Posted by 09 November 2020
With coronavirus cases surging in Utah, Gov. Gary Herbert has issued a mask mandate and limit on gatherings.
Utah's coronavirus cases reached a record high last week, with Gov. Hebert saying, "our hospitals are full." To deal with the rising cases, the governor issued an order requiring that masks be worn in public places. He also limited gatherings to individuals in the same family.
This order is controversial. There have already been numerous anti-mask mandates across Utah, with protestors saying that masks are ineffective and any mandate to wear them is an infringement upon individual rights. Gov. Hebert dismisses these objections, noting evidence that masks work to stop the spread of coronavirus. He also said that laws exist to protect the public, and likened a mask mandate to the requirement that drivers wear seatbelts.
Thirty-five states have some form of a mask mandate. These mandates vary by jurisdiction. Some mandates apply to the whole state, while others, such as the one in Montana, only apply to counties that have a certain number of coronavirus cases.
President-elect Joe Biden supports mask mandates, while President Trump has not embraced this idea. Biden has said he would work with state governors to implement a mask mandate that would apply nationwide.
Do you think that governors should require that masks be worn in public?
Posted by 06 November 2020
Virginia legislators will no longer be determining the shape of legislative and congressional districts in that state.
Voters overwhelmingly approved Question 1, which gives power to draw congressional and legislative districts to an independent commission. Those backing this state constitutional amendment said that allowing politicians to draw these districts leads to gerrymandering, which deprives many voters of a meaningful choice. They contended that independent commissions will consider politics less than politicians will. Opponents, however, pushed back. They said that by giving redistricting power to a commission, it will take 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.
When this commission convenes after the 2020 census results are known, it will be composed of legislators from the Democratic and Republican parties as well as private citizens. The commission will draw maps that could then be approved or rejected by the Virginia General Assembly. Legislators may not amend the maps. If the General Assembly rejects the maps, the commission will draw another set of maps. If the General Assembly votes down these maps, then the Virginia Supreme Court will draw the lines.
Prior to Virginia’s approval of this amendment, 7 states had similar independent commissions that draw congressional district lines, while 10 states had independent commissions to compose legislative districts.
Question 1 garnered nearly 66% of the vote.
Do you support an independent commission to draw congressional and legislative district lines?
Posted by 06 November 2020
California legislators wanted to classify contractors for Lyft and Uber as “employees.” But California voters disagreed, voting in favor of an initiative that allows these workers to continue being classified as independent contractors.” Some see this as a victory for worker freedom, while others contend that it will allow these companies to continue exploiting drivers.
Over 58% of voters approved Proposition 22, which changed California law to allow app-based drivers to be classified as independent contractors. This was in response to the enactment of AB 5 in California. That law put severe restrictions on how companies could use independent contractors, including drivers for Uber and Lyft. Supporters said it was necessary to crack down on unscrupulous companies that were trying to avoid paying workers benefits and higher wages. Opponents countered that it was the government meddling in arrangements that worked well for both employees and contractors.
Uber and Lyft strongly supported Proposition 22, saying that it was necessary for them to continue operating in the sate. Besides removing app-based drivers from AB 5’s restrictions, Proposition 22 also:
- Required app-based driving services to pay certain minimum amounts to drivers
- Imposed limits on the number of hours an app-based driver could work in a 24-hour period
- Mandated health care subsidies for some app-based drivers
- Required companies provide some forms of insurance for these drivers
AB 5 only affected drivers for companies like Uber and Lyft. Other independent contractors are unaffected. After AB 5 was enacted, businesses began restructuring or ending their relationships with California independent contractors.
To amend Proposition 22 will take a ⅞ vote in both chambers of California’s legislature.
Do you think that states should impose more restrictions on companies using independent contractors?
Posted by 05 November 2020
The legalization of marijuana continues to score victories at the ballot box.
Voters in Arizona, Montana, South Dakota, and New Jersey approved ballot measures that legalized marijuana use for recreational purposes. These measures differ in their details, with some being more restrictive than others. Most limit how much marijuana is considered a legal amount and impose heavy taxes on it. New Jersey, however, simply legalized the possession of marijuana, said its sales are subject to the state sales tax, and prohibited any new taxes on it.
Mississippi and South Dakota also approved medical marijuana. In South Dakota, however, the more expansive legalization measure also allows the use of marijuana for medical purposes.
With these victories, there are now 15 states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Most of these states have done so via ballot measures, although Vermont and Illinois legislators passed legalization bills in those states. Many more states have decriminalized marijuana possession.
The federal government still lists cannabis as a controlled substance. Federal agencies can still arrest individuals for marijuana possession, but states that have legalized the drug do not do so. Some members of Congress are pushing for the federal government to relax its marijuana laws.
Do you think that the federal government should still prohibit the possession and use of marijuana?
