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Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny: Oh, No, More Boring But Important Stuff

Is this where I put in key words such as sex, lesbians, vampires, Christopher Lloyd and others things to which this blog do not pertain, but by putting them here, I may get hits from all the Christoper Lloyd lesbian vampire fans (and you know who you are)? This is the primarily humorous and occasionally rambling writings of Leon Tchaikovsky, humor writer. Enjoy.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Oh, No, More Boring But Important Stuff

STATE AND LOCAL TAXATION OF TELECOMMUNICATIONS AND ELECTRONIC COMMERCE

Background

NCSL has been an active participant in efforts to establish a means to collect sales taxes on Internet sales. Work is being done on creating a central registration system within the private sector that could add the proper sales tax to their Internet transactions. There are worries there could be a conflict of interest that the system may receive too much input from establishments that would be affected by the system. Some businesses are concerned about whether they would need to announce a nexus within a particular state for taxation purposes. There are concerns from Sen. Steven Rauschenberger, NCSL President, that a Request for Proposal should be issued that would compensate the developer of the system before further work on the system continues. Some recommend that a firewall be created that would allow a business to register for the system purely for sales tax collection purposes without fear of having other information divulged.

STREAMLINED SALES AND USE TAX AGREEMENT--WHAT WILL HAPPEN ON OCTOBER 1, 2005

The agreement to create a compact of states to collect state sales taxes on out of state Internet transactions has met the required population threshold that it faced. 11 states are in full compliance with the certification process, 8 states are associate members that may be added to the compact without a further vote from the member states once certain conditions are met, and two states are associate members who will be required to reapply for a membership vote. Nevada has petitioned to join.

Pennsylvania is the most populous state that has not joined. A bill by Rep. David Steil passed the House last session and stalled in the Senate. This year, the bill is stalled in the House Rules Committee. Rep. Steil states that Governor Rendell has indicated he sees no need for Pennsylvania to join until Congress has voted to authorize the compact to begin making tax collections, even though this delay could cause Pennsylvania to lose revenues.

Seven companies are working on developing the software which businesses would use that would calculate what is taxable and how many revenues would be provided to which states. This would affect only businesses that conduct above a certain level of out of state sales (differing proposals place this level at above five million dollars annual sales or above six million dollars of annual sales). This would exempt requiring tax collections from smaller businesses. Businesses would be compensated by states for making these collections, that making it advantageous to the businesses to collect out of state sales taxes from customers purchasing from other states.

Some issues remain over definitions of what taxes could be collected, especially as pertaining to the telecommunications industry as it is difficult to define products that may exist in the future. Opposition to this comes from Internet businesses and consumers who note this will increase the cost of ordering on the Internet. Land based retailers dislike the competition. State and local governments fear the revenue losses will significantly impact their budgets and services. It is noted they have a legal right to collect these taxes so long as the courts determine it does not adversely impact the businesses in collecting these revenues. Some conservatives oppose collecting these revenues and see this as a means of limiting the size of state and local governments. Other conservatives believe the courts should not establish policies for states and that states should be free to collect their taxes.

Some local government associations are divided on this issue. Some cities have Internet billing offices and they could lose revenues from these Internet companies. Others note that local governments, as a whole, stand to gain financially from the creation of this compact.

FEDERAL LEGISLATION DISCUSSION--109TH CONGRESS

There are plans to introduce a Sales Tax Simplification and Fairness Act that would allow states to collect sales taxes on out of state Internet sales. Maureen Riehl, Vice President of the National Retail Federation, states the National Retail Federation supports this bill. She believes it should be considered in the U.S. Senate first and then the House. She believes Congress will view this as a bill that is good for business as well as for state governments. She notes the bill has labor support from the AFL-CIO, SEIU, AFT, and AFSCME. Rep. Steil noted that the Pennsylvania Manufactures Association opposes the bill and that the business community in Pennsylvania has yet to recognize this as a pro-business bill. Ms. Riehl stated she would have the national Chamber contact local Chambers and the Federation of Independent Businesses in Pennsylvania.

ALEC, which is prohibited from lobbying the Federal government, has a committee that has taken a position asking states to ask Congress to only permit mandatory collection of state taxes in states that have joined the compact. ALEC as an entity has not yet taken a position of this bill. Some opponents of this note this committee's position would defeat the purpose of collecting the taxes if businesses in some states could refuse to collect the taxes.

THE FAIR TAX PROPOSAL

Tom Wright, Executive Director of FairTax.org, explained that the Fair Tax Proposal would eliminate the Federal income tax, capital gains tax, inheritance tax, the alternative minimum tax, Social Security tax, Medicare tax, and all Federal corporate taxes and would replace them with a Federal sales or consumption tax on all goods and services. Services are not presently taxed, and services represent about 60% of all consumption. He states the result should be revenue neutral. This would simplify the tax payment system to the delight of the public who struggles figuring out Federal tax forms and would allow employees to receive their full pay without tax deductions. In addition, to see that no one is below the poverty level, everyone would receive checks that would guarantee that every household meets the poverty level. The end result should lower the costs of production for American goods in the increasingly competitive international markets, which would boost the American economy. This would also sharply increase prices of goods to consumers.

