State Legislative Update: Final Count for 2011

Article excerpt

The 2011 legislative cycle was even more challenging than in previous years. The new Republican majorities reduced taxes in many states, which are facing huge budget shortfalls because the federal stimulus funds have run out. Beginning in January 2012, 38 states and Puerto Rico have reported a combined $91 billion shortfall. This shortfall, on top of shortfalls for the past several years, means even less money for programs.

Since the Great Recession began, state legislatures have cut $510 billion from their budgets. Adding the $91 billion in additional necessary cuts brings the total to $600 billion since FY 2008, or half of the $1.2 trillion that the congressional supercommittee was seeking to cut from the federal budget.

But unlike the federal government, the states do not have to pay for social security or defense. Instead they have the big ticket items of education (both higher education and K-12), corrections, transportation, and Medicaid reimbursement. These programs take the largest share of the pie and are most likely to see the largest cuts.

On the one hand, environmental health is seen as an "enterprise operation" because of the fees most of its programs generate. Since environmental health receives fewer general funds appropriations, it is less likely to suffer from general fund cuts. On the other hand, environmental programs often are anathema to most Republicans, who now control the legislatures in 26 states and the legislature and governors' offices in 21. Democrats control the legislature in 15 states, with the control being split in the remaining 8 (Nebraska has a nonpartisan legislature). After the November 2011 elections (where Mississippi, New Jersey, and Virginia elected legislators, along with a handful of special elections), Republicans have a 3,973 to 3,324 legislative seat advantage over Democrats. The 2012 legislative sessions will see the most Republicans ever, with more state governments being controlled by Republicans than ever before.

In these tough times we are seeing state environmental health programs being dismantled, but not by legislative fiat. Rather, legislatures are cutting budgets where they can and streamlining policy if possible. State legislatures are not eliminating environmental health protection. They are simply forcing the state to do more with less, a mantra that many state agencies pass onto their local environmental health departments.

Environmental Health Legislation

As with the 2009 and 2010 legislative sessions, having a less robust economy or more conservative elected officials does not translate into less legislation. During the 2011 legislative sessions, 1,096 bills on environmental health were introduced in 48 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, DC. New York and New Jersey proposed the greatest number of laws, with New York proposing 226 bills and New Jersey proposing 130. Only Idaho and Wisconsin did not introduce any environmental health-related legislation.

By October, 131 laws had been enacted in 40 states. And in half the states, bills introduced in 2011 can carry over into the 2012 sessions.

Air Quality

Indoor

Sixteen laws were passed in Arkansas, California, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Virginia. Of those laws, six are devoted to radon issues, two are related to mold, and three are related to smoking.

Radon

IL H 141 amends the Illinois Radon Awareness Act to require landlords to inform tenants and potential tenants of the presence of a radon hazard, if one is discovered after a radon test is conducted. The amendment applies only to "units located below the third story above-ground level." Maine passed three laws regarding radon. Notably, ME H 783 requires landlords to have rental buildings tested for radon prior to March 1, 2014, and afterward once every 10 years.

Mold

VA H 1768 holds tenants responsible for continuing to make rental payments in units where the landlord has deemed it necessary to temporarily relocate the tenant to perform mold mitigation activities. …