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Senate Fails to Overturn Cap on State and Local Tax Deductions

As part of the Trump tax cut bill, many taxpayers got a tax cut. Some, however, saw their tax deductions limited. This was especially true for high-income taxpayers, who saw a cap on their ability to deduct state and local taxes. A move in the Senate to allow states to do an end-run around this cap was defeated this week.

 

Prior to the Trump tax cuts, 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. 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 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. On Wednesday, 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.

 

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

Sen. Graham Plans Resolution to Condemn Impeachment

The impeachment drama is currently centered in the House of Representatives. But now Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) wants the Senate to get involved. He said today that he plans to introduce a resolution that would condemn the Houses proceedings. If passed, this resolution would signal that there would be a slim chance that the Senate would remove President Trump from office if the House impeaches him.

 

Many Republicans, including the president, are condemning the way the House of Representatives is conducting the impeachment inquiry. Some members of the House GOP caucus stormed the secure room where the House Intelligence Committee is taking depositions in this matter. They claim that the proceedings should be open to the public. House Democrats push back, noting that the Republican House majority took depositions in secret during the 1998 impeachment of President Bill Clinton.

 

President Trump has compared the impeachment inquiry to a lynching, saying that he is being treated unfairly. Senator Lindsey Graham agrees. He said that he will introduce a resolution that would condemn the House’s efforts in this matter. The resolution would not be binding. If the Senate passes it, however, it would indicate that a majority of senators may not be open to removing the president from office if the House impeaches him.

 

As discussed in this VoteSpotter Deep Dive, the House Judiciary Committee will meet – in public session – to consider articles of impeachment. If approved by the committee, the full House will vote on these articles. They can be passed by a majority vote, which then leads to a trial in the Senate. To remove the president from office, the two-thirds of the Senate must approve.

 

Do you think the Senate should condemn the House’s impeachment inquiry?

Gerrymandering Reform Gets a Hearing in North Carolina

Recent years have seen bitter legislative and court battles over North Carolina’s congressional and legislative districts. With another legal case looming, a legislative committee is considering three bills that would overhaul the way the state draws election districts.

 

Under two of the bills being heard this week, the state would establish independent commissions that would draw the lines of legislative and congressional districts. Another bill would empower legislative staff to draw these districts. Under each bill being considered, however, the criteria being used is aimed at making it more difficult to shape districts so they favor one party over another.

 

The bills accomplish this goal in a few ways. They require that there not be any large discrepancies in the population of districts, that the land areas of the districts be contiguous, and that political affiliation of voters in the districts not be considered. These would prevent oddly-shaped districts that link together voters of a certain political party from being designed.

 

Currently, legislators approve congressional and legislative districts. This had led to the charge that Republicans have gerrymandered the districts to cement their hold on political power. Democrats and minority voters complain that these districts disenfranchise them by diluting their voting power. These arguments have won over some judges, who have invalidated the legislatively-drawn districts as being unconstitutional.

 

The legislation under consideration in the legislature this week is bipartisan. It copies procedures used in other states that are aimed at minimizing gerrymandering attempts.

 

Do you support independent commissions designing congressional and legislative districts in order to cut down on gerrymandering?

House Kills Attempt to Censure Intelligence Committee Chair Schiff

President Trump has made it clear that he is no fan of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA). House Republicans yesterday attempted to censure Rep. Schiff based on complaints made by the president and others, but the Democratic majority thwarted a vote.

 

As the chairman of the oversight committee with jurisdiction regarding the president’s controversial Ukraine call, Rep. Schiff is playing a key role in the impeachment inquiry against President Trump. During that hearing, Rep. Schiff presented a version of the call that he said was satirical, but the president and House Republicans say was a lie.

