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Congress Considers Easing Marijuana Law

 

States across the nation are legalizing the use of marijuana for either medicinal or recreational purposes. While users and growers may face no threat of arrest or prosecution by state authorities in these areas, they are still breaking federal law. Now a bipartisan group of senators wants to change that.

 

Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Cory Gardner (R-CO) have introduced a bill, called the “Strengthening the Tenth Amendment through Entrusting States Act,” or STATES Act, that would end federal marijuana penalties for someone who is following state law. If someone lived in a state where it is legal to operate a retail marijuana operation, they would no longer be breaking federal law as long as they followed their state’s laws.

 

This bill is cosponsored by Senators Rand Paul (R-KY), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Catherine Cortez Mastro (D-NV). President Trump has also signaled his support for the legislation, although it is unclear if either House or Senate leadership will advance it.

 

Supporters of the bill contend that it is necessary to remove any conflict between state and federal laws regarding marijuana. They say it is unfair for people to obey state law but still be under threat of federal prosecution. They contend that this legislation would recognize the constitutional guarantee of federalism where the federal government does not interfere in strictly state-level matters.

 

Opponents of the law say that if there is a federal law against marijuana growing or use, then that law should apply nationwide. Federal law is supreme to state law, they point out, so there is no reason to suspend the application of federal law just because some states have differing laws.

 

There are also two other bills in the Senate, one introduced by Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and one introduced by Sen. Booker, that would completely end the federal ban on marijuana.

 

Do you think that the federal government should stop enforcing marijuana laws in states that legalize its use for either recreational or medicinal purposes? Should federal marijuana prohibition be ended?

 

Voters to Decide on Florida Indoor Vaping Ban

 

Thirty-six states have some type of ban on smoking in enclosed workplaces, such as bars and restaurants. Only nine states have a similar ban on vaping devices. Florida voters will decide in November if they will join these states in saying “no” to people who want to vape indoors.

 

There are increasing numbers of Americans who choose to vape instead of smoke. Vaping is the use of electronic devices which mimic cigarettes but do not use tobacco. While many states have strict rules on how tobacco products can be sold and used, states are still formulating their laws on vaping devices. Some states have gone in the direction of treating vaping devices similar to cigarettes, while other states have little regulation at all on their use.

 

Proponents of the state’s constitutional amendment to ban vaping in indoor workplaces contend that the vapor from these devices can have toxins in them and that they are annoying to non-vapers. Those opposed to it say that vaping devices may produce vapor that looks like smoke, but it does not contain the harmful products that exist in tobacco smoke.

 

This proposal came from the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, which refers constitutional amendments to be considered by voters. It is combined with another constitutional amendment that would ban offshore oil and natural gas drilling. Voters must vote “yes” or “no” on one measure that contains both of these amendments; they cannot vote on each amendment separately.

 

Do you think that vaping should be banned in bars, restaurants, and other indoor businesses?

 

“Stand Your Ground” May Be Coming to Ohio

 

There is a difference of opinion on gun laws in Ohio between the executive and legislative branches of government. Governor John Kasich is pushing for legislators to approve a package of gun control bills. Instead, legislators are getting ready to vote on a bill that would expand the ability of Ohioans to use deadly force if they felt threatened.

 

When they return from their summer recess, members of the state House of Representatives will consider a bill that would remove legal liability in some cases where people use lethal force to defend themselves outside their homes or cars. This bill would allow someone to use such force if they felt threatened, and would remove that person’s duty to retreat in the face of such a threat. Similar bills have been passed in other states, and are known as “stand your ground” laws.

 

This stands in stark contrast to the firearms agenda being pushed by Gov. Kasich. In the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, Gov. Kasich sent a set of bills to legislators that would impose new limits on gun owners. One of these bills would allow law enforcement to seize weapons from someone they consider a threat.

 

Those opposed to “stand your ground” bills say they make shootings more likely. They point to the incident where George Zimmerman shot teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida. Supporters of such bills counter that they are necessary to allow people to defend their lives when confronted by criminals. In these cases, say supporters, the law should not punish people who think their lives are being threatened.

