Category Archives: Laws/Legislation

New York’s prevailing wage law: A cost-benefit analysis

Source: Russell Ormiston, Dale Belman, and Matt Hinkel, Economic Policy Institute, November 1, 2017

… State prevailing wage laws across the country have increasingly been assailed by those who appeal to lawmakers’ other responsibility—minimizing taxpayer costs—in an attempt to weaken or repeal these policies. These nationwide campaigns are built almost entirely upon a single argument: higher wages must equate to higher taxpayer costs. … And with a recent publication by the Empire Center (McMahon and Gardner 2017), it has become apparent that some in New York will attempt to pitch the same narrative to state lawmakers. There’s one problem. According to the most advanced economic research on state prevailing wage laws, the simple narrative largely isn’t true.

To separate fact from fiction as it relates to New York’s prevailing wage law, this report provides a thorough cost-benefit analysis of state policy relying extensively on independent, peer-reviewed research. As summarized in this report, academic economists from around the country have made prevailing wage laws a research priority over the last 15 years. In study after study, economists have found no evidence that these laws have had any significant cost effects on the biggest drivers of New York’s capital budget: highways and institutional buildings (e.g., schools). …

Read full report.

The “Amazon Amendment” Would Effectively Hand Government Purchasing Power Over to Amazon

Source: David Dayen, The Intercept, November 2, 2017

… Instead of getting yelled at by lawmakers, Amazon is on the verge of winning a multibillion-dollar advantage over retail rivals by taking over large swaths of federal procurement. Language buried in Section 801 of the House-passed version of the National Defense Authorization Act, which is being hashed out in a conference committee with the Senate, would move Defense Department purchases of commercial off-the-shelf products to “online marketplaces.” Theoretically, that means any website that offers an array of options for paper clips or office furniture; in reality that signals likely dominance for Amazon Business, the company’s commercial sales platform. Section 801 stipulates that the program should be designed “to enable Government-wide use of such marketplaces.” Scale, then, is key. Over time, this change would give platforms like Amazon access to all $53 billion in federal government commercial item purchases.

… “It seems like Amazon wrote it,” said Stacy Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which has written critical reports about Amazon in the past. “It will accelerate the transfer of more and more government spending to Amazon.” The online marketplace provision, which still has to get through a House-Senate conference, coincides with a significant ramp-up for Amazon Business, which only launched in 2015. … But federal procurement is the holy grail, the lucrative market to tap. Perhaps that’s why, for the head of Amazon Business’s public sector division, the company hired Anne Rung, who ran the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy until fall 2016. This made Rung effectively the top purchasing officer in the United States. … Indeed, Section 801 has been informally dubbed the “Amazon amendment,” and experts believe only one or two companies would have the wherewithal to participate. That means monopoly or duopoly control of $53 billion in federal purchasing. The online marketplaces, which can be given no-bid contracts, explicitly eliminate the need for government procurement officers to seek out competitive bids for commercial products. …

Editorial: Improve foster care

Source: The Register-Guard, October 27, 2017

Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden and Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch have teamed up in support of a bill to better protect children in foster care. This bill is both badly needed and long overdue. The Senate Finance committee launched an investigation in April 2015 into the increasing practice of states giving the responsibility for some of their most vulnerable children over to private, for-profit companies. … Governors in 33 states responded to the committee’s request for information about the consequences of privatizing foster care, as did one of the largest providers in the country, the MENTOR Network. The results of the two-year investigation were both unsettling and, sadly, unsurprising.

The Senate found there were flaws in data collection and oversight when it came to for-profit foster care, at both the state and federal levels. Procedures set up by states to monitor providers’ performance and outcomes weren’t followed. Children under the authority of the state who received services from private, for-profit agencies were abused, neglected and denied services. Profits were prioritized over children’s well-being. High staff turnover sometimes made it impossible to monitor how children were doing, and foster parents with questionable backgrounds were given licenses to care for children, who were inadequately monitored by the state. …

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Senate Finds 86 Children Died In Care Of Giant For-Profit Foster Care Firm, Citing BuzzFeed News
Source: Aram Roston and Jeremy Singer-Vine, Buzzfeed News, October 18, 2017

At least 86 children died in a 10-year period while in the custody of a giant for-profit foster care company, according to an investigation by the US Senate Committee on Finance. In only 13 of those deaths did the company, The Mentor Network, conduct an internal investigation, the committee found. The Senate committee said the company “falsely” claimed that its child death rate was in line with the fatality rates in the overall foster care system.

