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Confederate Statue Removal Cleared by State Supreme Court

Charlottesville, Virginia, can take down statues of Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, the state’s high court has ruled.

 

In 2017, city officials voted to remove the two statues after a “Unite the Right” rally turned violent in Charlottesville. However, an area group sued the city, saying a 1997 law forbade the removal of “war memorials” by cities. 

 

The Supreme Court disagreed. Justices determined that this law did not apply to the two statues in Charlottesville because they were erected prior to the law’s enactment. They held that laws apply prospectively -- going forward -- not retroactively, so it could not prohibit the removal of statues erected prior to when it was passed. Charlottesville is now free to take down these statues.

 

This is a victory for those who consider statues to Confederate officials part of a legacy of white supremacy. They argue that these statues and other historical markers condone racism and send a negative message to minorities. Supporters of the statues counter that they are only commemorating history and not sending a political message.

 

Do you think that Confederate statues should be taken down?

 

New York Legalizes Recreational Marijuana

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law this week that legalizes recreational marijuana.

 

With this legislation, New York becomes the 15th state to remove legal penalties for the use of marijuana for recreational purposes. The other states that have done so are Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington. Most of the legalization efforts succeeded through ballot measures approved by voters, but state legislators are beginning to embrace this cause, too.

 

Under this law, New Yorkers who are 21 and older can grow and possess marijuana for any use. With the law's effect, only 3 ounces of marijuana are legal. When the new regulatory system becomes established, that will increase to 5 pounds. Individuals who were convicted of marijuana-related crimes will have their records expunged. The state will impose a 9% tax on marijuana products and local governments can impose a 4% tax.

 

Supporters of legalization say that marijuana prohibition hurts minority communities, giving many young men a criminal record and hurting their chance of success later in life. They say that legalizing and regulating the drug will keep people out of jail, with the taxes on marijuana products being used for health care and other government services. Opponents of legalization contend that marijuana is a gateway drug. They argue that legalization will lead to increased use of marijuana, which will have significant harms for society.

 

Do you support legalizing marijuana?

Indiana Likely to Expand School Choice Program

School choice may be coming for more Indiana families.

 

Legislators are considering a bill that would expand eligibility in the state's voucher plan. Under current rules, families of four with a household income of $96,000 are eligible for state reimbursement of some of their private school tuition expenses. Families of four with household incomes of $46,000 can receive full reimbursement, with higher-income families receiving partial assistance.

 

Under a bill passed by the state house, these income limits would increase. Families of 4 with a household income of roughly $145,000 would be eligible to participate in the program. Those who make $96,000 would be eligible for full tuition reimbursement.

 

This plan is coupled with increased state funding for public schools, but this has not alleviated the concerns of critics who say vouchers drain money from the traditional school system. They argue that legislators should focus on improving schools used by the majority of students instead of trying to subsidize private schools. 

 

Supporters of the voucher plan contend that the voucher program allows parents who are not satisfied with their children's education to seek other options. They argue that education money should follow the child, not be focused on school buildings. 

 

The state senate is currently considering this legislation, but some senators are concerned about its price. They are currently attempting to work out a deal to expand the program while also containing costs.

 

Do you support school vouchers?

 

 

New Hampshire Legislators Poised to Pass Right-to-Work Law

New Hampshire may soon become the first state in the Northeast to enact a right-to-work law.

 

The state senate has already passed right-to-work legislation and the state house is gearing up to vote on the bill soon. This law would end the requirement that New Hampshire workers either join a union or pay a fee to a union as a condition of employment.

 

Supporters of right-to-work legislation say that no one should be forced to join a union or pay a fee to a union in order to work. They contend that unions should attract workers and their money voluntarily, not through the state forcing workers to fund labor organizations. Those opposed to these laws contend that since unions bargain on behalf of every worker at a business, no worker should be able to “free ride” on the benefits provided by unions.