 

Gov. Kasich has said he would veto the “stand your ground” bill, but legislative leaders may have the votes to override such a veto.

 

Do you support “stand your ground” legislation that would make it easier for people to use deadly force if they think they are in danger?

 

Sports Betting Coming to New Jersey

 

With Governor Tom Murphy and legislators fighting over a state budget, it may seem that not much could bring lawmakers in Trenton together. Perhaps only one issue could unite the divided state capitol – gambling. Legislators recently passed legislation to allow sports betting in the state, and there was not a single vote in dissent.

 

This move by New Jersey legislators is only appropriate. The Supreme Court case that overturned the federal ban on sports betting was originally named Christie v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, with the “Christie” in the title referring to the state’s former governor, Chris Christie.

 

That case arose when New Jersey voters approved a 2011 non-binding resolution to move forward with sports betting. In 2012, the legislature passed an act allowing such betting, and the state was promptly sued by a variety of sports leagues. Governor Christie fought back, setting in motion a court case that invalidated the 1992 federal law requiring states that banned sports betting at that time to continue banning such bets into the future.

 

With the Supreme Court ruling in mid-May that the federal government overstepped its authority with this law, states are now free to legalize sports betting. New Jersey’s law will establish a set of regulations for these bets. It would also tax them at a rate of 8.5% in person and 13% for Internet bets. State casinos are already gearing up to offer wagering on a variety of sports events.

 

Do you support states expanding gambling to include betting on sports?

 

Maryland National Guard Pulled Off Border to Protest Family Separation

 

The federal policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the U.S./Mexican border has spurred a firestorm of controversy throughout June. In response to the enforcement of this policy, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has ordered his state’s National Guard troops on the border to come home.

 

President Trump has asked governors to send members of their National Guard units to the border to help support the activities of the federal Customs and Border Patrol. Governor Hogan responded by dispatching a National Guard helicopter and its crew to the area.

 

On June 20, however, Governor Hogan gave orders that the crew return home. He then tweeted, “Until this policy of separating children from their families has been rescinded, Maryland will not deploy any National Guard resources to the border. Earlier this morning, I ordered our 4 crewmembers & helicopter to immediately return from where they were stationed in New Mexico.” The governor was referring to the federal policy of family separation at the border. The Trump Administration is charging these parents with criminal offenses, which results in children being removed from their parents’ custody.

 

There has been a furor over this policy in the weeks before Governor Hogan made his announcement. While family separation at the border has long been allowed, prior to the Trump Administration it was general practice not to charge parents with children with a criminal offense. If a parent is making an asylum claim after being charged with a criminal offense, it can lead to a child being separated from his or her parents for a significant period of time.

 

Elected officials from both policies have called on President Trump to reverse his administration’s actions regarding family separation. President Trump has called on Congress to change the law that allows separation.

 

President Trump has since ordered an end to the family separation policy.

 

Do you think that Governor Hogan was right to remove Maryland’s National Guard units from the border to protest the policy of family separation?

Missouri Legislators Tackle Marriage Age, Abortion, and Charter Schools

 

The political news in Missouri is dominated by the scandal surrounding Governor Eric Greitens, who is facing a criminal trial and announced Tuesday he would resign effective Friday at 5 p.m. In the face of the media circus surrounding the governor, the work of governing must go on. Legislators recently completed work on a variety of bills for the year. Here are how some of the big issues fared during this year’s Missouri legislative session:

 

Marriage age: It will no longer be possible for someone under 16 to get married in Missouri. Legislators passed a bill that prohibits marriage under this age and requires anyone who is 16 or 17 to get his or her parents’ permission to get married. Anyone who is over 21 will not be able to marry anyone under 18.

