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West Virginia House Bill 2303: Increase littering fines

 

 

Check out this key bill passed by elected officials in West Virginia, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!

 

West Virginia House Bill 2303, Increase littering fines: Passed 95 to 3 in the state House on February 20, 2017

 

To increase the fines and community service hours for littering.

 

Comment below to share what you think of West Virginia House Bill 2303!

 

Iowa House Bill 134: To prohibit local governments from limiting the number of unrelated people who can share rental housing

 

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House Bill 134, To prohibit local governments from limiting the number of unrelated people who can share rental housing: Passed 43 to 6 in the state Senate on April 11, 2017

 

To prohibit local governments from regulating or banning rental housing based on whether the renters in a unit are related to each other.

 

Comment below to share what you think of Iowa House Bill 134!

 

Colorado Senate Bill 300: Order study of health insurance options for high-risk individuals to be conducted by health insurance commissioner

 

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Senate Bill 300, Order study of health insurance options for high-risk individuals to be conducted by health insurance commissioner: Passed 35 to 0 in the state Senate on May 10, 2017

 

To direct the commissioner of insurance to study options for providing health insurance to people who pose high risks for insurers. The bill would require the study to examine ramifications for providing that insurance, including impact on business and consumers, federal rules, options for funding, financial sustainability, and other considerations.  The bill would require the study be produced for the joint budget committee and other committees before October 1, 2017.

 

Comment below to share what you think of Colorado Senate Bill 300!

 

Florida House Bill 647: Dissolve the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission

 

 

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House Bill 647, Dissolve the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission: Passed 118 to 0 in the state House on April 28, 2017

 

To abolish the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission (PTC) and require the PTC to liquidate all assets and satisfy all obligations/debts by the end of 2017. The PTC is an independent special district created to regulate the operation of taxicabs, limousines, vans, basic life support ambulances, and wrecker services in Hillsborough County.

 

Comment below to share what you think of Florida House Bill 647!

 

Nevada Senate Bill 45: Remove requirement for state inspection of public university buildings

 

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Senate Bill 45, Remove requirement for state inspection of public university buildings: Passed 21 to 0 in the state Senate on February 22, 2017

 

To eliminate the requirement that the State Public Works Division periodically inspect all buildings at the State universities. All buildings and physical plant facilities owned by any part of the Nevada System of Higher Education would be exempt from the requirement of periodic state inspections.

 

Comment below to share what you think of Nevada Senate Bill 45!

 

North Carolina House Bill 2: Broaden property tax exemption of disabled veterans

 

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House Bill 2, Broaden property tax exemption of disabled veterans: Passed 116 to 0 in the state House on March 29, 2017

 

To increase the annual property tax exemption of homes owned by disabled veterans or their unmarried surviving spouses from the first $45,000 in property valuation to the first $100,000. The bill would have the state reimburse local governments for lost property tax revenues from the change. In addition, the bill would give an unlimited property tax exemption to unmarried surviving spouses of fire, rescue, and police officers killed in the line of duty.

 

Comment below to share what you think of North Carolina House Bill 2!

 

 

Wisconsin Senate Bill 15: Require legislation for expensive regulations

 

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Senate Bill 15, Require legislation for expensive regulations: Passed 19 to 14 in the state Senate on May 2, 2017

 

To mandate that any regulations that impose a cost of $10 million or more over a two-year period can only be implemented upon passage of legislation. The bill also requires more oversight from legislators during the writing of new regulations.

 

Comment below to share what you think of Wisconsin Senate Bill 15!

 

What’s in the Trump Budget?

 

President Trump released his budget proposal this week. As may be expected from someone who promised to shake up Washington, his spending plan outlines some big changes to federal spending.

 

One of the major differences between Trump and previous presidents involves entitlement programs. These are programs such as Medicaid and welfare that do not require an annual appropriation from Congress. Instead, if you qualify for them, you are entitled to receive them, and the federal government must find money to pay. Over the next ten years, the president’s budget lays out major alterations to these programs that could result in some big savings:

 

Medicaid – $880 billion. These reductions come from ending the expanded Medicaid matching rate for childless adults that was put in place by the Affordable Care Act. The budget also assumes that states will be given a capped amount of money per enrollee starting in 2020 (right now, states receive a matching rate for every person on Medicaid with no cap).