 

The effort to pass right-to-work is one that has been attempted before in New Hampshire. In 2017, newly-elected Gov. Chris Sununu pushed for this type of law. The bill failed to gain a majority in the state house, however, with some moderate Republicans voting against it. This year, however, there are more conservatives in the legislature, leading to the bill's increased chance of success.

 

Currently 28 states have this type of law. 

 

Do you support right-to-work laws?

Georgia Enacts New Voting Law

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp has signed into law a bill that would make significant changes to how the state conducts elections. Supporters say it will fix issues that came up during the 2020 election but opponents argue it is a partisan attempt to disenfranchise Democratic voters. 

 

The legislation, passed along a party-line vote, would alter Georgia's election procedures. Among other things, it would:

  • Require voter ID when someone requests an absentee ballot
  • Require counties to have ballot drop-boxes but limit how they can be used
  • Give the state more power to suspend or review county election officials
  • Reduce the time-frame for run-off elections by 5 weeks
  • End the "jungle primary" system for special elections where candidates from all parties run together
  • Expand early voting
  • Shorten the time for requesting an early voting ballot
  • Ban the state and counties from sending unsolicited requests for absentee ballots
  • Forbid volunteers from giving food and drink to voters waiting in line

 

Republicans who pushed for this legislation argue that it is needed to clarify what the state and counties can do in terms of voting procedures. They note that the coronavirus pandemic caught the state unprepared and allowed practices that had never been used before. They say that this will give voters confidence that their elections will be run fairly and without fraud.

 

Democrats, however, argue that these provisions are a reaction by Republicans to the losses they incurred during the 2020 election. They contend that the new practices will make it more difficult for younger and minority voters to cast ballots -- voters who are primarily Democratic. They have likened these changes to Jim Crow laws.

 

Gov. Kemp signed this bill into law on Thursday, and by Friday there had already been a lawsuit filed to block it. 

 

How would you like to see voting laws changed?

 

 

States Sue Over Biden Energy Leasing Pause

As one of his first acts upon entering office, President Biden placed an indefinite pause on new oil, natural gas, and coal leasing on public lands. Now fourteen states are suing to overturn this moratorium.

 

Louisiana is leading a lawsuit with 13 other states suing to overturn the ban. Wyoming has filed its own suit. At the center of contention is whether President Biden can indefinitely stop allowing certain energy leases on public land. The states in the lawsuits have significant public lands within their borders. They contend that their economy will be significantly affected if this leasing is barred.

 

When he came into office, President Biden issued an executive order halting new leases for fossil fuel development on lands controlled by the federal government. This included new offshore drilling leasing, something that affects Louisiana greatly. Existing leases would remain intact. The federal government owns considerable property, especially in western states, and much of that is open for mining and energy development. Offshore oil and natural gas exploration is also permitted in some federally-controlled areas of the Gulf of Mexico and around Alaska.

 

The president and environmentalists consider such leases as giveaways to large corporations. They also say that this leasing helps perpetuate the use of energy sources that pollute the environment. Supporters of the leases argue that it is better to develop U.S. resources than rely on foreign nations for America's energy needs. They also point out that energy production on federal lands supports good-paying jobs in areas that have few other economic options.

 

This executive order is part of a larger Biden agenda that envisions the U.S. moving from the use of fossil fuels to the use of renewable forms of energy. Much of this plan must be enacted by Congress, but the president can take some steps via executive order. This order is not a permanent end to federal fossil fuel leases, which would require a change in U.S. law, but a temporary moratorium. However, critics say that if a temporary moratorium has no end date, then it in effect acts like a permanent ban.

 

There are indications that the Biden Administration is considering action that would end this type of energy leasing on federal land, not just have it subject to a temporary moratorium. However, unless Congress acts, a new president could reverse this action.

 

Do you think that the federal government should resume leasing land for oil, natural gas, and coal development?

Utah Governor Signs Porn Filter Mandate

Lawmakers in Utah want every smartphone and tablet sold in the state to be equipped with filters.