Mr. Wright states several studies by colleges and the Brookings Institution predict this would increase the Gross Domestic Product from 9% to 14%. This would reduce the number of tax returns by 90%, from 200 million individual tax returns to 20 million business returns. It is argued the taxing consumption has regressive economic effects, yet Mr. Wright argues that many wealthy do not pay their fair shares of taxes under the current system.

Maureen Riehl states the National Retail Association opposes this proposal. She believes thus would cause a major reduction in consumption due to higher prices that will eliminate many small businesses and would allow primarily large businesses to survive and then dominate our national markets.

BUSINESS ACTIVITY TAX SIMPLIFICATION

Arthur Rosen, a partner of the McDermott, Will, and Emery law firm, states that some in the U.S. Senate believe there should be a linkage between the streamlined sales tax legislative and a business act tax simplification (BATS) proposal. Most organizations that have taken positions on this do not favor a linkage between the two proposals. Some oppose BATS because it could allow businesses to escape paying taxes on sales to out of state customers.


TELECOMMUNICATIONS TAX REFORM

Several telecommunications industry representatives urged that their businesses should be taxed no more than other industries, They were especially upset over franchise taxes and rights of way fees and claim they are discriminatory taxes against their industry. Deborah Bierbaum, Tax Policy Director for AT&T, claims the telecommunications industry pays two and one half times more in per cent of taxes than other industries pay, except utilities, and thus their consumers pay more than double in taxes on their products than on taxes for products of other industries. It was argued that the use of telecommunications products expands at a much faster rate as prices are lowered with claims that one study found a 1% decrease in price of telecommunications products produces a 1.72% increase in use of telecommunications products.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

WASHINGTON STATE CAPITOL

Background

Planning for the Washington State Capitol began in 1911, and parts of that plan are still undergoing development as a planned walkway is under construction. Among the attractions on the Capitol grounds, which features 100 acres that were landscaped by the Olmstead Brothers in 1931, is a ginkgo tree from China symbolizing that ginkgo trees grew in Washington thousands of years but now grow only in China and a replica of Copenhagen’s Tivoli Park.

The Capitol features a dome with which was kept pure white until it was painted in 1987. The House Chambers seats its 98 legislators from 49 districts that each elect two representatives. The chamber has a computerized voting system. The State Senate is composed of one member from 49 districts. Legislative sessions are for 105 days in years ending in odd numbers and 60 days in years ending in even numbers. There is a separate Legislative Building.

CAPITOL BUILDING

` The Capitol building, constructed in 1922 to 1928 and using 31 tons of marble, stands out for being surrounded by a large park area, making it rather unique among Capitols. House and Senate members are required to vote on matters before them and may not abstain. Legislative sessions, legislative committee hearings, and state Supreme Court hearings are all televised. The state budget is considered and passed as a two year budget. Only legislators and pages are permitted on the House floor. Other legislative staff may not appear on the House floor. There are nine statewide elected administrative officials. Supreme Court Justices are elected to six years terms but are required to retire upon becoming 75 years old.

Lt. Gov. Brad Owens stated he presides over the Senate and votes to break tie Senate votes. He also appoints members of both parties from the Senate to conference committees as well as to task forces and non-standing committee. He also chairs the Senate Rules Committee which has the power to kill legislation before it and to schedule when Senate votes are to be taken on Senate bills.

The Governor's mansion has a library of 1,700 books, yet none of them is a dictionary.

Wednesday, August 17, 1005

KEYNOTE SPEAKER

Background

Bill Gates, Chairman of Microsoft Corporation, has created the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation with a $27 million endowment. Among the Foundation’s functions are to provide assistance to improving education outcomes, improving world health, and providing housing to homeless. The Foundation is providing grants to prepare high school students for college by providing teachers with better resources.

Summary

Mayor Greg Nichols of Seattle noted that Seattle is a city of innovation, where Bill Boeing created Boeing and Bill Gates and Paul Allen created Microsoft, and where Starbucks created lines of people willing to pay three dollars for fifty cents worth of coffee. As Mayor, he has been urging other Mayors to undertake local actions that address the global warming issue. He notes he has found cooperation from 175 Mayors.

Bill Gates told how, at age 13, he found people guarded their use of computers and that he had to access computers late at night at the University of Washington, where his father worked, when they weren't being used. It was there he realized the need and usefulness of computer software and placing information on chips. He believes the continued growth of computer use will move us from a paper-based society to a digital-use society. He believes this will happen in education and that textbooks will soon be primarily available in digital form. Teachers will need to be instructed on how to use wireless technology, yet Bill Gates believes this will be a large part of the future of schools.