Posted by 03 November 2020
It's Election Day. Although tens of millions of Americans have voted absentee or by mail this year, there are also millions who are voting in person today. These votes will determine the fate of a variety of policies across the nation.
Who will be our next president, as well as control of the House of Representatives and the Senate will be determined by voters. Governors' races as well as state and local offices will be filled. The men and women elected to these positions will determine policies for the next two or four years. But voters will also directly decide on some policies today through state and local ballot initiatives and referendums.
These are some of the issues being decided directly by the voters today:
- Recreational marijuana legalization: Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota voters will determine if their states legalize the recreational use of marijuana.
- Medicinal marijuana legalization: Sound Dakota and Mississippi voters will decide on the fate of medicinal marijuana.
- Income tax increases: Colorado voters are facing the question of whether to reduce the state's income tax rate, while Arizona voters will determine if their top rate increases. Illinois voters are being asked to move from a flat tax to a graduated income tax.
- Tobacco tax increases: Voters in Oregon and Colorado will decide if tobacco users will pay more for their products.
- Ranked choice voting: Alaska may adopt a ranked-choice voting system if voters approve.
- Affirmative action: In 1996, California voters approved a proposition that banned government from discriminating or giving preferential treatment based on race or gender, among other things. Voters are being asked to repeal that prohibition this year.
- Rent control: California voters will also determine if the state can expand the use of rent control.
- Abortion: Colorado voters could approve a proposition that bans abortion after 22 weeks. Louisiana voters are deciding on an amendment that states there is no right to abortion in the state constitution.
- Sports betting: Maryland voters may allow their state to join the growing number of states that permit gambling on sports. South Dakota voters will also decide whether to allow limited sports betting in that state.
What issue do you think is most important during this year's elections?
Posted by 02 November 2020
Children were set to return to D.C. public schools for in-person learning next week. However, an objection from the district's teachers' union has caused these plans to be put on hold.
Under the initial plan, some elementary school students were scheduled to return to their classrooms beginning with the new school term's beginning on November 9. The school district was negotiating with the teachers' union to determine the safety procedures that would be put in place for such a re-opening. The D.C. school chancellor said that regardless of negotiations, he was planning to allow limited in-person schooling.
The teachers' union objected to this plan, however. Among other things, it urged its members to call in sick to school on November 9. Enough of these members did so to make re-opening an impossibility.
The teachers' union has consistently opposed in-person schooling, saying it puts teachers' health at risk. The D.C. school system and some parents say that with proper precautions, schools can safely accommodate at least some students. They contend that children's social and academic skills are suffering from schooling that takes place solely online.
The district's school chancellor says that in spite of this month's cancellation, the system will offer in-person schooling at some point, but has not set a firm date to do so.
Do you think that children should be at school in person?
Posted by 30 October 2020
It’s time to change the clocks back this weekend as Daylight Saving Time ends on Sunday morning. However, there is a growing movement to pass legislation that would end the twice-a-year clock switching that upsets so many people.
In 2018, California and Florida voters approved initiatives that would make permanent Daylight Saving Time if federal law is changed to permit it. Since then, 13 states have approved legislation to do the same. Currently, the federal government allows states to adopt Daylight Saving Time between March and November or stay on Standard Time year-round. Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, both Republicans from Florida, have introduced federal legislation that would keep Daylight Savings Time in place through November 2021. Sen. Rubio has also introduced legislation to make Daylight Savings Time permanent.
The idea to change clocks between Standard Time and Daylight Saving Time 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. They say that in order to stop the changing of clocks, it is necessary to pass this initiative empowering the legislature to debate the issue. 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.
During 2020 legislative sessions, 32 states considered bills to make Daylight Savings Time permanent.
Do you favor permanent Daylight Saving Time?
Posted by 29 October 2020
The Trump Administration announced this week that it is removing the gray wolf for the endangered species list. Officials say that wolf numbers have recovered enough so that it does not need federal protection, but critics call the move premature.
While their numbers were once declining, gray wolf populations in the United States have been growing in recent decades. In some areas of the country, such as Idaho and Montana, wolf populations have reached a point where they have been taken off the endangered species list, a process called “de-listing.” In the Great Lakes region, a judge halted a 2011 Interior Department regulation to de-list the wolf population. This latest move by the Trump Administration would affect the wolves in the Great Lakes area.
If an animal is listed as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act, there are numerous restrictions on what humans can do to the animals. In the case of wolves, these restrictions led to many conflicts with landowners, especially in the west. Ranchers were especially concerned about wolves killing their livestock. Supporters of removing the wolves’ endangered status say that this will allow states to design plans that will both protect wolves but also take into account landowners’ concerns. Opponents of this legislation argue that wolves play a vital role in ecosystem management, and their numbers show that they still deserve federal protection. They also contend that de-listing the wolves will lead to them being hunted until their numbers are once again declining.
