State and Local Government

Commentary & Community

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?





Massachusetts May Pass Sweeping Criminal Justice Reform


How Massachusetts prosecutes crime and punishes criminals may undergo a massive overhaul under legislation being considered in the commonwealth. Legislators recently unveiled a bill that would make numerous changes to the criminal code. If enacted, this would be the most comprehensive criminal justice reform for the state in decades.


Among other things, this legislation would:

  • Decriminalize some minor offenses, such as being in the presence of heroin, and allow prosecutors more discretion in using diversion instead of punishment for other minor offenses
  • Mandate that judges must consider the financial capacity of defendants when setting bail
  • Eliminate a variety of mandatory minimum sentences related to non-opioid drug offenses
  • Increase the mandatory minimum sentences for opioid trafficking
  • Increase penalties for intimidating witnesses
  • Reduce the use of solitary confinement in prisons
  • Allow the release of prisoners who are incapacitated and do not pose a public safety risk
  • Reduce fees imposed on defendants
  • Increase privacy protections for criminal records
  • Raise age of juvenile criminal jurisdiction from 7 years of age to 12 years of age
  • House 18-24 year-olds separately in prison from other inmates
  • Prevent parents and children from testifying against each other for most crimes
  • Provide stronger oversight of crime labs


The bill’s supporters say that this is a long-overdue reform that would make the criminal justice system fairer and reduce its impact on people in poverty and minorities. However, some of the provisions in the legislation are strongly opposed by prosecutors. One of the provisions that is most troubling to this group is the prohibition on parents testifying against their minor children. Supporters of that idea say it is a way to prevent families from being torn apart, but prosecutors contend that it would prevent testimony necessary for convictions. Another provision disliked by prosecutors is ending juvenile court jurisdiction for children ages 7 to 11, effectively meaning that there would be no criminal penalties for crimes committed by children in this age group.


The legislation is a compromise version of House and Senate bills. It must be passed by an up-or-down vote in both chambers with no amendments allowed. With Democrats controlling both chambers, it is expected to pass. Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican, has not indicated whether he would sign it or not.


Do you think support reforming laws to reduce mandatory minimum sentences and reduce fees on defendants? Do you think that lightening criminal laws will lead to more crime?



Feds Battle California over Immigration

President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have a very clear view on immigration. They support cracking down on illegal immigrants, using whatever tools the federal government has at its disposal. California officials, with Governor Jerry Brown at the forefont, have the opposite view. They vow not to cooperate with federal immigration efforts. This has prompted a legal and political showdown in the Golden State.


In March, President Trump traveled to California and attacked the state’s immigration laws, saying, “You have sanctuary cities where you have criminals living in the sanctuary cities.” This occurred shortly after Attorney General Jeff Sessions filed suit against California to stop it from enforcing three laws that pertain to immigration.


The first law being challenged by the Trump Administration is a “sanctuary state” statute. This prohibits state and local law enforcement from inquiring about a person’s immigration status when they are arrested or sharing information with federal immigration authorities. The bill also prohibits law enforcement from cooperating with enforcing federal immigration detainers unless someone has been convicted of certain crimes within the past 15 years.


The challenge to this bill is on shaky legal ground, according to many experts. State and local governments have no duty to cooperate with federal law enforcement or enforce federal laws. The Supreme Court has ruled that the federal government cannot pass laws that mandate states do so. To the extent that this bill prohibits state cooperation with federal immigration agencies, then it appears to be able to withstand the Trump Administration challenge.


Attorney General Sessions probably has a better case against the other two laws, however. One of those laws bans private business owners from cooperating with federal immigration enforcement unless the federal authorities have a court order. Business owners that voluntarily provide the federal government with immigration information about employees or access to these employees could face fines of $100,000 under this law. The other law requires the state attorney general to investigate federal law enforcement efforts concerning immigration.


The California officials named in the federal suit, including Gov. Brown and Attorney General Xavier Becerra, contend that these laws are necessary to protect people who may be in the country illegally but are not harming anyone. The Trump Administration counters that California officials are unlawfully interfering with the federal government’s immigration power.


If California prevails in the suit, it is likely that other states led by Democratic elected officials will enact similar laws. If the Trump Administration wins, it may embolden Republicans to enact laws at the state and federal level to crack down further on illegal immigration.


Do you think that California law enforcement should refuse to cooperate with federal deportation efforts? Or is the Trump Administration right that California is interfering with federal immigration laws?

