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California May Restrict Police Use of Deadly Force

 

The issue of police shootings has been a topic of heated debate in recent years. From 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri to the shooting of Stephon Clark in Sacramento last month, many are questioning the standard under which police officers can legally kill someone. In response to these incidents, a handful of California legislators want to make it more difficult for law enforcement to use lethal force.

 

Currently, police operate under the standard of “reasonable use” of deadly force. That is, prosecutors ask whether police acted reasonably when they killed someone whom they perceived to be threatening them. Critics of this standard contend that it gives police broad discretion to use lethal force, with few officers found to be acting “unreasonably.”

 

California legislators have introduced a bill that would change this standard. If this bill becomes law, it would allow police to use deadly force only when necessary and there is no other way to prevent injury. Under this standard, police would have to use de-escalation tactics prior to shooting at someone.

 

This proposal is not the only bill that would reform the way law enforcement operates in California. Other bills would allow more public access to police personnel records. Under the state’s Peace Officers’ Bill of Rights, these records are tightly sealed. Under a bill that is being considered, the public would have access to records involving use-of-force, sexual assault, and lying on duty.

 

Police unions in the state have been successful in convincing legislators to defeat bills that would have changed the laws governing their activities in the past. They argue that such bills would hamper their ability to protect the public.  

 

Given that past bills to change law enforcement procedures have not been successful in California, many are predicting that this legislation will fail in the legislature, too. However, there is increasing public scrutiny over police shootings in the state in the wake of the killing of Clark, who was unarmed and whom family say was shot in the back. Governor Jerry Brown has not indicated his support of or opposition to these bills.

 

Do you think that it should be more difficult for police to use deadly force on a suspect? Or would new restrictions on police use-of-force hurt efforts to fight crime?

 

 

Sandoval Disagrees with Trump on National Guard for Border

 

President Donald Trump has a plan for border security. Part of his vision involves sending National Guard troops to assist federal Border Patrol agents. One Republican governor disagrees with his party’s president on this idea.

 

Governor Brian Sandoval of Nevada said that using National Guard troops in this way was not appropriate. This places him at odds with other Republican governors in the region. The governors of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas back President Trump’s proposal.

 

President Trump has not yet requested that Governor Sandoval call up his state’s National Guard troops to help with this project. If Governor Sandoval refuses the president’s request to do so, Trump could nationalize the troops and take control away from the governor. It is unclear if the president would do this, however.

 

This dispute comes amidst the president’s calls to reform the nation’s immigration laws and construct a border wall. In the recent omnibus budget bill, Congress denied funds to build such a wall. There has not been any effort on immigration reform legislation in the House of Representatives or the Senate, either.

 

President Trump can request the use of National Guard troops without congressional approval. The president said he would do so, with plans to send 2,000 to 4,000 Guard members to the border region. They would assist the Border Patrol with surveillance and other support services.

 

Do you think that governors should refuse to let their state’s National Guard troops assist on border patrol duty? Or is President Trump right that National Guard troops are needed to help stop drug trafficking and illegal immigration?

 

 

 

New Hampshire Governor, Legislators Differ on Parole

 

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu does not issue many vetoes. In fact, until this month, he only used his veto authority one time. But the governor’s opposition to a bill that would loosen the state’s parole rules has resulted in the second veto of his term.

 

Current New Hampshire law requires that parolees who violate their terms must return to prison for 90 days if they were convicted of a sex crime, a violent crime, or if their violation was related to the crime for which they were convicted. Any parolees who violate parole more than once are automatically returned to prison for 90 days.

 

Legislators passed a bill that would give the state parole board discretion to waive this penalty if a parole violator completes a substance abuse program. Law enforcement groups testified against it, contending that parole violators could use drug abuse as an excuse to get out of returning to prison. Supporters of the bill said that it would help provide people with the help they need so they would not re-offend once they were let out of prison.

 

Governor Sununu said that he supports efforts to keep people from returning to prison, but that this bill went too far. He also pointed out that there are drug treatment programs in prison for those who need them.


Legislators were unable to muster enough votes to override the governor’s first veto last year. It is unclear if they will have the support to do so this time. The legislation was approved by a voice vote in each chamber this year, so it is difficult to determine how strong support for it is in the legislature.

