VoteSpotter | VoteSpotters Community

Commentary & Community

Florida Governor Removes Many Coronavirus Restrictions

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is moving to re-open the state's economy, a move he says is necessary to help workers and business owners. Public health experts fear that this will lead to a surge in coronavirus cases.

 

In an announcement this week, the governor said that all restaurants could return to serving at full capacity and that bars and nightclubs could re-open. Counties still have the ability to restrict their operation due if there are health or safety concerns. In addition, he suspended the collection of any coronavirus-related fees and fines imposed on individuals and businesses. Separately, Gov. DeSantis also proposed restrictions on colleges to prevent them from expelling students who break certain coronavirus-related rules.

 

These moves prompted pushbacks from Democratic legislators and public health officials. They note that while Florida coronavirus cases are declining, there are still thousands of new cases announced each day. They contend that lifting restrictions would lead to new infections. If that happens, they argue, it will result in more deaths and more economic disruption.

 

Gov. DeSantis imposed statewide restrictions on restaurants and bars in March. However, he has long been uncomfortable with the economic impact of these orders. He says that it is time to begin re-opening the state's economy and letting people get back to work.

 

Do you support lifting coronavirus-related restrictions on bars and restaurants?

California Bans Sale of Gasoline-Powered Cars by 2035

California’s Governor Gavin Newsom has set in motion a plan to end the sale of cars using internal combustion engines by 2035.

 

Under the governor’s order, the California Air Resources Board will begin developing plans to phase out the sale of gasoline-powered passenger vehicles by 2035. The sale of heavier duty vehicles that use gasoline and diesel would be banned by 2045 under this order. Only zero-emission vehicles would then be permitted to be sold in California.

 

Gov. Newsom says that this ban is needed to help combat climate change. He points to recent fires in California as illustrating the urgency of the state taking major steps to reduce carbon emissions. He also claims this will help create jobs in California and across the U.S.

 

Critics of this ban note that consumers, not government, drive markets. They say that zero-emission cars are not attractive to consumers, and that innovation by the private sector will lead to more widespread purchasing of these cars. They also contend that this order will hurt consumers who want a wider choice in vehicles.

 

Since this ban is an order by the governor, not a state law, it can be reversed by future governors.

 

Do you support a ban on the sale of gasoline-powered cars?

 

Trump Administration Looking to Tighten Law on Social Media Companies

President Trump has routinely attacked social media companies like Twitter and Facebook for what he perceives as anti-conservative bias. Today, his administration unveiled legislation that would remove some of the legal protections that these companies enjoy.

 

Attorney General William Barr outlined a bill that would make social media companies liable for some of the content published on their sites. It reforms Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which currently protects these sites from liability for what users post on them. It also allows these companies to moderate user content without facing civil suits.

 

Under the Trump Administration's proposal, companies would only have protections from liability when they undertake much more limited content moderation. The legislation would restrict these companies' ability to remove or alter posts unless they meet a stricter federal definition. They would also be liable if they did not act quickly enough to remove certain types of content, such as that which violates federal law.

 

Both Democrats and Republicans have been critical of social media sites for how they moderate and delete content. The president and his allies say the sites are biased against conservatives, while Democrats contend the sites do not do enough to remove alleged falsehoods by the president. There have been numerous proposals to alter the companies' legal liability in response. Critics of these efforts argue that they amount to federal censorship, and that they would inhibit the growth of the online community.

 

While there is bipartisan support for reform of federal law governing social media companies, it is unlikely the Trump Administration proposal will advance in Congress. It is both very late in the legislative session for work on new legislation, and there is resistance among Democrats to support legislation they see as the president's efforts to punish tech companies.

 

Do you think that social media companies should be liable for removing user content?

Ann Arbor Relaxes Laws on Psychedelic Mushrooms

Ann Arbor police will no longer be making it a priority to enforce state laws against psychedelic drugs.

 

The city council voted this week to make enforcing these laws the lowest law enforcement priority. This effectively decriminalizes the use and possession of psychedelic mushrooms and similar plants. The vote was unanimous.

 

City council members said they were swayed by evidence that these plants are effective for medicinal use and that they are also important in some religious observances. They said that they were not condoning anyone breaking the law, but they did not think that police resources should be focused on imposing criminal penalties on those using these drugs.

