may 2011

States’ Security Increased in the Aftermath of Osama Bin Laden’s Death

After U.S. commandos killed the al Qaeda leader at a compound in Pakistan nearly a week ago, public safety officials around the country are stepping up security in their home states. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the United States must remain “ever vigilant” against the threat of violence. 

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo increased the presence of security personnel in transit systems and other locations after the terrorist leader’s death. National Guard bases around the country have been placed on high alert, and homeland security officials from Alaska to Arizona are urging vigilance, even if there are no specific threats against their states.

States’ DREAM Act Activity Increases

Meanwhile Congress and the Administration labor on comprehensive Immigration Reform, some states continue to push their copycat versions of the DREAM Act including Illinois and Maryland.  The Illinois Dream Act passed the State Senate by a wide bi-partisan margin.  The bill still needs to go through the House and signed by the Governor before becoming a law.

Also on May 10th, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed the law that would allow in-state college tuition for many undocumented students.  The law takes effect July 1st, which means that students will begin to benefit from in-state tuition rates this fall. The bill passed through the state legislature before the deadline as opponents fought to kill the proposal and have now turned their efforts to repeal it.

State Budget Wrap-up

Across the country, state legislatures have had busy sessions, many racing to finish next year’s budget. Connecticut and Missouri completed the budget process in early May, while Florida and Vermont are set to do so by the end of this week.

With many states still facing deficit crises, cutting essential programs and raising revenue through tax hikes remains central to the debate.  Proposed budget reductions include cuts to education (California), veteran’s benefits (Ohio), and other social services (Missouri) to name a few issues of contention.

Most states' new fiscal years begin on July 1.

Title I Funding for state education: A Promise Unfulfilled

The Education Commission of the States (ECS) has released the latest installment in their educational reform series, “The Progress of Education Reform: A Promise Unfilled”, to examine the state of Title I funding to states.  Title I helps school districts increase educational opportunities for low-income students.  However, some argue major changes are needed to the way Title I funding works – specifically the uneven distribution of funds.

ECS recommends: “changes in the way that the cost of education is calculated in each of the four Title I formulas… Multiple sections of the Title I funding formula should be reviewed for potential updates, revisions or elimination.”  By following, ECS guidelines, the goal is to “ensure greater fairness in the way the funds are distributed and increase the likelihood that Title I dollars will make a real difference for the low-income students they are designed to serve.”

Obama Administration Showing Movement on Immigration While States Continue to Act

For some time now, the President has been talking up the benefits of the Dream Act and Comprehensive Immigration Reform.  A key issue for Hispanic voters, President Obama is highlighting his focus on immigration as the 2012 election approaches.

“Immigration in this country has always been complicated.  The truth of the matter is that we are both a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws.  Sometimes the laws haven’t been fair,” President Obama elaborated during the Facebook Town Hall, “But what’s undeniable is America is a nation of immigrants.  That’s our history and that’s what makes us stronger.”

On May 10th, the President delivered a speech on immigration while visiting the University of Texas at El Paso, which sits on the U.S.-Mexico border. The speech was directed at inspiring local and grassroots leaders to fight for reform.  The President also recently met with Members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus during which the lawmakers urged President Obama “to halt the deportations or grant temporary citizenship to undocumented students if they have lived in the U.S. for five years and do not have a criminal record.”

SB1070 After Court Ruling

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the injunction on the most controversial parts of SB1070.  Earlier in April, a federal appeals court ruled that those sections are preempted by federal law and may not be enforced. 

The decision protects the powers enacted by Congress and would not allow the state to complicate the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.  The court also said the finding on preemption was warranted by the “threat of 50 states layering their own immigration enforcement rules on top of [federal immigration statutes].”

Governor Brewer’s announcement and last month’s ruling sets the stage for an expected showdown at the high court in 2012 – a presidential election year.

Immigrant Healthcare Update

The American College of Physicians (ACP) reports that the impact that the undocumented and uninsured have on healthcare should be of national concern.  The medical group makes the point that undocumented immigrants have a greater chance of spreading communicable diseases since they will not seek proper care out of fear of deportation or lack of coverage. 

The ACP outlines a national policy on immigration and health care.  Key points include:

  • Protecting taxpayers for subsidizing health care insurance for undocumented immigrants, but allowing such migrants to purchase coverage
  • Giving U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants the same access to health care as other children
  • Federal government support for organizations providing uncompensated care
  • Acknowledgement of the risk of undocumented migrants avoiding health care for fear of apprehension
  • Understanding of a physician's ethical requirement to treat sick patients regardless of their legal status
  • Development of policies that do not foster discrimination based on immigrant status for health care purposes

State Redistricting Update

As a number of states work to wrap up or have finished (New Jersey) the redistricting process, states like Colorado are facing a stalemate as their respective deadlines loom this week.   In Texas, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus has filed a federal lawsuit over inaccuracies and inefficiencies in the collection of Census data that was used to draw up the map that significantly undercuts Latino population numbers.  The lawsuit “is likely to become the basis of similar suits in other states demanding increased Latino representation in Congress, state legislatures, and on political boards and commissions.”

Political affiliation may determine the results of the redistricting for many states. As a result of the midterm electoral gains, Republicans picked up full control of the redistricting process in Alabama, Indiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Wisconsin. 

However, the x factor facing GOP plans for Texas and many other Southern states that the U.S. Department of Justice must approve their new maps, both for congressional and state legislative districts.  The federal Voting Rights Act requires that the Justice Department sign off on any major changes to the statewide maps for Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. Another seven states must submit maps that affect certain counties or townships: California, Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina and South Dakota.

This year marks the first time that a Democratic president will be in power when the sign-off happens.

AARP Launches National Campaign to Protect Social Security, Medicare

As the U.S. Congress argues whether or not to raise the debt ceiling, some fear that seniors will once again be used as a straw man during the debate.  In response, AARP announced their campaign to fight against proposals that contain arbitrary limits, caps or triggers resulting in cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits.
                                                              
Hispanic families are particularly vulnerable to potential changes in these benefits both in the present and in the future.  Although the program keeps millions of seniors out of poverty, the average yearly Social Security benefit for Hispanic seniors is only $12,213 for men and only $9,536 for women.  These benefits represent nearly all of the income for most Latino seniors.  While Social Security’s progressive benefit formula favors low-wage workers, Hispanic seniors receive the lowest average benefits due to lower lifetime earnings.

Download Fairness Coalition Seeks to Change How Digital Commerce Works

The Download Fairness Coalition hopes to create a uniform, national framework for how state and local taxes apply to digital commerce by enacting a law in Congress.  The concern over digital goods tax is in how to protect consumers while providing consistency and certainty to the states in taxing this growing segment of the new economy.  The coalition, if successful, would reform the tax code to create a federal framework for the taxation of digital goods – including “downloads” like itunes and phone apps.  Proposed legislation would affect states rights – some of which currently tax digital goods at varying rates and with differing standards. The coalition asserts that creating a standardized framework would support the innovation needed to advance the development of the Internet ecosystem and the already more than $180 billion economy the “app” market has become.

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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