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BPAA Biweekly State Policy Updates - November 15, 2019

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  • Democrats Score Election Victories In Virginia And Kentucky: The race for governor in Kentucky is still too close to call, according to the Associated Press, but with 100 percent of precincts reporting, Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear leads Republican Gov. Matt Bevin 49.2 percent to 48.8 percent, or a margin of a little more than 5,000 votes. And Bevin told supporters last night that he won’t concede, which could complicate things and lead to a recount if Bevin presses the matter. But in a state that otherwise elected Republican candidates for statewide offices last night, Beshear’s possible victory is notable for Democrats, as it’s evidence that split-ticket voting does still occur. (NOTE: Bevin has since conceded)
    • Democrats achieved an even clearer victory in Virginia, where Democrats now control both the Senate and the House in the Virginia General Assembly. The Democrats gained two seats in the Senate to take a narrow 21-19 majority in the upper chamber, and six seats in the House for a 55-45 majority there. With Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam already in charge of the commonwealth’s executive branch, Democrats now have a “trifecta” — complete control over law-making in Richmond, and the first time Democrats have had full control of Virginia government since the early 1990s.
    • This shift could have all sorts of policy implications for Virginia, too. One big-ticket item could be gun control legislation. After a shooting in Virginia Beach in May, Northam tried to push through legislation in July that included universal background checks on gun purchases and an assault weapons ban but the GOP-controlled legislature refused to take it up. Democrats could also take up raising the minimum wage to $15, as most Democrats in the legislature previously backed the idea. Democrats have also promised to expand voting rights, protect the rights of LGBTQ Virginians, improve health care affordability, and ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. And last but not least, Democrats could have the final word on redistricting after the 2020 census, though a pending constitutional amendment for a redistricting commision might alter how the state draws lines.
    • But, of course, not everything went Democrats’ way. Republicans salvaged the night by holding onto the Mississippi governorship. There, Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves defeated Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood 52 percent to 47 percent, with 99 percent of precincts reporting. 
    • Read the full article here at FiveThirtyEight.


  • The Louisiana Governor’s Race Looks Really Close: If you thought there weren’t any major elections until the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3, guess again. On Saturday, Louisiana will choose between incumbent Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards and Republican businessman Eddie Rispone for governor. And the race down in the Bayou looks increasingly close, so it’s an open question whether Edwards can once again overcome Louisiana’s deep red hue to win reelection. Here’s where things stand heading into Election Day.
    • First of all, thanks to the odd quirks of Louisiana’s jungle primary — in which every candidate runs regardless of party — Edwards and Rispone are now in the midst of a runoff, as they were the top-two finishers from the Oct. 12 contest. In that initial race, Edwards won about 47 percent of the vote while Rispone edged out Rep. Ralph Abraham, the other notable Republican in the race, 27 percent to 24 percent. Neither Edwards nor Rispone won an outright majority, though, which is why they’re now facing off again. Read article at FiveThirtyEight.


  • What Virginia, Mississippi and Kentucky Can Tell Us About 2020: The 2019 elections are in the books, and now the country can finally start paying attention to 2020. In many ways, Tuesday’s elections were a dress rehearsal for those a year from now: The parties’ performance relative to partisanship can tell us which way the political winds might be blowing, and obvious trends from 2019 — like the widening urban-rural divide — provide clues as to where the battles of 2020 will be fought. Read more here.


  • 5 takeaways from Colorado’s 2019 election: Proposition DD sought to legalize sports gambling in Colorado and use taxes paid by casinos to fund the state water plan. There was no truly organized opposition to the measure, and no money funding any opposition. DD had the bipartisan support from public officials at all levels of government in the state. And yet, as of this writing, DD was no sure thing to pass. It was a nail-biter all of election night, and at one point the yes and no sides were separated by just 84 out of more than 1.2 million votes. By Wednesday morning, it was on the way to a narrow victory, leading by about 13,000 votes. One key thing to know about DD: It opened with, “Shall state taxes be increased …” The proposed tax increase is on casinos, not taxpayers. But those likely were still very unwelcome opening words for many in a state electorate that has proved, time and again, to be extremely tax-averse. In the weeks leading up to Election Day, DD proponents conceded that the ballot language wasn’t on their side, but said they didn’t think it’d have a major effect on the end result. That may have been wishful thinking. Read more at the Denver Post.