 

Do you think that parole violators should be automatically returned to prison for 90 days? Or should the parole board have discretion to reduce the punishment for parole violators who complete drug treatment?

 

 

Virginia Governor Vetoes Bills on Lawyer Fees and Franchise Employees

 

Virginia’s newly-elected Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, faced his first legislative session this year. Republicans control the commonwealth’s General Assembly, although they face a narrower majority than they did under the previous Democratic governor. This split in partisan control in Richmond produced significant disagreements over policy this year, some of which resulted in gubernatorial vetoes.

 

Although Governor Northam has voiced concern with many legislative actions, he has only vetoed two bills so far this year:

 

House Bill 110

Clarify status of franchisee employees

Passed 50 to 48 in the House on January 25 and 20 to 19 in the Senate on February 22. Vetoed by the governor on March 9.

Clarifies that under Virginia law, neither a franchisee nor the employees of a franchisee are considered to be employees of a franchisor company. This employment status is not affected by any voluntary agreement entered into by the U.S. Department of Labor and a franchisee.

 

This bill involves a long-standing dispute between organized labor and business owners. Labor organizations would like franchise employees, such as those who work at a local McDonald’s, to be treated as employees of the larger company. Business owners say that these are employees of the local franchises owner, not the company that grants a franchise, or franchisor. Recognizing franchise employees as employees of the franchisor would open up this company to fines if local franchises broke labor laws as well as make it easier to organize workers into unions.

 

Senate Bill 926

Limit fees for outside attorneys used by the state

Passed 21 to 19 in the Senate on February 12 and 51 to 48 in the House on February 28. Vetoed by the governor on March 19.

To limit the contingency fees charged by private attorneys that the state contracts with for legal services. If the fees and expenses are expected to exceed $100,000, such attorneys could only be hired through a competitive bid process. The fees would be limited under this bill on a sliding basis, starting with a 27% cap for awards under $10 million and a 5% cap for awards over $25 million.

 

Governor Northam sees contingency fees as a valuable way to protect taxpayers by shifting the risk of trying and winning a case onto a private law firm, which recovers nothing unless they prevail. Opponents of high contingency fees contend that they are a way to enrich private lawyers for doing the work that government attorneys should be doing.

 

On another eighteen bills, Gov. Northam has recommended that legislators modify certain provisions. Legislators will meet April 18 to vote on whether to override the governor’s vetoes or act on his recommendations for the other bills. Given the narrow majority enjoyed by Republicans, the governor’s vetoes are likely to stand.

 

Do you think that Gov. Northam is right to veto bills that would limit fees for private attorneys working with the state government? Should franchise employees be treated as joint employees of the local franchise and the larger company that grants franchises?

 

 

Supreme Court Tackles Partisan Gerrymandering

 

Should politicians be able to draw congressional districts to favor members of their own party? That is the question considered by Supreme Court justices in late March. If they decide that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional, the ramifications for politicians and voters across the nation will be large.

 

The case at question in March’s deliberation involves a lawsuit over a Maryland congressional district. The district in question was represented by Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett in the last decade. However, after the 2010 census, Democrats redrew the district to give their party’s voters a large advantage. This is something that Martin O’Malley, the Democratic governor of the state at the time, admitted during a deposition for the case. He said that the new district “would be more likely to elect a Democrat than a Republican, yes, this was clearly my intent.”

 

In the past, the Supreme Court has ruled against efforts to draw congressional districts in ways that disenfranchise minority voters, but it has upheld congressional districts drawn with partisan ends in mind. This time, however, some justices appeared to think that the Maryland gerrymander was so partisan that it may have crossed the line into discriminating against Republicans based on their political views.

 

Some observers point out that if the courts get involved in determining how much partisan gerrymandering is too much, it will lead to many more lawsuits over district lines at not only the state level, but will also involve legislative and local election districts. They say that partisanship is the norm in redistricting, and that the only way to cure it is through the ballot box, not the courtroom.

 

Others say that there are ways to reduce partisanship, such as using independent commissions for redistricting. Governor O’Malley, no longer in power, said that he now favors such a commission to draw congressional and legislative lines.

