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Kasich, Legislators Clash over Gun Self-Defense Bill

Gun control is once again proving to be a divisive issue between Ohio Governor John Kasich and his fellow Republicans in the legislature.

 

Lawmakers recently passed a bill that would change a key aspect of the state’s self-defense law. Under this legislation, a prosecutor in a case where a shooter is claiming self-defense would have the burden of proving that the shooter did not act in self-defense. Under current law, this burden is on the shooter.

 

Governor Kasich has said that he is not comfortable with this legislation, though he has not yet decided whether to sign the bill or veto it. The governor had also pushed for this measure to include a provision that would have allowed the government to seize the guns of people who are accused of being a danger to themselves or others. Other states have passed similar “red flag” bills, but Ohio legislators did not include such language in their bill.

 

While Gov. Kasich wanted a “red flag” provision but did not get it, legislators did follow his lead in opposing language that would have allowed someone to use deadly force in public to defend himself. Also known as a “stand your ground” law, many states have such measures, although they are controversial. Some legislators pushed for such a law in Ohio, but the governor’s opposition helped doom these efforts this year.

 

This self-defense legislation passed last week. Governor Kasich has 10 days to decide whether to sign it or veto the bill.

 

Do you think that Ohio should make it easier for people to use self-defense as a justification in shootings? Should the state adopt a “stand your ground” law that allows people to use deadly force if threatened in public?

Congress Takes Aim at Google

As the lame duck Congress moves towards adjournment, members of Congress still have many unfinished issues. Grilling Google is one of them.

 

Lawmakers have concerns about a variety of issues, ranging from how Google treats conservatives to the company’s privacy protections, and they aired them at a House Judiciary Committee hearing today. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) chaired this hearing, which featured Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

 

There have been repeated complaints from President Trump and Republican elected officials that Google discriminates against conservative voices. This hearing offered Rep. Goodlatte and his colleagues an opportunity to air these concerns and Pichai to respond. “I lead this company without political bias and work to ensure that our products continue to operate that way,” Pichai testified. “To do otherwise would go against our core principles and our business interests. We are a company that provides platforms for diverse perspectives and opinions — and we have no shortage of them among our own employees.”

 

Google is also under fire for a recent security breach that affected over 50 million users. In addition, the company is working with China to develop a search engine that complies with that country’s censorship. Both of these issues are troubling for some lawmakers.

 

This hearing was an opportunity for members of Congress to air their grievances against Google. What steps they may take in response is unclear, however. Some have floated the idea of treating social media companies like public utilities, subject to strict government rules on how they operate. Others have called for investigations.

 

When the new Congress convenes in January, there will likely be multiple bills filed that deal in some way with the issues raised in today’s hearing.

 

Do you think that the federal government should impose more regulations on Google and social media companies?

Cases Challenging Planned Parenthood Funding Bans Stand

Today, the Supreme Court took a minor foray into the debate over abortion. The justices refused to hear cases challenging court decisions involving state bans on Planned Parenthood funding. Some see this as a victory for abortion rights, but the reality is more complex.

 

A number of states have passed laws removing taxpayer funding from Planned Parenthood. While Planned Parenthood provides a variety of reproductive services, the organization also performs abortions. Lawmakers who voted to end government money to Planned Parenthood did not want to provide financial support for an organization involved with abortion.

 

Predictably, there were lawsuits. In Kansas and Louisiana, the cases involved whether or not Medicaid recipients who received services from Planned Parenthood could sue over the ending of state support for the organization. Lower courts held that they could and the Supreme Court declined to take a case that would have reviewed these court decisions. This decision allows the lower court cases to proceed.

 

Three justices, with Clarence Thomas in the lead, said the court should have taken up the case. He pointed out that the issue did not directly involve abortion rights, but instead involved the question of whether or not an individual could sue under the Medicaid Act. However, he claimed that the other justices were reluctant to wade into a wider debate over abortion, so they declined to take up this case.

 

This case involved only one aspect of the Planned Parenthood funding bans. There may be other cases involving this issue that reach the Supreme Court in the future.

 

Do you think that states should cut off funding for Planned Parenthood? Should people who receive services be able to sue if the funding to Planned Parenthood is eliminated?