 

That call leads off the complaints in House Resolution 647, introduced by Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), which calls for the body to censure Rep. Schiff:

 

Whereas, in a September 26, 2019, hearing on the whistleblower complaint, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff purported to relay the content of the phone call to the American people;

 

Whereas, instead of quoting directly from the available transcript, Chairman Schiff manufactured a false retelling of the conversation between President Trump and President Zelensky;

 

Whereas this egregiously false and fabricated retelling had no relationship to the call itself;

 

The impeachment resolution goes lays out other complaints against Rep. Schiff:

 

Whereas, on March 20, 2017, then-Ranking Member Schiff read out false allegations from the Steele dossier accusing numerous Trump associates of colluding with Russia;

 

Whereas then-Ranking Member Schiff falsely claimed in a March 2017 interview to have “more than circumstantial evidence” of collusion with Russia;

 

Whereas then-Ranking Member Schiff negotiated with Russian comedians whom he believed to be Ukrainian officials to obtain materials to damage the President of the United States politically;

 

If passed, this resolution would require the censured member to stand in the well of the House for a public rebuke by the entire membership. However, the House voted 218-185 to table, or kill, this resolution. This was a party-line vote, with all the Democrats and independent Rep. Justin Amash voting in favor of killing the censure resolution and all the Republicans voting in favor of it.

 

Do you think that the House of Representatives should have censured Rep. Adam Schiff for his actions against President Trump?

 

 

House, Senate Hold Hearings on Syria & Turkey

President Trump’s decision to remove U.S. troops from norther Syria has sparked outrage across the political spectrum. Now both the House and Senate are set to hold hearings into the president’s actions and the resulting Turkish military incursions in the area.

 

Earlier this month, President Trump removed a small force of American troops that were stationed in northern Syria. He said that America should not be involved in endless foreign wars. Critics, however, said that this would result in Turkish attacks on America’s Kurdish allies in the region. President Trump sent a letter to the Turkish president warning him not to attack the Kurds, but the Turkish military began operations in that area after the U.S. military left.

 

Both Republicans and Democrats criticized the move. They said that this was a betrayal of long-time allies, the Kurds. They noted that this is what Turkey wants, and that President Trump has business interests in that nation. In addition, they said it would strengthen Russian influence in the Middle East.

 

This week there will be three hearings in both chambers of Congress that will allow members of Congress to focus their anger at this action. In the House, the Foreign Affairs Committee will hold a hearing entitled, “The Betrayal of our Syrian Kurdish Partners: How Will American Foreign Policy and Leadership Recover?” The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, headed by Republicans, will focus its hearing on the Turkish offensive that came after U.S. troops left. A Senate appropriations subcommittee will also hold a hearing on U.S. foreign policy towards Syria.

 

It is unclear what actions Congress could take in response to President Trump’s actions. More answers may emerge after the hearings this week.

 

Do you support removing U.S. troops from northern Syria?

VoteSpotter Deep Dive: Treason

Talk of “treason” is in the air. President Donald Trump has floated the idea that Rep. Adam Schiff committed treason for allegedly misrepresenting the details of the president’s call with the Ukrainian prime minister. Many people, including a former CIA director, have questioned or outright suggested that president Trump has committed treason for a variety of things, including his ties to Vladimir Putin.

 

While these calls of treason are mainly motivated by political differences, there is a defined federal crime of treason. In this Deep Dive, we’ll take a look at how treason is defined, who has been tried for treason, and what, if anything, could come from today’s accusations of treason.

 

Treason Defined

 

Treason is the only federal crime that is defined by the Constitution. In Article III, Section 3, the Constitution says:

 

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.

 

The Congress shall have power to declare the punishment of treason, but no attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood, or forfeiture except during the life of the person attainted.

 

While the Constitution gives Congress the power to punish treason, it limits how Congress can define it. This limitation can be seen in the U.S. Code (18 U.S. Code § 2381), which takes the constitutional definition of treason, adds some details, then imposes a punishment:

 

Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

 

The legal definition of treason is very narrow. It is limited to circumstances where the U.S. is at war with another nation or has clearly defined enemies. It specifically excludes factors such as disagreeing with the president or having foreign policy views that are friendly towards another nation.

 

Treason Trials

 

Because of the high bar to convict someone of treason, there have been few trials involving this charge throughout U.S. history. Only 17 individuals have been convicted of treason.

 

Perhaps the most famous person convicted of treason was John Brown, the man who led an 1859 slave revolt in Virginia. The most recent convictions for treason came during the World War II era. U.S. citizens who had assisted the Nazis or Japanese during this time, including one soldier who defected to Germany, were convicted of treason and imprisoned. Many of these individuals were later pardoned.