 

Lieutenant governor appointment: The Senate passed a measure that would allow the governor to appoint a lieutenant governor if there is a vacancy in that office. The Senate would confirm this appointment. The House rejected this proposal, however, leaving unclear the process for filling a vacancy in that office. This issue was highlighted in the legislature because Gov. Greitens could have been removed from office. He has since announced his resignation, and the current lieutenant governor will assume the governorship.

 

Gas tax: Legislators voted to place a ballot measure before voters in November that would raise the gas tax by 10 cents per gallon. The increase from the current tax rate of 17 cents per gallon to 27 cents per gallon would be phased in through 2022. The proceeds are slated to fund road projects and the highway patrol.

 

Charter schools: Currently, Missouri only allows charter schools to operate in Kansas, St. Louis, and unaccredited school districts. Legislation to expand charter schools statewide received support from two House committees but never received a vote from the full House.

 

Abortion: The House passed a bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks. The Senate failed to take this measure up.

 

Non-discrimination: A House committee passed legislation that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations. The full House never considered the bill, however.

 

Do you think that the marriage age should be set at 16? Should abortions after 20 weeks be banned? Do you support expanding the use of charter schools?

 

Marijuana Legalization Coming to New Mexico?

 

If you want to use marijuana recreationally in New Mexico, you’re breaking the law. If some politicians running for election their way, however, next year could see a big change in how the state treats recreational marijuana users.

 

Nine other states have legalized marijuana, but legislation to do this in New Mexico has been blocked in the legislature. The current governor, Susana Martinez, also opposes legalization. A number of candidates running for both governor and legislative seats are taking a different position, however.

Two of the three Democratic candidates running for governor support legalization. A June 5 primary will determine who faces the lone Republican running for this office, who does not support allowing recreational marijuana use.

 

The state Democratic Party passed a platform plank at its convention this year that backs legalization. State Rep. Javier Martinez is planning a statewide tour to raise support for the issue in anticipation of a legislative push in the 2019 session.

 

According to a poll done earlier this year, a strong majority of New Mexican residents support marijuana legalization.

 

Those who want to keep marijuana illegal in the state point to New Mexico’s high rate of driving while intoxicated and drug addiction. They say that making marijuana legal will only worsen these problems. Supporters of legalization contend that regulating and taxing the drug’s sales will lead to responsible consumption and much-needed revenue for the state.

 

Do you think that marijuana for recreational use should be legalized in New Mexico?

 

New Hampshire Passes Transgender Discrimination Bill

 

Under a new law signed by Gov. Chris Sununu, transgender individuals in New Hampshire will have expanded civil rights protections. This issue has sparked controversy in other states, notably North Carolina, but the New Hampshire bill passed with bipartisan support.

 

This new law extends existing protections from discrimination to transgender individuals. Prior to the law’s enactment, New Hampshire law made it illegal to discriminate against individuals based on their race, sex, religion, or sexual orientation in employment, housing, or public accommodations. The new laws adds gender identity to the list.

 

Most states do not extend protection from discrimination based on gender identity. When the Charlotte City Council did so in North Carolina, it prompted a state law that prohibited local anti-discrimination ordinances. This prompted a national backlash that led state officials to modify that law.

 

Opponents of the law say that this will allow men to use women’s bathrooms, giving sexual predators easier access to their victims. They often refer to this type of legislation as “bathroom bills.” Supporters of protecting individuals based on their gender identity counter that there is no evidence that these laws make it easier to commit crime. They contend that such laws are necessary to protect transgender individuals from being denied housing and jobs.

 

This legislation passed with both Democratic and Republican support in New Hampshire. Governor Sununu, a Republican, signed it into law in mid-May.

 

Do you think that the government should protect individuals from discrimination based on their gender identity?

 

Abortion Ultrasound Bill Vetoed in Minnesota

 

Should doctors ask women seeking an abortion if they would like to see an ultrasound of the fetus? In Minnesota, legislators and Governor Mark Dayton disagree on this issue. In early May, Governor Dayton vetoed a bill that would mandate that doctors do this, illustrating the divisions in the state over this controversial issue.