Feds Authorize Seismic Testing for Oil & Gas in the Atlantic

The Trump Administration took another step down the road of expanding offshore exploration for oil and natural gas this week. The federal government approved permits for companies to use seismic testing off the Atlantic coast to determine how much oil and natural gas exist there.

 

The process of seismic testing involves companies using airguns to test the seabed. The loud blasts help determine where energy deposits are and how much oil and natural gas may be in certain areas.

 

This testing has been opposed by many coastal politicians. They argue that the loud airguns will disrupt wildlife. Many of the elected officials also opposes offshore drilling, and they view this as only the first step towards that type of energy development being approved. Supporters of seismic testing say that it has minimal disruption to sea life. They also note that it is necessary to determine where oil and natural gas exist in order to pinpoint where any new drilling would occur. They say without testing that drilling would be much more widespread.

 

The debate over offshore oil and gas drilling has being ongoing for years. The Outer Continental Shelf is currently off-limits to oil and gas production. The Obama Administration initially supported expanding areas for energy exploration, but reversed course. The Trump Administration has signaled that it would like to see more areas opened up for drilling.

 

The permits issued by the federal government for seismic testing could cover areas from New Jersey to Florida. It is unclear where testing will actually take place, however.

 

Do you support using seismic testing to see how much oil and natural gas exist off the Atlantic coast? Do you think the U.S. should expand offshore drilling?

Court Strikes Down Ban on Encouraging Illegal Immigration

How far can the federal government go to discourage illegal immigration? This question has taken on new importance during the presidency of Donald Trump, but it has long been a concern for policymakers. A recent ruling by a federal court has turned attention on a little-known immigration law that, according to the judges, violates the First Amendment.

 

A three-judge panel on the Ninth Judicial Circuit ruled that criminalizing speech that encourages or induces someone to illegally immigrate is not consistent with the U.S. Constitution. At question is a portion of the federal code that imposes a fine and prison sentence for anyone wo “encourages or induces an alien to come to, enter, or reside in the United States, knowing or in reckless disregard of the fact that such coming to, entry, or residence is or will be in violation of law.”

 

The judges unanimously ruled that this language is so broad that it encompasses a variety of speech, such as a grandmother who encourages her grandson to overstay his visa. The judges acknowledged that there is a legitimate government interest in curtailing illegal immigration, but that this law criminalizes much more speech than necessary to accomplish that goal.

 

Supporters of this ruling see it as a victory for the First Amendment. They say that the government should not be punishing what people say. They argue that this law could make certain political advocacy illegal. Opponents counter that the government should be able to stop people who are encouraging others to break the law.

 

The federal government could appeal this decision to the full Ninth Circuit or, ultimately, the Supreme Court.

 

Do you think that it should be illegal to encourage someone to immigrate illegally to the U.S.?

Baltimore May Bar Landlords from Rejecting Section 8 Tenants

If a potential renter approaches a Baltimore landlord with Section 8 voucher, that person can be turned away. The city council may soon make this illegal.

 

Under a bill supported by a majority of city council members, Baltimore landlords could not discriminate against potential renters based on how someone pays his or her rent. While this would apply to any payment method, the intention is to prevent what some see as discrimination against Section 8 voucher holders.

 

Proponents of this law argue that there is an affordable housing crisis, so this requirement would make it easier for people to find homes. They say that landlords should not be able to discriminate against someone merely because they think that people with Section 8 vouchers would make bad tenants. Opponents of the mandate argue that landlords should have the freedom to choose their tenants. They say that accepting Section 8 vouchers poses a variety of problems and that the issues are not with the tenants but with these other complications.

 

The Baltimore bill has yet to receive a vote, but it is cosponsored by enough city council members to pass. Fifteen states and a variety of local governments have similar mandates that landlords must take all types of payment that renters offer. Maryland does not have such legislation, although a bill to impose such a mandate did pass one house of the General Assembly in 2017.

 

Do you think that landlords should be forced to accept tenants using Section 8 vouchers?

Former Michigan Congressman Calls for End to Senate

John Dingell represented Michigan in the U.S. House of Representatives for 59 years. Now he is calling for an end to the U.S. Senate.