The Senate probe started in part because of a series by BuzzFeed News that profiled problems at the company, which was the largest for-profit foster care provider in the country. In one case a 2-year-old girl who was placed at a home run by Mentor was murdered by her foster mother. In another case, a series of boys were sexually abused by a Mentor foster father, whom Mentor paid as a foster parent for years despite a series of red flags. He had requested that he be sent boys who were “male, white, any age.” Though Mentor denied the claim, employees told BuzzFeed News that the pursuit of profits sometimes took priority over child welfare. (The company is owned by Civitas Solutions, Inc., which recorded $1.4 billion in revenue last year and trades on the New York Stock Exchange.)

… As a result of the committee’s investigation, the chairman, Orrin Hatch, and its ranking member, Ron Wyden, introduced legislation Monday to require states to disclose the contractors they use in privatized foster care, and to report to the federal government how those contractors perform. …

The Brief Life and Private Death of Alexandria Hill
Source: Brian Joseph, Mother Jones, February 26, 2015

When the government took her from her family, it outsourced her safety to a for-profit corporation. Nine months later she was dead…..

….What happened in Rockdale that night would be the subject of a weeklong trial in the fall of 2014, focusing on the care of Alexandria. But it also opened a window into the vast and opaque world of private foster care agencies—for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations that are increasingly taking on the role of monitoring the nation’s most vulnerable children. The agency involved in Small’s case was the Lone Star branch of the Mentor Network, a $1.2 billion company headquartered in Boston that specializes in finding caretakers, or “mentors,” for a range of populations, from adults with brain injuries to foster children. With 4,000 children in its care in 14 states, Mentor is one of the largest players in the business of private foster care, a fragmented industry of mostly local and regional providers that collect hundreds of millions in tax dollars annually while receiving little scrutiny from government authorities. Squeezed by high caseloads and tight budgets, state and local child welfare agencies are increasingly leaving the task of recruiting, screening, training, and monitoring foster parents to these private agencies. In many places, this arrangement has created a troubling reality in which the government can seize your children, but then outsource the duty of keeping them safe—and duck responsibility when something goes wrong…..

….Mentor and other private foster care agencies say they are committed to children’s well-being, and that nothing can prevent the occasional tragic incident. But in my investigation, I found evidence of widespread problems in the industry—failed monitoring, missed warning signs, and, in some cases, horrific abuse. In Los Angeles, a two-year-old girl was beaten to death by her foster mother, who was cleared by a private agency despite a criminal record and seven prior child abuse and neglect complaints filed against her. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, prosecutors alleged that foster parents screened by a private agency beat their foster son so badly that he suffered brain damage and went blind. (A grand jury refused to return an indictment in the case.) In Chattanooga, Tennessee, a foster father vetted by a private agency induced his 16-year-old foster daughter to have sex with him and a neighbor. In Riverview, Florida, a 10-year-old girl with autism drowned in a pond behind a foster home. The private agency that inspected the home had previously identified the pond as a safety hazard but had not required a fence. In Duluth, Minnesota, a private agency failed to discover that a foster mother’s adult son had moved back into her home. The son, who had a criminal record for burglary that would have disqualified him from being around foster children, went on to sexually abuse a 10-year-old foster girl. In Texas, at least nine children living in private agency homes died of abuse or neglect between 2011 and 2013…..

How the Kochs are trying to shake up public schools, one state at a time

Source: Kimberly Hefling, Politico, October 30, 2017

With school choice efforts stalled in Washington, the billionaire Koch brothers’ network is engaged in state-by-state battles with teachers’ unions, politicians and parent groups to push for public funding of private and charter schools.  One of the newest campaigns is the Libre Initiative, a grassroots drive targeting Hispanic families in 11 states so far, under the umbrella of the Charles and David Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, a powerful conservative and libertarian advocacy group. … The group has had some initial success — for instance, helping to thwart a moratorium on charter school expansion in New Mexico. But it’s also created bitter divisions in the Latino community and led to accusations the Kochs are trying to undermine public education — and even in some cases, to subvert the Democratic process.

… Despite such criticism, the group is hunkering down for the long haul in states it views as ripe for change even as it eyes new states for expansion. Lima says it’s on track to make contact with more than 100,000 Hispanic households this year on school choice. Besides Nevada and New Mexico, Libre is organizing in Arizona, Colorado, Virginia, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin. Its recent efforts, with other Koch-backed groups, include:

  • A planned “six-figure” spend in Nevada on “deep canvassing” in Hispanic neighborhoods to build support for educational savings accounts, which enable families to use state tax dollars to pay for private school. …
  • A lawsuit brought by Americans for Prosperity, among others, aimed at stopping a 2018 Arizona referendum asking voters whether they want to keep a school choice law passed earlier this year. …
  • A “six-figure” Libre and Americans for Prosperity campaign in Colorado this summer to promote charter schools and education savings accounts and another ahead of a Nov. 7 school board race by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation to push choice-friendly issues.
  • A seven-figure investment In Virginia’s gubernatorial race by Americans for Prosperity that includes a video criticizing Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, for his opposition to education savings accounts.
  • Mailings in Spanish and English supporting a Florida law that encourages charter schools in communities with low-performing schools. After Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, signed it into law, the state Democratic Party said he’d “declared war on our public schools.” …