 

The legislation at question would have required doctors to as a woman if she would like to see an ultrasound picture of her fetus prior to starting the abortion procedure. The bill would not have mandated that a woman view the ultrasound.

 

Governor Dayton vetoed this bill, saying that it interfered with the doctor-patient relationship. He also pointed out that the state medical association and the state’s association for obstetricians and gynecologists were opposed to it, too.

 

Supporters of the bill said that it was a way to provide more information to women seeking to end their pregnancy. They said that some women may choose a different option if they were able to see an ultrasound prior to an abortion.

 

Many states around the nation have considered laws regulating abortion this year. Some states, such as Iowa, have seen governors sign these restrictions into law. In other states, like Minnesota, there is disagreement between the governor and legislators over what the law should be regarding abortion. Some abortion restrictions enacted recently in states have prompted legal challenges, with courts striking down or putting on hold a few of these new laws.

 

Do you think that doctors should be required to offer an ultrasound picture of the fetus to women prior to an abortion?

 

Taxes, Abortion, and Opioids at Play in Iowa Legislature

 

Iowa legislators went into overtime during their 2018 session. While scheduled to last for 100 days, legislators went well beyond that time limit this year. During this lengthy session, they finalized work on a number of hot-button issues, including tax cuts, abortion restrictions, and new opioid requirements.

 

Taxes

 

Legislators debated a variety of changes to the state’s tax code, but finally settled on a package that cut rates and reformed the code. The final tax reform bill reduced the number of brackets from nine brackets to four, and lowered the top rate from 8.98% to 6.5%. They also reduced the corporate income tax rate from 12% (the highest in the nation) to 9.8%, in addition to making other changes to lower taxes on business income.

 

Abortion

 

Governor Kim Reynolds signed legislation that ban abortions if a doctor could detect a fetal heartbeat. This was the second major anti-abortion bill passed in the last two years in Iowa. During the 2017 session, legislators banned abortion after 20 weeks and imposed a three-day waiting period on women seeking abortion. That law has been blocked while the courts consider its legality.

 

Opioids

 

As is the case with many other states, Iowa has had a significant problem with opioid addition and overdoses. Legislators passed a bill that would change state law in a variety of ways to address these problems. One of the provisions place new controls in the state’s prescription monitoring system. Another is a “good Samaritan” provision that would allow people to report overdoses without being charged with a crime. A third part of the bill would require doctors to use electronic prescriptions for opioids to help combat forged written prescriptions.

 

 

Do you think that Iowa taxes should be cut? Do you support legislation to ban abortion if doctors can detect a fetal heart beat? Should opioid prescriptions be subject to strict limits?

 

 

Illinois May Stop Taxpayer-Funded Sexual Harassment Payments

 

More than 200 people have asserted that they have experienced sexual harassment in the Illinois state government. With investigations occurring and public scrutiny at an all-time high on this issue, state lawmakers are moving to prohibit any taxpayer funds from being used by legislators to pay sexual harassment claims.

 

A bill passed unanimously in the state House of Representatives would bar the use of public funds to pay anyone for “his or her silence or inaction related to an allegation or investigation of sexual harassment” concerning a member of the General Assembly. The bill now goes to the Senate for its consideration.

 

This legislation comes in the wake of reports from state legislatures and Congress that government funds have been used to pay for settlements in sexual harassment claims. The revelations of these payments, as well as fresh accusations of sexual misconduct, have led to legislators and members of Congress resigning.

 

 

Even though there are allegations of harassment in the Illinois state government, there have been no harassment-related resignations in the General Assembly. There have been actions to address these issues in the state, however. Legislators must now attend mandatory sexual harassment training. They are also holding hearings on other bills that are aimed at addressing the issue. The task force that has been formed to deal with harassment will release a report later this year.

 

If the Senate passes the ban on taxpayer-funded sexual harassment payments and the governor signs it, any legislators facing accusations will be required to use their private funds to settle such cases.