Gates noted that 32% of American households had access to computers compared to 60% of households in Korea. He believes schools in China and India are doing better jobs at educating their students in the use of computer technologies.

We need to focus more on elementary and secondary education, Gates argued. While America has perhaps 25 of the world’s 30 best universities, we need to create excellence in preparing students for college. Localities that have local colleges that are strong in Biology, medicine, and computer technologies find their regions experiencing job and economic growth.

The access to information technologies and biological industries are what drives local economic development and what attracts quality employees to a locality, Gates noted. He stated that state tax policies are not factors in economic growth and warned that state governments are going overboard in offering tax incentives that have no affect in business location decisions. He stated that businesses and people wish to locate in areas with strong growing industries and where they’d like to raise their children, and that a tax break on one’s state taxes does not affect these types of decisions.

High school need to raise their standards, according to Gates. These skills are necessary in a challenging global economy. He notes that improvements in American products made us more competitive with Japanese products that only a decade ago were much stronger competitors with our products. Much of American excellence came from our use of computers in business, Gates believes, noting that ebay, amazon, and google are American companies and that there is little similar in countries outside of the United States.

The U.S. should attract more outside talent, and Gates recommended that we change our visa procedures to reduce delays and complexities in attracting foreign talent to move to the United States. Indian colleges are producing many highly talented computer minds and they should be encouraged to come to America.

EFFIRTS TO REGULATE CAMPAIGN ACTIVITY BY "527s"

Background

"527s" are advocacy groups that seek to mobilize or persuade voters on issues that are tax exempt under section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code. They are not supposed to advocate the election or defeat of any Federal candidate, but they have been used to provide voter information that could result in changing how the public perceives a candidate for Federal office. As such, there is debate concerning whether Congress should make changes in laws concerning "527s".

Summary

Republicans are upset over organizations such as Moveon.org while Democrats are upset over organizations such as the Swift Boat Veterans Against Kerry which supposedly operated on their own without being involved with any political party. The Congressional goal of 527s was to limit the influence of soft money, and instead political activists have created independent organizations to advocate for their interests.

Some in Congress believe this has become a way to circumvent the intention of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance laws. Several bills have resulted as a reaction to 527s. Two proposals call for 527s to be treated by the IRS as political committees. Some propose allowing state governments to apply state laws to 527s that operate at both the state and national levels. Some 527s had both Federal and state accounts, and one proposal would disallow such activity. Some propose allowing a 527 to mention a political party so long as no Federal candidate is mentioned, either positively or negatively. Some would allow such 527s to operate “get out the vote” campaigns during Federal and state elections. There is also debate on how involved 527s should be during state referendums.

As was cautioned, it is likely that any reforms that are passed will only lead for political activists to seek new loopholes to create activist political organizations.

INNOVATIVE APPROACHES TO RUNNING ELECTIONS

Background

Ray Martinez, III, U.S. Elections Assistance Commissioner, has complained that his office had a $1.2 million operating budget for the 2004 elections that was not enough to properly handle his office’s duties in assisting elections officials across the nation to implement the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA). His office distributed about $500 million to state governments to bring election procedures into compliance with this law. He was upset his office initially did not have sufficient funds to publish plans in the Federal Register, as his office was legally mandated to so publish, until the General Services Administration and other agencies shifted funds to allow the plans to be printed. His office is unable to handle the volume of questions, many of which seek rapid assistance which sometimes can not be provided. He believes the proper use of voter rolls depends upon the “due diligence” of elections officials. He believes more needs to be done to recruit and train workers at polling places.

Miles Rapoport, President of Demos and a former Connecticut Secretary of State and state legislator, seeks to increase voter registration and participation. His group monitors how well states are doing in implementing the provisions of HAVA. Demos opposes laws that prevent former inmates from voting and has criticized states for failing to offer public assistance recipients help with voter registration.

Tova Wang, Democracy Fellow at the Century Foundaiton, has argued that requiring voters to show identification before voting does not make it more difficult for voters who belong to racial minorities to vote, dispute critics who warn this occurs. She has noted that election workers are supposed to offer voters without identification provisional ballots and that some election officials failed to provide these provisional ballots.

Summary

Ray Martinez stated that one official statewide voter list for Federal elections is an important HAVA requirement that states should implement. This will prevent many difficulties that states are discovering on election days with determining who is registered to vote, on the use of provisional ballots, and on confusions during recounts.

HAVA authorized $3.7 billion towards improving the election process, and Congress has appropriated $3.1 billion of this authorization. Until now, operating elections was probably the longest unfunded mandate in American history. Some of these funds will require state matching funds, and many of these Federal funds will require states enacting required criteria in their elections processes. The most significant of these criteria, according to Martinez, will be that voting systems fit Federal standards. There will soon be a national certification process that will develop a list of vendors and machines that can be purchased and states and counties would be required to purchase voting machines from this list.