 

Supporters of this resolution contend that it will stop police from arresting people who are using the drugs to improve their psychological well being. According to the resolution, these drugs can alleviate a significant number of medical problems. Opponents, however, argue that the hallucinogenic drugs are dangerous, and that the city council's action is promoting illegal activity.

 

The decriminalization resolution covers ayahuasca, ibogaine, mescaline, peyote, psilocybin mushrooms. Anyone within city limits who plants, cultivates, transports, distributes, or possesses these drugs is unlikely to face any action by city law enforcement officials. The drugs remain illegal under both state and federal law.

 

Three other cities have decriminalized hallucinogenic drugs: Denver, Oakland, and Santa Cruz.

 

Do you support decriminalizing the use of psychedelic mushrooms?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Death Sets Up Contentious Confirmation Process

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died last week, setting off a wave of mourning across the nation. The new vacancy on the Supreme Court is also setting up a bitter fight over whether President Trump will be ale to fill her seat before Election Day.

 

When there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court, the president nominates a new justice and the Senate votes on that nomination. There is no constitutional restriction on the timing of the process. However, Democrats are arguing that Republicans set a precedent of not giving nominees a vote in an election year, so that precedent should be followed now.

 

Democrats point to the situation in 2016, when Justice Antonin Scalia died in the final year of Barack Obama's term in office. Republicans refused to hold a vote on his nominee, Merrick Garland, prior to the presidential election. That November, Donald Trump won the presidency and then nominated Neil Gorsuch for the seat. The Senate then confirmed Gorsuch.

 

Democrats are saying that what happened in 2016 should be repeated this year. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), has said that he will schedule a Senate vote quickly on President Trump's Supreme Court nominee. Republicans argue that the situation is different than in 2016, which had a different party controlling the presidency and the Senate. They also note that Democrats then were arguing that the president's nominee deserved a vote.

 

It remains to be seen if all Senate Republicans will back a vote prior to Election Day. Some, such as Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), have already expressed reservations.

 

President Trump is expected to announce his Supreme Court nominee this week.

 

Do you think that the Senate should vote on President Trump's Supreme Court nominee before Election Day?

House Condemns Anti-Asian Bias, Use of “China Virus” Language

This week, the House of Representatives voted in favor of legislation to condemn anti-Asian bias 

 

By a vote of 243-164, the House approved House Resolution 908. The text of that resolution noted instances of anti-Asian bias, including:

 

Whereas since January 2020, there has been a dramatic increase in reports of hate crimes and incidents against those of Asian descent;

 

Whereas according to a recent study, there were over 400 cases related to COVID–19 anti-Asian discrimination between February 9, 2020, and March 7, 2020;

 

Whereas the increased use of anti-Asian rhetoric has resulted in Asian Americans being harassed, assaulted, and scapegoated for the COVID–19 pandemic;

 

Then the resolution “calls on all public officials to condemn and denounce any and all anti-Asian sentiment in any form.”

 

To the ire of Republicans, however, it also included this line:

 

Whereas the use of anti-Asian terminology and rhetoric related to COVID–19, such as the “Chinese Virus”, “Wuhan Virus”, and “Kung-flu” have perpetuated anti-Asian stigma;

 

Republican House members saw that as a clear shot at President Trump, who often refers to the coronavirus in this way. They argued that this resolution was more about scoring political points against the president rather than a true condemnation of anti-Asian bigotry.

 

Democrats countered that President Trump was indeed expressing anti-Asian sentiments with his use of the term “Chinese Virus.” They said he was playing on anti-Chinese sentiment to distract the U.S. from his bungled response to the virus.

 

In the end, only 14 Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the resolution.

 

Do you think that using the term “Chinese Virus” is a form of anti-Asian bigotry?

New Jersey Hiking Taxes on Higher Incomes

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has long supported higher taxes on millionaires. After three years of trying to see his millionaire tax enacted, he finally got his way this week.

