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House Votes to Remove Wolves from Endangered Species List

The House of Representatives waded into the debate over endangered species during the current lame duck session. By approving legislation to end the endangered status of gray wolves, members of the House took a step that was cheered by many ranchers but panned by environmental activists.


While they were once declining, gray wolf populations in the United States have been growing in recent decades. In some areas of the country, such as Idaho and Montana, wolf populations have reached a point where they have been taken off the endangered species list, a process called “de-listing.” In the Great Lakes region, a judge halted a 2011 Interior Department regulation to de-list the wolf population.


By a vote of 196-180, the House approved H.R. 6784, the Manage our Wolves Act. One section would remove the gray wolf population in Wyoming and the Great Lakes from protections under the Endangered Species Act. Another section would dictate that no gray wolves in the lower 48 states would be considered endangered. Mexican wolves are not covered under this legislation and would still have protected status.


If an animal is listed as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act, there are numerous restrictions on what humans can do to the animals. In the case of wolves, these restrictions led to many conflicts with landowners, especially in the west. Ranchers were especially concerned about wolves killing their livestock. Supporters of removing the wolves’ endangered status say that this will allow states to design plans that will both protect wolves but also take into account landowners’ concerns. Opponents of this legislation argue that wolves play a vital role in ecosystem management, and their numbers show that they still deserve federal protection.


This legislation now moves to the Senate. Given the short time before the lame duck session ends, it is unlikely that this body will approve it before adjourning.


Do you support removing wolves from the endangered species list?

States Use Big Subsidies to Lure Amazon

The long wait to see where Amazon’s new headquarters will be located is over. In a surprise move, the company announced that it was opening up two new headquarters – one in New York and one in Virginia. It also will open a call center in Tennessee. While state and local leaders cheer these developments, some critics question the size of subsidies that taxpayers will provide to Amazon.


Across the nation, state and local leaders had put together subsidy packages to lure Amazon to their areas. Amazon evaluated these packages and other amenities before making its decision, which it announced earlier this week. It chose a site in Long Island, New York, as well as northern Virginia for its two new headquarter locations. Somewhat unexpectedly, it also announced that it would locate a new operations center in Nashville, Tennessee.


Here are the subsidy packages these governments promised to Amazon:


New York

  • $1.5 billion in direct payments to Amazon on the condition the company creates 25,000 jobs
  • Additional payments to the company if it creates more than 25,000 jobs



  • $573 million in direct payments to Amazon on the condition the company creates 25,000 jobs
  • $233 million for transportation infrastructure improvements, including upgrades to two metro stations
  • Additional payments to the company if it creates more than 25,000 jobs



  • $102 million in payments for a new operations center that Amazon says will create 5,000 jobs


New York’s subsidies for job creation will come in the form of tax credits to Amazon, which equal $48,000 per job. Virginia will provide direct cash grants worth $22,000 per job.


Supporters of these subsidies argue that they are a vital part of growing an area’s job base. They say that if governments did not offer these incentives, then companies would locate elsewhere. Opponents counter that governments should not tax citizens and businesses to then give that money to a for-profit company. They point out that every dollar given to a company like Amazon is a dollar that cannot be spent on schools, roads, or other public services.


While taxpayers in New York, Virginia, and Tennessee will be providing a significant amount of money to Amazon, other states offered even larger incentive packages. Maryland, for instance, put together a subsidy plan that was worth $8.5 billion. New Jersey offered $7 billion in subsidies.


Legislators in the three states must now approve these incentives to Amazon. While there are some lawmakers who have vowed to fight the subsidies, it is generally expected that the packages will see quick approval.


Do you support states providing subsidies to lure Amazon? Should New York taxpayers provide $48,000 to Amazon for every job it creates in the state?

Kochs Pushing Dreamer Deal

Dreamers may find their immigration woes settled during this lame duck session of Congress. At least, that is what groups affiliated with the libertarian Koch brothers want to see happen before Congress adjourns for the year.


