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Tobacco Purchase Age Rising to 21

President Trump has signed into law a key priority of public health officials – increasing the age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21.

 

This increase in the federal tobacco age was contained in the large spending bill that recently passed Congress. That legislation contained funding for the federal government to remain open during the current fiscal year. There were numerous provisions in the legislation that did not directly affect spending, and the increase in the tobacco purchase age was one of them.

 

President Trump has supported increasing this age in the past. He has said it is necessary to protect children. Upon signing the spending legislation, he touted this tobacco measure as part of the overall success of the bill.

 

There was bipartisan support in Congress for accomplishing this. Public health advocates have long called on the federal government to make it more difficult for people to buy tobacco. They say it is necessary to stop young people from being hooked on this unhealthy habit. Opponents argue that people should be free to make their own choices, and that a federal ban oversteps state authority.

 

Prior to this federal action, 19 states had already raised the tobacco purchasing age.

 

Do you support raising the age when someone can buy tobacco to 21?

House Passes Bill to Raise Cap on State and Local Tax Deduction

A slim majority of House members approved legislation to increase the amount of state and local taxes that taxpayers could deduct from their federal taxes.

 

By a vote of 218-206, the House approved H.R. 5377. This bill would increase the cap on the federal deduction for state and local taxes from $10,000 to $20,000, and eliminate it entirely for 2020 and 2021. It would also increase the top income tax rate to 39.6% and increase the deductions for some expenses incurred by first responders and teachers.

 

The Trump tax cut bill set a cap on their ability to deduct state and local taxes. Prior to this cap, taxpayers could deduct the full amount of their state and local taxes. While theoretically available to all taxpayers, it generally benefited taxpayers with higher incomes (who are more prone to use itemized deductions rather than the standard deduction) and those who lived in states with higher taxes.

 

The Trump tax bill limited this state-and-local tax deduction to $10,000. In other words, if someone paid $17,000 in state and local taxes, they could only deduct $10,000 instead of the full $17,000. This upset some state officials, especially those who represent states that have a large share of high-income taxpayers paired with high state tax rates.

 

In response, some states passed laws that were an attempt to circumvent this cap. These generally involved classifying taxes in certain circumstances as charitable contributions. Since the tax bill still allowed full deductibility of charitable contributions, this would have allowed these state taxpayers to skirt the state-and-local deduction cap.

 

The Treasury Department issued a rule that essentially invalidated these state laws for federal tax purposes. Earlier this year, Sen. Chuck Schumer, who represents New York, introduced Senate Joint Resolution 50 to disapprove of this Treasury regulation. If passed, the effect of this disapproval resolution would have been to be allow states to pass laws that circumvent the tax cap, essentially repealing it on a state-by-state basis. The full Senate did not agree with Sen. Schumer, however. In October, the resolution failed by a vote of 43-52. The vote was largely along party lines, with only Republican Rand Paul voting for the resolution and Democrat Cory Gardner opposing it.

 

The House bill now heads to the Senate for consideration. Given the Senate’s action on Sen. Schumer’s resolution, it is unlikely that it will succeed in that body.

 

Do you support limiting the amount of state and local taxes that taxpayers can deduct on their federal taxes?

Term Limits for Washington Governor to be Discussed in 2020

Lawmakers in Washington State want voters to decide whether the governor can serve more than two terms.

 

Right now, Washington governors can serve as many terms as they want. The current governor, Jay Inslee, has said he will seek a third term. But legislation pre-filed for the 2020 session would prevent this in the future. Under that resolution, governors could only serve two terms. Any governor who came to office to serve out more than one year of a previous governor’s uncompleted term would be limited to one further term.

 

Thirty-six states have some form of term limits on governors. These states all limit governors to two consecutive terms, but some allow a former governor to run for that office again after being absent for four or eight years.

 

The proposal in Washington would be to amend the state constitution. This requires approval by a majority of voters. If approved by the legislature, Washington voters would decide the matter in the November 2020 election.