 

Legislators came to an agreement with the governor to increase the tax rate on the income of New Jersey residents that exceeds $1 million. The rate will go up from 8.97% to 10.75%. The state estimates that this will bring in around $390 million in new revenue. This tax hike is coupled with a one-time tax rebate for New Jersey taxpayers earning $150,00 per household (or $75,000 for a single taxpayer) of $500. The governor argues that these families have been hit hard by coronavirus and deserve some relief.

 

Gov. Murphy, who is from the Democratic Party's Progressive wing, ran for office on the platform of increasing taxes on higher income state residents. Legislators have been reluctant to embrace the governor's tax agenda in past years, however. This year, however, as the governor and legislators crafted a budget deal, they were looking for revenue to pay for coronavirus-related tax relief. They finally agreed on this tax hike to do so.

 

Supporters of the millionaire's tax contend that the wealthy need to pay more in taxes to help the lower- and middle-class residents of the state. They argue that the rich should sacrifice, especially during times of economic hardship. Opponents contend that wealthy New Jersey residents already pay high tax rates. They also note that the wealthy can easily move to other states if taxes in New Jersey are too high.

 

While the governor and legislative leaders have agreed to this tax increase, the legislature must formally vote on it. 

 

Do you support increasing taxes on people with incomes over $1 million?

 

Virginia Voters to Decide on Redistricting Reform

How Virginia's congressional and legislative districts are drawn may change if Virginia voters give their approval in November.

 

Under Question 1, power to draw congressional and legislative districts would move from legislators to an independent commission. Supporters of this change to the state's constitution argue that allowing politicians to draw these districts leads to gerrymandering, which deprives many voters of a meaningful choice. They contend that independent commissions will consider politics less than politicians will. Opponents, however, contend that by giving this power to a commission, it takes away the chance of voters to hold their elected officials accountable for how districts are drawn.

 

Congressional and legislative lines must be drawn after every census. In 2011, Virginia legislators were unable to agree on new districts, since Democrats and Republicans split control of legislative chambers. Under an independent commission, this situation would not occur again. Legislators in two successive sessions supported resolutions that would give voters the chance to vote on making this change to the state constitution. 

 

If voters approve the creation of an independent redistricting commission, it would be composed of legislators from the Democratic and Republican parties as well as private citizens. The commission would draw maps that could then be approved or rejected by the Virginia General Assembly. Legislators could not amend the maps. If the General Assembly rejects the maps, the commission would draw another set of maps. If the General Assembly votes down these maps, then the Virginia Supreme Court would draw the lines.

 

Currently 7 states have similar independent commissions that draw congressional district lines, while 10 states have independent commissions to compose legislative districts. 

Judge Rules Pennsylvania Coronavirus Shutdown Orders Unconstitutional

This week, a federal judge struck down some of Pennsylvania's coronavirus shutdown orders, finding that they violated the Constitution.

 

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge William Stickman IV held that Gov. Tom Wolf went too far in ordering businesses to close and people to stay home. While acknowledging that there was an emergency that prompted these orders, he said, "the solution to a national crisis can never be permitted to supersede the commitment  to individual liberty that stands as the foundation of the American experiment."

 

This ruling affects the governor's orders to close businesses, limit outdoor gatherings, and require people to stay at home. Other orders, such as the state's mask mandate, remain in effect.

 

Gov. Wolf expressed disappointment in the ruling, contending that these orders are vital in stopping the spread of coronavirus. Legislators and business owners who had sued applauded the ruling, saying it justified their claims that the governor was exceeding his legal authority.

 

The disagreement over the extent of Gov. Wolf's orders mirrors debates happening in other states over coronavirus-related restrictions. This ruling by a federal judge is the first of its kind in finding that a state's orders violate the U.S. Constitution.

 

Do you think that stay-at-home orders and business shutdown mandates are unconstitutional?

Western Forest Fires Spark Climate Debate

Devastating forest fires are burning across the West, especially in California and Oregon. In the wake of the destruction left by these fires, some activists are saying that they show the need for a greater focus on climate change. Others, however, contend that poor land management practices at the state and federal level are largely responsible for larger and more intense fires.

 

Throughout the West, a thick blanket of smoke has caused air quality to be listed as "hazardous" in many areas. This smoke is coming from a series of fires in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and other states. In Oregon, 10 deaths have been linked to these fires. 