One of the big issues being considered by Congress during this lame duck session is funding the federal government through the end of this fiscal year. The Koch Network, a network of organizations funded by the billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, is urging that Congress pair any funding for border security with a resolution of the status of Dreamers. The Dreamers are children who were brought to the U.S. illegally. Under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) issued by President Obama, these individuals would be able to avoid deportation under certain circumstances, such as serving in the military or attending college.


While President Trump rescinded DACA, saying that President Obama did not have the authority to issue such an order, he has called on Congress to pass legislation that would settle the fate of Dreamers. There have been bipartisan efforts to do this, but no final bill has yet emerged.


The Koch brothers have long supported immigration reform and actions to let Dreamers stay in the U.S. This stance has often put them at odds with conservative Republicans who agree with them on other issues.


Those pushing for a Dreamer solution during the lame duck point out a recent court decision that said President Trump’s action to overturn DACA was invalid. They say that it is up to Congress to act on this issue, and the bipartisan support behind allowing Dreamers to stay should make such legislation easy. Those who are opposed to any action during the lame duck say that the issue is too complicated to finish during the short time that Congress is back in session.


It is unclear whether or not either house of Congress will take up Dreamer legislation.


Do you support allowing children who were brought here illegally, and who join the military or attend college, to stay in the U.S.?

Criminal Justice Reform May Pass During Lame Duck

Congress is meeting in a “lame duck” session this week, completing work on some unfinished work. While there are partisan differences on many proposals being considered, there is one area where members of both parties agree: criminal justice reform. The bipartisan support for reform legislation may produce the most significant change in federal criminal law in years.


The bill being considered is called the First Step Act, which passed 360 to 59 in the House of Representatives on May 22. Here is how Votespotter described that legislation:


To give some federal prisoners time out of prison if they participate in vocational or rehabilitation programs, increase the amount of credits that can be used to get out of prison early for federal prisoners who have no disciplinary problems, prohibit the use of shackles for federal prisoners giving childbirth, and authorize more federal funding for prison rehabilitation programs.

While this bill passed by a large margin in the House, it has stalled in the Senate. There is bipartisan support for it in the Senate, but there is also strong opposition.


The lead senator who is working to defeat the First Step Act is Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas. However, the bill has the backing of President Trump, the national Fraternal Order of Police, the Koch brothers’ network, and many other conservative groups. The legislation also has the backing of many groups that are on the liberal side of the spectrum.


Senator Cotton has stated he thinks this legislation is dangerous because it would put more criminals on the streets. He argues that tough sentences reduced crime rates, so weakening these sentences will endanger the public. Those supporting this bill counter that many people are locked up for non-violent crimes, so it makes no sense to spend money on expensive incarceration. They argue that it is more humane and cost-effective to focus on less restrictive punishment as well as incarceration for these non-violent offenders.


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has given some indications that despite Sen. Cotton’s opposition, the First Step Act may be presented to the Senate in modified form.


Should the Senate pass federal criminal justice reform? Do you support wider access to rehabilitation programs for federal prisoners? Should sentences be lightened for prisoners with no disciplinary problems?

Judge Temporarily Halts Keystone Pipeline

The long fight continues over whether or not the Keystone XL Pipeline will be built. Yesterday a federal judge issued an order that will temporarily stop plans to construct the controversial pipeline. According to this judge, the federal government needs to do more environmental evaluations before it can allow construction to proceed.


If completed, the Keystone XL Pipeline will transport oil from Canada and the upper Great Plains to Nebraska. It has been controversial with environmental and Indian groups. They argue that the oil it will transport is produced in ways that are very damaging to the environment, and that the pipeline runs across land that is sacred to Native Americans. Pipeline supporters counter that obtaining this oil from Canada will reduce U.S. reliance on Middle Eastern oil, increasing our national security and decreasing the power of nations that are unfriendly to the U.S.


The Obama Administration considered and eventually rejected an application by TransCanada, the pipeline’s owner, to construct it across the U.S./Canadian boundary. President Donald Trump reversed course, approving the pipeline application. However, there have been numerous lawsuits filed to stop its construction.


One of those lawsuits alleged that the State Department and TransCanada violated the National Environmental Policy Act. A federal judge has agreed, ordering the Trump Administration to do further environmental review before allowing pipeline construction.