 

Gov. Spencer Cox signed a bill to mandate these filters into law this week. Under HB 72, tablets and smartphones must automatically enable filter requirements for “material that is harmful to minors.” Violators will be fined $10 every time they fail to do this, with a cap of $500. The bill empowers either the state or private individuals to bring action under the law.

 

The law does not take effect immediately, though. For the state to begin enforcing it, five other states would have to enact it.

 

Supporters of the law argue that it’s necessary to protect children from pornography. They say that mandatory filters will help parents keep objectionable material away from their children. Critics counter that this mandatory filtering is unconstitutional. They also argue that if parents want to police what their children are doing online, there are already multiple ways for them to do this.

 

Do you think that the government should mandate automatic filtering of content on smartphones to keep children away from pornography?

Biden Pushes for Assault Weapons Ban

In the wake of a shooting in Boulder, Colorado, President Joe Biden called on Congress to pass legislation that would outlaw certain types of semi-automatic guns and high-capacity magazines. He also wants federal background checks to cover more gun sales. Such legislation faces an uphill battle in the Senate.

 

Banning semi-automatic weapons with certain military features, often labeled as “assault weapons,” has long been something that Democrats have wanted enacted. The House of Representatives also recently passed two bills that would mandate federal background checks on more gun purchases and transfers. However, there is resistance in the Senate to passing such legislation.

 

Proponents of these bills argue that they will help stop gun violence. They point to mass shooters using assault weapons to commit their crimes and argue that banning these guns would save lives. Opponents, however, contend that the only thing that makes a semi-automatic gun an “assault weapon” is how it looks, since the ban is focused on cosmetic features. They note that criminals and mass shooters will evade gun control laws, which will only disarm law-abiding people.

 

With the House of Representatives controlled by Democrats, it has been easy to move gun control legislation through that chamber. When the Senate was controlled by Republicans, they had no desire to bring up any of these bills for a vote. Now that the Senate is evenly divided, Republicans cannot block gun control. However, Democrats from states like West Virginia, Arizona, and Montana -- which all have significant gun-owning populations -- are reluctant to support bills that impose new federal laws on guns.

 

Do you think federal gun control laws should be stricter?

New Mexico Approves Redistricting Commission

A bipartisan commission will be part of the redistricting process in New Mexico under a bill passed recently by legislators. However, this independent commission will not have as much power as commissions in other states -- legislators will still have the final say over how their districts look.

 

Under the bill passed overwhelmingly by the Democratic-controlled legislature, a seven-member commission will draw legislative and congressional districts. These districts must be redrawn after every census. The members will be appointed by the Democratic and Republican leaders in the legislature as well as by the state’s ethics commission. 

 

Unlike in other states, however, this commission’s work would then go to the legislature for modification and then final approval. While many supporters of independent commissions see them as a way to remove political considerations from redistricting, they are concerned that allowing for legislative modification severely weakens this. 

 

Independent redistricting commissions are intended to end the practice of legislators who hold the majority drawing district boundaries to maximize their party’s chances of keeping the majority. Those who back these commissions contend that bipartisan panels will craft districts that are less concerned about politics and more concerned about adequately representing the people of a state. Critics, however, say that this could lead to certain communities being ignored in the process.

 

When the idea of an independent commission was being discussed earlier this year, Democratic House Speaker Brian Egolf said that it would lead to a loss of seats for his party. He said he could not support a measure that would do that. 

 

Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is expected to sign the measure. If she does, New Mexico will join 14 other states will similar commissions.

 

Do you think that independent commissions or legislators should draw legislative district boundaries?

 

House Passes Two Immigration Bills

Children brought to the U.S. illegally and foreign farmworkers will see major changes in their legal status under legislation passed by the House of Representatives this week.

 

The two bills were HR 6 and HR 1603. Here's how VoteSpotter described HR 6, which passed by a vote of 228-197:

 

To provide a pathway to citizenship for children who were brought to the U.S. illegally who meet certain conditions, such as serving in the military or attending college.

 

And here is how VoteSpotter described HR 1603, which passed by a vote of 247-174:

 

To allow some agricultural workers who entered the U.S. illegally to avoid deportation after paying a fine and meeting other conditions. The legislation also expands the farmworker visa program and requires agricultural companies to verify a worker’s immigration status with the federal government.