 

There has been one treason trial for a political figure in the United States, but it was unrelated to his official actions in office. Vice President Aaron Burr was tried for treason in 1807, two years after he let office. President Thomas Jefferson had pressed for Burr to be charged with treason for his alleged role in a scheme to form a new nation in the western United States. However, prosecutors at his trial failed to produce the witnesses to the alleged crime as required by the Constitution so the presiding judge acquitted Burr.

 

In recent years, there have been treason charges during the military actions in the Middle East. A federal court in California charged Adam Yahiye Gadahn with treason in 2006. He was the English-language spokesman for Al-Qaeda. However, Gadahn was never arrested or brought to trial. Instead, the U.S. government killed him during a 2015 drone strike.

 

Treason Today

 

Talk of treason has been revived in discussions over the actions of the president and his critics.

 

On September 30, President Trump tweeted, “Rep. Adam Schiff illegally made up a FAKE & terrible statement, pretended it to be mine as the most important part of my call to the Ukrainian President, and read it aloud to Congress and the American people. It bore NO relationship to what I said on the call. Arrest for Treason?”

 

This has reignited an examination of what constitutes treason, but it is far from the only time that this charge has been brought up during the Trump Administration. The president has claimed that other individuals opposing him were committing treason, and observers have also levied the same charge against him.

 

In late September, Trump’s rival for the GOP presidential nomination in 2020, former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld, suggested that Trump had committed treason. Weld said, “Talk about pressuring a foreign country to interfere with and control a U.S. election. That's not just undermining democratic institutions. That is treason. It's treason pure and simple, and the penalty for treason under the U.S. code is death. That’s the only penalty.”

 

In 2018, former CIA Director John Brennan said, “Donald Trump's press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of 'high crimes & misdemeanors. It was nothing short of treasonous.”

 

While people can make claims about treasonable activities, as seen above it is very hard to make a case that such activities meet the definition of “treason” under the U.S. Code. Ultimately it is up to attorneys working for the federal Justice Department to determine whether or not to bring charges of treason against someone. There is little chance they will do so for any of the actions in the Trump Administration or Congress that have been described as being treasonous.

 

 

 

Attorney General Barr Blasts “Militant Secularists”

Attorney General Bill Barr sees the “traditional moral order” of the U.S. as faltering. And he knows who is to blame: secularists.

 

In a speech last week to Notre Dame Law School, the attorney general laid out a vision of religious Americans as under attack by organized anti-religious forces. According to Barr, there is an organized effort to harm the Judeo-Christian religious tradition in the U.S:

 

This is not decay. It is organized destruction. Secularists, and their allies among the “progressives,” have marshaled all the force of mass communications, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values.

 

Barr listed a host of ills that he said were a result of the move away from religion:

 

the wreckage of the family … record levels of depression and mental illness, dispirited young people, soaring suicide rates, increasing numbers of angry and alienated young males, an increase in senseless violence and a deadly drug epidemic…

 

Many have criticized the attorney general’s remarks for fostering division. They say that he is making up a conspiracy against religion in order to find a scapegoat for societal problems. Some also accuse him of trying to shore up Christian voters for President Trump during a growing impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives.

 

However, Attorney General Barr also has his defenders. Conservatives and some Christian leaders have praised him for speaking up for what they see as beleaguered Christians. They argue that government officials, those in the media, and the entertainment industry is hostile to Americans of faith, so it is good to see the attorney general pushing back against this trend.

 

Do you agree with Attorney General Barr that America’s Judeo-Christian heritage is under attack?

Trump Vetoes Attempt to Overturn Border Wall Emergency

Congress wants to end President Trump’s emergency declaration on the U.S-Mexican border wall. But President Trump is fighting back with a veto of a resolution that would terminate his declaration.

 

In February, President Trump declared a national emergency regarding the situation at the border between the U.S. and Mexico. His declaration freed up money that Congress had appropriated for other sources in order to build a border wall, something that Congress had explicitly refused to fund.