Tax Hike Coming to New Jersey


New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has ambitious spending plans for his first year in office. Legislators have their own budget plans. Once they settle their differences, however, it appears that taxes will be going up in the Garden State.


The newly-elected Democratic governor’s budget proposes spending $37.4 billion in the next fiscal year, an increase of 8% over the current fiscal year’s level. A major area where this new spending would be allocated is for the state’s pension system. Currently underfunded, Gov. Murphy wants to put $3.2 billion towards shoring it up. There would also be an additional $284 million for K-12 education spending, $57 million for preschool, $50 million for subsidies for community college students, and $167 for the state’s transit agency.


Paying for this new spending would come from a variety of tax hikes:

  • An income tax of 10.75% on those making $1 million or more, retroactive to January 1
  • A sales tax increase from 6.625% to 7%
  • New taxes on users of Uber, Lyft, Airbnb and similar services


Gov. Murphy will also push to legalize, and then tax, recreational marijuana.


Even though Democrats control the legislature, it is unclear if how this tax plan will fare. Senate President Steve Sweeney favors increasing income taxes on corporations making over $1 million a year. He has been cool to the idea of a “millionaire’s tax,” such as the one proposed by the governor.


Under New Jersey’s constitution, legislators can either use the governor’s budget plan or develop one of their own. Given the disagreement on taxes, this may be the option that legislators exercise this year.


Regardless of these differences, both the governor and legislators support higher spending. With the disagreement centered on what taxes to increase, not on whether to increase taxes at all, it appears certain that New Jersey taxpayers will be paying more soon.


Do you support higher taxes in New Jersey? Is it a good idea to legalize and tax recreational marijuana as suggested by Gov. Murphy?

Guns, Medicaid, Energy Rates All Big Issues in Virginia Legislative Session


Virginia’s 2017 elections left the commonwealth with divided government once again. Democratic Governor Ralph Northam faces his first legislative session with Republicans in control of both the House of Delegates and the Senate. Republicans only have a thin majority in both houses, however, which gives the governor leverage. On some issues, such as gun control, the governor and legislators have clashed. On other issues, such as electricity rates and criminal justice reform, there has been bipartisan compromise.

Here are some of the big issues at play in the 2018 Virginia legislative session:




Democratic legislators have introduced a variety of gun control bills, some at the request of the governor. These bills include bills to ban bump stocks, expand background checks, and ease the process of seizing guns from those whom family members consider a threat. Republican legislators have defeated all of these proposals. This issue became a flashpoint in the House of Delegates after the recent school shooting in Florida, with legislators making impassioned speeches on both sides of the issue. However, no legislative action resulted.




Whether or not to expand Virginia’s Medicaid program in line with the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, is a major point of dispute between the governor and Republicans. Gov. Northam wants to see the state expand its Medicaid eligibility to include childless, able-bodied adults who live in households with income up to 138% of the federal poverty level. Legislative Republicans resisted a similar Medicaid expansion under Gov. McAuliffe, but Gov. Northam has said that he would support work requirements and other conditions on beneficiaries. This concession has won him some support in the House of Delegates, but senators are so far standing firm against expansion.


Criminal justice reform


While Gov. Northam and legislative Republicans have differing views on how to reform Virginia’s criminal justice system, they were able to agree on a compromise in this area. Gov. Northam made it a priority to raise the $200 threshold for felony theft, which was the lowest in the nation. Republicans agreed to raise the level to $500 in exchange for the governor’s support of strengthening the state’s efforts to collect restitution for victims of crimes.


State regulations


The governor and Republicans also agreed on a legislative package that would reduce state business regulations. This would initially involve a pilot program that targets the Department of Criminal Justice Services and the Department of Professional and Occupational Licensing. The end result of this pilot program could be to lessen state mandates on individuals seeking work in certain occupations, such as private investigators or tow truck drivers. The overall goal of this bipartisan reform is to reduce state regulations by 25% over three years. Legislative Republicans are also working to advance an amendment to the state constitution that would give the legislature power to approve or disapprove regulations. If this proposal passes the General Assembly, it will be on November’s ballot.


Energy rates


In the wake of the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan, Virginia lawmakers froze the electricity rates for Dominion Energy customers for the past three years. That will change under legislation agreed to by the governor and legislators. This bill will allow rate increases and encourage the utility company to invest in infrastructure and renewable energy. Critics call this a giveaway to an energy company that enjoys a near-monopoly in the commonwealth.


