States Push Ahead

States Push Ahead

Immigration isn't the only battle that has shifted from the Beltway to state capitals. Federal inaction on a range of issues has prompted state legislatures to get busy. And many of the resulting laws go beyond existing federal ones. Here are some new laws affecting small businesses around the nation.

ENVIRONMENT

Iowa, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Washington are among the states that passed aggressive legislation to fight climate change in 2007. New Jersey and Washington, for example, set targets to bring greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020. Small companies have no exemptions at this point, which could cause headaches for some that may have to make big changes. And some experts warn the laws could send energy prices even higher. But alternative energy businesses may benefit. Despite the ongoing fight between California and the Environmental Protection Agency over that state's right to regulate auto emissions, other states are expected to take action on climate change this year. "Something is being discussed in every single state," says Nathan Newman, policy director at Progressive States Network, a nonprofit advocacy group in New York.

HEALTH CARE

Pennsylvania is debating comprehensive reform, while Colorado is looking at ways to expand coverage in the state. Meanwhile, several states have passed less ambitious laws. A new Maryland insurance law provides subsidies for companies with two to nine workers that have not offered health coverage in the past year. And Washington has passed a law establishing a state-run pool through which low-income employees of small companies can buy health insurance.

FAMILY & MEDICAL LEAVE

States continue to push beyond the rules established by the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which gave 12 weeks of unpaid leave to people working at companies with 50 or more employees. Last Year, Maine Extended Family Leave Rights To Domestic Partners. But the business community opposed a Washington law (that ultimately passed last April) that mandates that the state pay employees of all companies who have a baby or adopt a child up to $250 a week for five weeks. Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Oregon are expected to take up bills to provide some pay for those taking leave under existing federal or state laws. "I think you will see this issue [debated] everywhere," contends J.L. Wilson, vice-president for government affairs at Associated Oregon Industries, a business trade group in Salem. Stay tuned.

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