 

In an op-ed published by the Atlantic, Rep. Dingell writes that the Senate enshrines minority rule:

 

California has almost 40 million people, while the 20 smallest states have a combined population totaling less than that. Yet because of an 18th-century political deal, those 20 states have 40 senators, while California has just two. These sparsely populated, usually conservative states can block legislation supported by a majority of the American people. That’s just plain crazy.

 

He proposes abolishing the Senate, or combining it in some way with the House of Representatives. This, he says, will be a way to stop ideas that are supported by a majority of Americans from being killed in the Senate.

 

Opponents of this idea note that the framers of the Constitution never intended the U.S. to be ruled strictly by a legislative majority. They point out that the Senate was designed specifically to be anti-majoritarian, leading to a check-and-balance on both the House of Representatives and the presidency.

 

This idea has been floated by other observers, who are frustrated that the Senate membership is comprised of two senators from every state. Population plays no part in determining the number of U.S. senators, something that gives more power to less-populated states in that chamber. The Founding Fathers designed the Senate to be a representative of state interests. Initially senators were chosen by state legislatures, but this was changed by constitutional amendment in the Progressive Era.

 

Article V of the Constitution states that “no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.” This would seem to preclude any changes made to the current makeup of the Senate without every state agreeing.

 

Do you support abolishing the U.S. Senate?

Government May Shut Down over Border Wall Dispute

In what is becoming a semi-regular situation, the nation is facing the possibility of a government shutdown. The issue that may hold up the passage of legislation to keep the government open is also a familiar one – a border wall with Mexico.

 

When the fiscal year ended on October 30, only a few of the necessary government funding bills had been passed by Congress and signed by President Trump. The remaining portions of the government, including the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and the Interior, are operating under short-term funding legislation that expires on December 7.

 

President Trump has said that he wants a long-term spending bill to include money for a U.S.-Mexico border wall. Democrats are refusing to go along with this idea. Instead, they are supporting an additional $1.67 billion for border security measures.

 

If President Trump continues to insist that this is inadequate, he could veto legislation to keep the government open past December 7. That would lead to departments deemed “non-essential” to close. Any federal employees in these departments would be on leave without pay, although Congress usually appropriates back pay once the shutdown is over.

 

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and the incoming Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, are scheduled to meet with the president on Tuesday. No Republican members of Congress have been invited. It is possible that this meeting will lead to a deal that would avoid a government shutdown.

 

Do you think that the President should veto any funding bill that would keep the government open but not fund a border wall?

Washington May Ban Plastic Bags

If you go grocery shopping in Washington, you had better bring your reusable bags. At least, that is what some legislators in that state want to see begin happening next year.

 

Under a proposal unveiled by legislators this week, stores could no longer offer single-use bags to customers. Instead, customers who do not bring their own reusable bags would be required to pay ten cents for each bag they use at a store. Certain types of bags, such as those for produce or prescriptions, would not be subject to this ban.

 

This law is similar to a California law. Other local governments around the country have also enacted bans or fees on plastic bags. Twenty three local governments in Washington have some kind of restrictions on plastic bag use. This law would establish a statewide standard.

 

Supporters of this law argue that it is a good way to discourage the use of bags that end up in the ocean and harm marine wildlife. They say that banning stores from giving the bags out for free will lead to less litter and fewer bags in landfills. Opponents point out that plastic bags are a miniscule proportion of the waste that ends up in oceans. They contend that such bans hit poor shoppers harder than wealthier shoppers.

 

The Washington legislature convenes in January. It is unclear if this legislation has enough support to be approved by either chamber.

 

Do you think that states should ban stores from giving customers plastic bags?

Senate Advances Anti-Saudi Resolution

President Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress usually agree on legislative issues. When it comes to Saudi Arabia, however, there is a growing rift between the president and members of Congress from both parties. That was never more evident in a recent Senate vote on a resolution over U.S. military involvement in Yemen.

 

With the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi Arabian forces and increasing evidence of atrocities by the Saudi-led coalition in the Yemeni civil war, members of Congress are breaking with President Trump’s support for the Saudi regime. They are pushing for a stronger response to these Saudi actions, steps that President Trump has so far resisted.

 

In response, the Senate voted 63-37 to bring a resolution to remove all U.S. military support from Saudi forces fighting in Yemen. From the text of Senate Joint Resolution 54:

 

Congress hereby directs the President to remove United States Armed Forces from hostilities in or affecting the Republic of Yemen, except United States Armed Forces engaged in operations directed at al Qaeda or associated forces, by not later than the date that is 30 days after the date of the adoption of this joint resolution … and unless and until a declaration of war or specific authorization for such use of United States Armed Forces has been enacted.

