State and Local Government

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Washington Voters Reject Affirmative Action

In Washington State, voters appear to narrowly reject a legislative initiative that would reinstate affirmative action for state government policies.

 

 Referendum 88 would have permitted the state government and state higher education institutions to use affirmative action in state employment, contracting, and education. The referendum was asking voters to approve or reject an initiative passed by the legislature that allows the state to use race, gender, ethnicity, or national origin as a factor when it comes to making decisions.

 

Early returns indicate that a slim majority of voters are rejecting the referendum.

 

In 1998, state voters passed an initiative that bans preferential treatment based on things like race, sex, or national origin. The new legislative initiative sought to continue banning strict quotas but to allow the use of softer forms of affirmative action.

 

Supporters say that the state should be able to take past discrimination into account when shaping state policies. They say that the 1998 initiative ties the hands of state government efforts to ensure that all people in Washington are treated fairly. Opponents counter that affirmative action policies are themselves discriminatory. They say that state government should treat everyone equally, regardless of race, sex, or national origin.

 

Washington conducts its elections exclusively by mail. Ballots must be marked by 8 p.m. on Election Day, so it can take days to tabulate final calculations.

 

Do you support state affirmative action policies that allow government to take factors such as race or sex into account when it comes to hiring, education, or contracting?

New Jersey Millionaire Tax Fails

Governor Phil Murphy pushed hard to impose a new tax on millionaires in New Jersey. But on Sunday he signed a budget bill into law without the tax, which kept the government open but dealt the governor’s progressive agenda a defeat.

 

The governor was pushing to increase the tax rate on income over $1 million from 8.97% to 10.75% as part of an overall spending plan for the state. Legislators balked at this tax increase, however, saying that the state already had an overly high tax burden. They removed the governor’s millionaire tax from the budget, and sent it to him for his signature. Gov. Murphy decided to sign the bill without his tax increase. Vetoing the bill would have shut down the state government.

 

Gov. Murphy is a Democrat and the state legislature is controlled by Democrats. However, the governor has pursued a more liberal agenda than many legislators are comfortable supporting. He has advocated legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes, for instance, which failed. This millionaire tax was another proposal that went too far for Democratic lawmakers, and they dealt the governor another defeat on it.

 

The removal of the millionaire tax was noticed by President Trump, who tweeted his approval.

 

Do you think that there should be a special tax rate on income over $1 million?

Cases Challenging Planned Parenthood Funding Bans Stand

Today, the Supreme Court took a minor foray into the debate over abortion. The justices refused to hear cases challenging court decisions involving state bans on Planned Parenthood funding. Some see this as a victory for abortion rights, but the reality is more complex.

 

A number of states have passed laws removing taxpayer funding from Planned Parenthood. While Planned Parenthood provides a variety of reproductive services, the organization also performs abortions. Lawmakers who voted to end government money to Planned Parenthood did not want to provide financial support for an organization involved with abortion.

 

Predictably, there were lawsuits. In Kansas and Louisiana, the cases involved whether or not Medicaid recipients who received services from Planned Parenthood could sue over the ending of state support for the organization. Lower courts held that they could and the Supreme Court declined to take a case that would have reviewed these court decisions. This decision allows the lower court cases to proceed.

 

Three justices, with Clarence Thomas in the lead, said the court should have taken up the case. He pointed out that the issue did not directly involve abortion rights, but instead involved the question of whether or not an individual could sue under the Medicaid Act. However, he claimed that the other justices were reluctant to wade into a wider debate over abortion, so they declined to take up this case.

 

This case involved only one aspect of the Planned Parenthood funding bans. There may be other cases involving this issue that reach the Supreme Court in the future.

 

Do you think that states should cut off funding for Planned Parenthood? Should people who receive services be able to sue if the funding to Planned Parenthood is eliminated?

Baltimore May Bar Landlords from Rejecting Section 8 Tenants

If a potential renter approaches a Baltimore landlord with Section 8 voucher, that person can be turned away. The city council may soon make this illegal.

 

Under a bill supported by a majority of city council members, Baltimore landlords could not discriminate against potential renters based on how someone pays his or her rent. While this would apply to any payment method, the intention is to prevent what some see as discrimination against Section 8 voucher holders.