 

Only two Washington governors have served more than two terms.

 

Do you support limiting governors to two terms in office?

House Impeaches President Trump

This evening, the House of Representatives approved two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.

 

By a vote of 230-197, the House approved the first article of impeachment, which alleges that the President abused his power to investigate a political rival. This charge hinges on the conversation President Trump had with the Ukrainian president in which President Trump asked for an announcement of an investigation of Joe Biden's son. By a vote of 229-198, the House approved the second article, which alleges that President Trump has obstructed justice by refusing to cooperate with the impeachment investigation and ordering his subordinates to cooperate.

 

No Republicans voted in favor of either article of impeachment. Rep. Tulsi Gabard, a Democrat from Hawaii, voted present on each article. Two Democrats voted against the first article and three voted against the second. 

 

Impeachment does not remove the President from office. Instead, it starts the process wherein the Senate will consider removal. If two-thirds of the Senate approves either article of impeachment, President Trump will no longer be president and will be barred from future federal office. In that event, Vice President Mike Pence will become president.

 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will set the rules for how the impeachment trial will occur in the Senate. It is unclear how long such a trial will take and when it will occur. What is almost certain is that the necessary two-thirds of senators will not vote to convict the president, thus allowing President Trump to remain in office.

 

You can learn more about impeachment in VoteSpotter's Deep Dive on the subject.

 

Do you support the House vote to impeach President Trump?

 

 

Congress Passes Bill to Create Space Force

The Space Force will soon be a reality for the U.S. military.

 

The Senate approved the Dense authorization bill by a vote of 86-8 today, authorizing spending on the U.S. military for the next year. Included in that legislation is the creation of the Space Force, a priority of President Trump.

 

In 2018, the president announced plans to create a sixth branch of the military to undertake operations in space.

 

It is still unclear how far the mission of the Space Force will reach. NASA undertakes peaceful missions in space, and that would remain unchanged. The new force is aimed at ensuring that space cannot be used for offensive action against the United States. Its main aim, at least initially, will be to protect satellites, which are increasingly important for both civilian and military uses.

 

Other nations have similar forces. Russia created an Aerospace Force in 2015. The U.S. Space Force will be part of the Air Force.

 

The House of Representatives has already passed the Defense authorization bill, and it now heads to President Trump for his signature.

 

Do you support creation of the Space Force?

High Court Paves Way for Homeless to Sleep on Sidewalks

In the face of a rising number of homeless people camping out on city sidewalks, Boise city leaders wanted to take action. They passed a law banning the activity. But a federal appeals court overruled the city, saying that such a ban was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has refused to take up this case, allowing the lower court ruling to stand. That means that the homeless in Boise and other western cities will not be prosecuted for sleeping outside.

 

At question is a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling from earlier this year that laws banning outdoor sleeping were a violation of the Constitution’s prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishment.” The judges said that since sleep was necessary to live, the city could not prohibit people from sleeping in public if there was not sufficient housing for them. City officials say that this eliminates their ability to take steps to curb homeless camps that may cause public health issues and be a nuisance.

 

Boise appealed this decision to the Supreme Court, seeking to overturn it and allow the city law to take effect. The high court refused to hear the city’s appeal this week. That allows the Ninth Circuit’s decision to stand. This court has jurisdiction over western states, so not all of the U.S. is affected by the ruling.

 

Other cities are also grappling with this issue. Some, such as Austin, recently rescinded laws that criminalize public sleeping. Officials there said that individuals cited under the law would not show up to court, which led to criminal charges that made it even more difficult for that person to find housing and a job.

 

Loosening restrictions on homeless sleeping is often unpopular with the public. Business owners complain about homeless people deterring customers in downtown locations and city residents worry about the spread of diseases. This spring, voters in Denver overwhelmingly rejected a measure that would allow people to camp or sleep in their cars in public. Some politicians are seizing on this issue, promising to take steps that would remove the homeless from the streets by incarcerating them for minor crimes.

