Health Care
–  State legislators proposed an amendment to the state constitution, the “Health Care Freedom of Choice Constitutional Amendment” would allow residents to buy their own medical care and would prohibit anyone from facing punishment for not purchasing government-defined insurance. Should the general assembly pass the proposed legislation, voters statewide would need to approve the amendment. Fourteen other states – including Alabama, Ohio and South Carolina – have filed similar legislation.

Paid Sick Leave
New Hampshire – A House committee made a recommendation last week on a bill that would require employers to provide paid sick leave for their employees. The Labor, Industrial and Rehabilitative Services Committee has been working on the bill this fall. The bill was introduced last session but held over for more work. The full House votes on the measure will vote on the measure this month. The bill would require employers to provide up to 40 hours of paid sick leave in a calendar year to all full and part-time workers employed for at least six months. The bill would not limit companies from providing more sick leave. The paid leave would cover mental or physical illnesses, injuries, time to care for a family member, absence due to domestic or sexual assault or stalking.

Staten Island, New York – A City Council bill that would mandate paid sick days for all employees in the city is almost a lock to become law. Under the bill, those companies would be required to offer five paid sick days per year. Larger companies would be required to offer nine. Violations would result in a $1,000 fine. Councilman Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn) has suggested the inclusion of a “hardship clause,” to allow businesses under marked financial duress possibly to be exempt or face lesser sick day requirements. The Council also could wait until Congress considers the Healthy Families Act, which seeks to mandate seven paid sick days per year for workers at businesses with 15 or more employees. San Francisco, Milwaukee and Washington, D.C., already mandate paid sick days. Though 15 states have considered similar legislation, none have enacted it.

Unemployment Tax
Nationwide– Rhode Island is one of 25 states that have borrowed a combined total of more than $26 billion so far from the federal government to help cover jobless benefits, U.S. Department of Labor figures show. And more states are preparing to obtain loans. The Labor Department projects total borrowing to more than triple, to $90 billion by late 2012. Meanwhile, 35 states will see some form of increase in state unemployment insurance tax this year, according to a recent survey by the National Association of State Workforce Agencies. About 25 states have increased their state unemployment insurance tax rates, the survey showed. More than 10 states have increased the amount of a worker’s wages to which the tax rate applies according to the survey. And some states have increased both the tax rate and the wage base, resulting in sharply higher taxes for employers.

Hawaii – There’s been a slight brightening of the picture for the state’s unemployment compensation fund, though employers are still facing a more than 1,000 percent jump in unemployment insurance tax rates this year. A recalculation of rates based on a newly released jobless rate forecast shows the fund balance won’t fall as much as originally expected. Because of this, the state may not have to borrow as much from the federal government to get through the next year and a half. But the recalculation doesn’t include better news for employers. The fund balance will still dip to a point that triggers a massive increase in unemployment insurance taxes levied on employers. The average annual rate by employers will spike from $90 to $1,070.That has the state continuing to work on modifications to unemployment fund law that will cut the amount employers will have to pay.

Florida – Sometime in the next few weeks businesses will get a bill for their 2010 unemployment compensation insurance. Rumors have circulated that the bills will be in the range of 200 to 1,200 percent increase. The additional cost almost guarantees many Florida businesses won’t be doing any hiring in 2010, and perhaps well beyond. The tax rate is rising to help fill the coffers of the state’s unemployment compensation trust fund. The trust fund has been decimated by the state’s near-record unemployment in 2009 — 11.9 percent in November, a 35-year high, with more than 1 million Floridians out of work, and the vast majority drawing unemployment checks. The problem is so acute that in late August, the state had to borrow approximately $680 million from the federal government to meet its unemployment trust fund obligations. That money must be paid back, and the Legislature has set up a mechanism for the tax rate increases to kick in automatically.

Lancaster, California – Businesses operating in the city of Lancaster will be required to ensure that all new hires are eligible to work in the United States by using an Internet-based federal program to check the immigration and employment eligibility of potential workers. The free online program, called E-Verify, allows participating employers to use federal databases to compare information provided by job seekers with millions of records kept by the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security. According to the Department of Homeland Security, more than 175,000 employers are enrolled in the program, which is compulsory for companies that contract with the federal government. In August, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to explore the possibility of requiring future contractors to participate in E-Verify.

Colorado – Former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo wants every Colorado business to verify that new hires are U.S. citizens. Tancredo filed a ballot proposal Friday that would force the 2011 Colorado legislature to pass a law requiring businesses to use a federal program to check the immigration status of all newly hired workers. The proposal is aimed for the 2010 ballot. The measure must pass a number of steps before Tancredo and supporters can begin circulating petitions to have it placed on the ballot.

Plastic Bag Tax
Washington, DC – Starting this week, retailers in Washington, DC, must charge a nickel for each plastic or paper bag a customer wants to use under the Anacostia River Clean Up and Protection Act of 2009. Under the Act, paper and plastic bags also must meet new requirements for disposable carryout bags. However, the city council did pass emergency legislation that gives businesses extra time to use up their 2009 plastic and paper bags. The mayor has not signed the bill yet, but the proposal would allow retailers to sell current plastic and paper bags until April 1, 2010. Also starting April 1, 2010, all retailers who sell food or alcohol must charge 5 cents for paper and plastic bag sold to customers.

Menu Labeling
Tennessee –
Nashville’s lead public health official wants to delay an anti-obesity measure that requires restaurant chains to list calorie content on menus because a similar proposal is being considered at the federal level. The Metro Public Health Department’s board had passed a policy last year that would mandate all Davidson County restaurants with 15 or more locations across the country to post calorie data of every food item. The provision was set to take effect March 31. Dr. Bill Paul, director of the health agency, will ask the health board this week to defer the local measure, which had prompted concerns from local business owners, until Congress makes a final ruling on the health bill.

Maryland – Montgomery County Council members passed a measure requiring some restaurants to post calorie counts on menus and menu boards. The law, which was passed by an 8-1 vote, requires restaurants in the Maryland County with 20 or more outlets nationwide to post calorie counts alongside food items and provide additional nutritional information to customers upon request. The county health department estimates that about 640 restaurants in Montgomery County will have to comply. The law goes into effect July 1, 2010

Pennsylvania – In Philadelphia, chain restaurants must change their printed menus to list levels of fat, sodium and carbohydrates. The law went into effect on January 1st but restaurants have a grace period to comply. Calorie counts should be posted on menu boards by February 1st. Other information such as salt content will be required in printed menus by April 1st.

New Hampshire – The New Hampshire Commission on Prevention of Childhood Obesity issued 14 recommendations last month that it felt would increase the likelihood of fighting Childhood Obesity. The recommendations ranged from yearly BMI measurements for children to the adoption of healthier school lunches in public school cafeterias. Among the report was the recommendation to implement menu labeling in chain restaurants to ensure that nutritional information is made available at point of purchase, especially for children’s menus.

New Jersey – A New Jersey ‘Lame Duck’ session passed menu labeling last week. The legislation requires chain restaurants with 20 or more locations to post calories on the menu.  The legislation, as amended to mirror the Assembly version, includes proposes a local preemption clause (state uniformity), liability protection and a year-long implementation period (previously 6 months).