This ruling is not a rejection of the federal government’s approval of TransCanada’s application. Instead, it merely requires the federal government to do further environmental reviews to satisfy the National Environmental Policy Act. It is likely that once those reviews are completed, the Trump Administration will conclude that the Keystone XL Pipeline can be built.


Do you support construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline?

Marijuana Scores Some Big Wins on Election Day

The federal government may still label marijuana as a prohibited drug, but state prohibitions continue to fall.


Voters in four states decided on ballot measures concerning marijuana. In three of those states, pro-pot advocates came out victorious.


The biggest win for marijuana backers was in Michigan. Voters in that state approved the recreational use of marijuana. With the passage of this measure, Michiganders who are over 21 can possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and cultivate up to 12 plants for their own consumption. The sale of marijuana is also permitted. Michigan joins 9 other states and the District of Columbia in permitting recreational marijuana use.


Voters in Missouri and Utah approved medical marijuana measures. In Missouri, voters chose from three competing proposals to legalize and tax the medicinal use of marijuana. They approved the one that had the lowest tax rate and that would fund veteran services. In Utah, the governor and legislators had agreed to convene a special session to deal with medical marijuana legislation regardless of what voters decided.


North Dakota voters bucked the trend by rejecting that state’s ballot initiative that would have legalized the recreational use of marijuana. That measure garnered the support of only 41% of voters.


Earlier this year, Oklahoma voters approved a medical marijuana initiative.


Do you support legalizing marijuana for recreational use?

Trump Investigations May be Top Priority for Speaker Pelosi

In the wake of yesterday’s election, Democrats now control the House of Representatives. Nancy Pelosi is likely to be elected Speaker of the House, giving her control over that body’s agenda. With Republicans still controlling the Senate and the White House, it is unlikely that much Democratic legislation will be enacted into law. Where Speaker Pelosi can have an impact is with investigations into the Trump Administration.


Democrats, especially those in the more liberal “progressive” wing of the party, have an ambitious legislative agenda. From health care to tax increases on higher-income earners to immigration reform, many of the new Democrats coming into the House of Representatives have ideas for bills that will reshape federal policies. The nature of divided government make many, if not all, of these legislative proposals unworkable for the next two years. But committee investigations and oversight hearings do not require Senate or presidential approval. They are controlled by the members who chair the relevant committees.


These new committee chairs include:

  • Adam Schiff – This California Democrat will take over the House Intelligence Committee. Within that committee’s jurisdiction falls a host of issues that involve President Trump, including whether or not Russia colluded with his campaign to influence the 2016 election.
  • Elijah Cummings – The House Oversight Committee will be helmed by this Maryland Democrat. He will have wide authority to look into how the Trump Administration operates.
  • Jerry Nadler – With many Democrats calling for the impeachment of President Trump, this New York Democrat will play a key role as chair of the Judiciary Committee.


The investigations that these committee chairs and others launch could target cabinet secretaries, White House employees, and even the President himself. The committees have subpoena powers, so they can compel the Trump Administration to produce documents. These can include not only official papers, but the president’s tax returns.


For Democrats who believe that there is widespread corruption in the White House and executive branch, these investigations will be an avenue to bring wrongdoing to light. For Republicans, these committees will be the scene of partisan witch hunts designed to distract the president from implementing his agenda.


Do you think that the Democrats should use their new House majority to investigate President Trump and members of his administration?

Is Permanent Daylight Saving Time Coming to California?

It’s time to change the clocks back this weekend as Daylight Saving Time ends on Sunday morning. But Tuesday is Election Day, and California voters will have a chance to send a message about whether they want to keep switching time in the future.


Proposition 7 would allow the California legislature to adopt permanent Daylight Saving Time if federal law is changed to permit it. Currently, the federal government allows states to adopt Daylight Saving Time between March and November or stay on Standard Time year-round. If voters approve Proposition 7, California’s congressional delegation could push to change federal law knowing that their state would like to adopt year-round Daylight Saving Time.


The idea to change clocks between Standard Time and Daylight Saving Time dates back to World War I. Initially the idea was that it would save energy by aligning the clocks with natural sunlight. It was imposed by the federal government during both world wars, but then was up to state and local preference until 1966. That year, President Lyndon Johnson signed the law giving states either the option of choosing Standard Time or Daylight Saving Time during a uniform period of time.


