Category Archives: State Government

Attention, State Government Watchdogs: You Might Need This

Source: Linda Poon, CityLab, February 9, 2017

A new search engine called Digital Democracy can comb through videos, transcripts, and records of what goes on in America’s statehouses. … Some of this kind of information is recorded, but little is released in a timely manner or can be easily accessed by the public. Blakeslee aims to change that with Digital Democracy, an online tool that archives every state hearing in California—and now, New York—since 2015 through videos, transcripts, and records of who said what. The tool also keeps track of elected officials and their financial ties to lobbyists and big corporations—all searchable by name, issue, bill number, etc. Think of it as Google for state government. … First launched in 2015 in California with cofounder and California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, the tool is now being taken across the country to New York via a partnership with NAACP. Digital Democracy now has information on some 15,000 individuals involved in policymaking in those two states. Eventually, Florida and Texas will get their own platforms, expanding Digital Democracy’s reach to roughly a third of all U.S. citizens….

Preemption conflicts between state and local governments

Source: Ballotpedia, Last updated on January 2, 2017

Out of 15 resolved preemption cases tracked by Ballotpedia, states were able to preempt local ordinances or initiatives in 14 cases.

A tug-of-war between cities and state governments has developed behind the scenes of the 21st century’s biggest policy debates. Interest groups advancing policy reforms ranging from bans on fracking to higher minimum wages have led local and state officials to tussle over appropriate responses. Mayors, city councils, and community activists are passing ordinances and initiatives on wages, gun control, and LGBT issues in order to fill gaps perceived in existing law. Governors and state legislators have pushed back against these local responses, citing their interests in creating uniform policies across all local governments in their states.

This struggle continues the decades-long evolution of preemption, a legal concept that allows a state law to supersede a conflicting local law due to the state’s power to create cities as granted by state constitutions….

State Employee Mileage Reimbursement Rates 2016

Source: Jennifer Burnett, Council of State Governments, Knowledge Center November 1, 2016

The federal mileage reimbursement rate in 2016 is 54 cents per mile, down 3.5 cents per mile over the 2015 rate but up 9.5 cents over the rate 10 years before–44.5 cents per mile on Jan. 1, 2006.

Thirty-five states have a reimbursement rate that is the same as the federal rate. For those 15 states whose rates differ from the federal rate, reimbursement rates range from 31 cents to 52 cents per mile. No state reimburses at a rate higher than the federal rate. ….

Understanding Decisions in State Pension Systems: A System Framework

Source: Gang Chen, The American Review of Public Administration, OnlineFirst, Published online before print November 1, 2016
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
State governments establish pension systems to provide retirement benefits to public employees. State governments as sponsors, state legislatures as policy makers, and public-sector unions as representatives of public employees may exert considerable influence over the decisions made in pension systems. This study applies a system framework to examine these influences. It focuses on four decisions in pension systems: benefits, employer contributions, employee contributions, and the asset smoothing period. The findings show that changes in the short- and long-term financial conditions of a state government have different influences on pension decisions, and that legislatures and public employee unions play important roles that affect these decisions.

Lobbying Across Venues: An Issue-Tracing Approach

Source: Charlotte Jourdain, Simon Hug, Frédéric Varone, State Politics & Policy Quarterly, Published online before print October 21, 2016
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
This study examines lobbying activity during four California policymaking processes and through the four institutional venues available in that state: the legislative, executive, and judicial branches, and the ballot initiative. It shows that past advocacy activity explains future mobilization on the same policy issue. Groups that fail to reach their policy goals will be more likely to mobilize later if the policy process changes venue, compared with those that have achieved their policy preference. Thus, the availability of multiple venues provides a counterweight to the possible advantages received by certain group types in each venue. Furthermore, public interest groups are more likely to mobilize across venues and repeatedly within a venue, while business groups are less likely to do so.

Approaches to Municipal Takeover: Home Rule Erosion and State Intervention in Michigan and New Jersey

Source: Ashley E. Nickels, State and Local Government Review, Online First, Published online before print September 21, 2016
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Municipal takeovers proceed by a state declaring that a municipality is in fiscal crisis and placing it in receivership, handing over most local processes to a state-appointed manager. This policy of aggressive state intervention calls into question two principles of local autonomy enshrined in home rule: that allowing local matters to be handled by local authority removes the need for state special legislation and that giving local governments functional autonomy allows them to solve problems without state intervention. This article presents case studies of New Jersey and Michigan to examine differences in home rule protection as well as approaches to municipal takeover.

Experts, Amateurs, and Bureaucratic Influence in the American States

Source: Graeme T. Boushey and Robert J. McGrath, Journal of Public Admin Research and Theory, Advance Access, First published online: August 27, 2016
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Over the past century, the size and reach of American state governments has increased dramatically, altering the balance of power across state capitols. Although state legislatures were historically privileged as “firsts among equals,” modern administrative reforms have transformed state governments from legislative-centric to executive-dominated systems. In many states, part-time citizen legislatures now operate alongside fully professionalized executives. We introduce a new measure capturing the relative professionalism of state legislative and executive branches, allowing us to explore the policy consequences of the rising imbalance of power across states governments. Drawing upon a large panel data set of proposed and adopted state regulations from 1990 through 2010, we demonstrate that the eroding policy expertise of state legislators has resulted in increased bureaucratic participation in the policy process, as amateur politicians rely more heavily on professionalized executive agencies to define problems and develop solutions. Our findings highlight intuitive, yet understudied, consequences of common institutional reforms and speak to recent and recurring debates about the separation of powers and public policymaking.

Blue Cities, Red States

Source: Abby Rapoport, American Prospect, August 22, 2016

As cities have moved left and states have moved right, the conflicts between them have escalated. ….

…..“PREEMPTION” LAWS ARE not new, nor are they necessarily about undoing local legislation. But with some notable exceptions, past preemption laws have generally enforced what can be called “minimum preemption”: They force localities to do something where they might otherwise have done little or nothing. As it’s often said, they set a “floor” for regulation. For instance, the federal government has been setting minimum standards of environmental protection for years, preempting the states from allowing lower environmental standards. Similarly, states often set a floor for various local regulations, whether regarding pollution, trade licensing, gun ownership, or other matters.

Most current preemption laws, by contrast, are what one might call “maximum preemption.” These laws aren’t about setting minimums; instead, they prohibit local regulation. States have prevented localities from creating paid sick leave requirements for businesses, or raising the minimum wage. Many who oppose these measures blame their proliferation on the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, known as ALEC, which has drafted “model” preemption bills for state lawmakers to use. “Pretty much anything you can think of that matters to the American family is under assault by local preemption,” says Mark Pertschuk, the director of Grassroots Change, which fights preemption laws around the country……

Studying Governors over Five Decades: What We Know and Where We Need to Go?

Source: E. Lee Bernick, State and Local Government Review, Vol. 48 no. 2, June 2016
(subscription required)

From the abstract:
Governors are the most prominent political actor in state politics and a subject of continuous study by scholars. An analysis of the research produced over the past five decades reveals a pattern of topics investigated as well as trends in interest level of those topics. A brief review of some of the findings is presented as well as suggestions for additional research. Finally, a proposal to rethink how we study and evaluate governors is offered.