 

Proponents of this law argue that there is an affordable housing crisis, so this requirement would make it easier for people to find homes. They say that landlords should not be able to discriminate against someone merely because they think that people with Section 8 vouchers would make bad tenants. Opponents of the mandate argue that landlords should have the freedom to choose their tenants. They say that accepting Section 8 vouchers poses a variety of problems and that the issues are not with the tenants but with these other complications.

 

The Baltimore bill has yet to receive a vote, but it is cosponsored by enough city council members to pass. Fifteen states and a variety of local governments have similar mandates that landlords must take all types of payment that renters offer. Maryland does not have such legislation, although a bill to impose such a mandate did pass one house of the General Assembly in 2017.

 

Do you think that landlords should be forced to accept tenants using Section 8 vouchers?

Recreational Marijuana May Be Legalized in New Jersey

Legislators in New Jersey today considered a package of bills that, if passed, could make the state the eleventh to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

 

Committees in both the Assembly and the Senate held hearings on legislation to expand the state’s medicinal marijuana program, permit marijuana to be used for recreational purposes, and allow more crimes to be eligible for expungement.

 

One of the bills under consideration would allow state residents who are 21 or older to possess an ounce of cannabis for personal uses. Smoking marijuana in public would be treated similar to smoking tobacco. Home cultivation would not be allowed under this legislation. The state would tax the sale of legal marijuana at 12%, with local governments able to impose another 2% tax rate.

 

Another bill would allow medical marijuana patients to possess 3 ounces of cannabis. Currently they can only possess 2 ounces. These patients could also buy edible marijuana products under this legislation and could buy from any dispensary, instead of being limited to one dispensary as they currently are today.

 

Governor Phil Murphy is supportive of legalization, but has differed with legislators on the details. For instance, he pushed for a 25% tax rate on legal marijuana sales. Legislators ultimately put a lower rate in legislation in order to deter black market sales.

 

Both legislative bodies are controlled by Democrats, and there are indications that a majority of legislators support some form of legalization.

 

Of the 11 states that allow legal use of recreational marijuana, only Vermont has legalized the use through the legislative process. The other 10 states passed legalization through ballot measures.

 

Do you support the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes?

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

 

Virginia

  • $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

 

Tennessee

  • $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?

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?

Is Rent Control Coming to Illinois?

 

Rent hikes are a source of loud complaints across Chicago. Some activists think that government should put controls on how high rental increases can go, but state law forbids this. The Democratic candidate for governor wants to lift this prohibition.

 

Currently, state law does not allow local governments to place caps on rent increases. This prevents Chicago or other cities from enacting rent control. In three city wards, however, activists have placed a measure on the November ballot that would gauge voters’ opinion on rent control. These measures are non-binding, but would indicate whether or not these residents support rent control.

 

J.B. Pritzker, the Democrat running for governor, would like to repeal the state law banning rent control. Republican Governor Bruce Rauner does not support repeal. His opposition to allowing rent control has likely played a role in preventing serious consideration of a repeal bill in the legislature. A Chicago legislator has proposed the establishment of county boards, controlled by tenants, which would keep rent increases at 4-6% a year for elderly and low-income renters or renters with disabilities.

 

Supporters of rent control say that it is a way to prevent landlords from pricing out low-income residents in the face of gentrification. They say rent control is a good way to stabilize neighborhoods and promote affordable housing. Rent control opponents say that the use of rent control in cities like New York has demonstrated that it leads to reduced investment in housing and higher rental rates for those not covered by rent control.

 

Do you think that the government should tell landlords how much they can raise rent?

 

Gambling Issues Face Florida Voters

 

The future of Florida gambling will be shaped by what the state’s voters decide in November.

 

There will be 13 ballot measures facing Florida voters in the general election. One will deal with who has the power to determine whether to legalize gambling. Another could end dog racing in the state.

 

The first initiative is Amendment 3. Its text would give voters the “exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling in the State of Florida.” That means that legislators could not pass a law to legalize casino gambling nor could they refer a constitutional amendment to legalize gambling to the ballot for voters to decide. Only through a citizen initiative could the state constitution be changed to allow casino gambling. Currently, slot machines are currently permitted at racing facilities in two Florida counties, and the Seminole tribe also offers blackjack gambling in five facilities. 

 

 

Supporters of the amendment say that voters, not legislators, should be the ones who decide the future of casino gambling in Florida. According to them, this amendment would ensure that legislators are too influenced by lobbyists and backroom deals. Opponents of Amendment 3 point out that its passage would greatly benefit the Seminole Tribe by protecting its gambling operations from competition. The Seminole Tribe has provided significant funding to place this initiative before voters.