Florida proposal seeks to clear the way for public funding of private schools

Source: Jeffrey Solocheck, Tampa Bay Times, November 1, 2017
 
The chairwoman of the State Board of Education, charged with supervising Florida’s system of free public education, has proposed amending the state Constitution to permit funding of some private schooling.  Marva Johnson, a Gov. Rick Scott appointee to the state board and the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, filed a proposal Tuesday to exempt education from the state’s constitutional ban on using public funds for religious organizations.  She further recommended that state money go to private schools, including religious ones, to support students whose individual learning needs are not “completely met and accommodated” at their zoned public schools. … The proposal is a long way from becoming reality. The commission would have to approve it, as would 60 percent of Florida voters.  But if the Constitution were amended as Johnson has proposed, it would set up a major shift, paving the way for state-funded school vouchers, something the Florida Supreme Court ruled a decade ago violate the Constitution. …

Pay gap creating crisis in human services sector, agencies say

Source: Worcester Business Journal, October 11, 2017
 
Fourteen months after the signing of a law calling for equal pay across gender lines, representatives from human services agencies asked legislators for help closing a different sort of pay gap. Mark Schueppert, the general counsel and vice president of human resources for the Needham-based Justice Resource Institute, said some of his organization’s staff works in the same building as state employees who are doing similar jobs but earning more money, resulting in “literally dozens” of workers leaving for state jobs in the last three years. … Schueppert asked the committee to back a bill filed by Rep. Kay Khan, its House chair, and Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry that aims to eliminate the pay disparity between state workers and their counterparts at private, community-based human services nonprofits. ….

Council urges Univ. of Memphis to decline state outsourcing contract

Source: Michelle Corbet, Memphis Business Journal, September 20, 2017

With the University of Memphis’ next Board of Trustees meeting set for early October, members of the Memphis City Council are asking that the group think twice before opting into the state’s facilities management contract. It’s no secret the University of Memphis plans to opt into the state’s property management contract, said Councilman Martavius Jones, who sponsored a resolution Sept. 19 urging local universities and their administrators to do the opposite. In May, the State of Tennessee entered into a contract with Chicago-based JLL to privatize maintenance, security, janitorial and landscaping services for state-owned public colleges and universities. “Based on my experience on the school board, the quality of the service, the cleanliness and the general morale suffered [when outsourced],” said Jones, who served on the Memphis City Schools Board from 2006 to 2013. …

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Does Outsourcing Some State Jobs Save TN Taxpayers Money?
Source: Local Memphis, August 31, 2017
 
Many Tennessee lawmakers hope to see if outsourcing some state jobs actually saves taxpayers money. It’s been a controversial topic since Governor Bill Haslam began implementing the idea a few years ago.  Questions about outsourcing are always the same. Does it save money and is there accountability?  “There’s… people concerned about state jobs all over Tennessee,” said one protester.  Many state lawmakers have heard and seen the protests about the ongoing outsourcing of state jobs. That’s why a majority of legislators from both parties signed a letter of concern earlier this year to Governor Haslam. The Governor has defended outsourcing state jobs in some areas, especially on state college campuses. …

UT campus workers protest Gov. Haslam’s outsourcing plan
Source: WBIR, August 28, 2017

University of Tennessee Knoxville staff, faculty and students joined local business leaders, state representatives and faith leaders in a demonstration Monday to call on university officials to “opt-out” of Gov. Bill Haslam’s outsourcing plan. The demonstration was organized by United Campus Workers. Last week, a bill to introduce oversight in outsourcing was heard in summer study in the General Assembly. If the university were to “opt-in”, United Campus Workers believe as many as 10,000 facilities jobs, including hundreds in Knoxville, would be outsourced. Those who oppose the plan fear it will result in job loss, loss of oversight and accountability, reduced services and negative consequences for local businesses which provide services to campuses. …

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The Oil and Gas Industry’s Latest Scheme Would All but Privatize Public Lands

Source: Jimmy Tobias, Pacific Standard, September 11, 2017

Having failed to turn over control of federal lands to state governments and private interests, anti-conservationists in Congress are at work on their next scheme: partially privatizing the public domain by allowing states to take charge of energy development on vast swaths of land owned by the United States Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. This agenda was on full display at a Capitol Hill hearing last week when the House Natural Resources Committee convened a forum on the Federal Land Freedom Act of 2017, a bill that has nothing to do with freedom and everything to do with avarice. The bill would allow industry-dominated state governments like Wyoming and Utah and Oklahoma to manage the leasing, permitting, and regulating of oil, gas, and other fossil fuel production on national lands. It would allow states to have near-total dominion over huge accumulations of federally owned mineral resources. And it would effectively exempt oil and gas drillers from the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and other laws meant to protect public resources from pollution and destruction at the hands of commercial enterprise. For its right-wing proponents, the Federal Land Freedom Act is a solid step toward full disposal of some federal lands.

