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Senate Fails to Act on Immigration Reform

 

President Trump has made immigration reform a top priority. Congressional Democrats want to see action, too. If the Senate debate last week is any indication, however, there will be no resolution to this issue any time soon.

 

Much of the focus has been finding a way to provide legal protection and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, known as “dreamers.” There is broad agreement among Republicans and Democrats that this should be done. The two parties disagree, however, on what else should be in the legislative package that contains “dreamer” protection.

 

On February 15, the Senate voted on four measures to reform immigration. These were presented as amendments to another bill, and each vote was to close debate. Such a vote requires 60 senators to agree, and then the Senate could move to a final vote on passage of the amendment. None of these four measures received 60 votes, so each one failed:

 

Sen. Coons amendment to protect “dreamers”

Failed 52-47

To cut off debate on an amendment that would provide legal protection and a path to citizenship for “dreamers” and provide funding for border security, though no border wall.

 

Sen. Toomey amendment to defund “sanctuary cities”

Failed 54-45

To cut off debate on an amendment that would end a variety of federal grants for local governments that have policies directing their employees not to cooperate with the enforcement of federal immigration law. These local governments are sometimes called “sanctuary cities.”

 

Sen. Schumer amendment to protect “dreamers”

Failed 54-45

To cut off debate on an amendment that would provide legal protection and a path to citizenship for “dreamers” and provide $25 billion for border security. The bill would have also prevented “dreamers” from being able to sponsor their parents so they could achieve legal status.

 

Sen. Grassley amendment to protect “dreamers” and reduce legal immigration

Failed 39-60

To cut off debate on an amendment that would provide legal protection and a path to citizenship for “dreamers” provide $25 billion for a wall on the U.S./Mexican border, reduce family-based immigration, and end the immigration diversity lottery. The Trump Administration favored this amendment.

 

With the failure of these measures, it is unclear if any proposal can achieve the 60 votes necessary to pass the Senate.

 

What do you think Congress should do to reform America’s immigration system?

 

Trump Budget Increases Spending for Some, Slashes it for Others

 

A week after signing a proposal to allow an increase in spending by roughly a half-billion dollars over the next two years, President Trump has released his budget proposal for the next decade.

 

Overall Impacts 

Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget - 

The policies called for in the President's budget would reduce deficits by $3.6 trillion relative to its own baseline (and about $3.1 trillion relative to current law), the result of $1.2 trillion of new spending and tax cuts ($1.75 trillion relative to current law), $3.7 trillion of deficit reduction (mostly on the spending side), about $800 billion in reduced war and disaster spending, and a bit over $300 billion in interest savings.

 

Proposed Increases in Spending

  • Defense -- $800 billion increase for next year
  • Infrastructure -- $21 billion, part of a $200 billion, 10-year plan
  • Department of Commerce -- $600 million increase
  • Department of Homeland Security -- $5.1 billion increase
  • Veterans’ Affairs Department -- $6.8 billion increase

The budget also allocates $18 million for a wall on the U.S./Mexico border.

 

Proposed Decreases in Spending 

According to the White House, this budget includes “proposed savings of $48.4 billion in discretionary programs, including $25.8 billion in program eliminations and $22.6 billion in reductions” for the next budget year. Here are some of the areas where the president has proposed decreased spending:

  • Department of Agriculture -- $938 million, including ending funding for land acquisition and rural wastewater grants
  • Department of Education -- $5.7 billion, including the elimination of a variety of federal grant programs
  • Department of Health and Human Services -- $4.3 billion, including the elimination of low-income heating grants
  • State Deparment and USAID -- $4.7 billion, including eliminating funding for the Global Climate Change Initiative
  • National Endowment for the Arts -- $121 million cut
  • Corporation for Public Broadcasting -- $480 million cut

The president’s proposal also calls on a redesign of the Supplemental Assistance for Nutrition Program (SNAP). These include greater restrictions on who is eligible for food benefits, more work requirements, and using a portion of the program’s funding to provide food commodities to recipients.

 

Next Steps

This budget outline is simply the president’s desired spending path over the next decade. It has no force of law and does not actually affect federal spending. Congress will likely enact its own budget resolution, which is unlikely to bear much resemblance to the president’s proposal. The congressional budget resolution will outline the spending bills that will provide funding for actual federal spending in the next fiscal year.

 

Do you support President Trump’s budget as a good way to trim wasteful federal spending? Or is the president’s budget a blow to necessary government programs?

 

Democrats, Republicans Agree to Big Spending Increase

 

Bipartisanship flourished in Washington this week. While the parties have major differences, it seems the one thing that Democrats and Republicans can both agree on is a spending increase of $500 billion over two years.

 

Members of the two parties came together to pass a continuing resolution that would keep the government open until March 23, but eliminates caps on military and domestic spending that have been in place for most of this decade.