 

Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who caucuses with the Democrats, sponsored SJ Resolution 54. It has 18 cosponsors from both parties. This resolution notes that U.S. military personnel are involved with aiding the Saudi government in aerial targeting, intelligence, and other military activities in Yemen.

 

The Trump Administration has pushed back against withdrawing U.S. military assistance, saying that it is necessary to fight terrorism. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo argues that weakening the U.S.-Saudi alliance would only strengthen Iran. Those who support the resolution say that the U.S. should not be aiding forces that kill civilians and commit other war crimes. They also note that there has been no declaration of war on Yemen or even an authorization to use U.S. military force in this conflict.

 

Some senators, such as Rand Paul of Kentucky, have long been pushing the Senate to act against Saudi Arabia. These efforts gained support with the weak reaction by President Trump to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Senators have requested that CIA Director Gina Haspel brief them on the murder, but she has yet to appear. Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, has said he will not support the president on any major votes until this briefing occurs.

 

The timetable for debating the Yemeni resolution is still unclear. The lame duck session of Congress will continue through December.

 

Do you think that the U.S. should stop assisting the Saudi military’s actions in the Yemeni civil war?

 

Supreme Court May Curb Property Grabs by the Government

If someone commits a crime, the government may be able to seize any property connected to that crime – regardless of the crime’s severity or the value of the property. Today the Supreme Court is considering a case that may rein in a practice that people across the political spectrum argue is being abused.

 

The case involves Tyson Timbs, convicted of selling $225 worth of heroin to undercover police officers. His sentence for that crime was a year of home detention and five years of probation. The state of Indiana also seized his Land Rover, worth $42,000.

 

Lawyers for Timbs are not disputing that he sold the drugs. Instead, they are arguing that the seizure of the Land Rover violates the Constitutional prohibition on excessive fines. While the Eighth Amendment was originally written to apply only to the federal government, courts have held that the Fourteenth Amendment applies some of the Bill of Right’s protections to state governments. The prohibition on excessive fines, however, has not been one of those protections.

 

The practice of asset seizure and forfeiture is widely practiced by both states and the federal government. This is when the government confiscating property that is connected with crime, generally involving drugs, and keeping the property to use or sell. This can occur upon conviction of a crime or even upon the mere suspicion of criminal activity.

 

Timbs’ lawyers contend that the seizure of his $42,000 vehicle amounts to a fine. As such, they say, it is excessive to fine someone $42,000 for a crime that did not even involve jail time. They say that the Constitution forbids states from doing this. The lawyers for Indiana counter that this is not a fine, but is instead the seizure of property connected to drug trafficking. They say that states have broad authority to pass laws to combat such crimes.

 

Asset forfeiture has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years from groups on both the conservative and liberal side of the ideological spectrum. They argue that this practice gives governments an incentive to “police for profit,” using their power to look for lucrative assets to seize rather than focusing on other crime. They also contend that asset forfeiture disproportionately targets minorities and individuals in other disadvantaged groups. Timbs is represented by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm, and groups as diverse as the Chamber of Commerce and the American Civil Liberties Union are supporting him.

 

Justice Clarence Thomas has signaled in past decisions that the Supreme Court should look into asset forfeiture, noting that there have been many abuses of this practice.

 

Do you think that the government should be able to take the property of people convicted – or even suspected – of crimes, regardless of the value of the property or the level of crime?

Flake Pushes for Bill to Protect Mueller Investigation

President Trump continues to attack Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election. Fearing that the president may pressure the acting attorney general to fire Mueller, Senator Jeff Flake is working to pass legislation in the lame duck session of Congress that help shield Mueller from the president's wrath.

 

The ire that President Trump feels for Robert Mueller is evident to anyone reading the president’s Twitter feed. In one recent tweet, for instance, the president wrote, “The Fake News Media builds Bob Mueller up as a Saint, when in actuality he is the exact opposite. He is doing TREMENDOUS damage to our Criminal Justice System, where he is only looking at one side and not the other.”

