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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

 

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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

 

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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!

 

 

Arizona House Bill 2022

 

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House Bill 2022, Legalize Rat-Shot and Snake-Shot Ammunition: Passed 35 to 25 in the state House on February 1, 2017. 

 

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

 

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Nevada Assembly Bill 99

 

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Assembly Bill 99, Accommodating LGBTQ Youth in the Foster Care System: Passed 18 to 2 in the state Assembly on April 4, 2017.

 

To revise statutes and require new regulations pertaining to the Nevada foster care system to require that  youth in out-of-home placements must be treated, in all respects, in accordance with the child's gender identity or expression, regardless of their assigned sex at birth.

 

Comment below to share what you think of Nevada Assembly Bill 99!

 

 

North Carolina House Bill 746

 

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House Bill 746, Allow Concealed Carry of Handguns Without a Permit: Passed 64 to 51 in the state House on June 8, 2017.

 

To relax several state laws concerning handguns, especially to allow lawful handgun owners, with certain restrictions, to carry openly or concealed without a permit.

 

Comment below to share what you think of North Carolina House Bill 746!

 

 

New Hampshire House Bill 350

 

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House Bill 350, Kill Bill to Ban Guns in Polling Places: Passed 203 to 144 in the state House on 15 February, 2017.

 

To end consideration of a bill that would prohibit possession of a firearm at a polling place during a federal, state, or municipal election. A yes vote kills the bill for the legislative year.

 

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Missouri Senate Bill 5

 

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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!

 

 

Iowa Senate Bill 524

 

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Senate Bill 524, To Allow the Production and Distribution of Cannabis Oil on a Limited Basis: Passed 33 to 7 in the state Senate on April 21, 2017.

 

Under current law, Iowans can possess cannabis oil for the treatment of epilepsy (though its production is prohibited). This bill allows for two companies to make the oil and five to distribute it, and allows its use for a number of ailments including Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis and a terminal illness.

 

Comment below to share what you think of Iowa Senate Bill 524!

 

 

Colorado House Bill 1367

 

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House Bill 1367, Authorize Marijuana Clinical Research: Passed 35 to 30 in the state House on May 10, 2017.

 

Create a marijuana research program. The bill would create multiple licenses governing possession of marijuana for research purposes and growing marijuana for research. The bill makes appropriations of $226,000 for enforcement and legal compliance.

 

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Tennessee House Bill 1291

 

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House Bill 1291, Remove Marijuana Jurisdiction From ABC: Passed 30 to 0 in the state Senate on May 4, 2017.

 

To remove the Alcoholic Beverage Commission’s jurisdiction to enforce criminal offenses involving marijuana.

 

Comment below to share what you think of Tennessee House Bill 1291!

 

 

Pennsylvania Senate Bill 383

 

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Senate Bill 383, Allow Some School Employees to Carry Firearms: Passed 28 to 22 in the state Senate on June 28, 2017.

 

To permit local boards of education to allow some school employees to carry firearms. These employees must be licensed to carry firearms and undergo a psychological examination.

 

Comment below to share what you think of Pennsylvania Senate Bill 383!

 

 

Tennessee Senate Bill 921

 

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Senate Bill 921, Legalize silencers: Passed 28 to 1 in the state Senate on April 3, 2017 and 74 to 18 in the state House on May 1, 2017

 

To remove the prohibition in state law on possessing a firearms silencer.

 

Comment below to share what you think of Tennessee Senate Bill 921!

 

Will the Feds Crack Down on Medical Marijuana?

 

Attorney General Jeff Sessions wants to go after your medical marijuana.

 

At least, he wants the discretion to do so. Currently, there is a restriction that prevents the Department of Justice from spending money from interfering with medical marijuana operations in states where they are legal. Congress placed this prohibition on the annual spending bill that funds the Department of Justice, even though marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

 

According to a letter sent by Attorney General Sessions to members of Congress, the Trump Administration wants Congress to remove this restriction:

 

“I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime. The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.”

 

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein echoed his boss’s views. According to his recent testimony to Congress, “We follow the law and the science. From a legal and scientific perspective, marijuana it is an unlawful drug.”

 

There is also a policy within the Justice Department that gives guidelines on the steps that states can take to avoid federal prosecution of medical marijuana operations within their borders. However, the attorney general can revoke this guidance at any time.

 

Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have laws that permit medicinal use of marijuana. During past years, there has been strong bipartisan support in Congress for the prohibition on the Justice Department’s efforts to interfere with medical marijuana. There is no indication on what Congress will do this year, however.

 

Do you think that the federal government should refrain from interfering with medical marijuana in states where it is legal? Or do you think that the Justice Department should enforce the federal marijuana prohibition, regardless of what state laws say?

 

Sanctuary Cities for Abortion?



The notion of “sanctuary cities,” where local officials do not cooperate with federal immigration authorities, is well-known, if controversial. Now St. Louis is trying to set itself up as a sanctuary city for abortion. That has prompted a lot of controversy in Missouri.

 

Earlier this year, St. Louis passed an ordinance that prohibited an employer or a housing provider from discriminating against women for their “reproductive choices.” This means that an employer could not fire an employee because she got an abortion, but it also means that a pro-life family planning clinic would be forced to hire an applicant who was intending to have an abortion.

 

During their regular session this year, legislators attempted to pass a law that would have overturned the St. Louis ordinance. Such a bill cleared the House of Representatives, but failed in the Senate. Governor Eric Greitens has called a special session of the legislature in another attempt to get a pre-emption law passed.

 

This special session has undertaken a wider agenda than just dealing with the St. Louis ordinance, however. Lawmakers are also considering bills that would impose a variety of restrictions on abortions, such as unannounced inspections of clinics and providing the attorney general power to prosecute abortion law violations.

 

It is unclear what, if any, legislation will come from the special session.

 

Do you support the concept of a “sanctuary city” for abortion? Or do you think that Missouri legislators are on the right track by imposing more restrictions on abortion?

 

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