Those who favor instituting permanent Daylight Saving Time point to evidence that the twice-a-year ritual of changing clocks has adverse effects on health and the economy. They say that in order to stop the changing of clocks, it is necessary to pass this initiative empowering the legislature to debate the issue. Those opposed to a change note that it would mean darker mornings in the winter, with children going to school before the sun comes up. They also note that year-round Daylight Saving Time would put California out of sync with other states, making it more difficult to do business.


California voters voted in favor of a ballot proposition in 1949 that allowed the state to adopt Daylight Saving Time for part of the year. The California constitution prohibits the legislature from repealing initiatives unless voters approve. So the only way to change what the 1949 initiative put in place is to pass another initiative, such as Proposition 7.


Do you favor permanent Daylight Saving Time?



Obamacare Contraception Mandate Being Revised

For the past six years, there have been legal and regulatory fights over the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate. With the Trump Administration getting set to announce new rules on the mandate, it appears these fights will continue for years to come.


The ACA, or Obamacare, mandated that employers provide contraception coverage as part of their health insurance benefit at no charge to their employees. The Obama Administration wrote rules that required employers to offer coverage for all contraceptives approved by the Food and Drug Administration. This has led to ongoing lawsuits over the constitutionality of the mandate. The Supreme Court has ruled in one case that some corporations can be exempt from the mandate on religious grounds.


In response to another court cases, both the Obama and Trump Administrations have been devising regulations that would allow certain religious-based nonprofits to claim an exemption from the mandate. Several states challenged the Trump Administration’s 2017 rules that would have given a broad religious exemption from the mandate and a federal court struck them down.

The Trump Administration is preparing new rules that will attempt to survive a legal challenge. Observers expect them to give wide leeway to groups that do not want to provide coverage of contraceptive services that violate their religious beliefs.


Opponents of an expansive exemption to the contraception mandate say that the religious beliefs of employers should not dictate what types of health care that employees receive. They argue that contraception decisions are between a patient and a doctor, so an employer should have no say over it.


Those who favor a broad exception to the mandate say that it is unconstitutional for the federal government to force people to pay for contraceptive services that they view as immoral. They point out that this contraception would not be banned, and that employees could purchase it on their own.


It is unclear when the Trump Administration will announce these new contraceptive mandate rules. When it does, there will likely be lawsuits challenging them.


Do you think that religious nonprofits should be forced to offer contraceptive coverage even if such contraception violates the religious beliefs of those who operate the organization?

Trump Considers Executive Order to End Birthright Citizenship

Under the U.S. Constitution, if someone is born in the U.S., he or she is automatically granted citizenship. At least, that is the common interpretation of the 14th Amendment. President Trump disagrees, however, and is reviewing an executive order that would end the practice of the federal government recognizing birthright citizenship.


The issue of birthright citizenship is involved with the larger discussion of illegal immigration. President Trump and many other advocates for stricter immigration enforcement argue that allowing anyone born within the U.S. to become a citizen is a policy that attracts illegal immigrants. They argue that citizenship should not be given to the children of those who break the laws. This citizenship entitles the child to a variety of rights and privileges that, critics argue, help sustain illegal immigration.

Those who favor birthright citizenship say that the U.S. has a long tradition of recognizing this type of citizenship. They say that giving the government power to restrict who can be a citizen or strip citizenship from people using political factors can lead to danger.


While many argue that the policy of birthright citizenship is flawed, there has been disagreement on how to reform it. Most observers think that a constitutional amendment is necessary. That is because the 14th Amendment says, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”


Some legal scholars argue that if someone is an illegal immigrant, he or she is not “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States, so their children cannot be granted birthright citizenship. Others point out that whether or not an immigrant is here legally or illegally, he or she is subject to the laws and authority of the U.S. government. That clause, they say, applies to only a small class of people, such as diplomats.