 

Do you think that cities should be able to ban sleeping on city streets? 

Deep Dive: Judiciary Committee Passes Impeachment Articles

The House Judiciary Committee passed two articles of impeachment against President Trump today. The votes were 23-17 for each article, strictly along partisan lines. Republican were unsuccessful in their attempts to amend the impeachment articles in committee. This approval now enables the full House of Representatives to consider impeachment. Debate and a vote will occur next week.

 

Impeachment is the bringing of charges against the president, vice president, or other “civil officials,” such as cabinet officers. Impeachment does not remove them from office, however. Instead, impeachment refers charges to the Senate, which then must vote to remove that person from office.

 

Impeachment and the Constitution

 

The Constitution establishes the impeachment and removal process, explaining it in a few key sections:

 

  • Article I, Section 2: The House of Representatives “shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.”

 

  • Article I, Section 3: “The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present. Judgment in Cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.”

 

  • Article II, Section 4: “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

 

The U.S. impeachment and removal process is similar to the process that existed in Britain during the writing of the Constitution. However, the British Parliament impeaches and removes officials in one action. The framers of the U.S. Constitution made impeachment and removal two separate processes, thus weakening the ability of the legislative branch to remove executive branch officials.

 

How Impeachment and Removal Works

 

The House Judiciary Committee begins the impeachment process. Its members consider articles of impeachment, with approval coming with a majority vote. If approved, these articles of impeachment move to the full House of Representatives for a vote. The House then debates and votes on these articles. If a majority approves them, then that person has been impeached.

 

The Senate then begins its role. With the Chief Justice of the U.S. presiding, the Senate conducts a trial. The House of Representatives appoints members to manage the case before the Senate, laying out the charges contained in the articles of impeachment. The Senate then votes, with a two-thirds vote being necessary to remove that person from office.

 

Impeachment and removal may be for a public official’s criminal act, but they are not criminal proceedings. The only penalty, as the Constitution stipulates, is removal from office. The underlying crimes can be prosecuted by civil authorities, however, which may result in criminal conviction and penalties after impeachment and removal from office.

 

The History of Impeachment

 

The House of Representatives has considered over 60 impeachment cases, but most have failed. There have only been 8 instances where individuals have been impeached and removed from office. Fifteen judges have been impeached, as have 2 presidents:

 

  • Andrew Johnson: The House passed 11 articles of impeachment against Andrew Johnson in 1868. The Senate came within one vote of removing him from office.

 

  • Bill Clinton: The House passed 2 articles of impeachment against Bill Clinton in 1998. The Senate vote to remove him from office failed.

 

In 1974, the House began the impeachment process against President Richard Nixon. The House Judiciary Committee approved 3 articles of impeachment against him, but Nixon resigned prior to a full House vote.

 

Federal Judge G. Thomas Porteous, Jr., was the last official impeached and removed from office. His impeachment and conviction occurred in 2010.

 

The Clinton Impeachment

 

The last presidential impeachment and trial took place over 20 years ago, when the House of Representatives impeached President Bill Clinton. If there are proceedings initiated against President Trump, it would likely follow the pattern set during these proceedings.

 

In 1998, Independent Counsel Ken Starr provided a report to Congress that contained evidence gathered in the course of his investigation into various allegations against President Clinton. The House Judiciary Committee passed four articles of impeachment. Two were for perjury, one was for obstruction of justice, and one was for abuse of power. The full House of Representatives passed two of those articles of impeachment, one for perjury and one for obstruction of justice, on December 19, 1998.

 

The House of Representatives appointed thirteen managers to present their case to the Senate, which began its trial on January 7, 1999. Chief Justice William Rehnquist presided. The trial lasted a month, with the Senate beginning closed-door deliberations on February 9. The Senate took a vote on February 13 on the articles of impeachment. The Senate defeated the perjury charge by a vote of 45-55 and the obstruction of justice charge by 50-50. Sixty-seven votes would have been necessary to convict the president and remove him from office.