 

Here are some key features of the agreement that will add $320 billion to the deficit:

  • Sixty percent of the spending increase goes to the military, the rest is for domestic programs.
  • It includes $90 billion in disaster relief for Puerto Rico.
  • There are targeted tax breaks for a variety of activities, including rum production, wind energy development, geothermal projects, and film production.
  • It raises the debt ceiling until 2019.

 

Republicans pushed for the military spending increases. For Democrats, the package prevents scheduled cuts for Medicare and Medicaid, has nearly $6 billion for Child Care Development Block Grant, and $20 billion in money for infrastructure (which includes rural broadband funding), among other things.

 

Not everyone was thrilled with the bill, however. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) used procedural motions to block quick approval of it. He was opposed to the size of the spending increases and the fact that it will add significantly to the deficit. On the Senate floor, he said:

 

I ran for office because I was very critical of [Barack] Obama’s trillion-dollar deficits. Now we have Republicans hand-in-hand with Democrats offering us trillion-dollar deficits… I can’t in all good honesty, in all good faith, just look the other way because my party is now complicit in the deficits.

 

Sen. Paul’s delaying tactics prevented the bill from being passed and signed by the president by midnight on February 8, which is when funding for government operations ran out. This led to a brief five-hour shutdown of the federal government. Eventually, however, both the Senate (on a vote of 71-28) and the House of Representatives (on a vote of 240-186) passed the resolution, which President Trump signed.

 

Do you support increasing federal spending by $500 billion over the next two years? Or do you think it is a bad idea to grow the deficit?

 

Can President Trump’s Immigration Reform Succeed?

 

Immigration played a big part in President Trump’s first State of the Union Address this week. It appears, however, that neither Democrats nor Republicans are pleased with what the president wants to do on this highly controversial topic.

 

In late January, the president released four principles that outline how he would like to see the nation’s immigration laws changed:

  • Spend $25 billion to set up a trust fund for a border wall security system
  • Provide a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million individuals (known as “Dreamers”) who were covered by the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or who were eligible for that program
  • End the ability of immigrants to sponsor family members for entry to the U.S., except for spouses and minor children
  • Eliminate the visa lottery system

 

When President Trump discussed this plan during his speech before both houses of Congress, it received a mixed reaction. Democrats are steadfastly opposed to any attempts to end what they call “family reunification” and what the president calls “chain migration.” Neither side can even agree on what this type of immigration should be called. Many congressional Democrats said that they will reject any immigration deal that has this as a provision, regardless of what else is in the package.

 

On the Republican side, some conservatives are labeling as “amnesty” the proposal to provide citizenship to DACA recipients. They note that this path to citizenship affects far more people than was proposed under President Obama. Some observers charge that the president is breaking his anti-amnesty pledge that played such a large role in his campaign.

 

With both liberals and conservatives in Congress opposed to major parts of the president’s plan, it is unclear what will emerge from the legislative process. It is possible that there will be no plan that can achieve the support of the majority. This will leave current immigration laws intact, but will also mean an end to the DACA program. This initiative, put forth under President Obama, protected from deportation some illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. President Trump’s cancellation of this program goes into effect in March.

 

Do you support President Trump’s deal to curtail legal immigration and give citizenship to Dreamers? Do you think that ending family reunification immigration is too big of a price to pay for Dreamer citizenship? Or is the president breaking his campaign promise and supporting amnesty for 1.8 million illegal immigrants?

 

The Government is Open – For Now

 

After a shutdown that lasted for a weekend and one workday, the federal government is re-open and running. However, two large questions remain after this brief shutdown: Will Congress hold a vote that provides “Dreamers” protection from deportation? And, will the government shut down again after the short-term funding bill expires in February?

 

Dreamers

 

A solid block of Democratic senators voted against a government funding bill on January 19. Needing to reach a 60-vote threshold to overcome a filibuster, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not have sufficient votes to advance this bill through the Senate. What followed was a brief shutdown.

 

The Democrats were upset that this funding measure did not resolve the situation of individuals covered under President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). These individuals, known as “Dreamers,” were brought to the country illegally by their parents. President Obama issued an order giving some of them protection from deportation. President Trump revoked that directive, and asked Congress to act on legislation that would codify legal protection.

 

When President Trump, Congressional Republicans, and Congressional Democrats could not agree on the details of a DACA bill, Democrats in the House and Senate voted against short-term funding legislation. After days of negotiations, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer reversed course upon assurances by Sen. McConnell that a bill containing DACA protections would be brought to the floor of the Senate for consideration. Sen. McConnell also said this bill would include other immigration measures.

 

A Long-Term Funding Fix

 

The measure approved by the Senate only provides funding for the government through February 8.

 

With Congress failing to pass individual appropriations bills to fund the various federal agencies, the operations of the federal government are dependent on either continuing resolutions (which fund the government at the previous year’s levels) or omnibus appropriations bills (which combine smaller spending bills into one larger bill).