The 14th Amendment was written after the Civil War to ensure that southern states could not deny citizenship to newly-freed slaves. At the time, the nation had no federal restrictions on immigration, so there was no such thing as an “illegal immigrant.” The question of citizenship for immigrants did not arise until later in the 19th century, when the Supreme Court ruled that a child born to immigrants was indeed a citizen. This case, however, did not deal specifically with children of illegal immigrants.


President Trump appears to be embracing a legal theory that denies the Constitution clearly provides for birthright citizenship, so the federal government can use a stricter definition of citizenship. Under this theory, the president can issue an executive order telling federal agencies to use this stricter citizenship designation.


There has been no action yet from President Trump to sign such an executive order. If he does, there are certain to be legal challenges to it.

Do you think that anyone who is born in the U.S. should be a citizen? Should the Constitution be amended to end birthright citizenship? Or can birthright citizenship be revoked by an executive order?




Trump Considers Troops, Closing Border in Response to Migrant Caravan

President Donald Trump has been focused in recent weeks over a caravan of migrants that is slowly making its way from Central America to the U.S./Mexican border. He has repeatedly made public comments about the problems he thinks this caravan will bring to the U.S. In response, he is weighing a variety of options, two of which include closing the southern border to migrants and deploying military forces to the border.


Many of the individuals in this caravan will presumably seek asylum in the U.S. once they reach the border. Fleeing gang wars or political oppression, these individuals can make asylum applications upon arrival. However, President Trump is considering a declaration that these migrants are ineligible for asylum under national security grounds.


In addition, the president is also considering using active duty military troops to provide support for border control activities. National Guard troops are already providing some of these services. It is a relatively rare move to use active duty military personnel to patrol the border.


President Trump is taking these actions because he claims the migrants in these caravans contain criminals and potentially even terrorists. He says that they should apply for U.S. citizenship from their home countries and not come to the U.S. expecting asylum.


The president’s words and actions have raised concerns from many who would like to see the U.S. welcome migrants who are fleeing war or crime. They point out there is no evidence that the migrant caravan contains any terrorists. The say the U.S. has an asylum system that can process and vet those with legitimate claims, and that the U.S. should not automatically deny these migrants the chance to have a safer life. These critics also raise alarms at using the military for operations inside the U.S.


While the president has been considering these options to deal with the migrant caravan, he has taken no formal steps to implement them yet.


Do you think that individuals in the migrant caravan should automatically be denied asylum? Should the U.S. military patrol the southern border?



Medicaid Expansion on the Ballot in 4 States

In 2010, President Obama signed into law the Affordable Care Act, which expanded eligibility for Medicaid. In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government could not force states to participate in this Medicaid expansion. Now, in 2018, voters in four states will decide whether or not to embrace a Medicaid program that covers more people.


Medicaid is a federal program that provides health coverage to people with disabilities and people in poverty. It is jointly administered and funded by both the federal and state governments. The federal government mandates that certain people must be covered by the program; states can choose to expand coverage for others.


Under the ACA, or Obamacare, the federal government mandated Medicaid eligibility be extended to childless adults who live in households with incomes less than 138% of the federal poverty level. This was a departure from past practice, which focused coverage on parents, expectant mothers, children, and people with disabilities.


In a 2012 case, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government could not force states to fund this higher-income population. Many states have decided to expand coverage on a voluntary basis, however. Some states resisted, citing budgetary concerns.


This year four states have ballot initiatives that would bypass legislators to expand Medicaid:


  • Idaho: Proposition 2 would expand Medicaid to childless adults in households with an income less than 133% of the federal poverty level.
  • Montana: I-185 would increase the state’s tobacco tax to expand Medicaid to childless adults in households with an income less than 138% of the federal poverty level.
  • Utah: Proposition 3 would increase the state’s sales tax from 4.70% to 4.85% to pay for an expansion of Medicaid to childless adults in households with an income less than 138% of the federal poverty level.
  • Nebraska: Initiative 427 would expand Medicaid to childless adults in households with an income less than 138% of the federal poverty level.


Another Medicaid initiative has already been approved by voters this year. Oregonians voted in favor of Measure 101 in January to approve a legislative expansion of Medicaid and a tax on insurance to fund it.


