Get Your Protest On: Tips for Taking It to the Streets

Source: Rebecca Givan, Labor Notes, February 9, 2017

On January 28 I woke up, heard the news about immigrants being detained because of the president’s executive order, and decided to head over to New York’s JFK Airport. …

…. My union often participates in actions beyond our own workplaces, but because this executive order happened so suddenly, we had no time to get organized….

This was a large, safe protest where many participants didn’t have much protest experience. Here are a few lessons and observations:

1. Dress warmly and flexibly. ….
2. Wear your union logo on your sleeve, sign, or shirt. ….
3. Bring your own sign. ….
4. Bring supplies to share with others. ….
5. Manage your food and water intake. ….
6. Trust community groups and organizers. ….
7. Affected communities to the front. ….
8. Elected officials help. ….
9. Numbers matter. ….
10. Lawyers can work in parallel to protestors. ….
11. Use what you’ve got. ….
12. Use social media well. ….
13. Share good news. ….
14. When you get home, tell people you were there. ….

Cost Sharing Among State Defined Benefit Pension Plans: Approaches to managing risk and cost uncertainty

Source: Greg Mennis, Pew Charitable Trusts, January 2017

From the overview:
A number of states with defined benefit, or traditional, pension plans have enacted policies that retain the core elements of the plans while sharing the risk of cost increases—as well as potential gains—between public employees and employers. These mechanisms for sharing costs can help reduce volatility and investment uncertainty while preserving the ability to pay promised pension benefits.

For most public sector defined benefit (DB) plans, the cost of providing these benefits fluctuates, depending on investment performance, inflation, salary growth, life spans, and workforce demographics. Cost volatility can strain state or local budgets or lead to underfunded pension plans if policymakers have not provided sufficient contributions.

In response to the budget strains and funding challenges, some states have looked to alternatives to traditional pensions, including defined contribution, cash balance, and hybrid plans. Still, most state and local governments continue to offer DB plans, though many now use cost-sharing mechanisms to reduce budget uncertainty. Employees continue to receive guaranteed lifetime benefits and in some cases see gains, such as higher cost of living adjustments (COLAs), from strong investment returns….

….This map and table highlight strategies used by large state pension plans to share cost increases with members. Looking at the benefits offered to new workers in 102 primary state retirement plans, Pew’s public sector retirement systems project identified 28 plans in 16 states that use formal cost-sharing mechanisms to manage risk….

Drug Testing Unemployment Insurance Applicants: An Unconstitutional Solution in Search of a Problem

Source: Rontel Batie, George Wentworth, National Employment Law Project (NELP), Policy Brief, February 2017

From the summary:
Historically, states have never drug tested applicants for unemployment insurance (UI), primarily because the Social Security Act prohibits states from adding qualifying requirements that do not relate to the “fact or cause” of a worker’s unemployment. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, however, some states, in a misguided effort to try to contain the high costs of their UI programs due to high unemployment rates, began clamoring to drug test UI applicants. Their hypothesis (without any facts or data to back it up) was that claims would somehow substantially decrease, either as workers tested positive for drugs or declined to apply because of their drug use.

Mindful of the goal of drug-free workplaces but also of the lack of any data that drug use was an issue among the unemployed, in 2012, Congress reached a narrow compromise on drug testing UI claimants, one that took into account the serious constitutional issues with suspicionless drug testing. Congress agreed to allow, not require, states to test UI claimants in two specific, narrow circumstances: (1) workers who had been discharged from their last job because of unlawful drug use, and (2) workers looking for jobs in occupations where applicants and employees are subject to regular drug testing. Consistent with the new federal law, the U.S. Department of Labor issued regulations that closely tracked the legislation, defining occupations subject to regular testing to mean occupations where testing is legally required (either now or in the future), and not merely permitted.

Congressional Republicans, unhappy with the compromise they agreed to in 2012, have criticized the Labor Department regulations since they were proposed, claiming they were too narrowly drawn even though they closely tracked the legislation. The House of Representatives is now planning to invoke the Congressional Review Act to invalidate these regulations; and presumably, proponents of drug testing are counting on passage of a bill introduced in the 114th Congress by Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) that would effectively allow states to drug test all jobless workers filing for unemployment insurance. This bill, which we expect will be reintroduced shortly, would allow states to define occupations that “regularly” drug test to include all occupations where testing (including pre-employment testing) is permitted. If passed, this bill would open the floodgates for states to arbitrarily and unconstitutionally drug test its citizens solely because they are applying for UI benefits.

No one should be so confident that this bill could pass the Senate. Proponents have been trying to build support for drug testing UI claimants for years; but for the very narrow compromise reached in 2012, there has been no wider bipartisan support for the policy. Indeed, that is because such drug testing is simply another humiliation piled onto unemployed workers—a hurdle designed to be so stigmatizing that it discourages people from even applying for a benefit that they have earned in the first place….