 

For the federal government to continue operating past February 8, the House and Senate must pass either another continuing resolution or an omnibus appropriations bill. Efforts to do this are complicated by spending limits that are in place due to the 2013 sequester legislation. That agreement put caps on defense and discretionary spending. These caps can be lifted, and have been in the past. But there is no agreement among members of the two parties on how to lift the caps for this fiscal year (which began on October 1, 2017).

 

It seems unlikely that such an agreement can be reached by early February. That means that there will be another short-term continuing resolution to give congressional negotiators more time to accomplish this.

 

What do you think about the government shutdown? What path should Congress take on immigration and spending?

 

Northam Inaugural Features Promises on Obamacare, Abortion, and Gun Control

 

On Saturday, January 13, Ralph Northam took office as Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia. He did not waste any time in discussing hot-button issues. His inaugural address touched on three issues that will be hotly contested during this year’s session of the Virginia General Assembly – Obamacare expansion, access to abortion, and gun control.

 

Here is what he had to say on these topics when he addressed the inauguration crowd:

 

  • Obamacare: “It is past time for us to step forward together and expand Medicaid to nearly 400,000 Virginians who need access to care.”

 

  • Abortion: “We should also resolve together today to refrain from any effort to curtail a woman’s constitutional right to make her own decisions about her health.”

 

  • Gun Control: “If we are going to build a healthier Virginia for everyone, we must address the public health crisis of gun violence. Gunshots kill more people in Virginia every year than car accidents, but if you walk into the right gun show, it’s easier to get a firearm than it is to rent a car. I am ready to work with you to make Virginia safer by passing smart reforms that keep guns away from people who shouldn’t have them.

 

Governor Northam’s stances on these issues put him at odds with the General Assembly. While the 2017 elections narrowed their majority in both chambers, Republicans still control the legislature. As their track record under Governor McAuliffe shows, they are not hesitant to pass conservative legislation in spite of gubernatorial veto threats.

 

With an increased number of Democrats in the legislature than during Gov. McAuliffe’s term, Gov. Northam will have more allies in his legislative fights. Even so, it is difficult to see how the governor will convince legislators to expand Medicaid, refrain from passing abortion restrictions, or enact gun control measures.

 

Do you think that Virginia legislators should work with Governor Northam to expand Medicaid eligibility, preserve access to abortion, and place more limits on gun ownership?

 

Will Trump and Congress Make a Dreamer Deal?

 

President Trump and Congress may be close to making a deal on immigration. Or they may not. It depends on how one interprets what happened earlier this week.

 

The president met with a group of Republican and Democratic members of Congress on Tuesday to discuss the fate of children covered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. These children, known as “Dreamers,” were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents. There is bipartisan agreement that Congress should take some steps to protect them from deportation. President Trump has also said he favors legislation on this issue. The sticking point is whether any such legislation should also be tied to further immigration reform.

 

While the original intent was for the meeting between the president and congressional leaders to be behind closed doors, the participants opened it up to the press. What occurred was an hour-long discussion of what President Trump, congressional Republicans, and congressional Democrats want to do about immigration.

 

President Trump has long held that any attempts to solve the Dreamer issue must be tied to other immigration reform measures, such as a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border. Congressional Democrats have pushed for a “clean” DACA bill with no other immigration provisions attached.

 

During Tuesday’s meeting, the president seemed inclined to agree with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) when she said she wanted a clean DACA bill, saying “We’re going to come up with DACA, and then we could start immediately on the phase two, which would be comprehensive.”

 

Congressional Republicans pushed back on that suggestion, and the president later clarified that he still wants border security included as part of any DACA legislation.

 

President Trump has set March 5 as the deadline when President Obama’s executive order providing protection to Dreamers expires. Congressional Republicans said that they want to see legislation completed by then. It is unclear whether or not there can be bipartisan consensus on what else should be included in such a bill. Some Republicans are pushing for wider immigration restrictions, such as ending the diversity lottery. Democrats have said they would support some funding for border security, but not money for constructing a wall.

 

This meeting did show that there is broad agreement on some immigration priorities, but there is also sharp disagreement on how to achieve those priorities. And, as always, there remains a wide gulf on immigration issues that do not involve the Dreamers. One thing is clear – immigration will be a significant issue for Congress and the president in 2018.

 

Do you support congressional action to allow Dreamers to stay in the country? Do you think that any legislation to deal with Dreamers should also have funding for a border wall?

 

“Dreamers,” Government Funding Face Congress in 2018

 

With a flurry of activity on taxes to end 2017, members of Congress took a short break over the Christmas season. This week, however, legislators return to Washington, D.C. They will be taking up a variety of important issues that could reinforce the already sharp partisan divisions in Congress:

 

Funding the Government – Before leaving for their holiday recess, members of Congress passed a measure that temporarily funds the federal government. This avoided a government shutdown over Christmas, but only runs until January 19. Either Congress must pass an omnibus appropriations bill to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year or another series of short-term continuing resolutions that provide funding over a limited time-frame.