Rebecca Vigil-Giron, New Mexico’s Secretary of State, noted that HAVA mandates were tested for the first time in the last election. Provisional balloting was a very important part of these reforms. Her department was also very involved in providing information to voters, including broadcasts, in Spanish, Navajo, and four other Native American languages. This resulted in a 25% increase in voter turnout.

Provisional ballots were the last ones counted in New Mexico. There are concerns that they should be counted faster.

Tova Wang is concerned about the integrity of elections. Some election offices experiences difficulties in handling what was required in voter registration, election day operations, and handling provisional ballots. Election day workers are not always fully aware of what is required of them. She believes polling place fraud is extremely rare. During the recent recount of the vote in Washington, only six cases of duplicate voting were found while in Ohio only four cases of fraudulent voting were found. This places a strong question on whether voter ID is meant to handle a problem that is actually a rare occurrence.

Miles Rapoport stated it is important that government works to assure and guarantee people’s right to vote and not to suppress that right. He argued that a paper trail is essential to guaranteeing that elections are being handled properly. He also stated that allowing voter registration on election day is a proven way to improve voter turnout, observing that states that allowed this had a 14% higher voter turnout than in states that do not offer such registration.

Rapoport noted that human services agencies are required to offer voter registration, but that many such offices do not have voter registration materials available. He also noted problems with laws that prevent former felons from voting, noting that this law prohibits 27% of African American males in Florida and 31% of African America males in Alabama from voting.

Where people were allowed to cast ballots on a day before election day, 20% of voters did so, Rapoport noted.


THE EXPANDING FIELD OF ELECTION LAW

Background

Doug Chapin, Director of Electionline,org has been critical that many states, including Pennsylvania, have been slow to comply with federal election laws and to modernize their election procedures so that an accurate count and recount can occur. He is critical of voter databases that do not provide the proper information for ascertaining who is qualified to vote at what location.

Daniel Lowenstein, a Law Professor at UCLA who was the principal author of California’s Political Reform Act of 1974 and has written the only textbook on election law published in the 20th century, has been critical of elections procedures that do not uniformly treat all voters equally under the law.

Summary

Doug Chapin predicted there will be many court cases involving election law issues in the near future. Large portions of election laws, as well as large gaps in election laws, are subject to very different interpretations that will likely be considered by courts. The Election Assistance Commission has issued advisory documents on voting standards and disability access to voting in attempts to prevent some future problems. Chapin stated that legislators have an important role in deciding how they believe election laws should be in their law before it is decided by courts.

Many issues regarding provisional balloting are being contested in courts. Different states are treating this issue differently. Washington allows any voter to vote at any precinct anywhere in the state. Other states require a voter to vote only at their proper precinct, and courts have upheld such a law.

Chapin noted that NCSL is opposed to photograph identification because of its costs to state governments. He stated there is less of a need for such identification for voter purposes but recommended that if such identification be created that it be adopted for voter purposes.

Daniel Lowenstein observed that political candidates now need to not only win by getting enough votes for a margin of victory but they need to win beyond the margin of litigation. He believes that, so long as there is confidence that election officials are nonpartisan and competent, that there should be a high burden for courts to overturn an election result.

Lowenstein objects to when courts interfere with elections that are in progress, noting two cases, Los Angeles in 1989 and Texas in 1996, where elections were invalidated either shortly before the primary or after the primary but before the general election. He believes the situation was handled more properly in the case of North Carolina where courts invalidated North Carolina’s redistricting in the midst of the 1996 elections. North Carolina continued with its 1996 elections under the existing system and redistricted for the 1998 elections.

Lowenstein argued against New Jersey allowing a substitute candidate to appear on the ballot after the deadline to change the ballot. He argued that laws create fair elections for both sides. Yet, as pointed out by Rep. Cohen during questioning, it can be argued that it could also have been considered fair that New Jersey voters had an actual choice in their election than having to keep a withdrawn candidate’s name on the ballot. Rules are an abstract that affect what is allowed to happen in the future in extraordinary circumstances, yet people care about the effect of rules and not the abstract.

COMMITTEE BUSINESS SESSION

Background

There were no proposals facing the Redistricting and Elections Committee prior to the Annual Meeting.

Summary

Topics mentioned as emerging issues that this committee may consider include the standing of legislators in courts on bills passed by the legislature, voter centers, and the national certification of election machines.

COALITION FOR SPACE EXPLORATION

Background

The Coalition for Space Exploration is an advocacy group that supports expanded use of NASA. It is primarily funded by corporations with direct interest in supplying NASA, including Boeing and Lockheed Martin which conduct business in Pennsylvania, as well as the United Auto Workers and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

Summary

Ken Cantrell, an astronaut on five space missions, stated that NASA costs a taxpayer $1.06 a week, which he believes is an affordable investment in the future. He discussed being in space and various aspects of NASA, including joint construction ventures between Boeing and Russian construction. He favors women being astronauts, stating that make the man behave better when in space. He stated that the ratio of male and female applicants accepted into NASA is about the same, but that female applicants are only one-fifth the amount of male applicants. He favors space tourism stating this experience should not be kept just for astronauts.