Critics of this action have vowed to fight it in court.
Do you support removing wolves from the endangered species list?
Posted by 28 October 2020
This week Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed a variety of bills into law that reform policing in Virginia, including one that prohibits the use of no-knock warrants.
No-knock warrants have come under scrutiny since the police shooting of Breonna Taylor. Police in Louisville, Kentucky, had a no-knock warrant to search her apartment. They ended up shooting her, with the exact details of what happened under dispute. Some observers say that if police failed to identify themselves, such as no-knock warrants allow, this can lead to a situation where police are mistaken for intruders. Some argue that this is what happened in the Breonna Taylor case, with her boyfriend then shooting at police because he thought they were criminals. The police then shot back, killing Taylor.
In the wake of this shooting, criminal justice reform advocates have pushed states and local governments to outlaw the use of these warrants. They maintain that ending the use of no-knock warrants will reduce the possibility of accidental shootings like that which killed Taylor. Critics of these bans contend that police need them to serve warrants in a way that minimizes suspects from destroying evidence.
Legislators passed this ban as part of other criminal justice reform bills. These other measures include mandating that police officers intervene if they see other officers using excessive force and curbing the use of military weapons and tactics by police.
Virginia becomes the third state to ban police from using no-knock warrants.
Do you think that no-knock warrants should be banned?
Posted by 27 October 2020
Amy Coney Barrett has taken her seat on the Supreme Court. Now some Democrats want to make sure she has some new colleagues if Joe Biden is elected president.
Democrats such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Ilhan Omar are pushing the idea of expanding the Supreme Court if Joe Biden defeats Donald Trump for the presidency. They argue that since Republicans have, in effect, stolen seats for the Supreme Court, so the only way to rebalance the court is for a President Biden to appoint one or two new justices. Some argue that Republicans reduced the number of Supreme Court seats when they refused to vote on President Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland, so any expansion by Biden would be appropriate.
The idea of expanding the Supreme Court’s membership in response to a disagreement over its ideological makeup was prominently championed by President Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s. Upset by court decisions invalidating part of his New Deal legislation, President Roosevelt suggested expanding the number of Supreme Court justices. There was an uproar in opposition to that idea, and Congress never acted on it.
Opponents of court packing argue that once this process starts, it will lead to an ever-larger number of justices appointed for purely political reasons. They note that if Democrats expand the court’s membership when they control the presidency and Congress, then Republicans will do so when they regain both branches of government. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell notes that no Senate rules or laws were broken to confirm any of President Trump's Supreme Court nominees.
There are currently nine Supreme Court justices. This number is not set by the Constitution, so Congress and the president could pass legislation to alter it.
Do you think that Democrats should increase the number of Supreme Court members if Joe Biden is elected president?
Posted by 26 October 2020
The Supreme Court has a new justice.
The Senate voted today to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the high court. The vote was close, 52-48, with no Democrats joining the Republicans to approve her.
Democratic had boycotted the Judiciary Committee vote on Barrett. They claimed that Republicans were using an illegitimate process to seat her. They argue that this nomination should wait until after the presidential election. Democratic senators said the same on the Senate floor during debate over the confirmation vote. However, with the removal of the judicial filibuster, they had no way to stop it.
Conservatives see her as a reliable judge that adheres to an originalist view of the Constitution. They contend that she would interpret the Constitution in ways that are consistent with the original meaning of the document, and not embrace the idea of "living Constitution" that can be changed to fit the whims of judges.
Liberals, however, have vowed to everything they can to stop the nomination. They argue that her decisions show she would gut the Affordable Care Act, impose new restrictions on abortion, and expand gun rights. They argue that her presence on the high court would lead to a reversal of decisions that protect the rights of women and minorities.
Barrett will step down from her seat as a federal appeals court judge to take her place on the Supreme Court. Barrett was formerly a law professor at Notre Dame. She also clerked for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Barrett joins two other women on the court, Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.
Do you think the Senate did the right thing in confirming Barrett to the Supreme Court?
Posted by 23 October 2020
During last night's presidential debate, former Vice President Joe Biden pledged to transition the U.S. economy to a totally renewable future. Later, however, he clarified that the main step his administration would take is ending subsidies for fossil fuels.
President Trump has long criticized Biden and Democrats for attacking fossil fuels. During the debate, he asked Biden, "“Would you close down the oil industry?” In response, Biden said, "Yes. I would transition.” Biden went on to say, "... the oil industry pollutes, significantly... [I]t has to be replaced by renewable energy over time, over time. And I’d stop giving to the oil industry, I’d stop giving them federal subsidies."
With many U.S. jobs tied to the oil industry in states like Texas and Pennsylvania, President Trump pounced on this statement. He pointed out his strong support of the oil industry and fossil fuel jobs. He also touted his withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Climate Change Agreement.