 

The Supreme Court will announce a decision in this case, as well as a similar case involving Wisconsin, later this year.

 

Do you think that the Supreme Court should rule extreme partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional? Or is it wrong for the courts to get involved in political disputes over election lines? Is an independent commission a better way to draw congressional districts than leaving it to politicians?

 

 

Maryland Considers Armed Police in Every School

 

Across the country, legislators are considering what should be done to protect children when they attend school. After the deadly shooting in Parkland, Florida, there have been a variety of proposals discussed, most of which deal with gun control. New restrictions on firearms are not the only ideas being debated, however. In Maryland, one bill under consideration would provide an armed guard in every school.

 

Under this Maryland legislation, the state’s 1,400 schools would each have an armed police officer in them. Currently, around 400 Maryland schools already have an armed school resource officer, so this would apply to the other 1,000 schools without such guards.

 

One of the major concerns this bill raises is cost. It would provide around 1,000 new officers at a cost of $224,000 each (for compensation, car, uniforms, and training). That is a $224 million price tag in the first year.

 

Another issue brought up by legislators skeptical of this proposal is that in some areas of the state, students are wary of police. This bill, they say, would lead to these students feeling intimidated.

 

Supporters of this bill counter this assertion by saying that school resource officers lead to improved community relations with law enforcement. They also argue that this measure is needed to ensure that school shootings are less likely.

 

This legislation is part of a series of bills that seeks to address school shootings. A companion bill would establish a threat assessment team in schools to evaluate students’ potential for mass violence, while another would mandate that schools have lockable classroom doors and safe rooms.

 

Do you think that every school should have an armed police officer stationed in it?

 

 

Paying a Fee to Enter NYC

 

Manhattan’s streets are busy – especially during weekdays, when commuters swell the island’s population. Governor Andrew Cuomo would like to make commuters who drive to the city pay for the privilege. Legislators, however, are cool to this idea.

 

Governor Cuomo supports what is called “congestion pricing,” which would impose a fee on drivers going into Manhattan during certain times. He appointed a task force that recently proposed charging drivers $11.52 to drive into parts of Manhattan during peak hours. The task force also called for per-ride fees ranging from $2 to $5 on for-hire services such as Uber and Lyft. The money would go to fund the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the city’s subway and bus systems.

 

Legislators did not include this proposal in their budget. They have been wary of embracing proposals that would charge some commuters more fees to enter Manhattan. They say it is not fair to place even more financial hardship on the residents of other boroughs who work on the island. They also point out that not everyone has easy access to transit, so some people must drive to their jobs.

 

Proponents of congestion pricing say that it will raise money to beef up transit services. They also note that charging people for entering the city during peak hours will discourage some people from driving, thus reducing congestion for those who do.

 

This idea has been discussed for many years in Albany, but it has never gained serious traction. Governor Cuomo has supported it throughout his term, but some transit advocates say that he has not been a very strong supporter. It remains to be seen what, if any, congestion pricing plan may emerge during budget negotiations.

 

Do you think that drivers should pay a fee for entering Manhattan during busy times? Or is charging commuters a fee to enter the city unfair to those who live outside of Manhattan?

Renewable Energy a Hot Topic in Arizona

 

In November, Arizona voters may decide how much of their electricity must come from renewable energy. In anticipation, legislators are already passing bills on this issue. Renewable energy advocates, however, are not happy with what lawmakers are doing.

 

California billionaire Tom Steyer is bankrolling a movement to put a strict renewable energy mandate on the state ballot. This initiative would require that 50% of all electricity in the state must be generated from renewable sources by 2030. Nuclear power could not be counted as “renewable energy.” Current Arizona regulations mandate that 15% of all electricity must be from renewable sources by 2025.

 

Legislators responded by passing legislation specifying that if voters approve the initiative, the maximum fine that utilities would face for violating it would be $5,000. They are also considering placing an alternative measure on the ballot that would also impose a 50% renewable energy mandate, but allow it not to be implemented if it would raise consumers’ electricity rates.