 

While both the votes in the House and Senate were largely along party lines, there were members of Congress who broke with their party leadership on impeachment or conviction. Senator Arlen Specter, a Republican senator from Pennsylvania (who later became a Democrat), voted “not proved.” Many observers saw these proceedings as an example of partisanship on both sides. This is in contrast with the impeachment proceedings that had begun against President Nixon, where a bipartisan consensus was forming to impeach and remove him from office prior to his resignation.

 

What This Means for You

 

The House Rules Committee will consider the impeachment resolution on Tuesday. Once this committee votes in favor, then the full House of Representatives will debate the two articles of impeachment and take a vote. This vote is expected to occur on Wednesday. 

 

The House is likely to approve both articles of impeachment, with nearly all Democrats expected to vote in favor of them and no Republican expected to support them. However, it is unlikely that the Senate would follow suit, given Republican control of the chamber. The Senate will hold a trial, however. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will decide how that trial will be conducted and the timing of the trial. If the Senate would convict the president and remove him from office under this situation, then the vice president would assume office.

Second Amendment Sanctuary Cities Come to Virginia

Virginia legislators are gearing up to pass a number of new gun control bills starting January. While it is unclear exactly what will be proposed in the legislature, local officials are already fighting back. They are passing resolutions declaring their counties “Second Amendment sanctuaries,” saying that they want to stand up for gun rights in the face of unconstitutional laws.

 

Gun control legislation has stalled for years in the Virginia legislature. Democratic governors have pushed for a variety of bills to restrict the sale and ownership of firearms, but Republican legislative leaders have rejected these proposals. But last year, Democrats took control of the legislature. Many of the new members have vowed to enact gun bills, something that Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam supports.

 

This has prompted city and county governments across Virginia to pass resolutions declaring that they will support the Second Amendment and refuse to enforce what they see as unconstitutional gun laws. These resolutions are similar to what is being done by some local governments in other states in response to gun laws.

 

While a local government can express opposition to state gun laws, it has no authority to prevent such laws from being enforced within its jurisdiction. State law overrides local law. Law enforcement have a duty to enforce state law, although they do have discretion on how they conduct such enforcement.

 

While this movement echoes the label of the sanctuary policies that cities, counties, and states have declared regarding immigration, there is one key difference. Those policies affected local and state cooperation with federal immigration laws. The federal government has no power to compel these law enforcement entities to enforce federal law. States do have the power to compel local police and sheriffs to enforce state law.

 

Gov. Northam has been vague about what he will do in reaction to these sanctuary policies. There have been no new state gun control laws enacted, so it remains to be seen what will happen once these laws go into effect. Gov. Northam has said there could be repercussions for local law enforcement officials who do not comply with state law.

 

Do you think that local governments should declare they will not enforce state gun control laws they view as unconstitutional?

Judiciary Committee Debates Impeachment Articles

The testimony has been taken, and now it’s time for the House Judiciary Committee members to decide the fate of impeachment.

 

For only the fourth time in our nation’s history, the members of this committee will deliberate on whether they should recommend that the president of the U.S. be removed from office.

 

Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) has introduced House Resolution 755, which lays out two articles of impeachment against President Trump.

 

Article I contends that President Trump is guilty of abuse of power by holding up the release of foreign aid to Ukraine in exchange for an investigation of a political rival, Joe Biden. The resolution states:

 

In all of this, President Trump abused the powers of the Presidency by ignoring and injuring national security and other vital national interests to obtain an improper personal political benefit. He has also betrayed the Nation by abusing his high office to enlist a foreign power in corrupting democratic elections.

 

Wherefore President Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law. President Trump thus warrants impeachment and trial, removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.