 

These two bills deal with issues where there have been areas of bipartisan agreement. HR 6 deals with "Dreamers," unauthorized aliens who came to the U.S. as children with their parents and who have gotten jobs, entered college, or joined the military. President Obama attempted to shield these individuals from deportation under the DACA program but it came under legal fire. HR 1603 concerns the call by farmers to allow more foreign workers into the U.S. to pick crops.

 

In the past, Republicans have supported a path to citizenship or a shield from deportation for Dreamers and have also supported calls for a revised agriculture guest worker program. However, neither bill gained significant GOP support. Republicans in Congress argue that these bills are rewarding illegal activity and should be paired with greater security on the U.S.-Mexican border. Democrats say that these bills are a fair way to treat people who have been in the U.S. for decades, obeying the law and contributing to society.

 

This legislation does have some Republican support in the Senate, so it is possible that it could pass in modified form.

 

Do you think there should be a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers? Should the U.S. allow more foreign agriculture workers to enter the U.S. for limited periods of time?

 

 

House Again Votes to Eliminate ERA Deadline

This week, the House of Representatives voted once again to remove the deadline for states to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).

 

Congress passed the ERA in 1972 and sent it to states for ratification. The original resolution required that the necessary number of states (38, or three-fourths of the states) must act within 7 years or the amendment would die. Not enough states ratified the amendment within that time, so Congress extended the deadline to 1982. Even with this extended deadline, the ERA still failed to meet the necessary number of states for ratification.

 

By a vote of 222-204, the House voted this week to remove that 1982 deadline.

 

This is an issue due to Virginia’s passage of the ERA in 2020. This was the latest state action regarding ratification. During the time between 1972 and 1982, 35 states ratified the ERA. However, as controversy grew over the amendment, 5 states rescinded their ratification. Since 2017, 3 states have ratified the ERA. With Virginia’s vote, this means that the ERA has met the threshold in the Constitution for ratification, as long as the states who rescinded ratification are not included and if the ratification deadline was removed.

 

Upon Virginia’s vote, the Trump Administration said that the deadline is enforceable, so it did not add the ERA to the Constitution. Some legal scholars disagree, however. Congressional action is aimed at resolving the controversy. The view of its sponsors is if Congress imposed the deadline, Congress can remove it. Opponents argue that the deadline is passed so this issue is over.

 

The ERA states:

 

Section 1: Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

Section 2: The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Section 3: This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

 

For the deadline to be removed, the Senate would also have to vote to rescind it.

 

Do you think the ERA should be part of the Constitution?

On “Unauthorized Alien”


Sometimes words get in the way.


At VoteSpotter, we are committed to being non-partisan. To do this, we strive to describe legislation using a neutral point-of-view. We aim to describe the legislation and then let you make up your mind about whether you agree with how your member of Congress voted on it.


At times, however, it’s difficult -- if not impossible -- to find words or phrases to use that are neutral.


Take the issue of illegal immigration. Even saying it that way frames it as being on one side of the ideological spectrum, since many people prefer using “undocumented immigration.”


This is an issue that is being debated in Congress this week. VoteSpotter needs to describe it. But what term should we use? Illegal alien? Undocumented immigrant? Unauthorized immigrant?


At VoteSpotter, we have settled on “unauthorized alien.”


We recognize that no matter what phrase VoteSpotter uses, there will be some users who see it as an indication of bias. That’s not what we want to have happen. We want to be as neutral and transparent as possible. So we decided to explain in this blog post why we chose to use “unauthorized alien.”


In deciding this, we did one of things we do best: research. Title 8 of U.S. code contains laws on citizenship, nationality, and immigration, and describes the concept of an illegal immigrant in several ways.


