to make it easier for registered voters to submit signatures.  The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland contends the online system could be susceptible to fraud.  However, only about one-third of the signatures came from the website.  Only a successful legal challenge could prevent the referendum from taking place.

Verizon Named Speediest Mobile Network

The people at PC Magazine released its measurement of America’s fastest mobile networks.  The consumer-driven tests examined the evolving high-speed wireless networks – naming Verizon’s 4G LTE the most lightening fast network in a study of mobile technology.

The results of PC Magazine’s examination of mobile broadband networks provided a revealing look at an industry defined by competition, investment and market strength.  “With smart phone innovation moving at a breakneck pace, new tablets hitting the market all the time, and an increasing number of people using cellular modems and mobile hotspots to get online on the go, access to speedy data coverage is becoming more essential every day,” PC Magazine states in the article.  From the perspective of competition, PC Magazine concludes “mobile networks are constantly changing, and almost always for the better.”

PC Magazine crowned Verizon’s 4G LTE as the clear winner in terms of blazing fast speed, in some cases faster than a home internet connection, which is exciting for advocates concerned with closing the gap in Latino adoption and the digital divide.  The findings also showed that each network had different strengths.  For example, it found that “AT&T’s nationwide 3G network still offers the best balance of speed and performance outside major cities.”  The study also included Metro PCS and Cricket both serve a distinct need for low-cost services in a varied, competitive landscape.

NHCSL Calls for States to Adopt E-Prescribing Legislation

On July 7th, NHCSL called for states to take the lead in adopting Electronic Health Records and E-Prescribing technology.  Electronic prior authorization (ERx) is the ability to send prescriptions from providers to the pharmacy electronically and may help reduce medication error caused by illegible handwriting, misinterpreted abbreviations or doses, and miscommunication between practitioners and pharmacists. 

ERx also enables automated decision support including medication lists, prior authorization, formulary coverage, eligibility determination, and clinical decision support.  Some states like North Dakota have already adopted laws that leverage technology to increase quality of care by allowing electronic prior authorization for physicians.

"For Hispanics, these tools offer great opportunities to increase quality of life and realize better health outcomes. NHCSL has long called for the implementation of better policy tools for closing health care disparities for Hispanics,” said Senator Luz Z. Arce Ferrer (PR), Chair of the NHCSL Health Taskforce.  “Enhanced E-prescribing and electronic prior authorization are examples of very good policy for our communities, as we have noted last year in resolution 2010-08,” said the Senator.

Senator Iris Y. Martinez (IL), NHCSL President, also described the measure: “E-prescribing saves lives and increases the quality of care."

NHCSL Members Attend White House Hispanic Policy Conference

NHCSL Members Senator Luz Z. Arce Ferrer (PR), Senator Eduardo Bhatia (PR), Senator Gustavo Rivera (NY), Representative Ruben Gallego (AZ), former Representative Delia Garcia (KS), and others, participated in the White House’s Hispanic Policy Conference held on July 11th and 12th.  The White House brought community leaders from across the country together with a broad range of White House and Cabinet officials for a two-day, in-depth series of interactive workshops and conversations on the Administration's efforts in the Hispanic community.

Participants interacted with federal policy makers on issues ranging from job creation, strengthening the economy, expanding access to affordable and quality health care, extending broadband universally, reforming our nation's education system, protecting civil rights, and fixing the broken immigration system.

National Call to Action to Save Pell During Debt Negotiations

The Education Trust delivered a big message to the White House this month. The organization sent thousands of messages to President Obama, telling him to take Pell Grant funding cuts off the table as he negotiates a fix for the national debt.

Along with a broad coalition of civil rights, social justice, education, and youth groups, the Education Trust has designated July 25th as “Save Pell Day.” They are asking everyone who cares about the future of hard-working students to use their blogs, Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, and other online tools to oppose cuts to Pell. Nearly 10 million hard-working students count on Pell grants.

To participate, RSVP for the event on Facebook and invite your friends to do the same. Keep up with the latest news on the Save Pell campaign by checking out the new Save Pell Tumblr blog and following @SavePell on Twitter.