 

Under the terms of the national emergency law (something explained in this VoteSpotter Deep Dive), Congress can vote every six months to terminate that declaration. Congress voted to do so in the spring, and it recently did so again. But this termination resolution is subject to the president’s veto. President Trump vetoed the resolution in the spring, and he vetoed the latest resolution yesterday.

 

There were not enough votes to override the first veto, and there are unlikely to be enough to override this one. That means that, as far as Congress is concerned, there is no way to stop the border wall construction from occurring. However, the president’s plans have recently suffered a setback in the courts. Local officials in Texas sued to stop construction, and a federal judge sided with them. This ruling does not affect the entire length of the border wall, however, and it is likely to be appealed by the Trump Administration.

 

Do you support congressional and legal efforts to stop President Trump’s emergency declaration to build a border wall?

Newsom Signs California Gun Control Bills into Law

There has been a national push by some for Congress to enact new restrictions on gun possession and sales. This national gun violence strategy has not worked for these activists, but they are enjoying success at the state level. This week California Governor Gavin Newsom signed two bills into law that achieve key goals of gun control advocates.

 

In one of the bills signed by Gov. Newsom, Californians would be restricted to buying only one long gun a month. This is an expansion of current California law that limits the purchases of handguns to one a month. Advocates say that this helps stop traffickers from buying multiple guns to re-sell illegally. Opponents view this as merely another restriction on law-abiding gun owners which does little or nothing to stop the illegal sale of firearms.

 

So-called “red flag” protective orders are the subject of the other bill that Gov. Newsom signed. This legislation would allow coworkers, business employees, and school faculty to ask a court to issue an order removing guns from someone that these individuals think may pose a threat to himself or the community. This is an expansion of the current law that allows family members to petition courts to do this. Those in favor of this bill argue that it gives law enforcement a vital tool to stop shootings before they occur. Opponents say that this removes someone’s right to bear arms without due process of law.

 

These are two successes for the gun control movement, something that has eluded these advocates at a national level. Congress has so far resisted calls to pass new legislation that enacts more federal laws restricting gun sales or possession.

 

Do you think that people should only be able to purchase one gun a month? Should co-workers or teachers be able to petition courts to remove guns from someone they think may be a threat?

California Bans Fur Sales

Governor Gavin Newsom of California has signed a first-in-the-nation bill that outlaws the sale of fur products across the state, beginning in 2023.

 

AB 44 prohibits the sale or trade of any fur product in California or the manufacture of fur products in the state. Leather goods and taxidermy are exempt from the ban.

 

Advocates for this prohibition argue that raising animals for fur is cruel. They say that the sale of fur products perpetuates this cruelty, and that this law is a good way to end this type of animal mistreatment. Opponents argued that this will put California businesses at a disadvantage, since fur sales are still legal both in the U.S. and around the world.

 

No other state has a similar ban on the sale or manufacture of fur products. Advocates for this ban say that they will try to convince legislators across the nation to enact this type of law now that California has done so.

 

Should states ban the sale or manufacture of fur products?

House May Hold Vote on Impeachment Inquiry

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has made it very clear that the House of Representatives is in the midst of an impeachment inquiry. The full House, however, has never voted to open such an inquiry, something that President Trump says makes it illegitimate. Speaker Pelosi disagrees, but some House Democrats are pushing for a vote to ensure that they are on solid legal ground.

 

During the impeachment proceedings against Presidents Nixon and Clinton, the full House of Representatives voted to begin an inquiry that led to the House Judiciary Committee considering articles of impeachment. However, as Speaker Pelosi points out, there is nothing in the Constitution or House rules that requires such a vote.

 

Some critics say that a vote is necessary nonetheless. This is a view that is prominently argued by the White House counsel’s office. No judges have ruled yet on this question, but it will likely be considered as the House issues subpoenas that the White House resists. Some judges in the early stages of such proceedings have said that a vote to open an impeachment inquiry would clarify matters.

 

With a majority of the House of Representatives on the record as favoring impeachment, such a vote should easily pass. Those who want one argue that it would deprive impeachment opponents or their objection that the proceedings are invalid. However, Speaker Pelosi and her allies say she is standing up for the integrity of the legislative branch by resisting calls from the other branches of government to hold such a vote. They note that the House determines its procedures, not the president or judges.