Offshore drilling


The Trump Administration has released a plan that would eventually allow oil and natural gas exploration off of Virginia’s coastline. Governor Northam has spoken out against this proposal, asking that the federal government exempt Virginia waters from any offshore drilling plan.



Do you think that Virginia legislators should pass more restrictions on gun ownership? Is Governor Northam right to push for a Medicaid expansion under Obamacare? Do you support exploring for oil and natural gas in Virginia’s coastal waters?


Presidential Tax Returns, Term Limits, Gerrymandering at Play in Maryland Legislature


During the Maryland’s 2018 legislative session, lawmakers are considering many bills that touch on how state elections should be conducted – which is appropriate given that Gov. Hogan and every seat in the General Assembly is up for election this year. The Republican governor and the Democratic-controlled legislature often have sharply differing views on legislation, and election bills are no exception.


Here are some of the high-profile election measures being discussed in the General Assembly this year:


Presidential Tax Returns


During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump broke with decades of tradition in not releasing his income tax returns to the public. Under legislation approved by the Maryland Senate, any candidate who wants to be on the state ballot would be required to do so in the future. This bill would mandate that any presidential candidate would have to give the Maryland State Board of Elections a copy of his or her tax returns for the past five years prior to being certified for the ballot. The board would then release those returns to the public. Senators voted down an amendment to apply such a standard to state candidates. If this bill becomes law, there is likely to be a legal fight over concerns that it places requirements on presidential candidates that go beyond what the U.S. Constitution allows.




In 2015, Gov. Hogan put together a bipartisan commission to consider reforms to the state’s process for drawing district lines for Congress and the General Assembly. This commission produced a report that recommended a variety of ways to limit gerrymandering. These included empowering an independent commission to draw districts that are compact, composed of contiguous territory, and that respect county and city lines. Legislators failed to act on these recommendations when they were made in 2016. The governor continues to press for a constitutional amendment that would implement these changes.


Term Limits


During his State of the State Address, Gov. Hogan proposed limiting legislators to serving two four-year terms. He called on members of the Senate and House of Delegates to place the issue on the November ballot for voters to decide. Fifteen other states have term limits for legislators and the Maryland governor is limited to serving two terms. It seems unlikely that there is enough support from legislators to put this issue before voters, however.


Foreign Election Observers


As with the tax return bill, the 2016 election also influenced debate over legislation that would make it easier for foreigners to observe the conduct of Maryland elections. This bill would ease the process for international election observers to operate in Maryland. The bill easily passed committee, but when it reached the Senate floor there were concerns about foreign meddling. Senate President Mike Miller specifically brought up accusations of Russian interference in the 2016 election as a reason to oppose the bill. Eventually the Senate voted to recommit the bill to committee, effectively killing it.



Do you support term limits for legislators? What do you think about requiring presidential candidates to release their tax returns?

Keystone XL Pipeline Moving Forward


After years of delay, the Keystone XL Pipeline cleared its last significant regulatory hurdle. TransCanada is now free to complete its controversial multi-billion pipeline project.


This final approval came when the Nebraska Public Service Commission granted approval for TransCanada to build the pipeline through that state. On a 3-2 vote, the PSC supported an alternate route for the Keystone XL Pipeline instead of TransCanada’s first choice. This new route will not go through the state’s Sandhill region.


President Obama had stopped this project at the federal level. TransCanada initially applied for a federal permit in 2008 to allow the pipeline to cross the U.S./Canadian border. In 2015, Congress passed legislation that would authorize the construction of the pipeline. President Obama vetoed this bill. Later that year, he rejected TransCanada’s application to build. President Trump reversed this action when he took office, clearing the way for Nebraska’s consideration of the issue.


Business and labor groups support the pipeline, saying that it will create jobs and provide the U.S. with a reliable supply of oil. Environmentalists oppose the pipeline because it will be carrying petroleum from oil sands in Canada. They also have concerns about the pipeline’s potential impact on Nebraska’s water supply.


Approval of the alternate route means that TransCanada will have to devise new agreements with landowners, something that will further delay the pipeline’s completion. However, barring any court challenges, the fight over the fate of the Keystone XL Pipeline appears to be over.


Do you support construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline?


Governor’s Appointment Powers Curbed in North Carolina


North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper and the Republicans who control the General Assembly have had a rough first year. One of their areas of contention is over the governor’s appointment power. With a supermajority in the legislature, Republicans have little fear that Gov. Cooper’s vetoes of legislation to curtail his power to make appointments will stick. The governor has had some success in court in fighting back against these legislative moves, but a recent court decision was a setback for him.