 

Renewable energy advocates say that the legislature is trying to undermine their goal of forcing state utilities to produce cleaner energy. They contend that the legislation capping fines for non-compliant utilities essentially gives these utilities a license to ignore the new mandate, since the cost for violating it would be minimal. They also say that the alternative ballot proposal is a blatant attempt to confuse voters.

 

Those backing these legislative renewable energy measures counter that they are protecting Arizonans from out-of-state interest groups that are looking to confuse voters with an initiative that will impose heavy costs on consumers. Legislators say that they are merely giving Arizonans an alternative choice through another ballot measure. With renewable energy sources less reliable and more expensive than traditional energy sources, they contend, this referendum would give voters who support renewable energy more flexibility.

 

It remains to be seen if either of these measures will be on November’s ballot.

 

Do you think it is a good idea to mandate that 50% of Arizona’s energy must come from renewable energy sources?

 

 

Hemp, Juvenile Crime, Welfare Reform Hot Topics in Missouri

 

Missouri Governor Eric Greitens may be embroiled in scandal, but legislators in Jefferson City are busy passing bills, trying not to let the governor’s troubles affect their work. The 2018 legislative session has dealt with a number of issues. Among them, legislators have passed bills that would legalize the industrial use of hemp, reform juvenile justice, and limit how welfare recipients can use their EBT cards.

 

Industrial hemp

 

Under legislation passed by both houses of the legislature, Missourians will be able to grow hemp for industrial uses if they apply for a permit, are fingerprinted, and pass a background check. The state’s Department of Agriculture would set up regulations for the growing and processing of hemp. It would also inspect farms. If hemp has a THC content above .3%, the department would destroy it.

 

Juvenile justice reform

 

Currently in Missouri, 17-year-olds who are accused of crimes are tried as adults. Only four other states set the age for being tried as an adult to 18. Under legislation passed by the state Senate, this would change. This bill would change the age of adult jurisdiction to 18. Supporters contend that it will not only save the state money by reducing incarceration rates, it will also give youth in the criminal justice system a better opportunity for reform.

 

Welfare restrictions

 

Under legislation being considered in the state House of Representatives, recipients of government benefits could no longer use their electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards to withdraw cash at ATM machines. In addition, the bill further specifies what items would be prohibited from being purchased with these cards and where the cards could be used. An amendment was also added during consideration of the bill that would increase penalties for recipients who misuse government benefits. Supporters of this bill say that it is needed to ensure that these benefits are not abused. Opponents contend that these provisions will only make life more difficult for benefit recipients and that parts of the bill violate federal law.

 

Do you think that industrial hemp should be legalized? Should 17-year-olds be tried for crimes in adult or juvenile court? Should more restrictions be placed on the use of EBT cards?

 

 

Democrats Pushing for $15 Minimum Wage in Ohio

 

If Ohio Democrats have their way, it will soon be illegal for businesses in the state to pay their workers less than $15 an hour.

 

Advocacy groups and legislators are pushing to change the state’s minimum wage. Under their proposal, it would increase to $12 per hour in 2019. Then it will go up by 50 cents a year until it reaches $15 an hour in 2025.

 

Currently, the state’s minimum wage is $8.30 ($4.15 for tipped workers). The state’s voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2006 that ties the minimum wage to inflation, so it increases every year. Smaller businesses are allowed to pay $7.15 an hour, and businesses can pay that rate to workers who are 14- or 15-years-old.

 

Advocates of this proposal contend that this increase will help working families and boost consumer spending. They say that no one should work full-time and still live in poverty.

 

Opponents of the measure say that it will hurt businesses who cannot afford to pay dramatically higher wages. This will lead to workers either losing their jobs or not being hired.

 

With the Ohio General Assembly controlled by Republicans, a minimum wage hike is unlikely to pass. Some legislators have said that the voters made their decision on this issue in the 2006 vote, so the state should stick with the formula outlined in that constitutional amendment. Democrats are likely to use this as an issue in this year’s elections, however. One of the leading sponsors is a Democratic state senator who is running for governor.

 

Do you think that workers will be helped with a higher minimum wage? Or will a higher minimum wage kill jobs?

Illinois Governor, Legislators Fight over Guns

 

Gun control is a hot topic in many states’ legislative sessions. In Illinois, this issue has put Democratic legislators on a collision course with the Republican governor.