Immigration Update

In June, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Senator Harry Reid, D-NV, Senator Patrick Leahy, D-VT, Senator Dick Durbin, D-IL, Senator Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Senator John Kerry, D-MA, and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., reintroduced a comprehensive immigration reform bill on Wednesday. 

The Immigration Policy Center explains that Menendez’s proposal includes the creation of Lawful Prospective Immigration (LPI) status.  Applicants for LPI status would be required to submit biometric data, go through security checks and pay a fine.  After six (6) to eight (8) years of LPI status, undocumented immigrants could transition to Legal Permanent Resident status only after they pay taxes and additional fines, learn English and U.S. civics, and undergo additional background checks.  Even then, LPIs would have to wait behind those already in line for LPR status.

The bill includes both a mandatory employment verification system (known as E-Verify) and a program to require undocumented immigrants in the U.S. as of June 1, 2011 to register with the government, learn English, and pay fines and taxes on their way to becoming Americans.

According to Douglas Massey, the Henry G. Bryant Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton University, three (3) out of four (4) principal components of comprehensive immigration reform have already been substantially achieved.  

In a special letter to CNN.com, the scholar explained: “The border is now under control and net-undocumented migration has fallen below zero; a guest worker program has been created to bring in more than 360,000 temporary Mexican migrants per year; and legal immigrants have increasingly taken it upon themselves to ‘expand’ the quotas by naturalizing and sponsoring the entry of immediate relatives outside of the numerical quotas.”

“In practical terms, there is really only one thing that remains to be accomplished:  the creation of a pathway to legalization for long-term undocumented residents,” Massey continued by advocating for the DREAM Act.  “In the absence of a criminal record or other disqualifying circumstances, those who entered as minors should be given an immediate and unconditional amnesty and be allowed to proceed with their lives in the only country that most of them know.”

From an international perspective, Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Ray LaHood signed a cross-border trucking agreement in Mexico City with Mexico’s Secretary of Communications and Transportation.  Under the new pilot program, Mexican trucks are granted access to U.S. highways in exchange for Mexico dropping the retaliatory tariffs it imposed on U.S. goods.

White House Unveils Two New Digital Strategies

President Obama launched two separate digital strategies showcasing the prominence that broadband and digital tools have taken in politics and security.  The first was the President’s much-hyped Twitter Town Hall that allowed him to engage directly with the web-surfing public.  The second aimed at taking the fight to Al-Qaeda in cyberspace.

The Twitter Town Hall was seen by some as an opportunity for Obama to bypass the mainstream media and get his message directly to young, plugged-in voters he will need to win re-election in 2012.  Anyone with an Internet connection and a Twitter account had the first opportunity to ask the president their most challenging questions – within the 140-character limit of course.  Over 70,000 tweets were submitted to the town hall and the majority of the dialogue centered on jobs and the economy.

Broadband and digital networks are also at the center of the White House’s geopolitical security strategies.  Nearly ten years after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the White House is reinforcing the importance of the Internet to the fight against Al-Qaeda and other terrorist networks.  In the hands of terrorists, the Internet and social media have become instruments of recruitment, finance and communication in support of terrorism.

The National Counterterrorism Strategy includes efforts “that go beyond traditional intelligence, military, and law enforcement functions … we are depriving Al-Qaida of its enabling means, including the illicit financing, logistical support, and the online communications that sustain its network,” said White House Counterterrorism Chief John Brennan in announcing the plan.  The plan involves disrupting the terrorist group’s ability to promote violence online.

“Mass media and the Internet in particular have emerged as enablers for terrorist planning, facilitation, and communication, and we will continue to counter terrorists’ ability to exploit them,” states the strategy document.  While not clear on tactical details, it is clear that social media will play a key role in the strategy to undermine Al-Qaeda’s world view and not allow their message of hate to spread unchecked.

