Top 12: Trends in State Govt

While most eyes are focused in Washington, there’s a lot of activity in state governments.  Legislators are up for reelection in more than 40 states this November, which sometimes leads to a contentious legislative session.

According to StateNet, “it is hard to imagine lawmakers will have time or energy to deal with anything [other than the economy] in 2010. But while fiscal troubles are sure to dominate legislative agendas nationwide, our analysts foresee pressure building on these issues:”

1. Banking Reform – Expect to see a host of bills related to subjects like credit card rate changes, transaction rates charged to stores when consumers use a credit card, regulation of gift cards, fees for check overage protection, consumer opt-out techniques and the use of on-campus credit card marketing to college students.

2. Consumer Protection – In the absence of federal reform, there is a trend some are calling “regulation by retailer” where companies respond to concerns by the public. This trend is likely to result in a jumble of state measures regulating chemicals and other substances and pitting industry against industry. It could also result in demands for more and more studies and changes to risk-assessment determinations (more “precautionary principle” type bills) since the current problems concern low-level exposures that could take generations to see the impact.

3. Drug Company Sales & Marketing Disclosure – States are also starting to crack down on the gifts that drug companies lavish on doctors. MASSACHUSETTS, VERMONT and NEW HAMPSHIRE have in recent years adopted measures that limit drug company gifts to medical professionals, while MINNESOTA requires doctors to report such gifts to the state. Watch for many states including NEW JERSEY to join the club.

4. Health Care Reform – Whatever health care overhaul ultimately emerges from Congress is sure to place copious responsibility on states. While the feds seem more than willing to kickstart that expansion with a pile of money, there is also the reality that the money Washington is offering will probably be a one-time only event, forcing state lawmakers to develop policies that will eventually have funding mechanisms of their own.

5. Greenhouse Gas Reductions – When CALIFORNIA lawmakers endorsed AB 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, numerous states soon followed suit with plans of their own to curtail greenhouse gas emissions. Now all eyes are on the Golden State to see how it will go about implementing the plan, which calls for a 25 percent carbon emissions reduction by 2020.

6. Mortgage Foreclosure Protection – With hundreds of thousands of mortgage holders facing possible foreclosure, numerous states have taken action in 2009 to help slow the foreclosure rate. Most tighten rules that lenders must follow in foreclosure procedures, including requiring lenders to give borrowers more time to work out a plan to avoid default.

7. Pay-to-Play/Pension Reform – The latest efforts to prohibit pay-to-play practices will be applied not only to state procurement practices funded by federal stimulus monies, but also to state pension plans. Cash-strapped states are seeking to make pensions more manageable while moderating losses experienced by most retirement trust funds. Likely measures will increase transparency, more tightly regulate management of trust funds and place limits on the type of investments pension plans can make.

8. Prescription Drug Costs – With prescription drug costs a major factor in state-run health care spending, a growing number of states will be looking at various ways to rein those costs in. Several states in recent years have turned to academic detailing for unbiased academic evaluations of new prescription drugs. Expect more states to consider this issue in 2010.

9. Race To The Top/Teacher Evaluations – With the Obama administration now dangling a $4 billion carrot, many states are already feverishly working to change their education policies in order to qualify for “Race to the Top” federal education grants. Plans include raising or eliminating caps on charter schools, linking teacher evaluations to student performance and taking greater action on dealing with failing schools.

10. Smart Technology Smart Grid/E-Health – States and the private sector will be under heavy pressure to take advantage of the billions of dollars available through the American Recovery and Reinvest ment Act (ARRA) to develop both e-health and smart grid programs in the hope of stimulating their economies and creating long-term sustainable employment at the same time reducing health and energy costs. It will mean contracts with all kinds of private software and equipment companies and the attendant procurement opportunities and pitfalls of contracting out.

11. Texting & Cell Phone Use While Driving – 20 states ban all drivers from sending or receiving cell phone text messages while behind the wheel. Another 10 impose restrictions on certain drivers, from teens to school bus operators. From requiring hands-free devices to banning teens from using their cell phone at all while driving, watch for numerous new measures in 2010.

12. Wellness – States will continue to look at taxing high fat, high calorie junk foods and using the additional revenue to help pay for health care. Conversely, states are planning to implement wellness program such as fitness, smoking cessation and weight loss for Medicaid enrollees in the hope of lowering overall health-care costs.

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