How the Black Lives Matter Movement Is Mobilizing Against Trump

Source: Brandon Ellington Patterson, Mother Jones, February 7, 2017

Donald Trump repeatedly expressed hostility towards Black Lives Matter activists during his presidential campaign, particularly for their efforts to confront police brutality. Now, faced with a Trump agenda whose repercussions for African Americans could reach far beyond policing, BLM organizers say they are broadly expanding their mission. …. In the wake of Trump’s immigration order, BLM organizers mobilized their networks to turn out at airports to protest. The groups also fired up their social media networks to amplify calls for the release of detained travelers. BLM leaders say their strategy will evolve as more details become known about what Trump plans to do on matters ranging from policing and reproductive rights to climate change and LGBT issues. They will focus on combating what they see as Trump’s hostile, retrograde agenda—and that of right-wing politicians emboldened by Trump—primarily at the state and local levels. ….

Sicker-Than-Anticipated ACA Enrollees Caused Major Problems for State Individual Health Marketplaces over Past Four Years, New Brookings-Rockefeller Research Finds

Source: Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, Press Release, February 9, 2017

Due to the higher-than-expected costs of new Obamacare enrollees, many health insurers were unable to turn a profit and thus left the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace exchanges —- further increasing premiums for remaining enrollees —- according to a new five-state study from the Center for Health Policy at Brookings Institution and the Rockefeller Institute of Government of the State University of New York (SUNY). The study highlights the difficulties of meeting the ACA’s goals of competition and consumer choice, especially in rural areas and urban places with high concentration of providers. …

… Several factors caused a substantial shift toward narrower insurer networks that offered more health maintenance organization (HMO) plans than broad preferred provider organization (PPO) plans, the authors found. Enrollees with pre-existing conditions disproportionately joined PPOs in order to maintain access to their current doctors and specialists, increasing the cost of offering these plans. Insurers also faced hurdles, negotiating lower prices within PPOs because they could not trade higher patient volumes for lower prices as they could when negotiating with HMOs. By the third year of the ACA, insurers reduced the number of PPO plans they offered and many switched to offering only HMOs. In Texas, no insurer currently offers a PPO product in the individual market. Although the authors caution against generalizations from their five-state sample, they conclude that if policymakers craft an ACA replacement that continues to rely on insurer markets, they should bear in mind the large local differences that exist; there is uncertainty about adverse selection and risk; market competition is dependent on the local provider base; there is a tendency toward narrowing networks; and insurers adjust rapidly to recent experiences.

Read the five-state summary
Read the California study
Read the Florida study
Read the Michigan study
Read the North Carolina study
Read the Texas study

Related:
How has Obamacare impacted state health care marketplaces?
Source: Michael Morrisey, Richard P. Nathan, Alice M. Rivlin, and Mark Hall, Brookings Institution, February 9, 2017

Supreme Court Appointment Process: President’s Selection of a Nominee

Source: Barry J. McMillion, Congressional Research Service, CRS Report, R44253, February 6, 2017

The appointment of a Supreme Court Justice is an event of major significance in American politics. Each appointment is of consequence because of the enormous judicial power the Supreme Court exercises as the highest appellate court in the federal judiciary. Appointments are usually infrequent, as a vacancy on the nine-member Court may occur only once or twice, or never at all, during a particular President’s years in office. Under the Constitution, Justices on the Supreme Court receive what can amount to lifetime appointments which, by constitutional design, helps ensure the Court’s independence from the President and Congress.

The procedure for appointing a Justice is provided for by the Constitution in only a few words. The “Appointments Clause” (Article II, Section 2, clause 2) states that the President “shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint ..Judges of the supreme Court.” The process of appointing Justices has undergone changes over two centuries, but its most basic feature—the sharing of power between the President and Senate—has remained unchanged: To receive appointment to the Court, a candidate must first be nominated by the President and then confirmed by the Senate.

Political considerations typically play an important role in Supreme Court appointments. It is often assumed, for example, that Presidents will be inclined to select a nominee whose political or ideological views appear compatible with their own. The political nature of the appointment process becomes especially apparent when a President submits a nominee with controversial views, there are sharp partisan or ideological differences between the President and the Senate, or the outcome of important constitutional issues before the Court is seen to be at stake.

Additionally, over more than two centuries, a recurring theme in the Supreme Court appointment process has been the assumed need for professional excellence in a nominee. During recent presidencies, nominees have at the time of nomination, most often, served as U.S. appellate court judges. The integrity and impartiality of an individual have also been important criteria for a President when selecting a nominee for the Court…