 

The number of wildfires, which burn both forests and grasslands, have been declining, but their intensity has been increasing. Some scientists link this to a warming climate, which they contend lengthens fire season and provides more time when areas are so dry they burn easily. They argue that reducing greenhouse gas emissions will lessen the effects of these fires.

 

Others, however, note that land management practices contribute significantly to how fires burn. They say that if federal and state agencies used more prescribed burns to clear out fuel on a regular basis, fires would not be as intense. Some also argue that the reduction in logging and timber thinning has led to a buildup of flammable material across the West.

 

President Trump is on a campaign swing through the West, and today he stopped to visit firefighters in California.

 

What do you think should be done to reduce the danger of wildfires?

Senate Rejects New Coronavirus Aid Bill

Yesterday, Senate Republicans tried to pass what they called a “skinny” coronavirus relief bill. Senate Democrats blocked the measure, arguing that it did not go far enough. Now prospects of passage of another aid bill for the pandemic before the election are dim.

 

Here is ow VoteSpotter describes this new coronavirus bill:

 

To provide an additional $300-per-week payment in unemployment benefits, an expanded loan program for small businesses affected by coronavirus, $105 billion for schools to deal with coronavirus as well as to fund school choice, $20 billion for farmers and ranchers affected by coronavirus, $31 billion for vaccines, $16 billion for testing and contact tracing, and $10 billion in loan forgiveness for the Postal Service if it makes certain reforms, among other things.

 

The total cost of the legislation is roughly $650 billion, although only around $300 billion is new spending. The other $350 billion is re-purposed funds that were already authorized.

 

Senators voted 52-47 to invoke cloture on the bill, which would have cut off debate and led to a vote on the package. However, this type of vote needs 60 senators to succeed. No Democrats voted in favor of cloture, and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was the only Republican to vote against it. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) did not vote.

 

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) faulted this bill for not including a variety of aid that Democrats think is needed, including money for food, housing, broadband, and state and local governments. He accused Republicans of putting forward a bill so they can say they tried to do something, but with no intention of actually passing anything.

 

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Senate Majority Leader, said the Democrats were the ones playing politics. He said Democrats were more interested in hurting President Trump than in working with Republicans to aid American families.

 

The House of Representatives passed a coronavirus aid bill in July that had a price tag exceeding $3.4 trillion. 

 

What do you think Congress should do about coronavirus aid?

Portland Bans Use of Facial Recognition Software

This week the Portland city council unanimously passed legislation to ban the use of facial recognition technology by either government entities or private businesses.

 

When this ban takes effect in January 2021, Portland will join a handful of other cities in prohibiting the use of this technology. Portland’s prohibition of facial recognition technology will be the strictest among these other cities, however. It not only bars the police and other local government agencies from deploying facial recognition software, it also prohibits private companies (including airlines using the Portland airport) from doing so.

 

Privacy advocates have raised concerns about the use of this technology to track individuals. They contend that it leads to the government gaining too much information on individual behavior. They also note that studies have found racial bias as part of the software. Police and law enforcement support this technology, arguing that it helps identify criminals. Stores also use facial recognition software to identify shoplifters.

 

There have been moves at the federal level to prohibit the use of this technology, but Congress has yet to act on this legislation. 

 

Do you think facial recognition software should be banned?

Trump Announces Offshore Drilling Moratorium

This week, President Trump announced that the federal government was imposing a 10-year moratorium on offshore oil and natural gas exploration off of the Southeastern U.S. coast.

 

The areas covered by the president’s order include the eastern part of the Gulf of Mexico around Florida, as well as the Atlantic coastal areas of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. The Gulf of Mexico already had an oil and gas drilling moratorium in place, but that was set to expire in 2022. This order extends that moratorium for 10 years and expands it to cover the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf.

 

This move is a reversal from previous Trump Administration policy. The president had supported opening more offshore areas to oil and gas production. Such production is currently allowed in the western part of the Gulf of Mexico as well as parts of Alaska. In 2017, the administration announced it wanted expanded drilling, including around Florida. 