 

There is also a political consideration. With some Democratic House members representing districts that Donald Trump carried in 2016, a formal vote on impeachment could endanger their re-election chances.

 

The House is currently in recess for two weeks. It remains to be seen if members will persuade the Speaker to hold a vote, and what a refusal to do so will mean for the legal cases regarding impeachment-related subpoenas.

 

To read more about impeachment, check out VoteSpotter’s Deep Dive.

 

Do you think the House should hold a formal vote on opening an impeachment inquiry?

Warren Lays Out Gay & Transgender Rights Plan

This week the Supreme Court heard arguments over whether federal law bars discrimination against homosexual and transgender Americans. Today, Sen. Elizabeth Warren outlined a plan focusing on gay, lesbian, and transgender rights.

 

Under Sen. Warren's plan, the federal government would expand its efforts on behalf of gay and transgender individuals in these ways:

  • Pass a federal law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity
  • Bar religious freedom laws from being used as a legal defense for individuals or businesses to refuse services to those who are gay or transgender
  • Prohibit the Transportation Security Administration from singling out transgender individuals
  • Require that federal contractors do not discriminate against gay or transgender workers
  • Direct the federal government to seek out anti-gay and transgender discrimination by business owners and employers
  • Enact a federal law that prohibits conversion therapy
  • Mandate that school districts adopt anti-bulling policies that include a focus on gay and transgender bullying
  • Provide federal funding for police departments to identify implicit anti-gay bias
  • End the requirement that federal prisons assign prisoners based on their birth sex

 

In her statement outlining the plan, Sen. Warren takes direct aim at President Trump. Many of the items in her proposal are direct responses to what she says are Trump Administration rollbacks of protections for gay, lesbian, and transgender Americans.

 

Do you support a federal law banning gay conversion therapy? Should the federal government seek out anti-gay and anti-transgender discrimination by business owners and employers instead of relying on reports of such discrimination?

“Right to a Safe Climate” Suit Heads to Alaska High Court

The justices of the Alaskan Supreme Court will soon be hearing a case that poses a unique question – is the state’s promotion of fossil fuels responsible for hurting young Alaskans’ right to a safe climate?

 

The young plaintiffs filing this lawsuit contend that the climate is something that should be held in the public trust like wildlife or air. The state, they say, is harming this climate by promoting the use of fossil fuels. Alaska has a large petroleum industry as well as a state law that calls on the state to support using fossil fuels. Under the lawsuit, the plaintiffs are seeking to have this state fossil fuel law overruled and to require the state to come up with a climate change recovery plan.

 

The basis of the suit is the allegation that the use of fossil fuels by Alaska is causing climate change that will, within the lifetime of young Alaskans, cause irreparable harm. Some of the Alaskans filing the suit are natives whose villages have suffered from rising sea levels.

 

Those opposing the suit argue that the courts are not the place to resolve questions of climate change. Instead, they say, this is best left to scientists to determine what is causing this change and what could be done to mitigate it. Then legislators, not judges, should decide what steps should be taken.

 

Similar lawsuits have been thrown out by Alaska courts in the past, but this one has survived legal scrutiny so far. The state Supreme Court will hear arguments on October 9, then render a decision if this case can go to trial.

 

Do you support lawsuits over climate change?

Supreme Court Considers if Anti-Discrimination Law Protects Gay & Transgender Rights

Today the Supreme Court is hearing a case that could have far-reaching consequences for the scope of federal anti-discrimination laws.

 

Gay and transgender individuals are suing over what they deem as illegal firings, arguing that a 1964 federal law protects them from discrimination. Opponents counter that they are stretching the wording of this law beyond what the authors intended.

 

At question is the wording of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that banned workplace discrimination “because of sex.” Traditionally this law has been held to mean that men and women could not be treated differently in the workplace. However, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission and some federal judges have held that this law does indeed cover gay and transgender Americans.

 

The rationale behind this new way of viewing the law is that it is discriminatory to treat men who are attracted to men differently than men who are attracted to women. Under this way of viewing the law, if an employer would not discriminate against a woman who is attracted to a man, then the employer should not discriminate against a man who is attracted to a man.