Thursday, August 18, 2005

PRAYER BREAKFAST

Background

The prayer breakfast is a confidential prayer meeting that was begun by the Eisenhower Administration and today is found in Congress and state legislatures.

Summary

Among items mentioned where how legislators find their perspective is changed when they pray with people they also debate against. Some states open their prayer breakfasts to anyone, including lobbyists, while other states close their prayer breakfasts just to legislators and legislative staff.

THE 2010 CENSUS—WHAT STATES SHOULD BE DOING NOW TO PREPARE

Background

The U.S. Census Redistricting Data Office was created in 1972 to ascertain that state legislative districts follow the legal mandate of “one person, one vote”. It produces block level census information that is used for redistricting purposes. This office works directly with states and with NCSL.

In 2000, the ideal size of Pennsylvania districts were 646,371 for Congressional districts, 245,621 for State Senate districts, and 60,498 for state legislative districts,

Summary

Cathy McCully, Chief of the Census Redistricting Data Office, stated her office works with state governments and has representatives traveling to State Capitols to meet with legislators, secretaries of state, and county election officials to better understand their data needs. It is good to receive this input now while there is still time to make adjustments. Adjustments may be limited by budget constraints. Among items her office seeks are block boundary suggestions. Her office has an April 1, 2011 deadline to deliver census data to state governments.

Citizenship data will be available in 2008. Census data for legislative districts and for school districts is available.





THE VOTING RIGHTS ACT AND REDISTRICTING

Background

Michael McDonald, Assistant Professor at George Mason University, has found that voter turnout was highest in 2004 in states where the Presidential elections were considered close and where there were ballot questions that created high interest, such as questions to ban gay marriage. He has observed that the redistricting process protects incumbents and that a 1% shift towards a political office by voters produces a 0.5% change in party distribution of political offices.

Arturo Vargas, Executive Director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Education Fund, observes the number of Latino voters increased by 59% from 1988 to 2000. He favors enforcement of language voter assistance laws, an end to requiring voter identification in order to vote, creation of a verifiable paper trail in voting systems, and increased training and recruitment of polling officials.

Summary

Michael McDonald notes that portions of the Voting Rights Act do not require to be reauthorized until 2007 but that Congressional hearings are scheduled to begin on reauthorization next year. He believes that Congressional Republicans may wish to reauthorize while they are assured a working majority of Republican are in Congress than to wait until the new Congress that will result in 2007.

The Voting Rights Act has been very successful, according to McDonald. Voter turnout and the number of people of racial minorities holding public office have both increased tremendously since the Act’s enactment.

A portion of the Act requires jurisdictions under established criteria to submit any changes in their elections procedures, from changing election law to moving polling places, to the U.S. Justice Department. McDonald claims the definition that defined which some jurisdictions fall under this requirement were not those with perceived problems and that some areas where they were believed to be improper restrictions on voter participation escaped falling within this Act’s definition.

There are methods where a jurisdiction that falls under these requirements may petition to escape these specific requirements. Yet, many jurisdictions, particularly local governments, have found it easier to comply than to hire lawyers to petition Federal court in Washington, D.C. to be exempted. McDonald estimates that one fourth of the 900 jurisdictions covered by the Act may be eligible for exemption. Nine local communities in Virginia, which likely could afford the legal expenses of a Washington court case, have been the only entities granted recent exemptions.

Artura Vargas observed that the Asian American community wishes to be considered in voting rights procedures. He notes that it may be fairer to require a certain population level to exist for language requirements of voter assistance to become valid rather than the current 5% of voters requirement that currently establishment that such language requirements become activated. He notes that the number of Latino elected members of Congress went from 11 to 17 and the number of Latino state legislators increased from 131 to 156 from 1981 to 1991. He cites the Voting Rights Act with enabling the conditions for this to have happened. Yet, he notes that Latino gains were stagnant and have even decreased slightly in terms of Congressional representation since 1991. He does not wish to see any weakening of the Voting Rights Act at a time when minority political representation has founds gains but remains challenged.

REDISTRICITNG BY COMMISSION: PROS AND CONS

Background

Some states are considering moving the power to redistrict from the legislatures to commissions.

Summary

Cecilia Martinez, Executive Director of the Reform Institute, claims the redistricting procedures require revisions. The public perceives a conflict when politicians conduct political district redistricting, including their own legislative seats or other seats for which they may seek in the future. Polls indicate that both Democratic and Republican voters feel this way. She seeks having an independent Commission create a state’s redistricting boundaries as a way to a fair and level campaign ground. The key to the success of such a Commission would be whether sufficient staff and legal expenses are provided. Among issues that would have to be decided would be whether the voters and the legislature would be able to review and vote on a Commission’s plan.