 

“Dreamers” – Last year President Trump reversed the Obama Administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, but he also called on Congress to do something about the “Dreamers,” children who were brought to the country illegally by their parents. There is bipartisan support to pass legislation to deal with children in this category, but no consensus yet on what the details should be. The president wants action on Dreamers tied to funding for a wall on the Mexican border, something that congressional Democrats reject.

 

Entitlement Reform – Republicans in the House of Representatives have said they would like to focus on reforming entitlement programs like welfare and Medicaid. Changes to these programs could result in significant budget savings over the long run, but Democrats worry about how these changes may affect people who depend on the programs. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has also been cool to any talk of debating entitlement reform in the Senate.

 

Infrastructure – President Trump has repeatedly said he would like to see more money put into an infrastructure improvement program. Some Republicans are wary of a large new government spending program, but this could be an area where the president works with Democrats to advance his agenda in the new year.

 

Disaster Relief – The House of Representatives passed legislation to provide aid in response to hurricanes and wildfires last year. The Senate failed to act before 2017 ended, however.

 

Children’s Health Insurance – Congress passed temporary funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), but this funding only lasts through March. There is a bipartisan push to provide a more permanent funding fix for this program.

 

What do you think Congress should focus on in 2018?

 

Arizona Key Votes – Education & Kids

 

Check out these key votes made by elected officials in Arizona earlier this year, and go to www.votespotter.com to sign up and see how your elected officials voted on these and other issues that impact your daily life.

 

Senate Bill 1036, Make guidelines for state charter school agency stricter: Passed 30 to 0 in the Senate on February 20 and 35 to 22 in the House on April 17

To add new administrative requirements to the operational guidelines of the State Board for Charter Schools, including new opportunities to challenge rules and regulations and new requirements for responding to rule challenges.

 

House Bill 2388, Modify state college grant program by easing some requirements and tightening others: Passed 46 to 12 in the House on February 21 and 26 to 0 in the Senate on April 19

To extend the life of a government program that gives state taxpayer subsidies to college students, while modifying certain program qualifications including more stringent GPA and graduation time frame requirements, expanding program eligibility to other fields, and other similar changes.

 

Senate Bill 1431, Expand school vouchers: Passed 16 to 13 in the Senate and 31 to 28 in the House on April 6

To expand eligibility for the state's Empowerment Scholarship Account program to every student in Arizona by August 2020. However, while any student could apply, the voucher-like program would still only be able to accommodate about 3 percent of the statewide school population.

 

Senate Bill 1204, Allow public to review high school text books: Passed 21 to 9 in the Senate on February 13

To require school districts to provide an opportunity for public comment for proposed high school textbooks prior to approval.

 

Senate Bill 1080, Ban young drivers using cell phones: Passed 24 to 6 in the Senate on February 13 and 32 to 24 in the House on April 20

To prohibit instructional permit holders from operating a motor vehicle while using a wireless communication device and prohibit provisional licensees under age 18 from using those devices other than for audible navigation.

 

Senate Bill 1377, Allow cannabidoil to treat pediatric epilepsy: Passed 29 to 1 in the Senate

To allow any compound, mixture or preparation that contains cannabidiol to be prescribed in the state if federally approved and legalized by the federal FDA & DEA.

 

FCC Repeals Net Neutrality Rules

 

One of the most controversial policy votes of the year took place this week, but it didn’t happen in Congress. Instead, it happened at a regulatory agency – the Federal Communications Commission. Under the leadership of Chairman Ajit Pai, the commissioners voted 3-2 to repeal “net neutrality” regulations. Depending on who you ask, this move will signal the death of the Internet as we know it or it is the federal government removing overbearing regulations that stiffle innovation.

 

The regulations in question date to 2015, when the FCC decided to regulate Internet service providers more stringently. In essence, the agency at that time classified the services they provide as a public utility, largely forcing providers not to discriminate in pricing, content, and the management of the network.

 

Not surprisingly, Internet service providers such as Verizon, AT&T and Comcast opposed this new regulation. They did not like the fact that they were constrained from treating different types of customers differently when it came to pricing or network management. Internet content companies, such as Facebook and Twiter, lobbied hard for the regulation, seeing an advantage in being protected from higher charges when they use far more bandwidth than other websites or apps.

 

This new rule change does not remove federal oversight from the Internet. In fact, the rule mandates transparency for network management practices. The Federal Trade Commission also regulates Internet service providers. But it does lessen the ability of the government to set rules proactively that constrain Internet service providers.

 

Do you think the FCC should have maintained “net neutrality” rules to protect consumers? Or does rolling back this rule from 2015 give freedom for companies to innovate in ways that will serve customers better?