 

In the wake of the Florida school shooting that left 17 dead and the killing of a Chicago police officer, legislators in Springfield passed a host of new gun control measures. One bill would ban “bump stocks,” which allow semi-automatic firearms to simulate fully-automatic guns. Another bill would impose a 72-hour waiting period on people looking to purchase firearms that resemble military weapons, as well as ban anyone under 21 years of age from buying them. The bill also allows local governments to ban these guns. A third bill would mandate that gun retailers must register with the state.

 

When it reached his desk, Governor Bruce Rauner vetoed gun retailer registration bill. That legislation would require businesses that sell, lease, or transfer firearms to be registered with the state. Gun dealers would have to take training on background checks and safe storage, among other things. The fees for this new registration would be capped at $1,000 every five years. The federal government already regulates gun dealers, and this legislation would add another layer of state regulation.

 

“It's unnecessary, burdensome regulation,” according to Gov. Rauner. Senators have scheduled a veto override vote in April.

 

Legislators have been reconciling differences between the House and Senate versions of the other gun control bills. It is unclear if Gov. Rauner will veto or sign these bills into law.

 

Do you think that Illinois should impose its own registration requirement on firearms retailers? Should the government ban the sale of assault weapons to people under 21 years old?

 

 

Firework Freedom in Minnesota

 

If you want to set off a Roman candle to celebrate American independence, you can’t buy one in Minnesota. Some legislators want to allow the sale of these and other fireworks in the state, but Governor Dayton is skeptical.

 

Current law in Minnesota only allows a very limited selections of fireworks to be sold in the state, such as sparklers and ground poppers. If Minnesotans want to buy more potent fireworks, they must travel out-of-state. Neighboring states have more lenient laws, which is evidenced by the fireworks stands that dot the border communities.

 

Legislators passed a bill to legalize a wider assortment of fireworks in 2012, but Governor Dayton vetoed it. The governor also expressed opposition to a similar measure in 2016. He is likely to veto such a bill this year if legislators once again pass it.

 

Supporters of allowing more types of fireworks to be sold in Minnesota say that the state’s residents are already purchasing them, but out-of-state businesses are profiting. Legalizing their sale in Minnesota would help the state's businesses and increase sales tax revenue.

 

Opponents, such as the state fire marshal, contend that the wider availability of fireworks is a safety hazard. They say that injuries and fires due to fireworks will increase, necessitating more police and fire services. Some city officials echo these complaints, adding that more potent fireworks will fuel complaints between neighbors.

 

Do you think that the government should limit fireworks sales? Or should Minnesotans be free to purchase Roman candles, bottle rockets, and other fireworks?

Pennsylvania Legislators Consider Arming Teachers

 

 

In the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead, there has been a national debate about what, if any, new laws need to be passed. One result is a renewed push for gun control from some activists and politicians. Pennsylvania legislators, however, are advancing legislation that would permit school districts to arm their employees.

 

Under a bill passed by the state Senate, the state’s school districts would be empowered to set policies that would allow teachers and other employees to have access to firearms on school grounds. The legislator who introduced the bill represents a school where a student knife attack injured 20 people in 2014. He says that having armed staff would make the schools safer, especially in rural areas where police response time is slower.

 

Opponents of the legislation contend that expanding firearm access in school will provide more opportunities for killings to occur. The Pennsylvania State Education Association strongly opposes the bill, preferring instead that legislators provide more money for school safety features and more support staff.

 

While the bill is generally supported by Republicans in the legislature, it is opposed by Democratic Governor Tom Wolfe. He has vowed to veto the bill if both houses of the General Assembly pass it. The legislation gained the support from a majority of senators, but it did not pass by a veto-proof margin.

 

Do you think that allowing teachers and other school staff to be armed would reduce school shootings? Or do you think that it dangerous to allow more guns in schools?

 

 

 

 

Massachusetts May Pass Sweeping Criminal Justice Reform

 

How Massachusetts prosecutes crime and punishes criminals may undergo a massive overhaul under legislation being considered in the commonwealth. Legislators recently unveiled a bill that would make numerous changes to the criminal code. If enacted, this would be the most comprehensive criminal justice reform for the state in decades.