 

Article II contends that President Trump has obstructed justice by directing White House officials to defy subpoenas and not cooperate with the Congressional impeachment investigation. The resolution states:

 

Through these actions, President Trump sought to arrogate to himself the right to determine the propriety, scope, and nature of an impeachment inquiry into his own conduct, as well as the unilateral prerogative to deny any and all information to the House of Representatives in the exercise of its “sole Power of Impeachment”. In the history of the Republic, no President has ever ordered the complete defiance of an impeachment inquiry or sought to obstruct and impede so comprehensively the ability of the House of Representatives to investigate “high Crimes and Misdemeanors”. This abuse of office served to cover up the President’s own repeated misconduct and to seize and control the power of impeachment—and thus to nullify a vital constitutional safeguard vested solely in the House of Representatives.

 

In all of this, President Trump has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as President and subversive of constitutional government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice, and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.

 

The impeachment resolution concludes with this call to remove the president from office:

 

Wherefore, President Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law. President Trump thus warrants impeachment and trial, removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.

 

Given the partisan makeup of the committee, it is nearly certain that the Judiciary Committee will pass this resolution. That will set up a vote on the House floor, which will likely occur next week. If the House passes one or both articles of impeachment, the Senate will then hold a trial to remove President Trump from office.

 

You can read more about the impeachment process in our Deep Dive here.

 

Do you think that President Trump abused his power in his actions regarding Ukrainian foreign aid and asking for an investigation of Hunter Biden? Do you think the president has obstructed justice by refusing to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry?

House Tackles Drug Prices This Week

There has long been a move to do something about the price of drugs. This week, the House of Representatives is considering legislation that its sponsors claim will help make pharmaceuticals more affordable.

 

The House will debate H.R. 3 this week. Here is how VoteSpotter describes the bill:

 

To permit the federal government to negotiate drug prices that the Medicare program will pay for certain drugs, such as insulin. The maximum price for such drugs could not exceed 120% of the average price of such drugs in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom, or 85% of the average manufacturers' price in the U.S. This set price would also be applicable to private insurance companies unless those companies opted out.

 

Allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices has long been a goal of liberal lawmakers and interest groups. They say that the federal government should be able to work with drug companies to bring down the price that Medicare pays for the drugs it covers. Not being able to do so, they claim, forces taxpayers to pay whatever price drug companies demand.

 

Opponents of this legislation point out that it is not about negotiating. They argue that the federal government is such a large player in the field of drug purchases that it will set rates, not negotiate them. They note that the legislation forbids paying prices above certain rates. This bill is about imposing price controls, not allowing negotiation. This, they argue, will lead to fewer drugs being developed in the U.S.

 

Given the Democratic control of the House of Representatives, this legislation is likely to pass. However, the chances for Senate consideration are slim.

 

Do you think the federal government should be able to negotiate the prices of drugs it covers through Medicare, and set a cap on prices it deems too high?

House Endorses Two-State Solution for Israel-Palestine Conflict

Since Israel became independent in 1948, there has been conflict about its existence. Last week, the House of Representatives passed a resolution calling for an independent Palestinian state in order to quell the latest round of violence in the region.

 

By a vote of 226-188, the House passed a House Resolution 326, a nonbinding measure that supports U.S. efforts to negotiate a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. The text of the resolution reads, in part:

 

Whereas the United States remains unwavering in its commitment to help Israel address the myriad challenges it faces, including terrorism, regional instability, horrifying violence in neighboring states, and hostile regimes that call for its destruction;

 

Whereas the United States has long sought a just, stable, and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that recognizes the Palestinian right to self-determination and offers Israel long-term security and full normalization with its neighbors;

 

It then concludes:

 

only the outcome of a two-state solution that enhances stability and security for Israel, Palestinians, and their neighbors can both ensure the state of Israel’s survival as a Jewish and democratic state and fulfill the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for a state of their own…

 

And a United States proposal to achieve a just, stable, and lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should expressly endorse a two-state solution as its objective and discourage steps by either side that would put a peaceful end to the conflict further out of reach, including unilateral annexation of territory or efforts to achieve Palestinian statehood status outside the framework of negotiations with Israel.