 

The second gambling-related measure on November’s ballot is Amendment 13. This state constitutional amendment would prohibit wagering on dog races. Currently, Florida joins 10 other states in allowing gambling on dog racing. This amendment would outlaw that practice and empower the legislature to enact civil or criminal penalties for those who engage in it. Amendment 13 came about not by citizens initiating it, but by the state’s Constitution Revision Commission. That commission meets every 20 years and refers constitutional changes to the voters.

 

Do you think that only voters, not legislators, should decide on the future of casino gambling in Florida? Should Florida ban betting on dog races?

 

Colorado Overhauls Pension System

 

 

Colorado’s pension system has a big problem – it doesn’t have enough money to pay its promised benefits. Reforms enacted during this year’s legislative session may be enough to fix these problems, but they will bring changes to the way state employees plan for retirement.

 

At the beginning of this year, the gap between what the state government promised its retirees and what its pension system had available to pay those promises was between $32 billion and $50 billion. If lawmakers did not find a way to close this gap, retirees would face large benefit cuts in the future.

 

Governor John Hickenlooper and legislators crafted a bipartisan bill that changed the state retirement system in a number of ways:

  • The percentage of pay that state employees must contribute as their share of paying for the pension plan will go up from 8% to 10%.
  • The retirement age for both teachers and state government workers will go up to 64. Currently, teachers can retire at 58 and state employees at 60.
  • More workers can opt out of the pension plan and instead choose to use something like a 401(k) for their retirement.
  • Current retirees will not have a cost-of-living raise for the next two years.
  • Once that two-year freeze is over, the cost-of-living increase will be 1.5%, down from 2% currently.
  • The state will pay $225 million a year to the pension system to meet its unfunded liabilities.
  • There will also be a .25% payroll tax that the state government and school districts will pay that will go towards meeting pension obligations.

 

These reforms come on top of 2010 legislation that also attempted to shore up the pension system.

 

Some unions representing state employees did not like all of the changes, such as raising the retirement age to 64. The proposal also came under attack from some conservative commentators, who say that it does not go far enough to fix the state pension system’s problems.

 

Do you think that it is fair to ask state employees to retire at 64 instead of 58 or 60? Should retirees’ cost-of-living increase for their pensions be lowered to 1.5% to help shore up the pension fund?

 

New Jersey Passes Subsidies for Renewable, Nuclear Energy

 

 

During this year’s legislative session, lawmakers in the Garden State grappled with what to do about climate change. With a new Democratic governor and Democratic control of the legislature, there was general agreement that energy subsidies were the path forward. What emerged for Governor Phil Murphy’s signature were bills that increased the government’s renewable energy mandate and provided subsidies for nuclear power.

The first bill dealt with the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, which mandates that a set percentage of electricity in the state must be generated from renewable sources such as solar and wind. The bill that Governor Murphy signed into law would set one the most ambitious renewable energy goals in the nation. Previously, New Jersey’s renewable energy mandate was 24.5% by 2020. Under the new bill, this would be dramatically increased. The legislation would require the following:

  • A 35% renewable energy goal by 2025
  • A 50% renewable energy goal by 2050
  • An increase in both offshore wind and solar usage
  • More usage of utility net metering

 

Since renewable energy sources generally cost more than other sources of electricity, this mandate will likely lead to an increase in energy prices paid by New Jersey consumers.

 

These consumers will also be paying higher prices due to the other piece of energy legislation, a bill that gives subsidies to the state’s nuclear power plants. The operating costs of these plants make it difficult for them to compete with lower-cost energy sources, especially natural gas. Because they were losing money, the plants owners said that they would shut them down unless they received state aid. Legislators and the governor agreed, providing them with $300 million in yearly subsidies.

 

Supporters of these bills say they are necessary to help the state achieve its goal of achieving an 80 reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. They point out that nuclear power plants generate 40% of the state’s power without producing any carbon. If these plants shut down, they say, there would be no way for the state to lower its carbon emissions. The nuclear subsidies, as well as the state support for renewable energy, will put New Jersey on the path to a lower-carbon future, according to advocates.