 

Food stamps – $191 billion. This assumes savings from allowing states to impose work requirements on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Plan (SNAP) recipients.

 

TANF - $21.6 billion. The budget calls for reducing the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant to states as well as eliminating the contingency fund that states can access if there is more demand for the program.

 

For some programs, such as Medicaid, the spending projected by the Trump budget is a reduction in the future growth of the program. That is, there is a certain baseline spending growth that is assumed right now. Trump’s budget offers policy recommendations that would alter this baseline, reducing future growth. For other programs, such as SNAP, the Trump budget projects actual spending to be lower in 10 years (you can find more detailed charts on this here).

 

While entitlement programs would face reductions and many federal agencies would see their budgets reduced, there are a few increases built into the budget. The Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs would receive increases.

 

It should be remembered, however, that this budget proposal will not necessarily have any real effect. As we wrote in a previous blog post:

 

"Even after the president submits his budget, this does not mean that his spending plan will go into effect. Under the federal budget procedure, the president submits a budget, but Congress must pass its own budget resolution. The congressional budget resolution may or may not incorporate what the president wants to see happen. Each chamber passes its own resolution, and these two versions must be reconciled by the two chambers."

 

The president’s budget is more like a vision of where he thinks federal spending should proceed over the next decade. It does not mean that spending will actually follow along those lines. Congress has the power to determine funding levels for both discretionary programs (like defense) and make policy changes for entitlement programs (like Medicaid). Only action by the legislative branch can alter the direction of federal spending.

 

What do you think of the president’s budget proposal? Do you like that he has called for a reduction in these programs? Or do you see his priorities as being too draconian for the poor?

 

Tennessee Senate Bill 1152: Designate “Celebrate Freedom Week”

 

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Senate Bill 1152, Designate “Celebrate Freedom Week”: Passed 72 to 8 in the state House on April 24, 2017

 

To designate the week in which September 17 falls as “Celebrate Freedom Week," in which the Department of Education will “educate students about the sacrifices made for freedom in the founding of this country and the values on which this country was founded.”

 

Comment below to share what you think of Tennessee Senate Bill 1152!

 

Pennsylvania House Bill 602: Allow dogs to track wounded game

 

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House Bill 602, Allow dogs to track wounded game: Passed 196 to 0 in the state House on May 10, 2017

 

To allow blood-tracking dogs to track legally wounded deer, bear, and elk.

 

Comment below to share what you think of Pennsylvania House Bill 602!

 

U.S. House Bill 1628: Partially repeal Obamacare

 

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House Bill 1628: Partially repeal Obamacare: Passed 217 to 213 in the U.S. House on May 4, 2017

 

To pass the American Health Care Act, which is a compromise between House Republican moderates and conservatives that would change federal insurance regulations, modify Medicaid coverage, and alter taxes and fees. This legislation is a partial repeal of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Every House Democrat and 20 Republicans voted against it.

 

Comment below to share what you think of U.S. House Bill 1628!

 

Virginia Senate Bill 1359: Mandate lead testing in schools

 

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Senate Bill 1359, Mandate lead testing in schools: Passed 99 to 1 in the state House on February 23, 2017

 

To require school districts develop a plan to test school drinking water for lead, starting in schools built before 1986. If necessary, schools must find a way to remediate water found to have high lead levels.

 

Comment below to share what you think of Virginia Senate Bill 1359!

 

Missouri Senate Bill 329: Update warranty repair mandates for car dealerships

 

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Senate Bill 329, Update warranty repair mandates for car dealerships: Passed 31 to 0 in the state Senate on March 16, 2017

 

To revise a law that prohibits consumers from having warranty repairs done at the shop of their choice and only permits franchise dealers to do that work. This bill would remove confusion about how the law applies to engine manufacturers.

 

Comment below to share what you think of Missouri Senate Bill 329!

 

Trump Names Lower Court Nominees

 

 

Let the fight over judicial nominations begin.

 

President Trump recently sent the names of 10 people for the Senate to consider as federal judges. With more than 100 vacant federal judge positions, Donald Trump has an opportunity to make a significant impact on how federal laws are interpreted and applied.

 

According to John Malcolm of the Heritage Foundation, “They are all highly regarded in conservative legal circles and by practitioners in the states where they reside.” During the election, many conservative voters said that federal court nominations were one of the most important reasons they were backing Trump.