A search yields these results:

 

The term “illegal alien” was mentioned most of all – 33 times for 39 percent of total mentions. The second most common term was “unauthorized alien,” which appeared 21 times or about a quarter of the time. Interestingly enough, “undocumented alien” was the third most common with 18 uses. My preferred term of “illegal immigrant” was used only six times but the term “illegal immigration” was used 93 times, which I didn’t include in the table because it’s not a term that describes individuals.


Since “illegal alien” is a term that is tied to one side of the immigration debate, we thought it was best to use the second-most used term in the code, “unauthorized alien.” That is a term that is more neutral and not as caught up in the political debate.


We know this will not please everyone. We know that people will disagree and think we decided on this in order to push a certain point-of-view. Unfortunately when it comes to this issue, the ideological division is so wide that even a simple word choice can become fraught with unintended meaning. While we cannot change that, we can at least be transparent about why we chose the term we use.

 

We look forward to continuing to provide you the easiest way to make your voice heard on this and other issues.


 

W. Virginia Makes Public Employee Strikes Illegal

In the past few years, West Virginia teachers and school personnel have engaged in work stoppages to protest state budget actions. A new law codifies that strikes by government workers like these are illegal.

 

Under Senate Bill 11, striking by state and local government employees is now illegal. A 1990 decision by the state supreme court had already ruled that state employees could not strike without legal authorization, but this bill now enacts that ban into law and establishes penalties and procedures for dealing with strikes and work stoppages.

 

If government employees participate in a strike or a work stoppage, that will now be grounds for dismissal in West Virginia. School employees cannot use personal days to engage in such activities 

 

Starting in 2018, teachers and school employees have engaged in work stoppages to protest what they saw as unfair wage increases. Supporters of such actions contend that they are the best way to gain the attention of the public to push for needed raises and reforms. Opponents, however, argue that teachers should focus on educating students and not use their work time to engage in political action.

 

West Virginia was long seen as a union stronghold, which co-existed with its long mining history. However, in recent years there has been a switch away from policies favored by unions. In 2016, West Virginia became a right-to-work state. The work stoppages led by teachers have also engendered a policy backlash, as Senate Bill 11 illustrates.

 

Do you think that states should ban strikes and work stoppages by teachers and other government employees?

GOP Energy Plan Focuses on Natural Gas, Nuclear, and Hydro

President Biden's energy plan focuses on renewable sources like wind and solar. Today Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee unveiled their own energy platform and it goes in a far different direction than the president's.

 

Under this proposal, the federal government would

  • streamline the process for approving nuclear power plants
  • authorize construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline
  • prohibit hydraulic fracturing bans
  • streamline the permitting process for natural gas pipelines
  • update they hydropower licensing process

 

This stands in stark contrast to the energy agenda being pursued by President Biden. Under his plan, the U.S. would move towards far greater use of solar, wind, and renewable resources. The president has also revoked the cross-border permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline, effectively killing it, and placed a moratorium on oil and gas leasing on federal land. 

 

The GOP representatives promoting this proposal argue that it will create jobs and strengthen U.S. energy security. They say that the federal government should encourage the development of U.S. energy resources, not stifle such production. Opponents, however, argue that promoting the use of oil and natural gas will make climate change worse. They assert that it's wiser for the federal government to promote clean energy to make the U.S. a world leader in that area.

 

With Democrats controlling the House of Representatives, these Republican energy ideas are unlikely to get any consideration. However, they do indicate what could be a future congressional agenda if Republicans take control of the House in 2022.

 

Do you think that U.S. energy policy should focus on developing our nation's oil and gas resources or should the U.S. transition to carbon-free energy sources?

Senators are Fighting for Permanent Daylight Saving Time

It’s time to turn our clocks forward this weekend, but some members of Congress are working to end this practice.

 

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has once again introduced a bill, S. 623, that would make Daylight Saving Time (DST) permanent. It has 9 cosponsors, with members of both parties joining in the quest to set one permanent time for the U.S.

 

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

 

Those who favor instituting permanent Daylight Saving Time point to evidence that the twice-a-year ritual of changing clocks has adverse effects on health and the economy. Those opposed to a change note that it would mean darker mornings in the winter, with children going to school before the sun comes up.

