Policy news from across the country. This week's selection: immigration reform, REAL ID, clean water regulation and California's prison crisis.
Immigration: Municipalities Act As Congress Stalls
Senators expected to disclose federal bill's policy objectives soon
After months of delay on comprehensive immigration legislation, the Senate agreed to a measure allowing the country's 12 million undocumented workers a path to legal status. This new deal, which marks the largest immigration overhaul law in more than 40 years, has been a case of arrested development in comparison to the 1,169 pieces of immigration-related legislation and resolutions introduced throughout state municipalities just this year. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), states are dealing with more than twice the number of immigration-related bills than they were last year.
Frustrated by Congress' inaction to pass laws due to partisan rows, more than 100 state legislatures throughout the nation have made efforts to crack down on illegal immigration. States like Pennsylvania and California have taken the largest steps in tackling immigration. In New England, 32 cities have taken measures such as making English the official language and forcing harsh restrictions on employers who hire illegal immigrants. On the West Coast, 13 municipalities have considered or passed laws on illegal immigrants.
Other than bipartisan agreement, however, it is unclear exactly what policy objectives the Senate is seeking to further in the Bill's 358 pages. The proposed legislation emerged from a Senate caucus room with little or no public debate. That discussion is expected to begin soon.
California Pleads with Federal Judge on Prison Plan
Outsourcing the Golden State's "lock'em up" policy
The administration of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sought the green light from U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson regarding a prison population management system that would send thousands of inmates to out-of-state facilities. Under AB 900, a comprehensive prison reform bill, the state would establish more rehabilitation programs and provide 53,000 new beds for its 33 prisons. With more than 172,000 inmates housed in state facilities meant to hold 100,000, an ongoing lawsuit charges that such conditions could be classified as cruel and unusual treatment. If out-of-state transfers are approved by Judge Henderson, Schwarzenegger's administration claims that 8,000 more beds could be offered up by March of 2009.
Mining Measure Could Streamline Clean Water Regulation
Funding for a better environment
While clean water regulations vary drastically from state to state, a proposal to update the Mining Law of 1872 could streamline environmental protection for the nation's surface waters. Introduced by Rep. Nick Rahall (D-West Virginia), the new measure would require hard rock and mineral mines to pay an 8% royalty fee on metals and minerals taken from federal lands and mine operators would be forced to submit land reclamation plans before mining. This could provide financial assurance for mining cleanup, which currently totals $32 billion or more according to the U.S. Interior Department's inspector general. An estimated 40% of Western waterways' headwaters are polluted by mining.
States Reject REAL ID
Federal legislators also having second thoughts
On April 30, an Oregon Senate panel became the latest state agency to reject SB424, the 2005 Real ID Act. Under the Act, which was attached to a 2005 Iraq War spending bill and relief fund to victims of the Asian tsunami, states are required to register all residents with a federally mandated digital ID. Washington and Montana have signed bills rejecting REAL ID, and legislatures in Idaho and Maine have passed nonbinding measures protesting it. State lawmakers are decrying the measure, claiming that a digital database violates citizens' privacy and could spur identity theft nationwide. Also at issue is whether or not states will have the funding to meet the $14 billion cost. Senators John Sununu and Daniel Akaka have reintroduced a 2006 bill to repeal REAL ID. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy has also joined the move to undo the legislation.