 

Michigan Key Votes – Automotive Laws

 

Check out these key votes made by elected officials in Michigan earlier this year, and go to www.votespotter.com to sign up and see how your elected officials voted on these and other issues that impact your daily life.

 

House Bill 5013, Adopt auto insurance reforms and price controls: Failed 45 to 63 in the House on November 2

To allow vehicle owners to purchase auto insurance policies with personal injury protection (PIP) coverage below the currently mandated unlimited coverage; cap the amount that hospitals, doctors and long-term care providers could charge to treat people injured in crashes; and more. Among other things, the bill would require insurance companies to lower rates if these provisions lowered the cost of treating crash victims, which reportedly are much higher in Michigan than any other state.

 

 House Bill 5040, “Bad driver tax” repeal and amnesty: Passed 103 to 5 in the House on November 2

To repeal the “driver responsibility fees” that are assessed for various violations, effective Sept. 30, 2018. The bill would also clear any outstanding liability an individual may have to pay these fees. These very expensive fees were originally adopted in 2003 to increase state revenue collections. The Senate has passed a repeal that only clears liabilities older than six years.

 

Senate Bill 609, Repeal “driver responsibility fees” and give partial amnesty: Passed 37 to 0 in the Senate on October 19

To repeal the driver responsibility fees (“bad driver tax”) that are assessed for various traffic violations, effective Sept. 30, 2018. Individuals who lost their driver's license for nonpayment of these fees could get it back (on payment of a $125 fee). Fees that have been owed for more than six years would be forgiven, but not more recent ones. These very expensive fees were originally adopted in 2003 to increase state revenues.

 

House Bill 4215, Repeal rule banning car running in driveway: Passed 30 to 6 in the Senate on June 13 and 77 to 30 in the House on May 2

To repeal a ban on leaving an unattended vehicle running other than on a public street or highway. This would allow warming up the car in the driveway in winter.

 

Senate Bill 163, Authorize “Choose Life” license plate: Passed 65 to 43 in the House on May 25

To require the Secretary of State to develop a “Choose Life” license plate, with the profits from its sale spent on "life-affirming programs and projects."

 

Congress Key Votes – Taxes, Spending, Class-Action Lawsuits, “She Persisted”

 

Check out these key votes made by elected officials in Congress earlier this year, and go to www.votespotter.com to sign up and see how your elected officials voted on these and other issues that impact your daily life.

 

U.S. House Bill 1, Reduce tax rates and eliminate some deductions: Passed 51 to 49 in the U.S. Senate on December 2

To set new federal income tax rates (10%, 12%, 22%, 24%, 32%, 35%, and 38.5%) to replace the current tax rates (10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33%, 35%, and 39.6%), increase the standard deduction ($12,000 for single filers, $18,000 for heads of household, and $24,000 for joint filers), eliminate the mandate that individuals must purchase health insurance, increase the child tax credit from $1,000 to $2,000, cut the corporate income tax rate from 39% to 20% starting in 2019, authorize a 23 percent deduction for income from smaller businesses whose earnings are taxed at the owner's individual tax rate, double the estate tax exemption, and more. The individual income tax provisions sunset in 2025.

 

U.S. House Bill 1, House version of federal income tax cuts and reform: Passed 227 to 205 in the U.S. House on November 16

To create four new federal income tax rates (12%, 25%, 35%, and 39.6%) that would replace the seven current rates (10%, 15%, 25%, 28%, 33%, 35%, and 39.6%), increase the standard deduction (to $12,200 for single filers, $18,300 for heads of household, and $24,400 for joint filers), eliminate a deduction for state and local tax payments (except homeowners could still deduct up to $10,000 in property taxes), limit the mortgage interest deduction to loans under $500,000, increase a child tax credit from $1,000 to $1,600, cut the corporate income tax rate from 39% to 20% starting in 2020, cut and phase-out the federal estate tax, and more.

 

U.S. House Bill 601, Fund disaster-related programs, raise the debt ceiling: Passed 316 to 90 in the U.S. House on September 8 and 80 to 17 in the Senate on September 7

To provide $7.4 billion in direct funding for Hurricane Harvey disaster relief, $450 million to the Small Business Administration’s disaster loans program, and $7.4 billion in general disaster spending. As “emergency” spending, this funding is exempt from budget controls aimed at controlling the deficit. The bill also raises the federal debt limit and funds federal government operations for another three months.

 

U.S. House Bill 985, Restrict class action lawsuits: Passed 220 to 201 in the U.S. House on March 9

To prohibit lawyers from bringing class action lawsuits unless the individuals in the lawsuit have suffered the same type and scope of injury. The bill also mandates that lawyers who successfully bring class action lawsuits get paid only after the victims collect any damage awards.