 

Those who oppose this line of reasoning counter that the law is clear – it was designed to prohibit employers from treating men and women differently. They note that there has been legislation introduced to amend the 1964 law to include sexual orientation, but Congress has not acted upon it. Some states also have anti-discrimination laws that cover sexual orientation and gender identity.

 

The high court will likely issue a decision on this case in June 2020.

 

Do you think that federal anti-discrimination law should cover sexual orientation or gender identity?

Sanders Wants Strict Limit on Political Donations

It’s no secret that Sen. Bernie Sanders is not a fan of corporations. Now he’s targeting what he calls “corporate money” in politics in his quest for the Democratic presidential nomination.

 

Today Sen. Sanders announced a plan to, in his words, “get corporate money out of politics.” Among other things, his proposal would:

  • Ban corporations from donating to presidential inauguration events and cap individual donations to these events at $500.
  • Push for a constitutional amendment to overturn the Citizens United Supreme Court decision and enable Congress to pass legislation mandating that advocacy organizations report their donors to the government.
  • Create the Federal Elections Agency, which would be empowered to levy criminal fines for campaign finance violations and be staffed by members that serve 6-year terms.
  • Mandate government financing for federal elections.
  • Create government-funded vouchers that would be provided to individuals in order to make campaign donations.
  • Prohibit ads during presidential primary debates.
  • Ban former members of Congress and administration officials from ever lobbying.

 

Sen. Sanders would also prohibit the Democratic National Convention from receiving corporate donations.

 

According to Sen. Sanders, corporations have too much influence over politicians, so his plan would curtail that influence. He says it is necessary to reduce the power of corporations to write laws that benefit themselves and not the people. Opponents counter that his plan would be a massive government expansion over individuals who want to have their voices heard in the political process. They argue that his plan would put more government control over politics, something that will only help incumbents.

 

Other candidates for the Democratic nomination have suggested similar ideas for campaign finance reform, but none have been as comprehensive or as restrictive as the plan outlined by Sen. Sanders.

 

Do you think that the Constitution should be amended to overturn Citizens United? Should there be government-funded vouchers given to individuals so they can make campaign donations?

 

Trump Administration Expands Ethanol Mandate

Today the Trump Administration took steps to shore up support among corn farmers – it announced a package of changes to the federal biofuels mandate that will increase the use of ethanol.

 

Under the new rules announced today, the Environmental Protection Agency will require that oil refiners use a higher mix of biofuels. By next year this will require 15 billion more galls of biofuels to be used than the law creating the renewable fuel standard mandated.

 

During the administration of George W. Bush, Congress passed legislation creating a mandate that refiners must use a certain amount of biofuel. This is known as the renewable fuel standard, and is an area of contention between farmers and refiners and others who oppose ethanol.

 

Farmers support a stricter biofuel mandate because it leads to a larger market for corn. Refiners oppose it because they are forced to mix biofuel with traditional petroleum fuel, a practice they claim causes economic losses. Many consumer groups also oppose the use of biofuel like ethanol, arguing that it ruins engines and leads to lower fuel mileage.

 

The Trump Administration has generally been friendly towards the ethanol industry. Earlier this year it relaxed restrictions on the sale of fuel that contains a blend of 15% ethanol, or E15. That level of ethanol in the fuel represents an increase from the 10% ethanol fuel blends being sold.

 

Many farmers have been upset with the Trump Administration’s trade war, which has led to a loss of markets for some of their crops. They praised this move on biofuels as a way to help boost the farm economy. The petroleum industry blasted it, however, saying that it will lead to a loss of jobs in refineries.

 

Do you support the government mandating the use of more ethanol and biofuels?

Federal Judge OKs Philadelphia Safe Injection Site

In an attempt to stem opioid overdoses, cities around the county are considering allowing nonprofits to open “safe injection sites” – places where people can use opioids under the supervision of trained professionals. The Justice Department says this would violate federal law, but today a judge disagreed.

 

According to some public health experts, opioid overdoses and other problems that come with the use of these illegal drugs could be curtailed through the use of safe injection sites. These are areas where users take their drugs to be tested to ensure that there are no lethal additives in them and then inject the drugs under the supervision of personnel to prevent overdoses. These sites usually have substances such as naloxone to revive users if they overdose. There are no such sites in the U.S., but they exist in Canada and Europe where they are credited with saving lives.