Legislators and the governor both agree that appointments to various state boards and commissions is very important. However, they disagree on who should make appointments to these positions. Late last year, legislators removed some judicial appointment power from the incoming governor. Here are some of the bills considered by the legislature this year that continue with this theme:


House Bill 335, Modify governor appointments for court vacancies: Passed 70 to 48 in the House

To change how the governor makes appointments to fill vacancies on the state Supreme Court, court of appeals, superior court, or district attorney. For any such vacancy, the bill would have the governor choose from a list of three candidates recommended by the political party to which the justice, judge, or district attorney vacating office was affiliated. Under current law the governor simply appoints a replacement.


House Bill 659, Modify governor appointments for U.S. Senate vacancies: Passed 76 to 41 in the House

To change how the governor makes a temporary appointment to fill a vacant seat to the U.S. Senate. The bill would have the governor choose from a list of three candidates recommended by officials of the political party to which the U.S. Senator vacating office was affiliated. Under current law the governor simply appoints a temporary replacement from the same political party as the vacating Senator.


House Bill 240, Eliminate governor appointments to fill district court vacancies: Passed 66 to 47 in the House

To transfer to the legislature the governor's authority to appoint the replacement judge to fill out an unexpired term when a district court vacancy occurs.


House Bill 241, Eliminate governor appointments of special superior court judges: Passed 67 to 47 in the House

To transfer to the legislature the governor's authority to appoint a special superior court judge when a vacancy occurs or the incumbent judge's term ends.


Senate Bill 68, Create new bipartisan elections and ethics board: Passed 49 to 0 in the Senate and 68 to 42 in the House

To merge the State Board of Elections and the State Ethics Commission into a new "Bipartisan State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement," which would have four Democrat members and four Republican members. The governor would appoint members from lists of nominees given him by the state party chairs.


The governor vetoed SB 68, but legislators overrode his veto. Then he sued, contending the bill was an unconstitutional violation of his power to make appointments for the executive branch. In October, the North Carolina Superior Court said that it did not have jurisdiction over the lawsuit since the makeup of state boards and commissions is a matter for legislators and the governor, not judges, to settle. However, the court did say that if it were to rule on the suit, then it would likely rule against the governor. The state Supreme Court now has the power to decide the case if it wishes.


There is history in North Carolina of legislators stripping appointment power from governors of opposing parties, with Democrats doing making similar moves when they controlled the legislature. There is also no standard for how these appointments should be made. Appointment power differs state-to-state, with governors playing a larger role in some states than in others. However, some observers are expressing concern at the scope of the legislature’s action in North Carolina. They charge that this is pure partisan politics, with Republicans looking to weaken the Democratic governor. Some take the opposite view, however, contending that this is merely the legislature introducing more checks-and-balances to the appointment process.


Do you support the legislative action to remove some of Governor Cooper’s appointment power? Or are Republicans playing hardball politics in stripping power from the Democratic governor?


Michigan Takes Stand against Soda Tax


If Michigan senators get their way, local governments in that state will soon be banned from enacting a “soda tax” targeting sugar-sweetened drinks (or any other food).


Here’s how VoteSpotter described legislation passed on October 4:


Senate Bill 583 Ban local taxation of food and food services: Passed 31 to 5 in the Senate

To prohibit local governments and authorities from imposing a tax or fee on the manufacture, distribution, wholesaling or retail sale of food for immediate consumption or non-immediate consumption.


A handful of cities across the nation have passed taxes targeting sugar-sweetened drinks. Philadelphia, for instance, imposed a 1.5 cent tax on many beverages, including those sweetened artificially. Other cities with a similar tax include Oakland and San Francisco in California, Boulder in Colorado, and Seattle. Chicago also has a soda tax, but city council members are considering repealing it.


These taxes are aimed at promoting healthier consumption, although some experts dispute that they accomplish this goal. As discussed in a previous VoteSpotter blog, Philadelphia’s experience appears to show that they do affect consumer behavior but may harm businesses and workers.


States have ultimate authority over laws passed by city governments, which means soda taxes can be invalidated by state legislative action. Michigan senators are attempting to do this pre-emptively, since no local government in that state has such a tax. If SB 583 passes the House and is signed into law by Governor Rick Snyder, no city would have the power to impose such a tax in the future.