 

Among other things, this legislation would:

  • Decriminalize some minor offenses, such as being in the presence of heroin, and allow prosecutors more discretion in using diversion instead of punishment for other minor offenses
  • Mandate that judges must consider the financial capacity of defendants when setting bail
  • Eliminate a variety of mandatory minimum sentences related to non-opioid drug offenses
  • Increase the mandatory minimum sentences for opioid trafficking
  • Increase penalties for intimidating witnesses
  • Reduce the use of solitary confinement in prisons
  • Allow the release of prisoners who are incapacitated and do not pose a public safety risk
  • Reduce fees imposed on defendants
  • Increase privacy protections for criminal records
  • Raise age of juvenile criminal jurisdiction from 7 years of age to 12 years of age
  • House 18-24 year-olds separately in prison from other inmates
  • Prevent parents and children from testifying against each other for most crimes
  • Provide stronger oversight of crime labs

 

The bill’s supporters say that this is a long-overdue reform that would make the criminal justice system fairer and reduce its impact on people in poverty and minorities. However, some of the provisions in the legislation are strongly opposed by prosecutors. One of the provisions that is most troubling to this group is the prohibition on parents testifying against their minor children. Supporters of that idea say it is a way to prevent families from being torn apart, but prosecutors contend that it would prevent testimony necessary for convictions. Another provision disliked by prosecutors is ending juvenile court jurisdiction for children ages 7 to 11, effectively meaning that there would be no criminal penalties for crimes committed by children in this age group.

 

The legislation is a compromise version of House and Senate bills. It must be passed by an up-or-down vote in both chambers with no amendments allowed. With Democrats controlling both chambers, it is expected to pass. Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, has not indicated whether he would sign it or not.

 

Do you think support reforming laws to reduce mandatory minimum sentences and reduce fees on defendants? Do you think that lightening criminal laws will lead to more crime?

 

 

Iowa Kills Religious Freedom Bill, Advances Abortion Restrictions

 

Iowa legislators considered two bills of special interest to social conservatives this year: a religious freedom restoration act and a bill that would place new limits on abortion. Lawmakers split on what to do with the bills, with the abortion bill advancing and the religious freedom bill dying.

 

In the 2018 legislative session, Iowa became the latest state to debate how much protection the state should give to religious expression or activities based on religious views. Bills introduced in both houses of the legislature, entitled the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” would have set a higher standard for the state to meet in court if challenged on regulations or laws that infringed upon religious expression or actions motivated by religious beliefs.

 

Supporters of the bill contended it was necessary to protect individuals who have sincere religious beliefs from government rules that infringe upon their freedom. Opponents, including many in the business community, said that the legislation could protect discrimination, especially discrimination based on sexual orientation.

 

Versions of this legislation have been enacted nationally and in other states. However, there was significant controversy in recent years when North Carolina and Indiana lawmakers considered these proposals. North Carolina enacted a law and faced a national backlash and economic boycott.

 

The Senate version of the proposal, SF 2338, passed a Senate committee and was scheduled for floor action until the majority leader sent it back to committee. This effectively killed the bill for the year. The House version of the measure did not make it out of committee.

 

Legislation to restrict abortion fared more favorably in Des Moines, however. In late February, the Senate passed a bill that would outlaw abortion if a doctor could detect a fetal heartbeat, which generally occurs around 6 weeks after gestation. No doctor could perform an abortion until he or she attempted to detect a heartbeat. The bill contained an exception that would allow abortions for medical emergencies. Doctors who violated the law could be charged with a felony and punished with up to five years in jail.

 

The hearings on this bill drew numerous speakers, both from Iowa and nationally. Those in favor of it said that a heartbeat proves that a fetus is a baby, so the state should not allow it to be killed. Those in opposition said the state should not infringe upon a woman’s right to access safe access to family planning procedures.

 

After is passage by the Senate, the fetal heartbeat bill is being considered by the House of Representatives, where it has already been approved by a key committee.

 

Do you support legislation that would give greater protection to religious liberty? Or do you think that “religious liberty” bills serve as cover to discriminate against gays and lesbians? Do you think that abortion should be outlawed once doctors can detect a fetal heartbeat?