 

Supporters of these sites contend that they are a way to save lives by removing much of the danger that comes from opioid use. They note that they have worked in other countries, so they should be able to be opened in the U.S. Opponents counter that these sites will simply increase drug use by making it more attractive.

 

A nonprofit in Philadelphia sought city permission to open such a facility. The Justice Department sued to prevent this, citing a 1986 drug law. Today a federal judge ruled that the law does not address safe injection sites, so the city could proceed in approving the nonprofit’s request.

 

The Justice Department can appeal this decision.

 

Do you support safe injection sites for opioid users in order to reduce overdoses and other problems? Or do these places encourage more drug use?

Judge Blocks Law Mandating Release of Candidates’ Tax Returns

A federal judge has put a stop, at least for now, to California’s attempt to force President Trump and other candidates for office in that state to release their tax returns.

 

A district judge in the state has issued an injunction to stop the law from taking effect until its legal merits can be decided. He said that the law is likely unconstitutional and that allowing it to proceed would harm candidates in the 2020 election.

 

Earlier this year California passed a law mandating that candidates seeking a spot on the state’s ballot must disclose their tax returns for the past 5 years. This came in response to the refusal of then-candidate Donald Trump to release his tax returns. Such a disclosure is not mandated by law, but has been customary for decades.

 

California officials argue that the law is necessary so voters can see if candidates have conflicts of interest that may impair their judgment in office. They say that candidates should be willing to subject their financial details to public scrutiny. Lawyers challenging the law contend that it is unconstitutional. They note that the Constitution sets a few requirements for president and that states cannot add to them.

 

The federal judge seems to agree with the latter argument. However, his action was not a final determination of the law’s constitutionality; instead, the court case against the law will continue but the law can only go into effect if it is ultimately found to be constitutional.

 

Do you think that states should be able to force candidates to release their tax returns?

Court Upholds FCC’s Net Neutrality Repeal

A federal court refused to reinstate federal net neutrality rules. In a decision handed down today, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals said that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) did not break the law when it repealed Obama-era net neutrality regulations.

 

At issue is the December 2017 vote by the FCC to repeal regulations that classified the services of Internet providers as a public utility. The result of the regulations was to force providers not to discriminate in pricing, content, and the management of the network. The FCC put these rules in place in 2015 to the dismay of service providers. However, companies such as Google and Netflix had lobbied for them.

 

The 2017 vote did 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 did lessen the ability of the government to set rules proactively that constrain Internet service providers.

 

Proponents of net neutrality rules took the FCC to court, arguing that this repeal was unlawful. The circuit court rejected this argument, but did bar the FCC from prohibiting states from passing similar laws.  

 

In April, the House of Representatives voted 232-190 in favor of HR 1644, a bill that would reinstate net neutrality rules. The Senate has not taken action on the bill.

 

Do you favor re-instating net neutrality rules? Should Internet service providers be regulated as public utilities?

 

California Will Let College Athletes Get Paid

 

Some student athletes bring in big money to the colleges for which they play. Now California is on the verge of letting them benefit financially from their athletic prowess.

 

Under a bill signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, college athletes could receive compensation through endorsement deals, sponsorships, or autograph signings. Schools are not forced to share their sports income with these athletes, but they could no longer punish them for independent deals. However, students would be prohibited from signing a deal that conflicts with any contract signed by their schools.

 

The National College Athletics Association (NCAA) has long fought any attempts to give compensation to college athletes. Its stance is that these are amateur athletes, and compensation destroys that status. The organization specifically objects to the California statute, saying that it will give an unfair advantage to schools in that state when it comes to athlete recruitment. According to the NCAA, top high school athletes will want to go to California over other states since they can strike compensation deals there.

 

Many former student athletes have been pushing for changes to the system that bars college athletes from sharing in the money that their activity generates. They note that some sports are huge revenue generator for schools, but that the athletes playing the games do not share in the revenue. They say it is only fair for athletes to be able to make money off of their skills.

 

The new legislation will go into effect in 2023.

 

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