Do you support state action to stop local governments from imposing soda taxes? Or do you think taxing sugar-sweetened drinks is a good policy for cities to enact?


High Court Takes Aim at Mandatory Government Union Fees


If you are a government worker, you may soon be able to choose whether or not you want to pay union fees.


The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a lawsuit challenging state and local laws compelling non-union government employees to pay fees to unions. Currently, 22 states require employees who are not union members to pay an agency fee to unions as compensation for collective bargaining.


While agency fees cannot be used for political activity, the non-union members bringing the suit contend that when it comes to government workers, collective bargaining is inseparable from political activity. When bargaining with the government, their argument goes, it means being involved with spending and taxing decisions. This means that these non-union employees are subsidizing political speech when unions advocate for pay or benefits.


Unions counter that since all employees benefit from the contracts they negotiate, then all employees should pay for their services. It is not fair to unionized members to subsidize activity resulting in higher pay and benefits that also go to non-union members, they contend.


This case, Janus vs. AFSCME, is being brought by a government employee in Illinois. It is similar to a case heard by the Supreme Court in 2016. In that instance, the court deadlocked at 4-4 after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death. The court’s tie vote meant that it was still legal for states to compel non-union members to pay agency fees, but it did not set a precedent. A majority vote in this new case will determine a national precedent. With a conservative majority, many observers think the court will decide against mandatory fees.


Do you think that government workers should be forced to pay fees to unions when they aren’t members? Or do you support mandatory fees as a way to prevent workers from getting a free ride from union activities?


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?


Do Virginia Gubernatorial Candidates Differ on Confederate Monuments?


The two candidates running for Virginia governor, Lt. Governor Ralph Northam (D) and Ed Gillespie (R), appear to have dramatically different views on the commonwealth’s Confederate monuments. However, a deeper look into their positions on the state law regarding those monuments reveals that they may actually be close to agreement.


The two candidates discussed the issue in a recent debate. Here is what Gillespie said:


“When you are on the side of preserving the institution, the evil institution of slavery, you are on the wrong side of history. But our history is our history, and I believe that we need to educate about it, and that we need to teach about it. So my view is that the statues should remain and we should place them in historical context so people can learn.”


This is the view of Northam:


“If these statues give individuals, white supremacists like that, an excuse to do what they did, then we need to have a discussion about the statues. Personally, I would think the statues would be better placed in museums with certainly historical context, but I am leaving it up to the localities.”


While the two candidates seem far apart on what they think should happen to the monuments, focusing on this aspect of the issue may mask a deeper agreement. While they can express their wishes for the monuments to stay or go, the real question is what they propose when it comes to the law governing these monuments.


A state law dating back a century prohibits county governments from removing monuments. A 1997 laws applies that same prohibition to city and town governments. However, there is a dispute over whether that law can be applied retroactively. This is the issue in Charlottesville’s attempts to remove its statues honoring the Confederacy, which were erected before 1997.


In the 2016 legislative session, legislators approved a bill that would definitively ban any local government from interfering with these monuments. Here is how VoteSpotter described it:


House Bill 587 Restrict local authority over monuments: Passed 82 to 16 in the House and 21 to 17 in the Senate

To prohibit local governments from removing or interfering with monuments or memorials erected for a war or conflict, such as the Civil War.


Governor Terry McAuliffe vetoed this bill, and legislators failed to override that veto.


Northam has been clear that he would like to see local governments have the power to remove monuments. Gillespie, too, has expressed support for local authority over them, according to a report from the Hill:


Dave Abrams, a spokesman for Gillespie’s campaign, said that, if elected, Gillespie would ensure that statues and monuments under the state’s control would remain up while being placed in the proper historical context.


Local jurisdictions would be free to choose for themselves whether to leave the statues standing, Abrams said.


While Northam and Gillespie stress different aspects of their view – Northam generally condemns the monuments, while Gillespie thinks they should remain – the two candidates do not appear to be far apart on policy issues.  Both express support for local authority over what happens to them, regardless of their personal feelings on the monuments’ disposition. The major difference is that Gillespie does not stress this aspect of his position as much as Northam, and it is unclear if he would actually support a law that gives this power to local governments.


Do you think that local governments should remove these Confederate monuments? Or should they stay in place?


Should States Stop Local Minimum Wage Increases?


In May, St. Louis began mandating that business owners pay a minimum wage of $10 an hour. In August, that mandate will be rolled back because of state law. After five months with a higher minimum wage, St. Louis business owners will face the same wage laws as the rest of the state.