… According to the Wilderness Society, a land conservation non-profit, the Federal Land Freedom Act represents just “the latest push in a broader anti-public lands movement that has exploded into prominence in the last few years at the state, congressional, and administrative levels.” It is just the latest “land seizure” scheme, as the Center for Western Priorities calls it, to emerge from the muck of Washington, D.C. But what a shameless and telling scheme it is: An extremely powerful industry dominates state governments and hopes to dominate the federal government too. It essentially hires elected officials to do its bidding, and those officials deliver a proposed law that would allow said industry to have its way with millions of acres of land that rightfully belong to all Americans. They deliver a bill that would gut public interest laws and eliminate conservation protections in the name of corporate profits and private gain. …

WV officials unsure PEIA would benefit from privatization

Source: Phil Kabler, Charleston Gazette-Mail, September 19, 2017
 
Privatization of West Virginia’s Workers’ Compensation insurance was successful, particularly in lowering employer premiums and increasing competition, Brickstreet Insurance CEO Greg Burton told legislators Tuesday.  Whether those successes would apply to privatization of the state Public Employees Insurance Agency health insurance remains to be seen, he said.  “I’m not sure all the successes that happened with Workers’ Comp privatization, particularly with the decreases in rates…would translate over to PEIA,” he told a legislative interim committee studying PEIA. … According to a report on state employee health benefits published by the National Conference of State Legislatures on April 2, only two states exclusively use private insurers to provide health insurance to public employees, Idaho and North Dakota. According to the NCSL, 29 states, including West Virginia, have fully self-funded health insurance plans, while the remaining 19 states provide employees with coverage options, including self-funded plans. …

Editorial: Another round in the Hogan-teachers union feud

Source: Baltimore Sun, September 18, 2017 
Gov. Larry Hogan’s announcement that he will not sign Maryland’s proposed plan to implement the requirements of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act — the Obama era successor to No Child Left Behind — got him some swift criticism from the Maryland teachers union and its allies, including a claim from one of his prospective 2018 opponents that he is the “anti-public education governor.” The critics claim that he is putting some $250 million in federal funding for Maryland schools at risk and aligning himself with the extreme school privatization agenda of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. …

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Despite veto threat, Maryland lawmakers send Hogan bill to limit school reforms
Source: Erin Cox, Baltimore Sun, March 28, 2017

Disregarding Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto threat, the Democrat-dominated General Assembly passed a bill Tuesday to forbid the state from using vouchers or charter schools to fix struggling schools. Both the Senate and House approved the bill by veto-proof margins, setting in motion a political showdown with Hogan for the final two weeks of session. …

Maryland Democrats blast Hogan’s education agenda, likening it to Trump’s
Source: Pamela Wood, The Baltimore Sun, February 7, 2017

Maryland Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday made their case against a series of state education bills that they say push a “privatization agenda” also championed by President Donald Trump and his controversial new education secretary, Betsy DeVos. Dozens of Democrats joined the state teachers union to decry bills backed by Gov. Larry Hogan that would provide scholarships to private schools and encourage more charter schools in Maryland. They said the Republican governor is following the same philosophy as Trump and DeVos, promoting private and charter schools at the expense of public schools. … Weller criticized Hogan’s plans to increase the amount of tax dollars used to help poor children afford a seat in private schools, as well as to set up a new state panel that would approve applications to open new charter schools, an authority currently held by local school boards. … The teachers union and Democrats rattled off a list of bills they plan to pass and Hogan efforts they plan to defeat this General Assembly session. They’re proposing a bill that would prevent the state from looking to school privatization as a way to comply with a federal law requiring turnaround plans for poor-performing schools. … The Democrats also are mobilizing to block Hogan’s proposal to help charter schools by, among other things, creating a new state board that will review and authorize new charter schools to open. Critics say Hogan can stack the panel with allies who will allow a flood of new charter schools that will siphon funding from public schools. … The Democratic lawmakers said they will oppose Hogan’s promise to gradually increase funding for a private school scholarship program known as Broadening Options & Opportunities for Students Today or BOOST from $5 million to $10 million. …