Municipal Bulletin Board
(from the June 2005 Maine Townsman)

NOTICE

The MMA offices will be closing at 11:30 a.m. on Friday, July 29 to allow the organization an opportunity to recognize and thank employees for their hard work and dedication throughout the year.

PHOTO ID BEFORE VOTING

Voting in some states soon may feel like checking into the airport: Get ready to flash some photo identification.

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) signed a law April 22 that requires voters to show a photo ID before voting, giving his state one of the stiffest election laws in the country. Similar photo ID bills passed the legislatures in both Indiana, where Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) has said he will sign it, and in Wisconsin, where Gov. Jim Doyle (D) has vowed a veto. South Carolina also requires a photo ID.

The photo ID bills are meant to clamp down on voter fraud at a time when Americans are polarized and when close local and national elections have put new emphasis on the ideal that every vote counts. But the rules are under attack from civil liberties and civil rights groups, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who argue the laws put up voting barriers especially to the poor and minorities and smack of pre-civil rights movement Jim Crow regulations.

“You have one segment of legislators that is extremely concerned that if you don’t have this in place, you can’t guarantee every vote is legitimate,” said Kristin Armshaw, who analyzes civil justice issues for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group of conservative state legislators that supports voter identification measures. “On the other hand, some legislators consider this as a form of a poll tax.”

Twenty states now require voters to provide some piece of identification. In South Carolina and now Georgia, if a voter doesn’t have a photo ID, he?must vote on a provisional ballot that can more easily be challenged and disqualified.

Florida, Hawaii, Louisiana and South Dakota also request photo IDs but, as an alternative, allow a voter to sign an affidavit or recite corresponding personal information to cast a ballot at the polling place. Other states such as New Mexico, which recently passed a voter identification law, allow for a broader range of personal documents to present at the ballot box, such as utility bills. (By Mark Matthews, Staff Writer, Stateline.org)

Governors to lobby for Medicaid reform

The nation’s governors are seeking consensus on a new blueprint to fundamentally restructure Medicaid, the government’s largest health care program, that seeks to stem its exploding costs without cutting off medical care for more Americans. 

A task force of 11 governors released a four-page summary on June 1 of proposals that now will go before all 50 governors at the National Governors Association’s annual meeting in July.

The NGA plan focuses on granting states more flexibility to try innovations in managing their Medicaid programs, on making it easier for low-income and disabled people to secure private health insurance, and on reducing Medicaid’s role in funding nursing home and long-term care.

Skyrocketing costs and swelling membership rolls have in recent months propelled Medicaid, the 40-year-old federal-state program that serves 53 million low-income and disabled Americans, to the forefront of the nation’s domestic policy agenda.

Medicaid has eclipsed K-12 education as the single largest portion of states’ budgets, making it a top concern for governors. But the program, which pays for nearly half of all long-term care and covers almost two-thirds of nursing home residents, also has captured the attention of budget cutters in the White House and Congress.

The governors’ proposal, which they hope will help sway Congress’ efforts to reform Medicaid, calls on the federal government to:

• Allow states to adopt tiered, enforceable co-payments for prescription drugs that Medicaid covers.

• Give states more freedom to innovate by cutting the federal red tape and long waits for states seeking exemptions to Medicaid rules.

• Remove legal barriers to states managing optional Medicaid benefits, in an effort to keep states from landing in court when they try innovative Medicaid strategies.

• Establish a National Health Care Innovations Program that would support 10-15 state-level health care reform initiatives.

Governors adamantly oppose a congressional proposal to cut $10 billion from the $330 billion Medicaid program over five years and argue that federal and state officials should focus on achieving long-term reforms to pare Medicaid costs instead of letting budget cutbacks drive the debate.

A bipartisan group of 11 governors, consulting with Medicaid officials from at least 30 states, has been holding teleconferences since early this year to draw up a counter-proposal to Congress’ budget plan to chop the program.

Governors also announced June 1 that they would not join in a commission headed by U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt that has until Sept. 1 to devise a strategy to achieve the $10 billion in cuts.

Governors plan to move forward with their own recommendations independently and present final versions to Congress as well as to the commission. NGA officials say the final proposal will build on elements of the interim policy.

One controversial area that many governors are reluctant to touch is the accounting loopholes that some states now use to qualify for additional federal money, known as intergovernmental transfers.

The Bush administration, which has proposed eliminating the transfers, identified 15 states as using the techniques to get millions of extra federal dollars. (By Kathleen Hunter, Staff Writer, Stateline.org)