 

Supporters of this moratorium argue that it is necessary to protect the tourist industries of these areas as well as the environment. They also contend that the U.S. should be transitioning to the use of renewable energy, not fossil fuels. Opponents of placing these areas off-limits to oil and gas production contend that such energy exploration is already being done safely elsewhere, so it can be done safely here. They also note that this type of energy production would create jobs for coastal communities as well as generate significant government revenue.

 

Do you support a moratorium on oil and gas production off of the Atlantic Coast?

Deep Dive: How COVID-19 Has Affected Congress

As with other businesses that have seen shutdowns and employees working from home, Congress has adapted to the new “socially distanced” workplace. In this Deep Dive, Votespotter looks at some of the ways the coronavirus epidemic has changed the way Congress, and especially the House of Representatives, works.

 

Disrupted Calendar

 

One of the first effects of the coronavirus pandemic was to disrupt the normal business calendar of Congress. At the beginning of the year, both House and Senate leadership decide on a calendar that lays out the days when each body will be in session. Once the extent of the coronavirus began coming into focus in early March, however, House leadership decided to alter their calendar. The Senate’s calendar largely remained intact.

 

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi canceled many weeks of House sessions. She then called the House back into session periodically to consider legislation the Democratic leadership deemed important, including coronavirus relief bills and legislation to provide further aid to the U.S. Postal Service. The House has not met for significant periods of time during the pandemic, however, and only has 5 full weeks of session scheduled for the rest of the year.

 

Proxy Voting

 

As discussed in a previous Deep Dive, the House of Representatives has approved proxy voting for members who do not want to come to Washington, D.C. during the coronavirus pandemic. On May 15, the House voted 217-189 in favor of House Resolution 965.  Under this rule change, a member can designate another member who will be physically present in the House chamber. That member can then cast a vote on behalf of the absent member, but only if the absent member has authorized such a vote in writing.

 

While the House has previously allowed proxy voting in committee, which the Senate currently does, neither chamber has allowed proxy votes to be cast on actual bills considered by the entire body. Speaker Pelosi steered this rule change through the House earlier this year, contending that it permits the House to continue operating while members have concerns about the coronavirus. She argues that the proxy voting procedures put in place earlier this year ensure that the will of the member casting such a vote is protected.

 

House Republicans disagree, however. They voted against this rule change and have also filed a lawsuit to stop it, arguing that it violates the Constitution. The Republican members also contend that this procedure concentrates power of the House majority’s leaders because it means there will be fewer House members present for deliberations and votes. 

 

Under the rule change, proxy voting may continue as long as the Speaker declares a public health emergency related to the coronavirus. The declaration remains in effect for 45 days, but the Speaker can renew it. 

 

House Resolution 965 also allowed committees to meet remotely, using technology to allow members to question witnesses and take votes. However, closed executive sessions of committees must still take place in person.

 

Session Procedures

 

Both the House and Senate have altered some procedures to incorporate social distancing and other precautions aimed at combating the coronavirus. Outside visitors to congressional offices are limited, and these offices no longer conduct Capitol tours. The Senate, with fewer members than the House, has made suggestions to its members about social distancing and testing. The House, however, has implemented mandatory procedures aimed at keeping members separate from one another.

 

Members of the House who are present in Washington, D.C., face a number of new requirements for their time in the Capitol complex. Only those members actively involved in congressional debate can be in the House chamber when the debate is occurring; otherwise members must remain in their offices or can sit in the House gallery (which is now closed to the general public). Votes are held for longer periods of time, with members entering the chambers in staggered groups to limit the number of individuals in the chamber at one time. Face coverings are required for access to the House floor and in committee meetings.

 

Effects on Transparency

 

Except for members of Congress, most of this will have little direct effect on you. The changes do affect the public indirectly, however. With the House reducing the number of days it is in session, and lengthening roll call vote times, there is less time to consider legislation. These time constraints, coupled with the absence of members from the Capitol due to the availability of proxy voting, means there are also fewer opportunities for members to debate legislation.

 

This session of Congress will likely produce fewer new laws than in past sessions because of how coronavirus-related procedures have limited the congressional calendar and mandated lengthier voting times. With Congress operating in a different manner than in the past, some of its actions may be less visible to the public. VoteSpotter is working to inform you of the votes taken by your representatives in Congress and the issues they are considering, then allow you to give feedback on what your representatives in Washington, D.C., are doing.