Supporters of allowing more people to access Medicaid argue that this will reduce the uninsured rate, leading to better health outcomes. They contend that since the federal govenrment is paying for the bulk of the expenses, this makes fiscal sense, too. Opponents counter that even with a small share of the Medicaid funding, this expansion could impose large costs on the state budget. They also argue that Medicaid was not intended to cover able-bodied adults with no children, and expanding it to this group will divert resources from children, parents, and people with disabilities.


Do you support expanding Medicaid to childless adults? At what income should Medicaid coverage be limited? Do you support increasing sales or tobacco taxes to pay for expanded Medicaid services?


Scott Walker Focuses on Illegal Immigration in Re-Election Bid

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is facing off with Tony Evers to see who will lead the state for the next four years. A new ad by Walker stresses their divergent views on illegal immigration.


Governor Walker is hitting Evers for what Walker considers a weak stance on illegal immigration. Evers supports allowing illegal immigrants to obtain state driving permits. He also would like to see illegal immigrant children who graduate from the state’s high schools pay in-state tuition if they go to college. According to Evers, the driving permit would make the state’s roads safer by requiring that those who get the permits would pass a safety test. Allowing illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition would treat these individuals the same as other students who graduate from state high schools, Evers notes.

In a new commercial, Governor Walker accuses Evers of wanting to provide special treatment for illegal immigrants. According to the ad, this would result in higher taxes.


This ad has caused some controversy, since it uses the term “illegals” to describe illegal immigrants. Evers and some other observers claim that this is an offensive term and that Governor Walker is trying to sow racial division with the ad.


Do you think that illegal immigrants should be able to obtain state driving permits? Should they pay the same in-state tuition as other high school graduates?

Voter ID on North Carolina Ballot

North Carolina legislators have been trying to enact a voter ID law since 2013. A federal judge struck down their first attempt. Now they have put a measure on the ballot that would amend the state constitution to enact a voter ID requirement.


Under the ballot amendment, North Carolinians who vote in person will have to show identification before they can cast a ballot. The amendment to the state constitution would give the legislature power to define what types of identifications would be acceptable.


In 2013, legislators passed a bill that then-Governor Pat McCrory signed into law that would have required voter ID at polling places. A driver’s license, state-issued ID car, a military ID, or a passport would have met the requirements in that legislation. The U.S. Department of Justice sued the state, arguing that this requirement discriminated against minorities and violated federal law. A federal appeals court agreed, with the judges deciding that legislators enacted the ID mandate with an intention to discriminate against minorities.


Supporters of this amendment argue that it will help prevent voter fraud. They note that people must present identification in a variety of other areas, so it should be no burden to do so at a polling place. Opponents counter that there is no proof that a voter ID requirement will prevent election fraud. They also argue that these laws hurt the poor and minority voters, and are a way to make it more difficult for these voters to participate in the electoral process.


There are 34 states that require some form of identification from voters.


Do you support laws requiring that voters present identification before they cast a ballot?

Cory Booker: Raise Estate Tax to Fund Opportunity Accounts for Kids


New Jersey Senator Cory Booker thinks that he has a way to address inequality in the U.S. He recently proposed a bill that would establish savings accounts for every child born in the U.S. To pay for these “Opportunity Accounts,” booker would increase a variety of taxes, including the estate tax.


Under Sen. Booker’s plan, every child would receive an “Opportunity Account” at birth, but after that the federal government would provide payments into that account depending on family income. Those with the lowest incomes would receive $2,000 a year. Those with higher incomes would receive a lesser amount. Children in families with incomes over 500% of the federal poverty level would not receive yearly payments. The money in these accounts could not be used until the child turns 18, and then it could only be spent on certain things such as college tuition or a home down payment.


To pay for the estimated $60 billion price tag, Senator Booker’s plan calls on the federal estate tax rate to be set between 45% and 65%. He would also increase the capital gains tax rate.


The idea behind these accounts is to provide low-income Americans with a nest egg that is similar to what wealthier Americans already enjoy. Senator Booker argues that this would allow wealth creation by these lower-income families, especially minorities. Supporters of the accounts contend that past government policies prevented minority families from taking actions that would have allowed them to accrue wealth, so this is a way to help right those wrongs.