Daniel Lowenstein, a Law Professor at UCLA, claims that, in spite of the conflict of interest this creates, that the legislature is the proper place to conduct redistricting. He notes that critics always claim that redistricting should be based on principle, but no one has ever defined what a redistricting principle should be. There are no obvious public interest criteria to redistricting, according to Professor Lowenstein. Some say districts should be compact, but Lowenstein argues that voters have no perception of their legislative district, but only who their legislators are. Individual constituents are not affected by the distance to the end of their legislative boundaries and usually don’t know where they are, nor do they care. Some argue districts should be uniform, but Lowenstein argues there is no reason why a district with a diverse population is inherently any less important of a district than one with a uniform population. He agrees that a proper policy is that districts should allow representation to communities of minority races, yet he notes that legislators should be as capable of addressing these concerns as could an independent commission.

Lowenstein also argued that the public is not particularly interested in redistricting and that its importance is overblown in reported polls. It is important to legislators, though. While Lowenstein agrees there is a conflict of interest in having legislators develop redistricting plan, it is a conflict of interest in which the entire political system is based upon in that a represented democracy is elected to make these political decisions.

BIOMEDIAL RESEARCH AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT

Background

Genetic research is providing information on the human immune system and is producing progress towards improving health care. Leroy Hood is studying how regulating cell division can prevent prostate cancer, how treating misfolded protein has prevent prion disease, and how preventing immune systems from attacking the pancreas can prevent diabetes.

Lee Hartwell received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his research in regulating the cell cycle. He has identified various points during cell division that indicate whether or not the cell division is proceeding normally.

Roger Perlmutter is Executive Vice President of Amgen, the nation’s largest biotechnology research company. Amgen researches how to produce advances in pharmaceuticals.

Summary

Rick Stephens of Boeing, Inc. stated the challenge in today’s economy is for businesses to hire people who can solve problems that have not yet even been discovered. Jobs are becoming depending less on what one knows, but on how you are able to apply what you learn.

Employees need to provide something of value in order to earn a job, Rick Stephens noted. He is worried that one third of high school students are not completing school and getting diplomas, even though we spend more money that any other country on education. He believes many students do not find a connection between what they are learning in school with their lives and thus they leave school. He also notes that many students who leave school lack a connection with an adult who could otherwise better guide them.

Students spend more time with electronic media than in the classroom, Mr. Stephens claimed. He called upon schools to ensure accountability and to set that high standards of excellence exist.

Leroy Hood noted that great progress is being made in this information age that can affect health problems. He praised states such as California that have provided state funds for medical research. He called for partnerships between schools, research institutes, and businesses for medical research.

Lee Hartwell is concerned that not enough students are attracted to the biological sciences and medical research. The public is very interested in such topics, but Physics and Astronomy appear to be capturing greater attention.

Roger Perlmutter is concerned that many foreign students who study in these subjects tend to return to their home country while our country has a shortage of medical and biological researchers. He notes there are major research opportunities in nanotechnology and biotechnology that can revolutionize Biology and health sciences.

CRIME TECHNOLOGY: SCIENCE MEETS LAW AND ORDER

Background

Our office has reintroduced legislation developed that would certify whether DNA laboratories follow established standards.

Summary

Rep. Michael Lawlor of Connecticut told of a recent technology innovation that created consumer complaints. Car rental agencies in Connecticut were having drivers agree to pay a $100 fee for speeding yet they were unaware the cars had a device that charged this fee every time the car was detected as traveling at more than 80 miles per hour.

John Morgan, Assistant Director of the National Institute of Justice, noted there have been great technological advances in crime solving but that the human ability to use these advances is lagging behind. For instance, he noted that cameras had taken several photographs of the vehicle of snipers in the D.C. area, but there was no ability for police to correlate the multitude of images to identify which vehicle was being driven by the offenders.

Morgan noted the public has a distorted view of the use of DNA for crime solving from television. Viewers see crimes solved in minutes. In reality, it takes from 30 days to one year to conduct a DNA analysis, although England has reduced this time to 23 days. England, unlike America, uses DNA evidence in burglary and automobile theft cases. They soon will have about one third of all British males in their data base.

The National Institute of Justice will pay the costs of any collected but untested DNA of a convicted offender. Over 500,000 samples have been collected but have not been tested. The Justice Department has a $1 billion project to improve the DNA collection and data base for crime solving process. He urged that states strengthen their state laboratories. He warned that states will be required to take more the burden of future DNA analysis as the Federal government plans to turn over more of these responsibilities to the states. States also should use DNA for post-conviction analysis to ascertain that the proper people have been convicted.

The Justice Department seeks to link DNA data bases between the states. He notes that a recent Philadelphia rape was solved by linking the DNA evidence to other cases in Colorado, thus allowing them to narrow their suspect trail to an Air Force soldier who was stationed in both locations.

Hoyt Layson, Jr. Chief of Technology at STOP, stated that the two basic factors behind criminal activity are opportunity and anonymity and that DNA evidence is removing the anonymity to criminal behavior. He noted that innovations in electronic tracking allow for continual information on the location of a person with an electronic trafficking device. Even the public will be able to check the location of any such offender on the Internet.