 

U.S. Senate Motion 57, Affirm Senator Warren broke Senate rules: Passed 49 to 43 in the U.S. Senate on February 7

To uphold the ruling of the chair that Senator Elizabeth Warren broke Senate Rule 19, which prohibits any senator from “imput[ing] to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator." Senator Warren had been reading a letter by Coretta Scott King about Senator Jeff Sessions, whom President Trump had nominated to be Attorney General. The chair had ruled that by reading certain sections of this bill, Sen. Warren had disparaged her colleague, Sen. Sessions.

 

Key Virginia Votes on Education

 

Check out these key votes made by elected officials in Virginia earlier this year, and go to www.votespotter.com to sign up and see how your elected officials voted on these and other issues that impact your daily life.

 

Senate Bill 1283, Allow state to establish charter schools: Passed 21 to 19 in the Senate on February 7 and 54 to 43 in the House on February 20

To allow the state Board of Education to establish regional charter schools. Current law gives the power to establish charter schools to local boards of education. In effect, this law would make it easier for charter schools to open in Virginia.

 

House Bill 1536, Ban grade school suspensions and expulsions: Passed 49 to 47 in the House on February 6 and 33 to 7 on February 13

To prohibit students up to third grade from being suspended for more than five days or expelled except for drug, firearm, and certain other criminal offenses.

 

House Resolution 431, Encourage college free speech: Passed 64 to 31 in the House on February 22

To encourage public higher education institutions to protect free speech and develop policies that outline how they will deal with public policy controversies.

 

House Bill 1605, Provide parents with funding for education expenses: Passed 49 to 47 in the House on February 7 and 21 to 19 in the Senate on February 21

To establish an education savings accounts that parents can use to pay for education expenses such as books, tuition, or fees at private schools that do not discriminate by race. The money for these accounts would come from their local school division and be equal to a certain percentage of the per-pupil funding in that district.

 

House Bill 1578, Allow home schoolers to participate in school sports (the “Tebow Bill”): Passed 60 to 38 in the House on January 24 and 22 to 18 in the Senate on February 13

To allow a home schooled student to participate in interscholastic programs, such as sports, offered by public schools.

 

Senate Bill 1428, Expand education tax credits for students with disabilities: Passed 23 to 17 in the Senate on February 3 and 61 to 35 in the House on February 7

To remove the requirement that a student with a disability be enrolled in public school to be able to use the education improvement scholarships tax credit. The bill also increases the amount of the tax credit from 100% to 400% of the per-pupil funding amount given by the state to the local school district.

 

Senate Bill 1242, Establish school choice program: Failed 20 to 20 in the Senate on February 6

To allow parents of a public school students to receive a savings account from their local school district that can be used to pay for a variety of educational expenses, including tuition and fees at a private school. Participating private schools could not discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin.

 

Key Pennsylvania Votes on Budget, Regulations, and Taxes


Check out these key votes made by elected officials in Pennsylvania earlier this year, and go to 
www.votespotter.com to sign up and see how your elected officials voted on these and other issues that impact your daily life.

 

House Bill 542, Collect tax on Internet sales: Passed 102 to 88 in the House on October 17 and 29 to 21 in the Senate on October 25

To mandate that remote sellers with sales over $10,000 collect Pennsylvania’s sales tax. The bill also removes the $5 million cap on the net operating loss deduction for Pennsylvania businesses and allow the sales of fireworks to Pennsylvanians with a special 12% tax, among other things.

 

Senate Bill 181, Establish performance-based budget review: Passed 180 to 4 in the House and 50 to 0 in the Senate on October 25

To direct the Secretary of Budget to review agency budgets based on performance instead of on subtracting or adding to traditional spending levels. Under a performance-based review, an agency would have to show how its proposed spending is being allocated to meet certain performance goals and benchmarks. The bill would allow the Secretary to undertake a review at least once every five years, and the General Assembly could also request such a review. The bill also directs the state to undertake a review of the effectiveness of various state tax credits.

 

Senate Bill 561, Mandate legislative review of expensive regulations: Passed 29 to 20 in the Senate on June 13

To mandate that the General Assembly approve regulations that impose more than $1,000,000 in annual costs to the commonwealth, local governments, or the private sector.

 

House Bill 1071, Ban bag taxes: Passed 102 to 87 in the House on April 25

To prohibit local governments from imposing a tax, surcharge, or ban on plastic bags.

 

House Bill 291, Exempt children younger than 21 from inheritance tax: Passed 176 to 21 in the House on April 4

To exempt a transfer of property to a child 21 years or younger from the state’s inheritance tax.

 

Tennessee Key Votes – Alcohol and Drugs


Check out these key votes made by elected officials in Tennessee earlier this year, and go to 
www.votespotter.com to sign up and see how your elected officials voted on these and other issues that impact your daily life.