 

As we saw with the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, however, these appointments are likely to be made over significant Democratic opposition in the Senate. Democrats say that Republicans took steps to delay or hinder judicial nominations under President Obama, which is why there are so many vacancies for Trump to fill. They view this as ample reason to fight these new nominations.

 

However, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid eliminated the filibuster for lower-court judicial nominees in 2013. That means Senate Democrats, who are now in the minority, have no tools to stop Trump’s appointments. Some are vowing to use every tool they can to slow them down, though.

 

Do you support President Trump’s judicial nominees? Or do you support efforts by Democratic senators to hold up and possibly stop these nominations?

 

Arizona House Bill 2022: Legalize rat-shot and snake-shot ammunition

 

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House Bill 2022, Legalize rat-shot and snake-shot ammunition: Passed 35 to 25 in the state House on February 1, 2017

 

To permit the use of rat-shot or snake-shot ammunition within a municipality by exempting it from laws against discharge of firearms.

 

Comment below to share what you think of Arizona House Bill 2022!

 

Michigan Senate Bill 98: Authorize Flint “promise zone” tax increment financing authority

 

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Senate Bill 98, Authorize Flint “promise zone” tax increment financing authority: Passed 35 to 2 in the state Senate on May 16, 2017

 

To authorize a “low educational attainment promise zone” tax increment financing authority in Flint. These entities “capture" a portion of  increases in school property tax revenue and use the money to partially subsidize college tuition for local students.

 

Comment below to share what you think of Michigan Senate Bill 98!

 

The FBI: Now What?

 

In early May, President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. Considering that a president has fired an FBI Director only once previously in the modern era, many people have questions about what this means for the future of the FBI.

 

We’re here to provide some context.

 

The FBI is part of the Department of Justice, but the FBI Director is under the authority of the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence. The president appoints the FBI Director and the Senate must confirm the nominee. The Director serves for one ten-year term, although Congress can pass legislation to extend this term. The president has authority to fire the FBI Director for any reason.

 

The presidential appointment authority for the FBI Director dates back to reforms made in 1968. The fixed 10-year term was legislated in 1976. The agency’s activities during the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement raised concerns about the power of the FBI Director. After the death of iconic FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover in 1972 after 48 years of service, there was a consensus that long tenure for a Director was not desirable. Limiting the term and bringing that appointment under the president were ways to place limits on this power.

 

On the whole, the FBI Director has generally remained generally independent of the president and partisan politics. A ten-year term means that a Director will outlast any president who appoints him or her. Prior to Comey, the only FBI Director who has been fired was William Sessions, whom President Clinton removed due to ethical issues. It remains to be seen if President Trump’s action will set a new precedent that leads to more dismissals of future FBI Directors.

 

President Trump will have the task of naming a new FBI Director. The Senate will have the power to confirm or reject that nominee. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on the nominee, and then vote whether to recommend the nominee to the full Senate for consideration. Most nominees for FBI Director have been confirmed unanimously. In fact, the only one not to be confirmed without opposition was James Comey, who received one dissenting vote from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).

 

Do you think that President Trump should have fired Director Comey? Who should President Trump appoint as the new Director of the FBI?

 

Some Senators Say “No” to (Almost) All of Trump’s Nominees

 

Part of a new president’s job is to fill a variety of jobs that require Senate confirmation. Donald Trump is no exception, but some of his nominees have been controversial and faced nearly-united opposition from Democratic senators. Many other nominees have been less controversial, and have won over votes from most of the Senate Democratic caucus. However, there is a small band of senators who are committed to opposing almost every nominee put forward by the president.

 

Sen. Kristen Gillibrand of New York, for instance, has voted against all of the president’s high-profile nominees except Nikki Haley to be U.N. ambassador. Every other senator voted to approve Gen. James Mattis as Secretary of Defense, but Sen. Gillibrand voted “no.”

 

For other nominees, Sen. Gillibrand is reliably joined by Cory Booker (New Jersey), Kamala Harris (California), and Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts). They all voted against Sonny Perdue to be Secretary of Agriculture, Elaine Duke to be Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and Dan Coats to be Director of National Intelligence. Sen. Harris voted for Elaine Chao to be Secretary of Labor, but the others all voted “no.”