 

Sixteen states, including Florida, have passed legislation in support of year-round DST. However, federal legislation is needed in order to make this change.

 

Do you support year-round Daylight Saving Time?

House Passes Two Gun Background Check Bills

Two bills that would tighten federal background checks for gun purchases passed the House of Representatives this week

 

By a vote of 219-210 the House approved HR 1446 and by a vote of 227-203 the House passed HR 8. Here is how VoteSpotter describes HR 1446:

 

To increase from 3 to 10 days the maximum time period that an individual must wait to receive a completed background check under an "instant background check" system. Most background checks are completed while a customer waits, and current law establishes that if not completed within 3 days a federally-licensed gun dealer may transfer a gun to a buyer. Under this bill, if a check is not completed after 10 days, the potential buyer could petition for a final determination. If an additional 10 days go by without a completed check, the gun dealer could then sell the gun to the buyer.

 

And here is how VoteSpotter describes HR 8:

 

To require individuals who transfer a firearm to another person to do so through a federal firearms licensed gun dealer, who must conduct a background check on the individual receiving the gun. Currently, retail gun dealers must complete background checks prior to selling a gun to an individual. This legislation expands that requirement to transfers between private individuals except for some limited circumstances such as a parent giving a child a gun or a gift from a spouse.

 

Backers of these bills argued that they are needed to close loopholes that allow felons and other dangerous people to obtain guns. They argue that there should be universal background checks for gun purchases and people should not be able to circumvent these checks by going through private sellers. Opponents of the bills said that they would add complex and expensive steps to simple gun transfers such as someone loaning a hunting rifle to a friend. They also argued that criminals would not comply with the laws.

 

Gun control has been an increasingly hot topic in Congress. For years, even Democrats shied away from bills that increased federal restrictions on gun ownership or sales, fearing a backlash from voters. In recent years, however, Democrats in the House have been pushing gun legislation.

 

These bills passed on largely party-line votes. Their future in the Senate remains uncertain.

 

Do you think that every gun sale or transfer should go through a licensed gun dealer who can perform a background check?

House Votes to End Right-to-Work Laws

The House of Representatives passed sweeping legislation this week that would change a variety of federal laws, including one that allows states to pass right-to-work laws.

 

By a vote of 225-206, the House passed HR 842 on Tuesday. Here is how VoteSpotter describes the legislation:

 

To amend several longstanding federal labor and employment laws, with the effect among others of repealing the authority of states to enact "right to work" laws. These laws prohibit requiring employees in a workplace that at some time was organized by a union from having to pay fees or dues to the union as a condition of employment. The bill would also expand restrictions on whether workers can be classified as independent contractors (Uber drivers the most common example); ban employers from permanently replacing striking workers; and permit "secondary strikes," where workers in one industry go on strike to support strikes against a different industry; and more.

 

This legislation encompasses many of the policy priorities that unions have sought for decades. Ending right-to-work laws has long been something that unions have desired. Authorized by a 1947 federal statute, there are now 27 states that have such laws. In the past decade, some states that have traditionally been strongholds of union activity, such as Michigan and West Virginia, have adopted such laws.

 

There has also been recent activity in the states about how to classify independent contractors. With apps such as Uber and Lyft making it easier for individuals to work in the "gig economy," unions have expressed concerns that employers are abusing the independent contractor designation in order to avoid paying benefits. California adopted a law that restricts how independent contractors can be classified, but voters modified parts of the law dealing with some workers in the 2020 election.

 

Supporters of this legislation argue that workers deserve more protection in today's economy and strengthening federal labor laws will help stop them from being exploited. They contend that executives and shareholders are reaping most of the benefits from economic growth so changing the system to share the wealth with workers is fair. Opponents, however, contend that placing new restrictions on business owners will hurt the economy and workers who depend on these businesses for jobs. They contend that this law will drive businesses overseas.

 

The support for the legislation was largely along partisan lines. Only 5 Republicans voted for it and 1 Democrat opposed it. The Senate is unlikely to favor this bill in its current form.