 

Visiting Washington, D.C.

 

If you are planning to visit Washington, D.C., and the Capitol, these changes in congressional operations will affect you. Visitors can no longer observe the House and the Senate sessions in person from their visitors’ galleries. Tours of the Capitol are also canceled. In fact, access to congressional buildings is highly restricted, with many staff working from home. Visitors to congressional offices are only permitted with an escort from an employee of the House of Representatives or Senate.

Trump's Payroll Tax Deferral Plan Sparks Controversy

President Trump has long supported a payroll tax cut, but Congress has been reluctant to follow his lead. In response, the president has put forward a plan allowing businesses to defer the collection of payroll taxes through the end of the year. This move has met resistance from both employers and employees, who contend that doing this may actually hurt workers.

 

The desire for a payroll tax cut has been a consistent theme with President Trump. When the initial economic effects of the coronavirus began to become apparent in March, he suggested the same thing. Congress has not included it in any coronavirus relief bill, and is not discussing such a tax cut currently. 

 

In response, Trump directed the Treasury Department to give businesses the option of deferring collection of payroll taxes through the end of the year. This is not a tax cut, however, since the deferred taxes would have to be collected at the beginning of 2021. In essence, this would give employees a boost in pay through December, but double the payroll taxes collected on their paycheck in the first few months of 2021.

 

Many business owners have refused to participate in this plan. They point out that while employees may get a temporary take-home boost in their pay, they will see a big reduction in take-home pay next year. The plan is optional for private sector employees, but mandatory for federal employees. The union representing many federal workers has asked that this tax deferral be optional for them.

 

Payroll taxes are levied on income to pay for Medicare and Social Security. Cutting these taxes would affect every worker, especially those with lower incomes. An income tax cut mainly benefits higher-income workers, since lower incomes are not subject to the tax. Payroll taxes, on the other hand, are levied on the first dollar of income, and are capped for higher-income workers.

 

Since 2009, there have been other payroll tax cuts that have been aimed at stimulating the economy. Some economists argue that since they affect lower-income workers, they provide money to go back into the economy more quickly. Others argue that there are more effective ways to stimulate the economy, such as direct payments to individuals. Some critics are also concerned about the long-term effect of cutting payroll taxes on Medicare and Social Security.

 

Do you support President Trump's plan to defer collection of payroll taxes and then collect those deferred taxes next year?

Budget Deficit Hits Record High

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) announced this week that the projected budget deficit for 2020 will hit $3.3 trillion -- a record high gap between government revenues and spending.

 

The projected $3.3 trillion far exceeds the last record-high yearly deficit, which occurred in 2009. In that year, the budget deficit was $1.4 trillion. As explained in this Deep Dive, the budget deficit is when the federal government spends more than it receives in revenue in one fiscal year.

 

The U.S. has had a budget deficit every year since the late 1990s, and for many years prior to then. The accumulated deficits make up the national debt. The CBO projects the national debt to exceed the total Gross Domestic Product (the measure of how much economic activity occurs the U.S.) next year.

 

Many experts say that in the midst of an economic crisis, it is not wise to focus on deficits and debt. They argue that the federal government should spend freely to prop up the economy. Other experts counter this claim, noting that the federal government was engaged in deficit spending during good economic times, too. They say that at some point our nation's large amount of debt will hurt the economy and the ability of the government to provide services.

 

The new deficit numbers may affect the ongoing talks to produce another coronavirus spending bill. Democrats are pushing for a bill that contains over $3.4 trillion in new spending. Senate Republicans are likely to pass spending legislation that is around $500 billion due to many Republicans' hesitation about higher spending levels. 

 

Are you concerned about the record-high $3.3 trillion budget deficit?

 

 

Trump Administration Orders Evictions Halted

This week, the Trump Administration issued an order banning landlords from evicting tenants who could not afford rent due to the coronavirus pandemic.