 

The idea of forming a separate Palestinian state out of Israel has long been a topic of discussion. Palestinians have demanded their own state, free from Israeli rule. However, Israel has demanded that Palestinians and other Arab states recognize Israel’s right to exist. Israel says it cannot cede any territory as long as its existence is threatened. Palestinians and many Arab leaders view Israel as an illegitimate nation that obtained its territory through theft of land.

 

Negotiations to end the violence that continues to plague this region are ongoing. 

 

Do you support creating a separate state for Palestinians? Should Arab nations and Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to exist in exchange for such a state?

Bloomberg Backs Federal Permits for Gun Owners

Michael Bloomberg has long championed gun control policies, both as a private citizen and as mayor of New York. Now that he’s running for the Democratic presidential nomination, he has unveiled a sweeping package of proposals that would enact a variety of new restrictions on gun purchases and ownership.

 

These are a few of the initiatives being proposed by Bloomberg:

  • Mandate a federal license prior to any individual purchasing a gun
  • Require every gun purchase complete a background check
  • Enact a federal “red flag” law that allows police to seize guns from individuals who are suspected of being a threat
  • Prohibit individuals from publishing plans for 3-D guns online
  • Raise the federal age to purchase guns to 21
  • Ban “assault weapons”
  • Enact a law that sets federal rules on how individuals store their guns
  • Increase funding for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms as well as funding for gun violence research
  • Mandate a 48-hour waiting period for gun purchases
  • Require gun owners to report if their guns are lost or stolen within 3 days
  • Repeal the federal law that restricts lawsuits against gun manufacturers

 

Many of these proposals are also backed by other candidates running for the Democratic nomination. However, Bloomberg has a long history of gun control advocacy. He has donated significant sums of money to organizations and candidates who has pushed this issue, and he’s making it a centerpiece of his campaign.

 

According to Bloomberg, these new federal restrictions are necessary to stem the tide of gun violence. He sees them as a way to reduce gun deaths and make our communities safer. Opponents, however, say that they will only infringe upon the rights of lawful gun owners. They also argue that many of these ideas infringe upon the Second Amendment.

 

Do you support requiring a federal license for someone who wants to purchase a gun? Should there be a 48-hour waiting period for gun purchases?

States Ask Supreme Court to Resume Federal Executions

A federal court order has put federal executions on hold. Now, fourteen states and the Trump Administration are urging the Supreme Court to lift this court order and allow four executions to proceed.

 

Last month, a federal judge temporarily stopped federal executions from occurring in order to let a legal challenge to lethal injection procedures be resolved. There has been ongoing controversy over the types of drugs used for lethal injections. Some states have had to switch their procedures in response to court cases.

 

Attorney General William Barr recently announced that the federal government would use a new drug for its executions. Inmates who had been sentenced to death said this violated the law. A federal judge has stopped executions in order to let the court battle over this legal question play out. This week, another federal court affirmed that order.

 

The Trump Administration wants to proceed with four executions. However, lawyers are arguing that federal law does not allow the Attorney General to mandate a uniform execution procedure. Instead, they say, the law requires that federal executions must follow the rules of the states in which they occur.

 

The states that filed the Supreme Court brief want the high court to intervene and allow executions to resume. They note that some of the states in which these executions were to occur follow the federal protocol. They also argue that they have an interest in seeing capital punishment sentences carried out.

 

The states who filed the brief are Arizona, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah.

 

It is unclear if the Supreme Court will take up this case and issue a definitive answer.

 

Do you support resuming federal executions?

Trump Administration Tightens Food Stamp Work Requirement

This week, Department of Agriculture officials announced a rule change that will make it more difficult for states to waive work requirements for able-bodied individuals on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

 

Under current law, food stamp recipients who are between 18 and 49 and who do not have a disability or dependents must work or be in work training programs for 20 hours a week. However, states have broad leeway to waive this requirement. The Trump Administration wants to reduce the criteria states can use to do this.