 

As an employee of the Justice Department, Mueller could be fired by the attorney general. Some observers say that President Trump asked former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign in order to do this. Matthew Whitaker is now serving as the acting attorney general.

 

In April, Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) introduced S. 2644, legislation that would place some limits on the ability of the attorney general to fire a special counsel. This bill is co-sponsored by Senators Chris Coons (D-DE), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and Cory Booker (D-NJ).

 

Senator Jeff Flake has announced that he will not support confirmation of any of the president’s judicial nominees until the Senate considers S. 2644. If all the Democrats support the bill and the Republicans who have cosponsored it do, too, then it will have a majority of senators in favor of it. First, however, it must be called up and placed on the Senate calendar. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell controls what legislation is put on the calendar, and there is no indication that he wants to spend time in the lame duck session considering this bill.

 

If Senator McConnell does bring the bill up for consideration, it would still face a filibuster threat. If the bill overcame that threat, it would then go to the House of Representatives and then, upon passage, be presented to the president for his signature. President Trump seems unlikely to sign such a measure.

 

While there is little chance that S. 2644 will become law, Senator Flake and others are pushing for its consideration to discuss the importance of protecting the Mueller investigation. If Sen. McConnell does not allow this debate to happen, he may find it difficult to confirm any federal judges during the remainder of the lame duck session.

 

Do you support legislation to protect Robert Mueller’s investigation? Do you agree with Sen. Flake’s refusal to vote in favor of any of President Trump’s judges until the Senate debates legislation to protect Mueller?

 

 

Recreational Marijuana May Be Legalized in New Jersey

Legislators in New Jersey today considered a package of bills that, if passed, could make the state the eleventh to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

 

Committees in both the Assembly and the Senate held hearings on legislation to expand the state’s medicinal marijuana program, permit marijuana to be used for recreational purposes, and allow more crimes to be eligible for expungement.

 

One of the bills under consideration would allow state residents who are 21 or older to possess an ounce of cannabis for personal uses. Smoking marijuana in public would be treated similar to smoking tobacco. Home cultivation would not be allowed under this legislation. The state would tax the sale of legal marijuana at 12%, with local governments able to impose another 2% tax rate.

 

Another bill would allow medical marijuana patients to possess 3 ounces of cannabis. Currently they can only possess 2 ounces. These patients could also buy edible marijuana products under this legislation and could buy from any dispensary, instead of being limited to one dispensary as they currently are today.

 

Governor Phil Murphy is supportive of legalization, but has differed with legislators on the details. For instance, he pushed for a 25% tax rate on legal marijuana sales. Legislators ultimately put a lower rate in legislation in order to deter black market sales.

 

Both legislative bodies are controlled by Democrats, and there are indications that a majority of legislators support some form of legalization.

 

Of the 11 states that allow legal use of recreational marijuana, only Vermont has legalized the use through the legislative process. The other 10 states passed legalization through ballot measures.

 

Do you support the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes?

Gun Rights to be an Issue in Iowa Next Year

Should the Iowa constitution protect the right to bear arms?

That is the question facing legislators as they gear up for the 2019 legislative session. There is a move to enshrine the right to bear arms in the state’s constitution, but some legislators are wary.

 

To amend the state constitution, Iowa legislators must approve amendments in two separate sessions and then the voters must vote in favor. Last year, both houses of the legislature approved a resolution that would add this language to the constitution:

 

The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The sovereign state of Iowa affirms and recognizes this right to be a fundamental individual right. Any and all restrictions of this right shall be subject to strict scrutiny.

 

The vote was 34-15 in the house and 54-42 in the senate.

 

With new legislators being elected in November, these vote totals will certainly change. However, Republicans retained control of both chambers, so efforts to pass the amendment a second time will likely succeed. If that happens, the proposed amendment will be on the Iowa ballot in 2020.

 

Supporters of amending the constitution argue that the right to bear arms is a fundamental right that should be protected from infringement by lawmakers. They say that putting this language in the state constitution will ensure that state residents will be protected from future efforts to strip them of their gun rights. Opponents counter that this amendment would prevent common sense gun safety legislation. They say that this is the wrong direction for Iowa to be taking given recent mass shootings.

 

The legislature convenes on January 14.

 

Do you think that Iowa and other states should add constitutional protections for the right to bear arms?