Those opposed to Senator Booker’s plan argue that the high estate and capital gains tax will hurt the economy by taxing productive economic activity. They note that people will take action to avoid the very high estate tax rates, so his plan will likely need other sources of revenue to fund it.


Senator Booker’s plan is unlikely to be considered by the Senate. However, if Senator Booker runs for president in 2020, it may provide the basis for a national discussion on what government should do to help low-income families accumulate wealth.


Do you think the federal government should provide tens of thousands of dollars in an “Opportunity Account” for low-income children? Should the estate tax be increase to fund these accounts?

Felon Voting Rights May Be Restored in Florida

Voters in Florida may restore voting rights to over a million of their fellow state residents this Election Day. A constitutional amendment is on the ballot that would automatically allow most felons who have served their sentences to vote.


Amendment 4 will be decided on Election Day. This measure would amend the state constitution to end the current prohibition on felons voting. If passed, this amendment would require the state to automatically restore voting rights for people with a felony conviction once they complete their sentences. The only exceptions would be for felons who have been convicted of murder or felony sexual offenses.


Currently, Gov. Rick Scott has put in place a system that requires those with felony convictions to wait between 5 and 7 years before they can apply to a state board for the restoration of their ability to vote. The previous governor, Charlie Crist, had a system whereby a state board would automatically restore the voting rights of those in this situation if they had paid restitution and had no pending criminal charges.


Supporters of this constitutional amendment contend that it unfairly disenfranchises state residents who have paid their debt to society. They contend that voting rights can help ex-felons integrate into society. They also argue that these individuals should have the right to participate in the political process. They point out that over a million people are covered by the current voting restriction, a situation that disproportionately affects minorities.


Those opposed to the measure argue that those who have been convicted of serious crimes should not have their right to vote restored automatically. They say that society is sending a signal about how serious these crimes are by punishing them in various ways, including taking away the ability to vote. They note there is a current process to restore the right to vote if an ex-felon wants it back and can prove that he or she has reformed.


There are three other states besides Florida that do not give residents who have been convicted of felonies the right to vote.


Do you think that ex-felons should have their right to vote restored automatically upon completion of their sentences?

Kavanaugh Approval Leads Some to Consider Court Packing

Brett Kavanaugh is now a Supreme Court Justice via an acrimonious nomination process that enraged many liberals. Coming on top of Senate Republicans’ refusal to consider President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the high court, some of these liberals are floating ideas to reform the Supreme Court. One of the most prominent is adding new justices to the court, or “court packing.”


The idea of expanding the Supreme Court’s membership in response to a disagreement over its ideological makeup was prominently championed by President Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s. Upset by court decisions invalidating part of his New Deal legislation, President Roosevelt suggested expanding the number of Supreme Court justices. There was an uproar in opposition to that idea, and Congress never acted on it.


Some liberals are now resurrecting a similar “court packing” plan. They contend that Senate Republicans’ played bare knuckle politics with their refusal to allow a vote on President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland and to approve Brett Kavanaugh in light of sexual assault allegations. They argue that these two actions were illegitimate, so it would be only right to counter them by expanding the court’s membership when Democrats regain the White House and Congress. Having one or two new justices appointed by Democrats would balance the court in response.


Opponents of court packing argue that once this process starts, it will lead to an ever-larger number of justices appointed for purely political reasons. They note that if Democrats expand the court’s membership when they control the presidency and Congress, then Republicans will do so when they regain both branches of government.


There are currently nine Supreme Court justices. This number is not set by the Constitution, so Congress and the president could pass legislation to alter it.


Do you think that the number of Supreme Court justices should be expanded? Should Democrats enlarge the court’s membership if they regain control of the presidency and Congress?

Trump Urges Caution in Response to Journalist’s Killing by Saudi Agents

 The evidence continues to accumulate that agents of the Saudi Arabian government killed journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the nation’s consulate in Turkey. Some members of Congress are urging President Trump to punish the Saudi government. The president, however, is urging caution before taking any steps in response.