Barry Sheck noted that 161 people on death row have been exonerated by DNA evidence. In 45 cases, the real perpetrator has been caught.

While progress has been made in crime-solving technology, it is important that these technologies be used properly, Sheck noted. People taking short courses in using these technologies may not always be thoroughly and properly trained. Even worse, there have been cases, as in San Antonio, where a DNA laboratory was issuing test results without even doing the tests. Crime laboratories need to be accredited and independently evaluated, according to Mr. Sheck.

POLITICAL INEQUALITY: VOTING REFORMS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

Background

The Center for Policy Alternatives and Demos have been critical of how states have implemented HAVA and the National Voting Rights Act.

Summary

A State Senator from Maine discussed the Clean Election Law (also known as public financing of campaigns) in Maine. In his first campaign, he declined public funds yet discovered he was wasting time fund raising while his opponent was out campaigning. In his subsequent campaigns, he has found that public financing allows his campaigns to be directed just towards voters.

A State Representative from Connecticut stated that election day registration has a powerful impact on campaigns. Candidates can no longer assume that the names on registration lists are the only people who will vote. Candidates then need to campaign more towards the general population. He also spoke in favor of public financing of elections, noting that removing interests from the political saves money. Recent political corruption from special interests cost taxpayers far more than public financing cost, he argued.

A State Senator from Alabama argued it needs to become easier for ex-felons to register to vote. Pennsylvania does not take away this right. In Alabama, an ex-felon needs to have paid any and all restitution and to petition to become a voter, and that it can take as much as one year for a petition to be reviewed and decided.

There was a discussion of provisional balloting and how some states used them to make voting more accessible and other states had very restrictive rules in counting such ballots. There were also concerns expressed about the ability of voter machines to properly count ballots, concerns over whether there is a paper trail on balloting, and whether a mistake in code can create inaccuracies with electronic voting machines. There was concerned that some voting machine vendors are politically partisan and contributors to the same government leaders who award their contracts.

Friday, August 19, 2005

HEALTH CARE REFORM AND FINANCE

Background

Uwe Reinhardt, Professor of Political Economy at Princeton University, is critical of the American health care system. The system spends more on health care administration than on pharmaceuticals. The system is confusing that even professionals do not know the standards for health care insurance provisions and care. Should health care costs continue to rise more rapidly that the inflation rate, health care costs may be a major drag on our future economy and a costly burden to many health care consumers.

Summary

Governor Christine Gregoirie of Washington noted that health care is becoming more costly and that the safety nets are becoming increasingly ineffective in assisting people who need help. Employment-based health care insurance is eroding. As Governor, she sees this directly as the expanding costs of providing health care insurance to state employees is taking a large share of the state’s budget and making it harder to find funds for education. Solutions to these problems will require many risks and will not be dealt with easily, Governor Gregoirie warned.

State government needs to lead by example, Governor Gregoirie suggested, noting that her state promotes health lifestyles and wellness programs.

Professor Reinhardt stated managed care began solving some problems of the health care system but it has since been destroyed by employers. He warned that venture capitalists are taking the profitable areas of health care away from public hospitals, charging more for the care, and leaving public hospitals with unprofitable lines while also having to care for the uninsured. A large number of hospitals face bankruptcy.

The costs of health care have been and continue to increase greater than the cost of living, and does so about 2.5 percentage points more according to Dr. Reinhardt. This will affect budgets of individuals and employers as well as the Federal and state governments who all pay these costs. There are predictions that health care will be 18.7% of our economy by 2014. Half if not more of health care costs will be paid from out of taxes. The Federal government is responding to these increasing costs by attempting to pass more of these costs along to state governments. Medicaid is the fastest growing component of state government budgets.

The average health insurance premium costs $9,950. With one fourth of employees earning $18,800 a year or less, the wage base is being seriously threatened by these increasing costs, Dr. Reinhardt warned. General Motors has become a social insurance system that happens to also manufacture automobiles, Dr. Reinhardt noted as General Motors has $77 billion liabilities in health care insurance with $20 billion of manufacturing assets.

As health care insurance approaches half of wages, most small businesses can no longer offer health care insurance to employees, The number of uninsured has increased from 36 million in 1996 to 44 million in 2003.

We will have to increase taxes to pay for health care, Professor Reinhardt advised. He noted that Americans are among the least taxed of people, with taxes being equal to 29.6% of gross domestic product in the United States compared to 35.8% in Canada, 37.4% in England, 37.9% in Germany, 45.3% in France, and 54.2% in Sweden.

The positive news is that spending on health care stimulates the economy. Nearly all funds spent on health care at least initially remain within the country and it quickly diffuses into the economy and multiplies economic growth. Tax cuts, on the other hand, saw a lot of American savings used for investments in foreign countries.

BUSINESS MEETING

Barbara Fellencer, Rep. Dwight Evans’s Communications Director, was among those elected at this meeting to NCSL’s Executive Committee.