 

House Bill 1287, Allow distilleries to sell drinks: Passed 73 to 17 in the House on April 10 and 23 to 3 in the Senate on April 24

To allow distilleries to sell drinks to customers for consumption on the distillery’s premises.

 

House Bill 109, Reduce penalty for marijuana possession: Failed 44 to 45 in the House on April 10

To make it a misdemeanor to possess or sell under one ounce of marijuana. Under current law, these are felonies.

 

House Bill 547, Allow wineries to sell more types of wine: Passed 66 to 14 in the House on April 20 and 28 to 2 in the Senate on April 24

To allow a winery to purchase wine from another winery in Tennessee or another state and sell or serve it.

 

Senate Bill 806, Allow needle exchange programs: Passed 26 to 0 in the Senate on May 4 and 71 to 17 in the House on May 3

To allow nonprofits to operate needle exchange programs for opioid users as well as test these users for health problems.

 

Senate Bill 798, Update state alcohol laws: Passed 27 to 0 in the Senate on April 10 and 64 to 21 in the House on May 1

To levy a $10,000 fine on an establishment for its second citation for selling alcohol to a minor instead of revoking the alcohol license, to allow hotels to sell sealed packages of alcohol, to mandate the inclusion of liquor-by-the-drink taxes on menus, and to make other changes to the state’s alcohol laws.

 

House Bill 173, Pre-empt local drug laws: Passed 65 to 28 in the House on March 23 and 26 to 5 in the Senate on March 27

To clarify that state law pre-empts any local government laws for conduct involving drugs. In essence, this bill clarifies that local governments cannot enact local drug laws that conflict with state law.

 

Senate Advances Tax Legislation

 

At 2 a.m. on Saturday morning, the Senate voted 51-49 in favor of legislation that would reshape the nation’s tax code. The Republicans who supported this bill say that it will provide much-needed tax relief for families and boost the economy. Democrats contend that it is a giveaway to the rich that will dramatically increase the deficit.

 

Here are some of the major provisions in this tax bill:

  • Retains the current seven tax brackets, but reduces the top marginal rate to 38.5% and cuts rates in other brackets
  • The standard deduction increases to $12,000 from $6,500 for single filers, $18,000 from $9,500 for heads of households, and $24,000 from $12,500 for joint filers
  • Increases the child tax credit to $2,000 from $1,000
  • The phase-out for the child tax credit starts at $500,000 (compared to $110,000 today)
  • Lowers the corporate income tax rate to 20% from 35% starting in 2019
  • Creates a higher exemption for the corporate minimum tax
  • Exempts $11.2 million from the estate tax, up from $5.6 million now
  • Repeals the individual health insurance mandate under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare

 

The individual income tax changes are set to expire in 2025. This was done to give the bill a more favorable budget score, which helps ease passage. Some observers expect that these provisions of the bill would be made permanent in the future, since members of Congress will be hesitant to allow (in effect) a tax increase to tax place upon their expiration. However, there is no guarantee that this will occur.

 

All Senate Democrats opposed it. Every Senate Republican except Bob Corker of Tennessee supported it.

 

The Senate bill differs in some key respects from the House tax cut legislation. These differences must be resolved in a conference committee, then the same bill must be passed by both house of Congress and signed by the president. Given the commitment by Republicans in both branches, this process should proceed fairly quickly. It is also possible that the House of Representatives could pass the Senate version of the bill. Whatever happens, it is likely that President Trump will have tax legislation on his desk to sign before the end of the year.

 

Do you support the tax cuts in the Senate bill? Or do you think that this legislation is the wrong way to reform the tax code?

 

Virginia Minimum Wage Hike Coming in 2018?

 

A minimum wage showdown could be coming to Richmond next year.

 

Virginia’s incoming governor, Ralph Northam, made increasing the minimum wage a centerpiece of his campaign. He cannot enact this policy without the help of legislators, however. While Republicans saw their numbers reduced in the General Assembly, it is likely they still control both chambers (a few key races have yet to be decided). It is unlikely that the governor will find much support for his proposal with these legislators.

 

During the campaign, Northam said, “Nobody in 2017 can support themselves, let alone their families, on a $7.25 an hour, so it's incumbent on all of us to make sure we raise the minimum wage here in Virginia.” However, he has not explicitly supported a minimum wage increase to $15, a key goal of many progressive activists.

 

Currently, Virginia’s minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, the same as the federal wage floor. Some of Virginia’s neighboring states have higher minimum wages. Maryland, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia all mandate a higher wage.

 

The effects of increasing the minimum wage are hotly debated by economists and politicians. Opponents of such a mandate say that it prices low-wage workers out of the marketplace by banning businesses from paying them what their labor is worth. Supporters contend that workers deserve to be paid a wage that allows them to support a family.

 

Do you think that Virginia should increase its minimum wage? Or would a minimum wage hike be bad for the Commonwealth’s economy?