In early October, Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul and never emerged. The Turkish government says it has evidence he was brutally murdered inside the embassy by agents employed by Saudi Arabia. Khashoggi is a Saudi national who had been living in the United States. He was a harsh critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the Saudi regime.


In response to this alleged killing, there has been international outrage against the Saudi government. In the U.S., senators such as Marco Rubio of Florida have said the U.S. needs to take steps to punish the Saudis. Rep. Justin Amash has introduced legislation to stop arms sales to Saudi Arabia if it is found to played a role in Khashoggi’s murder.


President Trump, however, has resisted these calls. In fact, he has cast doubt that this could have been an official action of the Saudi government. He has floated the theory that rogue killers may have done it. The president notes that Saudi Arabia buys billions of dollars in military weapons from the U.S. and is a large supplier of oil.


Those pushing for action against Saudi Arabia say that this killing is only the latest example of the latest example of the kingdom violating human rights. They note that the Saudi actions in Yemen’s civil war have also been particularly brutal. These critics argue that Saudi Arabia may be an ally, but that does not give it a free pass to engage in murder or other human rights abuses.


Other observers note that Saudi Arabia plays a key role in supporting U.S. policy in the Middle East. Alienating the nation’s ruling family would weaken U.S. interests and could lead to further conflict in the area. They also note that if Saudi Arabia cut off oil supplies to the U.S., it could have a devastating effect on our economy.


Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has visited Saudi Arabia in an attempt to discern what the U.S. should do about the Khashoggi murder. It is unclear what, if anything, President Trump will order in response. Congress could also pass legislation that would impose sanctions on the kingdom.


Should the U.S. punish Saudi Arabia in response to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi? Is President Trump right that the U.S. should consider Saudi’s arms purchases and oil supplies to the U.S. when deciding what to do?

Harvard Trial Could Have Big Impact on Affirmative Action

Does Harvard’s “race-conscious” admissions policy illegally discriminate against Asian-American students?

That is the question at the heart of the trial that began this week pitting a group of Asian-American students against the Ivy League college. The Supreme Court has ruled that schools cannot use racial quotas in admissions, but has allowed some consideration of race.


The students are suing Harvard under the theory that the school’s race-conscious admissions policy allows it to manipulate potential students’ scores to achieve a certain racial balance. They contend that Asian-American students receive lower scores in some areas to balance out their higher academic and extracurricular activity scores. They argue that a race-blind process would lead to more Asian-American students allowed into Harvard.

The school denies discriminating against Asian-American students. It says that diversity is an important goal for an academic community that would be undermined if the courts find that using race-conscious admissions is illegal.


The group Students for Fair Admissions has brought this lawsuit. Its spokesman has said that affirmative action is not the issue here, but this case could lead to the Supreme Court. If that happens, the high court would have the opportunity to decide whether or not any racial factors should be at play when schools decide whom to admit and whom to deny.


Do you think that race should be a factor in college admissions?


Massachusetts Legislators, Governor Differ on Airbnb Regulations


Residents of the Bay State who rent their homes on Internet platforms like Airbnb may soon be facing new rules and taxes. Governor Charlie Baker and legislator cannot seem to agree on what these regulations should be, however.


Legislators passed a bill in August that would require homeowners with short-term rentals to register with the state, meet insurance mandates, and collect and pay the same taxes that hotels do. The bill would also allow local governments to regulate and impose taxes on these short-term rentals.


Governor Baker did not veto this legislation, but he did suggest some changes that would need to be made before he signed it. One of these modifications would be to exempt anyone from these new regulations who rented their homes for fewer than 14 days. His changes were generally aimed at reducing the legislation’s burden on those who use short-term rentals to earn some extra money, not as a full-time moneymaking operation.


The governor’s staff is meeting with legislators to find a way to resolve their differences. This leaves local governments in limbo. Some have already enacted their own regulations, but they lack the ability to impose taxes. They are pressing state lawmakers to come to a decision on a final state bill.


Massachusetts joins other states in looking at regulating short-term rentals. As online platforms such as Airbnb become popular, hotels have pressed local and state governments to impose regulations on homeowners using these services.


Do you think that homeowners using services like Airbnb should be regulated and taxed the same as hotels are?

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