 

Officials justify this move as a way to spur food stamp recipients to find jobs if they are able to work. These officials point out that it does not affect people who are caring for children, the elderly, or those who have a disability. They argue that in today’s good economy, there are plenty of jobs for people who want them.

 

Opponents counter that this regulation will end vital food assistance to needy Americans. They say that it is a way to push people off a program that they need to feed their family. They also argue that it removes the flexibility of states to design a food stamp program that takes into account people who have sporadic work or are underemployed.

 

A similar measure failed in Congress when SNAP was reauthorized last year.

 

Do you support cutting off food stamps for able-bodied recipients who are not working?

New Energy Secretary Stresses Importance of Coal

Dan Brouillette, the new Energy Secretary, says that he has orders from the White House to find ways to help the U.S. coal industry.

 

President Trump campaigned on a pro-coal platform during his 2016 run for the White House. Since taking office, he has often talked about the importance of coal and has directed federal officials to find ways to increase coal use.

 

Secretary Brouillette has received orders from the White House to find different ways to utilize coal. It is unclear what the federal government can do to accomplish this. The Trump Administration had floated an initiative in the past that would essentially subsidize coal production and use, but this failed to gain traction.

 

The U.S. coal industry has been struggling in recent years due to a variety of factors. It is facing criticism from environmentalists due to coal’s carbon emissions, which experts link to climate change. Coal had long been the dominant source for generating electricity, but in recent years its use has been declining. Some of that is due to environmental concerns, but it is also being undercut by the increasing use of natural gas. Coal is more expensive to use than natural gas, so coal plants are shutting down as natural as plants are being built.

 

Supporters of coal, such as President Trump, hail its mining for creating good-paying jobs. They also say that it provides a source of reliable electricity, something that wind or solar cannot do. Critics argue that it’s time to move away from a dirty fuel source.

 

The Senate confirmed Brouillette to be Secretary of Energy by a 70-15 vote this week. He takes over from Rick Perry, who resigned earlier this year.

 

Do you think the U.S. government should take actions to boost the coal industry?

Supreme Court Hears Challenge to NY Gun Law

For 18 years, New York City prohibited licensed gun owners from transporting their guns to most places. Today, the Supreme Court is hearing a challenge to that law which claims it is an unconstitutional infringement upon the rights of gun owners.

 

Under question is the city ordinance that restricts licensed gun owners from taking their firearms to any places except specified shooting ranges within the city and to designated hunting areas in New York state. The plaintiffs in the case were barred from participating in a shooting competition in New Jersey and were also told they could not take their guns to another home in New York state. They are arguing that these restrictions are an infringement upon their constitutional rights.

 

New York city has since amended the law to allow wider transport of firearms. The Supreme Court justices could decide that since city legislators have acted, the case is moot. Or they could use this case as a way to recognize a wider individual right to carry a firearm.

 

This is the first major gun control case considered by the high court since 2010. There have been a handful of cases in the years prior to that which established an individual right to own a gun and said that neither the federal nor state governments could pass laws that prohibited gun ownership. However, the Supreme Court has yet to settle many legal issues over the numerous gun control laws that exist at the federal, state, and local level.

 

Supporters of this challenge would like to see the court create a clear rule that defines how people may travel with their guns. Opponents fear that the court could undo gun control laws that they contend are necessary for safety.

 

A ruling in this case, New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. City of New York, is expected in June 2020.

 

Do you think the Second Amendment protects the carrying of a gun outside the home?

Massachusetts Bans Flavored Tobacco, Vaping Products

Flavored tobacco and flavored nicotine vaping products will soon be illegal to sell for most businesses in Massachusetts. Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill into law this week that prohibits the sale of these items for all except a few locations.

 

Public health advocates praised the move, saying they would make these products less attractive to teenagers. There has been concern about vaping in recent months due to deaths caused by some vaping products, although these vaping deaths have been linked to black market vaping items, not legal products.