 

Opponents of the bills note that New Jersey ratepayers will be facing higher bills under this legislation. They contend that the nuclear subsidies are simply corporate welfare for well-connected energy companies. They also say that the renewable energy targets are unrealistic, considering the very small amount of energy that can currently be produced using wind or solar.

 

Governor Murphy and legislators have laid out an ambitious plan for carbon-free energy in New Jersey. It remains to be seen whether the state’s government support for these energy sources will allow the state to meet its ambitious environmental goals.

 

Do you think that electricity consumers should pay more to subsidize nuclear power plants and renewable energy? Or are subsidies for these carbon-free energy sources necessary to address climate change?

 

 

Tesla Battling to Sell Cars Directly to Connecticut Consumers

 

If you live in Connecticut and want to buy a Tesla, you have to travel to a neighboring state. Connecticut law mandates that new cars can only be sold through franchises, but Tesla sells their cars directly to consumers. Legislators are considering a bill that would change the way cars can be sold in Connecticut, but it has garnered fierce opposition from existing franchise owners.

 

For decades, Connecticut has prohibited automobile manufacturers from selling vehicles directly to people who want to buy them. Instead, the state mandates that car sales must be made through independent franchises. This law is similar to laws that all 50 states passed to protect independent vehicle dealers from what was perceived as unfair competition from automobile manufacturers. Lawmakers at the time saw manufacturers as having too much power to undersell or coerce independent dealers, so passed laws that prohibited these manufacturers from selling directly to the public.

 

Tesla does not operate its sales in the same was as other automobile companies, however. It contends that independent dealers will not prioritize sales of its cars, so it wants the ability to market them directly to people who are interested in buying them. The company has been working in states around the country to change laws that prohibit it from making sales in this way. Connecticut consumers can buy cars from Tesla dealerships in New York or Massachusetts, and some do. Tesla contends that Connecticut is losing out on tax revenue by banning the car’s sale in the state.

 

Franchise owners say that if legislators change the law, it will lead to an un-level playing field for them. They argue that Tesla dealerships have fewer employees and lower overhead, so they will have an unfair advantage. They also argue that jobs will be lost at franchises if the state allows for manufacturers like Tesla to sell directly to consumers.

 

Legislators have been debating this issue for four years in Connecticut. There have been attempts to find a compromise between dealers and Tesla, but so far the two sides cannot come to a consensus. It remains to be seen if this will be the year that lawmakers break through the impasse and allow Tesla’s cars to be sold in the state.

 

Do you think that state laws should prohibit Tesla from being sold directly to consumers? Or do you think it is a good idea to have laws that mandate cars be sold through independent franchises?

 

 

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?

California May Restrict Police Use of Deadly Force

 

The issue of police shootings has been a topic of heated debate in recent years. From 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri to the shooting of Stephon Clark in Sacramento last month, many are questioning the standard under which police officers can legally kill someone. In response to these incidents, a handful of California legislators want to make it more difficult for law enforcement to use lethal force.

 

Currently, police operate under the standard of “reasonable use” of deadly force. That is, prosecutors ask whether police acted reasonably when they killed someone whom they perceived to be threatening them. Critics of this standard contend that it gives police broad discretion to use lethal force, with few officers found to be acting “unreasonably.”

 

California legislators have introduced a bill that would change this standard. If this bill becomes law, it would allow police to use deadly force only when necessary and there is no other way to prevent injury. Under this standard, police would have to use de-escalation tactics prior to shooting at someone.

 

This proposal is not the only bill that would reform the way law enforcement operates in California. Other bills would allow more public access to police personnel records. Under the state’s Peace Officers’ Bill of Rights, these records are tightly sealed. Under a bill that is being considered, the public would have access to records involving use-of-force, sexual assault, and lying on duty.

 

Police unions in the state have been successful in convincing legislators to defeat bills that would have changed the laws governing their activities in the past. They argue that such bills would hamper their ability to protect the public.  

 

Given that past bills to change law enforcement procedures have not been successful in California, many are predicting that this legislation will fail in the legislature, too. However, there is increasing public scrutiny over police shootings in the state in the wake of the killing of Clark, who was unarmed and whom family say was shot in the back. Governor Jerry Brown has not indicated his support of or opposition to these bills.

 

Do you think that it should be more difficult for police to use deadly force on a suspect? Or would new restrictions on police use-of-force hurt efforts to fight crime?

