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Medicaid, Minimum Wage And Marijuana Chief Among State Legislative Issues


With a new year, new laws will kick in in many states. A number of states took steps to raise minimum wages and to legalize marijuana, and in other ways moved in directions that seem at odds with some of the policies espoused by the incoming President Donald Trump's administration, just one more way 2017 seems to be shaping up as an interesting year. We wanted to hear more about directions the states are taking and new laws that take effect today so we called William Pound. He's the executive director for the National Conference of State Legislatures. Mr. Pound, thanks so much for joining us.

WILLIAM POUND: Happy to do so.

MARTIN: So give us an overview. What are some of the new laws that take effect today? I understand a number of states increased the minimum wage?

POUND: The minimum wage increases do take effect in some places now. Some of the bills that were passed at the last election will gradually phase in over a period of years so that it doesn't all happen just at once. Same is true of the cannabis bills, where we have 31 states now in which medical marijuana is legal. In the states that legalized recreational, it will require implementation by the legislature and that will take a period of time.

MARTIN: You know, on both of these issues on the federal level, we've seen that President-elect Trump has nominated appointments to agencies who have very different views of these issues. Andrew Puzder to - as labor secretary, he's been an executive in the fast food industry which has been a staunch opponent of efforts to increase the minimum wage. And then Senator Jeff Sessions is the nominee for attorney general. He's been an opponent of moves to legalize marijuana. I'm just wondering if these positions would affect the momentum of states in approving these laws, or will they otherwise affect the way these laws that have already been passed by the states will be implemented?

POUND: Right, they very well could. On the minimum wage, there is less effect because this is a state minimum wage. The federal minimum wage hasn't gone up, and Congress would have to act to do anything on that. On the marijuana issue, there is quite a federal-state interface. And as we know, the Obama administration has been willing to let the states experiment. Does that continue under the new leadership at the Department of Justice? I think President-elect Trump has indicated that he thought this was a matter for the states. The attorney general designee may have a different view, and that will be a key factor in what the push and pull, back and forth between the federal and state governments is this year.

MARTIN: A number of state legislatures begin their work in January. Are there some big issues that you see percolating around the country that you can tell us about that we can be thinking about and watching for?

POUND: The first one, of course, is budget and finance because that's the one thing the legislature has to do every year is pass a budget. We recently did a survey of the states on the budget, and about 10 of them have revenues that are above normal. About 10 have revenues that are below projections, and the others are pretty much on target. Now, will the economy - will that hold? That's a key question. Also they are talking with the new administration and the Republican Congress now about a number of different things, particularly in the Medicaid program which would affect the amount of federal assistance that goes in and broadly, the issue of health care and the financing of it.

MARTIN: You know, it's long been said that the states are the laboratories of democracy. Do you have any sense of whether voters feel better about their state legislatures? Do we have any sense of that?

POUND: Yes, I think you almost have to look on a state-by-state basis, but generally the state legislature is viewed more favorably than is the Congress. But generally, I think yes and some of the things they're doing - minimum wage and marijuana - are both examples of that. And in the health care, they are experimenting with a lot of different programs on insurance and trying to improve quality and decrease cost.

MARTIN: That was William Pound, executive director of the National Conference of State Legislatures. We reached him in Denver. Mr. Pound, thanks so much for joining us and happy new year to you.

POUND: Same to you, thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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