 

Do you think that the federal government should prevent states from passing right-to-work laws? 

Congressman Introduces Balanced Budget Amendment

The federal government has never been required to balance its budget every year. A U.S. House member wants to amend the Constitution to change this.

 

Rep. Mark Green (R-TN) has proposed a balanced budget constitutional amendment. This would require that the federal government have a balanced budget except in cases of emergency, such as war. Congress could vote by a super-majority to waive the balanced budget requirement in those times.

 

Supporters of this amendment argue that with a record federal debt -- over $28 trillion -- and high yearly deficits, it's clear that Congress and the president cannot be trusted to balance the budget. They contend that a constitutional requirement is needed to prevent fiscal catastrophe. Opponents, however, counter that deficit spending can be good in many instances, such as providing money to states that are struggling and who cannot borrow like the federal government does. They note that if the amendment took effect it would mean deep spending cuts and big tax increases, or both.

 

A balanced budget amendment is not a new idea in Congress. In the 1980s and 1990s, it was a prominent part of much of the discussion over federal spending. In 1982, the Senate passed the amendment but it failed in the House. In 1995, it passed the House but failed in the Senate.

 

It is unlikely that Speaker Pelosi will bring the balanced budget amendment to a vote during this session of Congress.

 

Do you support amending the Constitution to require that the federal budget be balanced?

States Sue over Biden Carbon Order

President Biden wants to set the "social cost" of carbon at $50 per metric ton for now and determine a higher rate later. Twelve states are suing to stop him.

 

These states have filed suit to stop a January executive order that directs the federal government to determine the social cost of carbon and tie it to inflation. In the interim, the order sets that cost at $50 per metric ton. That is the same rate that was used in the Obama Administration but much higher than the $7 per metric ton rate used by President Trump.

 

The lawsuit contends that President Biden did not have authority to issue this order. In addition, the suit argues:

 

Setting the "social cost" of greenhouse gases is an inherently speculative, policy-laden, and indeterminate task, which involves attempting to predict such unknowable contingencies as future human migrations, international conflicts, and global catastrophes for hundreds of years into the future. Assigning such values is a quintessentially legislative action that falls within Congress’s exclusive authority.

 

Supporters of setting a social cost of carbon contend that it is a way to price the spillover effects of carbon use on the environment. They argue that the actual cost of carbon does not account for pollution and climate change, so the federal government should set a rate that properly captures these costs. 

 

 

The states filing the lawsuit are Arkansas, Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah. Missouri's attorney general is taking the lead on the case and filed it in that state.

 

Do you think the government should set a "social cost" for carbon?

House Passes Bill to Limit Police Practices

This week the House of Representatives passed legislation named after George Floyd that would impose new federal restrictions on how local and state police agencies act.

 

By a vote of 220-212, the House passed HR 1280. This will would:

 

  • Strip federal money from police agencies that use chokeholds
  • Remove immunity from lawsuits for police officers
  • Require the use of body cameras
  • Prohibit the use of military-style weapons and equipment in police work
  • Limit the use of no-knock warrants
  • Establish a national database for officers who have a record of abuse complaints

 

Democrats backing this bill argued that these reforms are necessary to end rampant abuses by law enforcement. They argue that the death of George Floyd is only one of many examples of police misconduct, and it is long overdue for the federal government to step in and curb abusive police activity.

 

Republicans pushed back, pointing out that this would be a large federal takeover of state and local authority. They also noted that many Americans welcome police presence to protect lives and property, especially in the wake of riots and other disorders that occurred in cities over the past couple of years.

 

In some cities, activists and politicians are demanding that police department budgets be cut or that some troubled departments be disbanded. While this legislation would not accomplish either of those goals, it would impose new federal restrictions on how police operate.

 

Only 2 Democrats opposed the legislation. One Republican voted in favor of it but later tweeted that he made a mistake and meant to vote against it.

 

Do you support federal restrictions on how local and state police agencies operate?

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