 

 

Maryland Considers Armed Police in Every School

 

Across the country, legislators are considering what should be done to protect children when they attend school. After the deadly shooting in Parkland, Florida, there have been a variety of proposals discussed, most of which deal with gun control. New restrictions on firearms are not the only ideas being debated, however. In Maryland, one bill under consideration would provide an armed guard in every school.

 

Under this Maryland legislation, the state’s 1,400 schools would each have an armed police officer in them. Currently, around 400 Maryland schools already have an armed school resource officer, so this would apply to the other 1,000 schools without such guards.

 

One of the major concerns this bill raises is cost. It would provide around 1,000 new officers at a cost of $224,000 each (for compensation, car, uniforms, and training). That is a $224 million price tag in the first year.

 

Another issue brought up by legislators skeptical of this proposal is that in some areas of the state, students are wary of police. This bill, they say, would lead to these students feeling intimidated.

 

Supporters of this bill counter this assertion by saying that school resource officers lead to improved community relations with law enforcement. They also argue that this measure is needed to ensure that school shootings are less likely.

 

This legislation is part of a series of bills that seeks to address school shootings. A companion bill would establish a threat assessment team in schools to evaluate students’ potential for mass violence, while another would mandate that schools have lockable classroom doors and safe rooms.

 

Do you think that every school should have an armed police officer stationed in it?

 

 

Paying a Fee to Enter NYC

 

Manhattan’s streets are busy – especially during weekdays, when commuters swell the island’s population. Governor Andrew Cuomo would like to make commuters who drive to the city pay for the privilege. Legislators, however, are cool to this idea.

 

Governor Cuomo supports what is called “congestion pricing,” which would impose a fee on drivers going into Manhattan during certain times. He appointed a task force that recently proposed charging drivers $11.52 to drive into parts of Manhattan during peak hours. The task force also called for per-ride fees ranging from $2 to $5 on for-hire services such as Uber and Lyft. The money would go to fund the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates the city’s subway and bus systems.

 

Legislators did not include this proposal in their budget. They have been wary of embracing proposals that would charge some commuters more fees to enter Manhattan. They say it is not fair to place even more financial hardship on the residents of other boroughs who work on the island. They also point out that not everyone has easy access to transit, so some people must drive to their jobs.

 

Proponents of congestion pricing say that it will raise money to beef up transit services. They also note that charging people for entering the city during peak hours will discourage some people from driving, thus reducing congestion for those who do.

 

This idea has been discussed for many years in Albany, but it has never gained serious traction. Governor Cuomo has supported it throughout his term, but some transit advocates say that he has not been a very strong supporter. It remains to be seen what, if any, congestion pricing plan may emerge during budget negotiations.

 

Do you think that drivers should pay a fee for entering Manhattan during busy times? Or is charging commuters a fee to enter the city unfair to those who live outside of Manhattan?

Hemp, Juvenile Crime, Welfare Reform Hot Topics in Missouri

 

Missouri Governor Eric Greitens may be embroiled in scandal, but legislators in Jefferson City are busy passing bills, trying not to let the governor’s troubles affect their work. The 2018 legislative session has dealt with a number of issues. Among them, legislators have passed bills that would legalize the industrial use of hemp, reform juvenile justice, and limit how welfare recipients can use their EBT cards.

 

Industrial hemp

 

Under legislation passed by both houses of the legislature, Missourians will be able to grow hemp for industrial uses if they apply for a permit, are fingerprinted, and pass a background check. The state’s Department of Agriculture would set up regulations for the growing and processing of hemp. It would also inspect farms. If hemp has a THC content above .3%, the department would destroy it.

 

Juvenile justice reform

 

Currently in Missouri, 17-year-olds who are accused of crimes are tried as adults. Only four other states set the age for being tried as an adult to 18. Under legislation passed by the state Senate, this would change. This bill would change the age of adult jurisdiction to 18. Supporters contend that it will not only save the state money by reducing incarceration rates, it will also give youth in the criminal justice system a better opportunity for reform.

 

Welfare restrictions

 

Under legislation being considered in the state House of Representatives, recipients of government benefits could no longer use their electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards to withdraw cash at ATM machines. In addition, the bill further specifies what items would be prohibited from being purchased with these cards and where the cards could be used. An amendment was also added during consideration of the bill that would increase penalties for recipients who misuse government benefits. Supporters of this bill say that it is needed to ensure that these benefits are not abused. Opponents contend that these provisions will only make life more difficult for benefit recipients and that parts of the bill violate federal law.