Some see this as a heartless move to cut workers’ pay. Others see it as a way to establish a uniform wage policy across the state to encourage economic growth.


At is heart is the issue of state government pre-emption of local laws. Depending on state constitutions, state governments have broad power to limit or delegate power to city and county governments. In Missouri, state legislators and the governor used their authority to restrict the types of wage laws that local governments could pass. 


Pre-emption of local laws is common around the country. It has gotten special attention where legislators in conservative states, such as Missouri, enact laws that roll back legislation enacted by liberal city officials, such as happened in Missouri.


The issue of how local governments can regulate wages or other labor issues has also come up in Alabama, Ohio, and Arizona. States have also acted to pre-empt local laws on LGBGTQ rights, plastic bag bans, tobacco use, and “sanctuary city” policies.


Another area where pre-emption often occurs is with gun laws. There are 43 states that have passed laws taking away authority from local governments to enact gun and ammunition laws that are stricter than state law. Some states, such as Arizona and Florida, levy fines against local elected officials if they enact such laws. Kentucky makes it a crime for a local official to pass gun control laws.


Supporters of pre-emption laws contend that states have a duty to ensure that there are uniform laws across their jurisdiction. They contend that a series of inconsistent laws in counties or cities makes it difficult for businesses to operate or citizens to know if they are acting legally. Opponents of pre-emption say that local governments should have the power to enact laws that respond to their particular circumstances, not have legislators from other parts of the state telling them how to manage their problems.


Do you think that state governments should stop local politicians from enacting certain laws? Or should local elected officials have broad leeway to enact the types of laws that they see fit?


Arizona House Bill 2482


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


House Bill 2482, Expand Exemption for Mandated Workers Compensation: Passed 29 to 0 in the state Senate on April 24, 2017. 


To allow business owners who own at least 25% of a limited liability company to opt out of state mandated workers compensation insurance.


Comment below to share what you think of Arizona House Bill 2482! 



Wisconsin Senate Bill 68


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


Senate Bill 68, Limit Deer Feeding Bans After Positive Disease Tests: Passed 20 to 13 in the state Senate on June 14, 2017.


To limit the ban on feeding deer for hunting or viewing in counties where they have tested positive for chronic wasting disease or bovine tuberculosis. Currently, the Department for Natural Resources sets the ban. Under this bill, the ban would last for 36 months in counties where deer have tested positive or 24 months in neighboring counties.


Comment below to share what you think of Wisconsin Senate Bill 68!



West Virginia Senate Bill 169


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


Senate Bill 169, Withdraw Obsolete Program Relating to Veterans Exposed to Agent Orange: Passed 33 to 0 in the state Senate on February 15, 2017.


To repeal obsolete state laws that previously provided assistance to Korea and Vietnam veterans exposed to certain chemical defoliants and which are now managed by the federal government.


Comment below to share what you think of West Virginia Senate Bill 169!



Tennessee Senate Bill 1059


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


Senate Bill 1059, Increase Death Benefits for First Responders: Passed 89 to 0 in the state House on May 9, 2017. 


To increase from $20,000 to $250,000 the amount paid to the estate of a firefighter, volunteer rescue squad worker, or law enforcement officer who dies in the line of duty.


Comment below to share what you think of Tennessee Senate Bill 1059!



North Carolina Senate Bill 145


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


Senate Bill 145, Penalize 'sanctuary' cities and public universities: Passed 34 to 15 the state Senate on April 26, 2017


To create financial penalties for cities and public universities adopting "sanctuary" policies against immigration laws. "Sanctuary cities" would be ineligible to receive distributions from the state highway fund and several other public funds and no longer immune from lawsuits for crimes committed there by illegal immigrants. Public universities with sanctuary policies would lose management and budget independence. The bill would also end an exemption letting law enforcement officers use prohibited ID forms to establish identity or residency.


Comment below to share what you think of North Carolina Senate Bill 145!


Wisconsin Assembly Joint Resolution 63


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


Assembly Joint Resolution 63, Call special session of legislature to consider economic matters: Failed 34 to 62 in the state Assembly on June 14, 2017


To call a special session of the General Assembly starting on June 21 for “the consideration of legislation to increase average household income, accelerate job growth, and encourage entrepreneurship in this state.” This is a vote to call up the bill from committee.


Comment below to share what you think of Wisconsin Assembly Joint Resolution 63!


Copyright © 2018 Votespotter Inc. All rights reserved.