 

Keystone XL Pipeline Moving Forward

 

After years of delay, the Keystone XL Pipeline cleared its last significant regulatory hurdle. TransCanada is now free to complete its controversial multi-billion pipeline project.

 

This final approval came when the Nebraska Public Service Commission granted approval for TransCanada to build the pipeline through that state. On a 3-2 vote, the PSC supported an alternate route for the Keystone XL Pipeline instead of TransCanada’s first choice. This new route will not go through the state’s Sandhill region.

 

President Obama had stopped this project at the federal level. TransCanada initially applied for a federal permit in 2008 to allow the pipeline to cross the U.S./Canadian border. In 2015, Congress passed legislation that would authorize the construction of the pipeline. President Obama vetoed this bill. Later that year, he rejected TransCanada’s application to build. President Trump reversed this action when he took office, clearing the way for Nebraska’s consideration of the issue.

 

Business and labor groups support the pipeline, saying that it will create jobs and provide the U.S. with a reliable supply of oil. Environmentalists oppose the pipeline because it will be carrying petroleum from oil sands in Canada. They also have concerns about the pipeline’s potential impact on Nebraska’s water supply.

 

Approval of the alternate route means that TransCanada will have to devise new agreements with landowners, something that will further delay the pipeline’s completion. However, barring any court challenges, the fight over the fate of the Keystone XL Pipeline appears to be over.

 

Do you support construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline?

 

Tax Plan May Axe Individual Mandate

 

If Senate Republicans get their way, Americans may not only see their taxes cut, but they may also be free from the federal mandate to buy health insurance. Depending on your views about the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, this is either a win-win situation or a sneaky move to end health care for millions of Americans.

 

Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee have been busy writing their version of a tax bill for consideration by the full Senate. Among traditional tax reforms such as cutting rates, they also included a provision to end the Obamacare mandate that punishes taxpayers who do not have health insurance.

 

This “individual mandate” is designed as a tax administered by the Internal Revenue Service. In a 2012 case, the Supreme Court upheld this provision of the law on the grounds that it was not a true mandate to purchase a product, but a tax on those who did not purchase it.

 

Ending the individual mandate will not only kill a vital part of Obamacare, a key Republican legislative priority, it will also ease the path for deeper tax cuts. Due to budget rules, this tax legislation can only add $1.5 trillion to the deficit over the next ten years. An individual mandate repeal would produce an estimated $338 billion in new federal revenue over the next decade. That new revenue could be offset with more tax cuts.

 

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that this new revenue will be available because fewer people will purchase health insurance, thus saving the federal government money that it would otherwise spend on subsidies. This has Democrats upset. Senator Al Franken (D-MN) tweeted, “Senate GOP just added provision to their tax plan that would gut ACA & kick 13M ppl off insurance. Yes, it's same tax plan that would add $1 trillion+ to deficit while giving majority of benefits to corporations & the rich.”

 

Tax reform must pass both chambers of Congress and be signed into law by the president. The tax reform bill proposed by Republicans in the House of Representatives does not include a repeal of the individual mandate. President Trump has expressed support for including the repeal as part of the tax package.

 

Do you think that the tax reform bill should also repeal the individual health insurance mandate? Or are Republicans hurting Americans’ health care with the mandate’s repeal?

 

Governor Wants Changes to Colorado Pensions

 

Colorado has a $43 billion pension system, paying or promising retirement benefits to scores of state employees. However, this pension system faces trouble with its $32.2 billion in unfunded liabilities. In other words, the state’s politicians have promised retirees a more generous retirement package than what these politicians have actually saved money to give them. Unless the state acts, either taxpayers will be forced to cover this large gap or retirees will see their benefits drastically reduced.

 

Governor Hickenlooper’s recently released budget suggests a few options to deal with this issue. His budget has proposed reducing employees’ guaranteed cost-of-living adjustment from 2% to 1.25%. He would also like to require employees to pay an additional 2% into the pension plan, which would bring their total contribution up to 10%. In return, state employees would receive a 3% pay increase in the next fiscal year.

 

This plan takes elements from a plan put forward by the Public Employees’ Retirement Association, the board that manages the state pension system. The board’s recommendations included increasing the retirement age for newly-hired state employees, cap cost-of-living adjustments at 1.5%, and increase the amount that state agencies pay into the system on behalf of employee retirement.

 

State Treasurer Walker Stapleton, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, supports a reform that require the state to assume a lower rate of return for pension investments. Republican Sen. Kevin Lundberg has suggested the state consider moving to a retirement plan that is similar to a 401(k), which relies not on a defined benefit (like a pension) but instead on a defined contribution from the state.

 

Legislators will take up the issue of pension reform when they convene in January.

 

Do you think that Governor Hickenlooper is right to require state employees to pay more into their retirement system? Or should Colorado end traditional pensions and move state employees to something like a 401(k)?