 

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Will Connecticut Legalize Recreational Marijuana?

 

New England is proving a hotbed for marijuana. Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont have legalized recreational marijuana. Now Connecticut may follow suit.

 

Connecticut legislators debated a marijuana legalization bill in 2017, but House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz pulled the measure from the floor after only 90 minutes. This year there is a renewed push to enact a bill, especially given the fact that other states in the region are moving forward in this area.

 

There are differing proposals being discussed in this year’s legislative session regarding legalization and regulation of marijuana. One would establish a state regulatory system to govern the growing, selling, and possession of marijuana. It would also allow businesses to sell marijuana and permit consumption on-site. Another bill would legalize the possession of an ounce of marijuana for people 21 and older and then, by 2020, legalize marijuana products and the cultivation of a small number of plants.

 

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has not said whether or not he would veto a legalization bill if it passes the General Assembly. In the House of Representatives, four legislative committees have jurisdiction over the various aspects of marijuana legislation. One key committee has already voted in opposition to the regulatory plan.

 

This push for a legal regime for recreational marijuana use may be advancing at the state level, but there is growing opposition from the federal government. The Obama Administration did not endorse state legalization efforts, but did implement policies that generally steered federal drug enforcement towards accommodation. The Trump Administration, led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has taken a strong anti-legalization stance. Even if states permit marijuana, the drug remains illegal under federal law. Any business selling marijuana products could be prosecuted under federal statutes even if its operations are legal under state law.

 

Do you think that Connecticut legislators should legalize marijuana?

 

Death Penalty Showdown in New Hampshire

 

New Hampshire is the lone New England state that still has the death penalty on the books. Legislators and Gov. Chris Sununu are at odds over the question of whether New Hampshire should join its neighbors in abolishing it.

 

In mid-March, the state Senate voted 14-10 to repeal New Hampshire’s death penalty statute. This is a change from votes in past sessions, where senators deadlocked on the issue. The state House of Representatives has supported repeal legislation in the past. The bill to replace the death penalty with life in prison without possibility of parole now heads to that chamber, where it is likely to pass.

 

Governor Sununu, a Republican, has vowed to veto such legislation. The Senate vote did not fall along party lines, however. There were Republican and Democratic votes on both the pro-repeal and anti-repeal sides. While the Senate voted in favor of the repeal bill, the majority was not large enough to override the governor’s veto.

 

In early March, Governor Sununu signaled his support of the death penalty, saying, “I stand with crime victims, members of the law enforcement community and advocates for justice in opposing a repeal of the death penalty.”

 

There have been no executions in New Hampshire since 1939. Only one person currently sits on the state’s death row – Michael Addison, who murdered a police officer in 2008. The death penalty repeal legislation text specifies that it is only applicable to cases in the future. However, the state’s attorney general has advised that if the state repeals the penalty, it could probably not execute Addison, either.

 

Do you support efforts to repeal the death penalty?

State Employee Pay Raise Hits West Virginia Budget

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Teachers in West Virginia Struck for nine days – the longest teaches’ strike in state history – and won a 5% pay increase. Then it was up to legislators to find money in the budget to fund the pay hike for not only teachers but all state employees. They did so, but other areas of the budget felt the hit.

 

Gov. Justice signed legislation that provided teachers with their 5% pay increase on March 6. Then a few days later legislators passed a state budget that included a 5% pay increase for all state employees. The salary increases cost $111 million. Other items demanded by teachers, such as concessions on health insurance increases, cost an additional $43 million.

 

To help offset the pay raises for state employees, legislators took the following budget actions:

  • A $46 million increase as requested by Gov. Justice for the Division of Commerce and the Department of Tourism will not be funded
  • $18 million in deferred maintenance projects will not be completed
  • $12 million transfer to the roads fund from the general fund will not happen
  • $13.5 million to shore up the state’s workers’ compensation fund will not be provided

 

The budget also calls for cuts to the Medicaid program, but it is likely that the governor will find a way to make that money up from elsewhere.

 

With the governor signing the budget, it puts the pay raise issue to rest for the time being. However, there is concern over whether revenue projects are correct. If revenue is less than anticipated, it will cause problems in the coming fiscal year.