 

The Centers for Disease Control announced the eviction ban on Tuesday, using the authority of a federal law giving the agency power to take steps to stop the spread of communicable diseases. Under this order, tenants must meet certain qualifications:

  • Earn less than $99,000 (or $198,000 for joint tax filers)
  • Declare that their income will fall below the income threshold
  • Seek all federal rent assistance available
  • Declare that they cannot pay their rent due to the pandemic

 

Under this order, tenants are still liable for the rent owed, but they cannot be evicted for failure to pay that rent.

 

There was a previous federal foreclosure and eviction moratorium that expired July 31. Housing advocates have been pressuring the Trump Administration to issue another eviction ban. They argue that with high unemployment and economic disruption, an eviction moratorium is necessary to prevent widespread homelessness. Landlords, however, are pushing back, noting that they are still required to pay their mortgages and for property upkeep.

 

The new eviction moratorium lasts until December 31.

 

Do you support a federal ban on evictions during the coronavirus pandemic?

 

Judge Upholds Washington Gun Control Initiative

Yesterday, a federal judge rejected arguments of plaintiffs seeking to overturn a Washington initiative that imposed new laws on gun purchases.

 

In 2018, Washington voters approved Initiative 1639 to prohibit 18- and 19-year-olds from purchasing semi-automatic rifles and ban the sale of those guns to residents of other states, as well as require a stricter background check for in-state residents purchasing such guns. Opponents of the initiative, including the National Rifle Association, argued that it violated the Constitution.

 

U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Leighton disagreed. He granted the State of Washington's request to dismiss the case, saying that the initiative was constitutionally permissible.

 

Washington's attorney general had defended the initiative in court, pointing out that the restrictions it imposed had not been struck down by the Supreme Court. The plaintiffs, however, argued that they infringed upon the Second Amendment rights of individuals.

 

The backers of Initiative 1639 said it is necessary to prevent people from accessing high-powered weapons. They say that semi-automatic rifles are more dangerous than other guns, and that there should be more restrictions on them. Opponents of this initiative pushed back against the idea that these rifles are any more dangerous than other guns, saying this assertion has no basis in fact. They also noted that these types of guns are used in very few crimes.

 

Do you think that there should be stricter laws governing the possession of semi-automatic rifles?

NJ Gas Tax Going Up

Buying gas in New Jersey will cost more starting October 1.

 

Last week, State Treasurer Elizabeth Maher Muoio announced that the gas tax would be increased by 9.3 cents in a month. This is the result of a 2016 state law that requires a steady level of revenue for transportation projects. The law requires that tax rates be adjusted yearly to obtain that revenue. This year, with driving down because of the coronavirus pandemic, gas tax revenue decreased dramatically. That set the stage for an automatic gas tax hike for New Jersey drivers in the coming fiscal year.

 

The tax hike will mean that for every gallon of gas purchased in New Jersey, 50.7 cents will be paid in taxes. Currently, the state has the 10th highest gas tax rate. After October 1, it will have the 4th highest rate in the nation.

 

This impending tax increase has critics. They say it is coming at an especially bad time for both consumers and businesses. They argue that consumers who are already suffering from high unemployment and an economic slowdown cannot afford to pay higher gas prices. They also contend that New Jersey businesses that sell gas will be hurt by this increase. 

 

Unless legislators change the law, however, this gas tax will go into effect automatically. 

 

Do you support increasing the gas tax?

Federal Government Executes Fourth Inmate in Two Months

This week, the federal government executed its fourth federal prisoner in two months, a pace of federal executions not seen since the 1950s.

 

This week, it executed Lezmond Mitchell, who was convicted of carjacking and murder. In July, the Trump Administration executed three men. Prior to these executions, the federal government had not put anyone to death in 17 years. The last time that four men were put to death during a single president's term of office was during the administration of Dwight Eisenhower.

 

Attorney General William Barr has made it a priority for the Justice Department to resume the use of capital punishment. Attorneys for prisoners on death row have been asking federal courts to stop their executions, but judges have cleared the way for lethal injection to resume after over a decade-and-a-half hiatus.

 

The death penalty is a deeply divisive issue, with some states recently abolishing it. However, there are 58 individuals on federal death row -- 57 men and 1 woman. The Trump Administration is resuming executions after the last ones that occurred were during the George W. Bush Administration. 

 

Do you support resuming federal executions?

Copyright © 2018 Votespotter Inc. All rights reserved.