 

Do you think that taxpayers should provide money for legislators to settle sexual harassment claims?

Pennsylvania May Ban Abortions Based on Down Syndrome Diagnosis

 

Abortion has been a controversial issue for decades, as lawmakers at the state and national level fight over laws to limit or expand access to abortion services. The latest battleground in the war over abortion is in Pennsylvania, where legislators may pass a bill limiting the procedure based on a diagnosis of Down syndrome.

 

Members of the Pennsylvania House Committee have advanced a bill that would prohibit doctors from performing an abortion if the woman seeking it is doing so based solely on the diagnosis that the fetus may have Down syndrome. This legislation is likely to be taken up by the full House soon.

 

Down syndrome is a genetic condition resulting from someone possessing three copies of chromosome 21, rather than two. Individuals with the condition experience intellectual impairment and a higher risk of childhood leukemia, among other conditions. Genetic tests can give a fairly reliable indication if a fetus has this extra chromosome. In the U.S. roughly two-thirds of the women who learn that they are carrying a baby with Down syndrome choose to abort.

 

The support and opposition for this bill falls along the usual lines, with many Republicans expressing a pro-life stance while many Democrats express opposition to more government restrictions on abortion. This bill is similar to laws passed in Ohio, North Dakota, Indiana, and Louisiana. In March, a federal judge has blocked Ohio’s law from going into effect after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a suit against it. Another federal judge struck down parts of Indiana’s law.

 

The Republican-controlled legislature passed another bill dealing with abortion in late 2017. That bill would have banned abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, but Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, vetoed it. If legislators pass this bill, Gov. Wolf will probably veto it, too. There is unlikely to be enough support to override his veto.

 

Do you support prohibiting abortions if the woman is seeking it based on a diagnosis that the baby may have Down syndrome?

 

 

Iowa Kills Religious Freedom Bill, Advances Abortion Restrictions

 

Iowa legislators considered two bills of special interest to social conservatives this year: a religious freedom restoration act and a bill that would place new limits on abortion. Lawmakers split on what to do with the bills, with the abortion bill advancing and the religious freedom bill dying.

 

In the 2018 legislative session, Iowa became the latest state to debate how much protection the state should give to religious expression or activities based on religious views. Bills introduced in both houses of the legislature, entitled the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” would have set a higher standard for the state to meet in court if challenged on regulations or laws that infringed upon religious expression or actions motivated by religious beliefs.

 

Supporters of the bill contended it was necessary to protect individuals who have sincere religious beliefs from government rules that infringe upon their freedom. Opponents, including many in the business community, said that the legislation could protect discrimination, especially discrimination based on sexual orientation.

 

Versions of this legislation have been enacted nationally and in other states. However, there was significant controversy in recent years when North Carolina and Indiana lawmakers considered these proposals. North Carolina enacted a law and faced a national backlash and economic boycott.

 

The Senate version of the proposal, SF 2338, passed a Senate committee and was scheduled for floor action until the majority leader sent it back to committee. This effectively killed the bill for the year. The House version of the measure did not make it out of committee.

 

Legislation to restrict abortion fared more favorably in Des Moines, however. In late February, the Senate passed a bill that would outlaw abortion if a doctor could detect a fetal heartbeat, which generally occurs around 6 weeks after gestation. No doctor could perform an abortion until he or she attempted to detect a heartbeat. The bill contained an exception that would allow abortions for medical emergencies. Doctors who violated the law could be charged with a felony and punished with up to five years in jail.

 

The hearings on this bill drew numerous speakers, both from Iowa and nationally. Those in favor of it said that a heartbeat proves that a fetus is a baby, so the state should not allow it to be killed. Those in opposition said the state should not infringe upon a woman’s right to access safe access to family planning procedures.

 

After is passage by the Senate, the fetal heartbeat bill is being considered by the House of Representatives, where it has already been approved by a key committee.

 

Do you support legislation that would give greater protection to religious liberty? Or do you think that “religious liberty” bills serve as cover to discriminate against gays and lesbians? Do you think that abortion should be outlawed once doctors can detect a fetal heartbeat?