A proposal by the Energy and Utilities Committee that sought to keep most issues of restructuring the electric industry as state government decisions rather than Federal actions was defended by the committee’s chair, Rep. Carole Rubley, who noted her committee had thoroughly examined the issue. The proposal failed to gain support of the required support of three-fourths of states with 30 states voting in favor and 17 states voting against the proposal.

A proposal to support a federal asbestos system that would provide compensation to people suffering from asbestos from workplace exposure was criticized by opponents because a current bill is 400 pages and there has not been time to consider the entire bill.
The proposal was defended by Rep. Mark Cohen who noted the proposal only sets general principles that will address the problem. The proposal failed to gain support of the required three-fourths of states with 30 states voting in favor, 15 states against, and two abstaining.

THE FISH! PHILOSOPHY

Background

Carr Hagerman, a FISH! Philosopher, urges people to feel more passionate about their work. People need to affirm each other and use their personal values to meet organizational goals.

Summary

Carr Hagerman proclaimed that sometimes all one has to do to get energetic feedback from others is to ask for it. Energy is what brings as together as humans.

An example was presented using Seattle’s Pike Market. One fish market, with energetic employees, does far more business than its neighboring market with the same kind of fish at the same prices. People are attracted to the energy of the employees and the uniqueness of the business.

The principles of work that Mr. Hagerman suggested are play, make their day, be there, and choose your attitude. He notes that enterprises usually have the most difficulty implementing “play”, stating it is something that is grounded in the possible and should come naturally. Play helps an organization break through stressful situations.

EVERY VOTE COUNTS

Background

States should examine their statutes in handling election recounts. Washington is a prime example where arguments over the interpretation of laws created confusion when its recent election for Governor yielded an election where the two major candidates were within a fraction of a percentage point from each other.

Summary

Sam Reed, Washington’s Secretary of State, stated one bit of advice he learned from Florida’s then Secretary of State, Kathleen Harris, is that it is better to be transparent rather than adapt a bunker mentality during a recount of an election. Washington allows voters to vote in any precinct and the votes for relevant offices on that locality’s ballot are sent to the proper county to be tallied. Thus, the recent race for Governor was undecided after the initial election. A machine recount was held which led to the loser in the recount to post $750,000 for a recount of all ballots, including non-machine ballots. The final complete recount led to an election that was the closest percentage margin of victory in a race for Governor in American history.

One area of controversy was striking the voter registrations of convicted felons who are not allowed to vote in Washington. The Republican Party provided the Secretary of State with a list of felon names but admitted the list was inaccurate. As the voter registration lists do not have social security numbers, names were eliminated if they matched the name and birth date on the list provided.

Several county officials noted there were a lack of funds and a lack of time to implement a new primary system that had been recently enacted followed by a close general election. There were many attorneys at numerous voting precincts and there were many challenges to provisional ballots. There were several human errors and debates over how to count ballots which led to policy level decisions, such the decision to count ballots that voted properly and consistently but did not completely fill in the ovals such that the machine count not read them.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

STRONG STATES, STRONG NATION: THE POLITICS OF BALANCE AND POWER

Background

Mara Liasson is a Political Correspondent for Fox News and the National Public Radio. She has observed there have been fewer “swing” voters in recent elections and that the increasing costly election campaigning has been seeking to address fewer persuadable people.

Summary

Mara Liasson observed that Democrats have been remarkably restrained in their criticism of Supreme Court nominee John Roberts. Both parties had raised $20 million for the fight and so far even Senator Durbin, who was the only Senator to vote against him when he was nominated to the Appeals Court, has stated he is approaching the hearings with an open mind.

Judge Roberts has only been on the Appeals Court for two years and has not made any decisions that indicate his positions on controversial issues such as abortion, church and state, and gay rights. He was, in Ms. Liasson’s observation, a foot solder but not a leader in the Reagan movement. He is conservative and confirmable. She noted that Justice O’Connor tended to side with states on Federalism issues and that Roberts could make a difference in future such cases.

Ms. Liasson observed that John Kerry appears to becoming more liberal while Hillary Clinton is moving more to the center. Public opinion seems to turning against President Bush, especially on the Iraq War. Only 38% of those polled support the President’s handling of the war. Republicans are expressing concerns that the war could hurt their political chances in 2006 and maybe even 2008, although she doubts the Republicans will lose control of the majority of Congress after the 2006 elections. She labeled Senator Santorum as the most vulnerable incumbent Senator. She stated that a John McCain-Jeb Bush ticket would be strong for Republicans in 2008.

There appear to be fewer and fewer undecided voters in Presidential campaigns, which the Bush campaign realized. The key to electoral success may be in motivating your base, Ms. Liasson advised. The Kerry campaign met its target but Bush motivated his supporters to come out in even greater numbers. This may mean that candidates will no longer fight to appeal to the political center and to persuade undecided voters, as Kerry tried, and may instead become more ideologically centered.

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