  • NJ Considers Tweaks To Minimum Wage: New Jersey Democrat Rep. Donald Norcross sent a letter Tuesday to top New Jersey lawmakers, POLITICO’s Katherine Landergan reports, stating his opposition to a legislative proposal that would alter the state’s new $15 minimum wage law by allowing temporary suspension of scheduled annual pay increases if economic conditions worsen and if there’s a decline in certain state revenues.


  • As Push for Higher Minimum Wages Grows, New York Offers a Test Case: Meeder’s, a cozy diner nestled in New York’s southwest corner, has seen its labor bill skyrocket in recent years amid steady increases in the state’s minimum wage. To cover the costs, its owners have lifted menu prices and bought new equipment, including a mixer that allows them to churn out their 26 varieties of pie more efficiently. But with business booming, they have avoided laying off workers or cutting back on hours. As the federal push for a $15 minimum wage gains momentum, local examples offer insight into how a hefty wage increase might work and whether concerns that higher pay could lead to job or income losses for vulnerable workers are justified. Unemployment is at a half-century low, yet wage growth remains moderate and inflation is muted, making this a unique — and potentially optimal — environment in which to test higher wage floors. New York’s southern border, where Meeder’s sits, is one useful case. The state has been gradually lifting its minimum wage since late 2013, so that it now stands at $11.10 and is set to hit $12.50 by 2020. Fast-food workers earn even more, currently at least $12.75. Pennsylvania, immediately to the south, has stuck by the $7.25 federal minimum.
    • That discrepancy has created a sort of natural experiment. Researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York recently found that wages had increased sharply for leisure and hospitality workers in New York’s border counties while employment growth continued unabated. Their analysis immediately sparked debate. Right-leaning research groups took issue with which counties were analyzed — one was close to New York City, and two saw big businesses open, spurring job growth. They also questioned which worker categories were examined. Read more at the New York Times with subscription.


  • Press Release from Denver Mayor’s Office: “Final Proposal to Raise Denver’s Minimum Wage Submitted to City Council: Mayor Michael B. Hancock and Councilwoman Robin Kniech (at-large) have submitted their proposal to raise Denver’s citywide minimum wage starting this Jan. 1 to City Council for approval. Following outreach and feedback from five town halls, stakeholder open houses, and individual meetings with organizations, community leaders and residents, the revised proposal confronts wage inequity and cost of living affordability through a raise for 90,000 Denver workers, while giving employers three incremental steps to transition to $15.87 per hour.” Read about the proposal here.



  • Bloomberg Government reports - Colorado Doubles Down on Sin Taxes with Sports Betting: Colorado may be fashionably late to the sports gambling party, but when it comes to sin taxes it’s a trend setter. Colorado—the first state to legalize recreational pot—has just become the 14th to legalize sports betting. It joins Oregon and Nevada as the only states to collect revenue from both “sin taxes.” But even in that small club, Colorado stands out. Oregon misses out on millions by charging no sales tax while Nevada has no income tax. Colorado collects on both, meaning money collected from legal sports bets and a much larger pool of pot taxes—potentially nearly $1 billion total over the next five years—is essentially bonus revenue. Colorado’s 10% tax on profits from casino sport wagers will fund the state’s water management plan—which made the Nov. 5 ballot initiative (Proposition DD) a popular bipartisan lawmaker issue, despite a narrow outcome. The state brings in $188 million from taxing pot every year. That money goes into investments such as affordable housing, education, and infrastructure. Colorado will collect about $16 million off sports betting over the next five years, per an analysis by the Legislative Council of the Colorado General Assembly.
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