 

Opponents of this law argued that vaping products are an important way that smokers quit cigarettes. They say that by banning flavored products, it will lessen their attraction to smokers and lead more people to keep using tobacco. They also note that this will damage tobacco and vaping retailer in the state, since Massachusetts residents can go to other states to buy these products.

 

Under the legislation, licensed smoking bars and hookah lounges could still sell these products, but they must be used on-site. They bill also imposed a 75% tax on vaping products. The law goes into effect on June 1, 2020.

 

While some other states have implemented temporary bans on these items, Massachusetts is the first state in the nation to enact a ban on flavored nicotine products.

 

Do you support banning flavored tobacco and flavored vaping products?

Ohio Legislature Considers Death Penalty for Abortion Doctors

If Ohio Republicans have their way, abortion will soon be banned in Ohio.

 

A third of the House GOP caucus in the Buckeye State have cosponsored a bill that would impose a total ban on abortion in the state. Under the legislation, there would be two new crimes in the state: abortion murder and aggravated abortion murder. The penalty for these crimes could be the death penalty.

 

This legislation would go far beyond Ohio’s current abortion law, which restricts abortions after six weeks of viability. This legislation, also known as the fetal heartbeat bill, has been stopped from going into effect by a federal judge.

 

Some pro-life leaders in the state, as well as Gov. Mike DeWine, are slow to embrace a total abortion ban. They note that this legislation will certainly face legal challenge. Unless the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, the law would not be constitutional.

 

 Supporters of the bill say that the time has come for a legal challenge to Roe v. Wade, the decision that legalized abortion nationwide. They argue that this bill could be the vehicle under which the Supreme Court reverses precedent and allows states to once again have the authority to allow or ban abortion.

 

Do you support an abortion ban? Should doctors who perform abortions face the death penalty?

Gun Control on Colorado Legislative Agenda Next Year

This year, Colorado legislators passed a “red flag” gun law that allows police to seize firearms from individuals they see as threats. This was the first gun control bill passed in the state since 2013. Democratic legislators are vowing more gun bills next year.

 

The red flag legislation was controversial, leading to an unsuccessful recall campaign against its sponsor. But this has no deterred the Democrats who control the Colorado legislature from exploring more gun control bills for next year’s legislative session.

 

Among the bills being considered:

  • Mandating that businesses safely store firearms after business hours
  • Requiring individual gun owners to safely store their firearms
  • Make it a crime for gun owners to fail to report if their firearms have been stolen

 

Other states have adopted similar bills, but such proposals have been a tough sell in Colorado. The state, while trending Democratic recently, has a large rural population.

 

Supporters of these measures say that they are necessary to prevent gun violence and accidents. They say that law-abiding gun owners have nothing to fear from them. Opponents, however, see these bills as government infringing on their constitutional rights. They also note that criminals are unlikely to comply with the law, so the only people affected are law-abiding gun owners.

 

Do you support the government mandating how businesses and individuals store guns? Should gun owners be required to report when their guns are stolen?

Schumer Wants to Mandate that Airlines Sit Families Together

Senate Minority Leader has an idea that he thinks will improve travel, especially during the holiday season. He’s written a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao asking her department to issue a rule forcing airlines to sit families together.

 

Under Schumer’s proposal, airlines must seat a child who is 13-years-old or younger next to an older family member. He notes that Congress passed legislation last year that called on the Department of Transportation to consider such a regulation. He argues that there have been instances where families have been separated on flights when children had health issues.

 

The Department of Transportation pushed back against this proposal, noting that very few complaints come into the agency about families not being seated together. A spokesman for the department also noted that the federal legislation that mentioned a family seating regulation only said the agency should issue such a rule if it was appropriate. There is no indication that the Department of Transportation is looking at this type of regulation.

 

Do you think the federal government should mandate that airlines must seat families together on flights?

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