AT&T/T-Mobile Merger Gains Support

The Honorable Henry Cisneros, former Cabinet Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, has voiced his support for the proposed AT&T/T-Mobile merger.  In a letter to the Houston Chronicle, entitled “Let’s give Latinos tools to succeed”, Cisneros states:

“From my experience as a mayor of a great American city, the best returns on investment are the ones we make in our children's future now as well as the chances we take on the innovative spirit that exists in all communities across the country. This is simply the best way to build our country's economy and importantly, to maintain our global competitiveness for the long haul.

“By improving digital access, adoption and literacy through the proposed merger, we will help bring vital new education opportunities, job and economic growth to Hispanic communities and indeed to all Americans across the country.”

In the meantime, the Arizona Corporation Commission – the state’s public utility commission – approved AT&T's proposed $39 billion acquisition of T-Mobile USA without a hearing.  Arizona is the first of several states that have shown an interest in reviewing the transaction to approve the deal including:

  • The Louisiana Public Service Commission voted 4-1 to open a formal proceeding on the transaction, despite AT&T's opposition of the measure.
  • Sprint filed a formal request with the California Public Utility Commission on Thursday asking for it to investigate the transaction.
  • Sprint and AT&T are going back and forth in filings in West Virginia on whether the state's public service commission should hold a public hearing on the transaction.

States Address Fracking And Natural Gas

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration has lifted that state’s ban on hydraulic fracturing, a controversial technique used to extract natural gas from shale, to allow the practice in most areas of the state.   The process – known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking – involves injecting large volumes of water, mixed with small amounts of sand and chemicals, deep into the ground to break up rock formations and release natural gas. The practice would be allowed on private lands.  However, due to concerns of potential contamination of drinking water, fracking would be banned on specified watersheds and underground water sources as well as banned on state lands, like parks and wildlife preserves. 

A recent MIT study notes the following in favor of the benefits of natural gas: “Natural gas possesses remarkable qualities.  Among the fossil fuels, it has the lowest carbon intensity, emitting less CO2 per unit of energy generated than other fossil fuels.  It burns cleanly and efficiently, with very few non-carbon emissions.  Unlike oil, natural gas generally requires limited processing to prepare it for end use.  These favorable characteristics have enabled natural gas to penetrate many markets, including domestic and commercial heating, multiple industrial processes and electrical power.”

While the hydraulic fracturing process has been used across the county for over 60 years, recent technological advances in horizontal drilling and the hydraulic fracturing process have resulted in vast increases in our domestic natural gas supplies over the past several years. Yet, it continues to garner protest from citizen groups.

In large Latino populated states, such as Texas, Colorado, Illinois and Florida as well as in states with growing Latino populations like Georgia and Kansas, Latino legislators are investigating the economic and environmental benefits of natural gas in order to ensure a fact-based discussion on the hydraulic fracturing process. The industry supports nearly 2.8 million jobs. According to economists, natural gas contributed $385 billion to our nation's economy in 2008 alone.

NHCSL Member Comments Needed as EPA Opens Input Period for Proposed Cooling Water Intake Structure Rule

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is accepting comments on its proposed power plant cooling systems regulations.  The agency’s plan seeks to “substantially reduce adverse air quality impacts in downwind states from emissions transported across state lines”.  The 27 states targeted are: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

The “Cross-State Air Pollution Rule” is set to take effect in 2014 requiring power plants to cut their sulfur dioxide emissions by 73 percent and their nitrogen oxides by 54 percent from 2005 levels.  While seeking to help states be “good neighbors” and reduce emissions that lead to soot, smog and the possibility of acid rain and hazy outdoor air, the environmental regulation has come under intense criticism as having a largely negative impact on local economies. 

By some estimates, the new EPA rule could force approximately 400 facilities to install unnecessary or ineffective environmental technologies to their cooling system operations.   These proposed upgrades will cost facilities millions of dollars, costs that may inevitably be passed on to consumers leading to a significantly higher electricity bill.

A sign-on letter is available for policymakers from the Consumer Energy Alliance: (scroll all the way down to see the letter)
http://consumerenergyalliance.org/home/epa-hq-ow-2008-0667/

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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