 

At times, other senators such as Richard Blumenthal (Connecticut), Bernie Sanders (Vermont), and Cortez Mastro (Nevada) are part of another small group of senators who reliably oppose Trump nominees. For other votes, such as the Perdue nomination or the Coats nomination, Ron Wyden of Oregon will join them.

 

These votes are on nominees whom the majority of other Democratic senators support. Gillibrand has justified her votes in this way: “For many of them, I found them to be either unqualified or so far outside my world view and what I think is important and my view of morality that I had to vote against them.” Other observers suspect that these votes may be a way to please the Democratic base in case the senators are looking to run for president in 2020.

 

What do you think? Are you glad these senators are standing up against President Trump’s nominees, even the lower-profile ones? Or do you view this as obstructionism for political purposes?

 

The First 100 Days of President Trump

 

On April 29, Donald Trump had been president for 100 days. President Franklin Roosevelt began the idea that the president should take bold action in his first 100 days in office. President Trump has said that looking at this time period is “not very meaningful,” and he has a point. There is no constitutional or legal mandate that anything be accomplished during this time. However, it does serve as a way to sum up the start of a presidential term. So what has happened during this president’s first 100 days in office?

 

Biggest win: the nomination and confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court

 

For many conservatives, filling the Supreme Court seat left empty by Antonin Scalia’s death was a big reason to vote for Donald Trump. Once he took office, Trump wasted little time in nominating Neil Gorsuch to take this seat. While Senate Democrats raised issues about the nominee, and even tried to filibuster him, Senate Republicans had enough votes to place Gorsuch on the high court.

 

Biggest loss: the failure of the American Health Care Act

 

A large part of Trump’s presidential campaign was centered on repealing the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Trump worked with congressional Republicans to craft a bill to repeal and replace parts of Obamacare. There were many on both the right and left who did not like this bill, called the American Health Care Act. Despite Senate leadership’s failure to persuade enough Republicans to support it, and after vigorous pressure from the White House, the bill was pulled from consideration and never brought before the full House of Representatives for a vote.

 

Left undone: the border wall, tax reform, immigration reform, renegotiating trade deals

 

The 100-day window is an arbitrary way of looking at a presidency, and does not give any president enough time to accomplish many significant goals. Donald Trump promised many things on the campaign trail that have yet to be accomplished or even started. He is pushing Congress to fund the border wall, but is encountering resistance from Democrats. There are preliminary talks about tax reform, but no concrete plan has emerged. The president has issued some executive orders on immigration and trade (some of which the courts have halted), but there have been no moves for a massive change in direction on either issue.

 

What do you think of President Trump’s first 100 days in office?

 

Build the Wall or Shut the Government Down?

 

A wall that has not even been built could have been the obstacle that may have prevented many federal employees from going to work today.

 

The Trump Administration’s insistence that funding for a wall on the Mexican border be included in spending legislation was seen as a potential sticking point that prevents that legislation from passing Congress. If that had happened, it will mean portions of the federal government will not have funding to operate. A partial government shutdown would have been the result.

 

We have been in this position before. Clashes between the executive branch and legislative branch over federal spending bills have caused government shutdowns twice in the past. Those instances occurred when the two branches were controlled by different parties. Now, however, Republicans hold both the White House and Congress.

 

While Republicans control Congress, Democrats are playing a key role in this situation. Any spending legislation needs 60 votes to advance in the Senate. With only 52 Republicans, Senate Majority Leader McConnell needs to attract some Democratic votes for any bill that would avert a government shutdown.

 

Gaining those votes is proving difficult, as Democrats resist President Trump’s desire to have funding for a border wall (or at least funding to start on a wall) included. Some Democrats point to the president’s promise that Mexico would pay for a wall, wondering why the American taxpayers should pick up the tab for this. Others oppose the wall on principle.

 

The federal government is at this point because Congress and President Obama did not agree on long-term spending bills prior to the start of this fiscal year on October 1. Instead, they passed short-term funding measures. These measures end on April 28. Congress must either pass legislation that funds the federal government through the end of the fiscal year, or it must pass a continuing resolution that would provide short-term funding. If these things do not happen, then “non-essential” government personnel will not be reporting to work next Monday.

 

What do you think that Congress and the president should do? Should disputes over a border wall hold up funding for the rest of the federal government?