 

Death Penalty Showdown in New Hampshire

 

New Hampshire is the lone New England state that still has the death penalty on the books. Legislators and Gov. Chris Sununu are at odds over the question of whether New Hampshire should join its neighbors in abolishing it.

 

In mid-March, the state Senate voted 14-10 to repeal New Hampshire’s death penalty statute. This is a change from votes in past sessions, where senators deadlocked on the issue. The state House of Representatives has supported repeal legislation in the past. The bill to replace the death penalty with life in prison without possibility of parole now heads to that chamber, where it is likely to pass.

 

Governor Sununu, a Republican, has vowed to veto such legislation. The Senate vote did not fall along party lines, however. There were Republican and Democratic votes on both the pro-repeal and anti-repeal sides. While the Senate voted in favor of the repeal bill, the majority was not large enough to override the governor’s veto.

 

In early March, Governor Sununu signaled his support of the death penalty, saying, “I stand with crime victims, members of the law enforcement community and advocates for justice in opposing a repeal of the death penalty.”

 

There have been no executions in New Hampshire since 1939. Only one person currently sits on the state’s death row – Michael Addison, who murdered a police officer in 2008. The death penalty repeal legislation text specifies that it is only applicable to cases in the future. However, the state’s attorney general has advised that if the state repeals the penalty, it could probably not execute Addison, either.

 

Do you support efforts to repeal the death penalty?

Trump Endorses Gun Control, Armed Teachers

 

In the wake of the school shooting in Florida that claimed 17 lives, there is a renewed call for gun control. One of those people adding his voice to the chorus for more restrictions on gun ownership is President Donald Trump. But he’d also like to see armed teachers as a “GREAT DETERRENT.”

 

Bans on semi-automatic firearms, expanded background checks for private gun sales, and increased age limits on purchasing semi-automatics are among the variety of ideas being proposed by politicians, pundits, and students. On Thursday, February 22, the president tweeted his support for some of these measures, saying “I will be strongly pushing Comprehensive Background Checks with an emphasis on Mental Health. Raise age to 21 and end sale of Bump Stocks! Congress is in a mood to finally do something on this issue - I hope.”

 

He also said that some “gun adept” teachers should be armed to confront school shooters. According to the president, “highly trained” teachers would be quicker to deal with shooters than waiting for law enforcement.

 

Gun control measures have not had much success in Congress in recent years. They face strong opposition from Republicans and some Democrats, especially those representing rural areas. President Trump’s endorsement may break some of this resistance, however.

 

There are some Republicans who are willing to endorse gun control measures. Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) said that he would work with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on legislation to ban sales of AR-15s to people under 21 years of age (currently, anyone over 18 can buy rifles). There is also bipartisan support to pass legislation that would address flaws in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

 

Any legislation to enact new gun laws must gain at least 60 votes in the Senate. It is unclear if these or other gun control proposals can gain enough bipartisan support to overcome that hurdle. President Trump’s backing may make it easier for Republicans to support such measures, however.

 

Do you support new laws that put restrictions on gun ownership? Or do you think that gun control laws are ineffective and infringe upon constitutional rights?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Congress Unlikely to Take up Gun Control

 

In the wake of the mass shooting in Las Vegas, some politicians are calling on Congress to pass new laws restricting access to firearms. They say that it is time for strict gun control aimed at stopping these events. Opponents of this idea push back on the claim that new laws will be effective. Given the makeup of Congress and the limited time period left for work, gun control proponents face a lot of obstacles in D.C.

 

Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) has perhaps been the most vocal member of Congress in calling for new gun laws. In a statement made after the Las Vegas shooting, he said:

 

This must stop. It is positively infuriating that my colleagues in Congress are so afraid of the gun industry that they pretend there aren't public policy responses to this epidemic. There are, and the thoughts and prayers of politicians are cruelly hollow if they are paired with continued legislative indifference. It's time for Congress to get off its ass and do something.