 

Do you think that industrial hemp should be legalized? Should 17-year-olds be tried for crimes in adult or juvenile court? Should more restrictions be placed on the use of EBT cards?

 

 

Illinois Governor, Legislators Fight over Guns

 

Gun control is a hot topic in many states’ legislative sessions. In Illinois, this issue has put Democratic legislators on a collision course with the Republican governor.

 

In the wake of the Florida school shooting that left 17 dead and the killing of a Chicago police officer, legislators in Springfield passed a host of new gun control measures. One bill would ban “bump stocks,” which allow semi-automatic firearms to simulate fully-automatic guns. Another bill would impose a 72-hour waiting period on people looking to purchase firearms that resemble military weapons, as well as ban anyone under 21 years of age from buying them. The bill also allows local governments to ban these guns. A third bill would mandate that gun retailers must register with the state.

 

When it reached his desk, Governor Bruce Rauner vetoed gun retailer registration bill. That legislation would require businesses that sell, lease, or transfer firearms to be registered with the state. Gun dealers would have to take training on background checks and safe storage, among other things. The fees for this new registration would be capped at $1,000 every five years. The federal government already regulates gun dealers, and this legislation would add another layer of state regulation.

 

“It's unnecessary, burdensome regulation,” according to Gov. Rauner. Senators have scheduled a veto override vote in April.

 

Legislators have been reconciling differences between the House and Senate versions of the other gun control bills. It is unclear if Gov. Rauner will veto or sign these bills into law.

 

Do you think that Illinois should impose its own registration requirement on firearms retailers? Should the government ban the sale of assault weapons to people under 21 years old?

 

 

Firework Freedom in Minnesota

 

If you want to set off a Roman candle to celebrate American independence, you can’t buy one in Minnesota. Some legislators want to allow the sale of these and other fireworks in the state, but Governor Dayton is skeptical.

 

Current law in Minnesota only allows a very limited selections of fireworks to be sold in the state, such as sparklers and ground poppers. If Minnesotans want to buy more potent fireworks, they must travel out-of-state. Neighboring states have more lenient laws, which is evidenced by the fireworks stands that dot the border communities.

 

Legislators passed a bill to legalize a wider assortment of fireworks in 2012, but Governor Dayton vetoed it. The governor also expressed opposition to a similar measure in 2016. He is likely to veto such a bill this year if legislators once again pass it.

 

Supporters of allowing more types of fireworks to be sold in Minnesota say that the state’s residents are already purchasing them, but out-of-state businesses are profiting. Legalizing their sale in Minnesota would help the state's businesses and increase sales tax revenue.

 

Opponents, such as the state fire marshal, contend that the wider availability of fireworks is a safety hazard. They say that injuries and fires due to fireworks will increase, necessitating more police and fire services. Some city officials echo these complaints, adding that more potent fireworks will fuel complaints between neighbors.

 

Do you think that the government should limit fireworks sales? Or should Minnesotans be free to purchase Roman candles, bottle rockets, and other fireworks?

Pennsylvania Legislators Consider Arming Teachers

 

 

In the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 dead, there has been a national debate about what, if any, new laws need to be passed. One result is a renewed push for gun control from some activists and politicians. Pennsylvania legislators, however, are advancing legislation that would permit school districts to arm their employees.

 

Under a bill passed by the state Senate, the state’s school districts would be empowered to set policies that would allow teachers and other employees to have access to firearms on school grounds. The legislator who introduced the bill represents a school where a student knife attack injured 20 people in 2014. He says that having armed staff would make the schools safer, especially in rural areas where police response time is slower.

 

Opponents of the legislation contend that expanding firearm access in school will provide more opportunities for killings to occur. The Pennsylvania State Education Association strongly opposes the bill, preferring instead that legislators provide more money for school safety features and more support staff.

 

While the bill is generally supported by Republicans in the legislature, it is opposed by Democratic Governor Tom Wolfe. He has vowed to veto the bill if both houses of the General Assembly pass it. The legislation gained the support from a majority of senators, but it did not pass by a veto-proof margin.

 

Do you think that allowing teachers and other school staff to be armed would reduce school shootings? Or do you think that it dangerous to allow more guns in schools?

 

 

 

 

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