 

Do you support West Virginia state employees receiving a 5% pay raise? Or do you think that legislators had to cut too much from the state’s other budget priorities to fund this pay hike?

 

 

Feds Battle California over Immigration

President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have a very clear view on immigration. They support cracking down on illegal immigrants, using whatever tools the federal government has at its disposal. California officials, with Governor Jerry Brown at the forefont, have the opposite view. They vow not to cooperate with federal immigration efforts. This has prompted a legal and political showdown in the Golden State.

 

In March, President Trump traveled to California and attacked the state’s immigration laws, saying, “You have sanctuary cities where you have criminals living in the sanctuary cities.” This occurred shortly after Attorney General Jeff Sessions filed suit against California to stop it from enforcing three laws that pertain to immigration.

 

The first law being challenged by the Trump Administration is a “sanctuary state” statute. This prohibits state and local law enforcement from inquiring about a person’s immigration status when they are arrested or sharing information with federal immigration authorities. The bill also prohibits law enforcement from cooperating with enforcing federal immigration detainers unless someone has been convicted of certain crimes within the past 15 years.

 

The challenge to this bill is on shaky legal ground, according to many experts. State and local governments have no duty to cooperate with federal law enforcement or enforce federal laws. The Supreme Court has ruled that the federal government cannot pass laws that mandate states do so. To the extent that this bill prohibits state cooperation with federal immigration agencies, then it appears to be able to withstand the Trump Administration challenge.

 

Attorney General Sessions probably has a better case against the other two laws, however. One of those laws bans private business owners from cooperating with federal immigration enforcement unless the federal authorities have a court order. Business owners that voluntarily provide the federal government with immigration information about employees or access to these employees could face fines of $100,000 under this law. The other law requires the state attorney general to investigate federal law enforcement efforts concerning immigration.

 

The California officials named in the federal suit, including Gov. Brown and Attorney General Xavier Becerra, contend that these laws are necessary to protect people who may be in the country illegally but are not harming anyone. The Trump Administration counters that California officials are unlawfully interfering with the federal government’s immigration power.

 

If California prevails in the suit, it is likely that other states led by Democratic elected officials will enact similar laws. If the Trump Administration wins, it may embolden Republicans to enact laws at the state and federal level to crack down further on illegal immigration.

 

Do you think that California law enforcement should refuse to cooperate with federal deportation efforts? Or is the Trump Administration right that California is interfering with federal immigration laws?

Tax Hike Coming to New Jersey

 

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has ambitious spending plans for his first year in office. Legislators have their own budget plans. Once they settle their differences, however, it appears that taxes will be going up in the Garden State.

 

The newly-elected Democratic governor’s budget proposes spending $37.4 billion in the next fiscal year, an increase of 8% over the current fiscal year’s level. A major area where this new spending would be allocated is for the state’s pension system. Currently underfunded, Gov. Murphy wants to put $3.2 billion towards shoring it up. There would also be an additional $284 million for K-12 education spending, $57 million for preschool, $50 million for subsidies for community college students, and $167 for the state’s transit agency.

 

Paying for this new spending would come from a variety of tax hikes:

  • An income tax of 10.75% on those making $1 million or more, retroactive to January 1
  • A sales tax increase from 6.625% to 7%
  • New taxes on users of Uber, Lyft, Airbnb and similar services

 

Gov. Murphy will also push to legalize, and then tax, recreational marijuana.

 

Even though Democrats control the legislature, it is unclear if how this tax plan will fare. Senate President Steve Sweeney favors increasing income taxes on corporations making over $1 million a year. He has been cool to the idea of a “millionaire’s tax,” such as the one proposed by the governor.

 

Under New Jersey’s constitution, legislators can either use the governor’s budget plan or develop one of their own. Given the disagreement on taxes, this may be the option that legislators exercise this year.

 

Regardless of these differences, both the governor and legislators support higher spending. With the disagreement centered on what taxes to increase, not on whether to increase taxes at all, it appears certain that New Jersey taxpayers will be paying more soon.

 

Do you support higher taxes in New Jersey? Is it a good idea to legalize and tax recreational marijuana as suggested by Gov. Murphy?