 

A White House spokesperson has said it is premature to discuss gun control, and congressional Republican leadership have not given any indication that they support such a debate.

 

After other shooting events, Democrats have attempted and failed to enact new firearms restrictions at the national level. Congress has a limited time before the end of this year to work on issues such as tax reform, so it appears unlikely that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell or Speaker Paul Ryan will give Democrats an opportunity to advance their proposals this time, either.

 

In fact, if any firearms legislation were to move through Congress yet this year, it may actually loosen federal laws. One proposal that was on the verge of being considered before the Las Vegas shooting was a bill to repeal the $200 federal tax on silencers and make it easier to buy them. Proponents of the bill say that silencers can be useful in preventing hearing damage during hunting or sport shooting. Opponents say that silencers would make mass shootings more deadly by masking the sound of gunshots.

 

If Congress does not act, there is the possibility that state legislators could do something. In 2016, voters and legislators in a few states took action on gun laws. Some of these states (including Nevada) enacted stricter laws, but many others loosened their restrictions.

 

Should gun control be a top priority in Congress? Or do you oppose new restrictions on gun ownership?

 

Supreme Court Tackles Gay Rights and Religious Liberty

 

Should a business owner be free to turn down certain work based on his or her religious convictions? Or should gay and lesbian individuals be protected by law from business owners who discriminate against them?

These are the questions at play in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a case that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear this term.

 

At issue is a Colorado bakery owner who refused to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding reception. The owner cited his religious beliefs opposing same-sex marriage. The couple filed a complaint with the Colorado commission that enforces that state’s law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. After a court fight, the Colorado Supreme Court decided against the bakers, concluding that he did discriminate against the gay couple. The court held that forcing a baker to make a cake infringed neither upon his free speech nor upon the exercise of his religion.

 

There is no nation-wide law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. However, twenty-one states (including Colorado) have such laws. The heart of this case is when laws protecting homosexual individuals from discrimination conflict with the religious-based beliefs of business owners who disapprove of homosexuality or gay marriage.

 

In Masterpiece Cakeshop, the baker contends that the state law forcing him to bake a cake with a pro-gay marriage theme would be a mandate that he condone an activity his religion teaches him to condemn. Those on the other side of the issue say that if a business owner can cite a religious belief to circumvent anti-discrimination laws, these laws will become toothless.

 

The Justice Department has filed a legal brief supporting the baker’s position. This brief backs anti-discrimination laws, but says that these laws cannot be used to force people to advocate for beliefs that they do not hold. Some observers contend that this brief is part of the Trump Administration’s wider agenda that is hostile to gay rights.

 

Arguments for this case will be held at some point during the Supreme Court’s 2017 term, with a decision expected in late spring of next year.

 

Do you think that a business owner has a right to refuse service on the basis of religious beliefs? Or do you think that it is important to ban discrimination regardless of someone’s motives?

 

Nevada Senate Bill 201

 

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

 

Senate Bill 201, Ban Conversion Therapy for Minors: Passed 31 to 8 in the state Senate on May 9, 2017.

 

To prohibit psychotherapists from providing conversion therapy, generally described as counseling designed to change a person's sexual orientation from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual, to a person who is under 18 years of age.

 

Comment below to share what you think of Nevada Senate Bill 201!

 

 

Missouri Senate Bill 5

 

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

 

Senate Bill 5, Expand Regulation of Abortion: Passed 20 to 8 in the state Senate on June 15, 2017.

 

To modify several provisions of state law relating to abortion, including: (1) requirements for post-abortion tissue reports; (2) giving the attorney general jurisdiction over abortion laws; (3) preempting local government abortion regulations; (4) whistle-blower protections for reporting violations of abortion laws; (5) the definition of abortion facilities and licensure of doctors in those facilities; and (6) requirements for regular inspections of abortion facilities.

 

Comment below to share what you think of Missouri Senate Bill 5!

 

 

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