Environmentalists and Democrats are pushing for a transition away from oil and towards renewable fuels because of their concern over climate change. They say the only way to stop a disaster is to limit or end the use of fossil fuels. President Trump argues that this would damage the U.S. economy, kill jobs, and make the U.S. less competitive.
Do you support transitioning the U.S. economy away from the use of oil and other fossil fuels?
Posted by 22 October 2020
On a 12-0 vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved President Trump's nomination of Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court. The unanimous vote occurred as the panel's Democratic members boycotted the vote, objecting to the way the process has developed.
Instead of appearing at the vote, Judiciary Committee Democrats placed pictures of Americans who are using the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Democrats have attacked Barrett's nomination on the grounds that she would vote to overturn the ACA. Barrett has said that her mind was not made up about the legality of certain areas of that law.
With no Democrats taking part, Republicans on the Judiciary Committee moved quickly to vote in favor of Barrett. The 12-0 vote sends her nomination to the full Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is targeting next week for a confirmation vote. While there are some indications that Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) may vote against Barrett, the rest of the Senate's GOP members are likely to support her.
Democrats have vowed to use procedural means to delay the vote. They contend that the nomination should be filled by whomever voters select as president in November. Republicans have vowed to confirm Barrett before Election Day. Options for blocking the nomination are slim since members can no longer filibuster judicial nominations.
Do you support Judiciary Committee Democrats boycotting today's vote on Amy Coney Barrett?
Posted by 21 October 2020
With so much personal information being kept in electronic form, there are increasing concerns about how private that data is. On Election Day, Michigan voters will decide whether state police must get a warrant to access this electronic information.
If voters approve Proposal 2, it would add "electronic data" and "electronic communications" to the list of items that the state constitution says can only be searched by police if they get a search warrant. Currently, there is uncertainty about how protected electronic data is from police searches.
Both the federal Constitution and the Michigan constitution protect "persons, houses, papers and possessions" from warrantless searches. When written, there were no such things as electronic communications and electronic data. Advocates for this amendment argue that the state constitution needs to be updated to ensure that this constitutional protection is adequate for modern times. Opponents have noted that such protections could make it more difficult for law enforcement to do their jobs.
Both houses of the Michigan legislature voted to place this amendment on the ballot for voters to decide. The votes in each house were unanimous.
Do you think that police should get a warrant before accessing someone's electronic communications?
Posted by 20 October 2020
The price of cigarettes and vaping products could be going up in Colorado.
If voters approve Proposition EE, the state government will increase the tax on tobacco products every year until 2027 and impose a new tax on e-cigarette products. The revenue generated would be dedicated to a variety of state funds dealing with health and education.
Under Proposition EE, the state's cigarette tax would increase from its current 84 cents-per-pack to $2.64 per-pack by 2027. The tax rate on tobacco products such as cigars and chewing tobacco would increase form 40% to 62%. Currently nicotine products such as e-cigarettes and vaping supplies are not taxed. Under Proposition EE, they would begin to be taxed at a rate of 30%, which would rise to 62% by 2027. A variety of state programs would share in revenue from this tax increase, including the preschool fund, the rural schools fund, and the tobacco tax cash fund.
Backers of this measure contend that Colorado's tobacco tax is below the national average. They argue that it needs to increase in order to discourage smoking and provide revenue for important government programs. Opponents say this tax will hurt Colorado businesses. They also note that imposing the same tax on non-tobacco nicotine products, such as e-cigarettes, will discourage people from switching to them from more dangerous tobacco products.
Do you think that tobacco taxes should be increased? Should nicotine products like e-cigarettes be taxed the same as tobacco products?
Posted by 19 October 2020
A federal judge has put a stop to the Trump Administration's plan to enforce work requirements for food stamp recipients.
Under the Trump Administration rule announced last year, states would have less ability to waive rules requiring food stamp recipients who are between 18 and 49 and who do not have a disability or dependents to work or be in work training programs for 20 hours a week. A federal judge blocked the rule from going into effect this week, preserving the broad authority of states to waive this requirement.
Nineteen states and the District of Columbia had sued to overturn the rule. Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell agreed with these plaintiffs, saying that the Trump Administration had acted capriciously in changing regulatory policy. He also said this rule would increase food insecurity for millions of Americans.
Trump Administration officials argued that this rule was a way to spur food stamp recipients to find jobs if they are able to work. These officials pointed out that it does not affect people who are caring for children, the elderly, or those who have a disability.
Opponents countered that this regulation will end vital food assistance to needy Americans. They said that it was a way to push people off a program that they need to feed their family. They also argued that it removed the flexibility of states to design a food stamp program that takes into account people who have sporadic work or are underemployed.
Congress had put the stricter enforcement of the work requirement on hold during the course of the coronavirus pandemic.
Do you support work requirements for able-bodied food stamp recipients?
Posted by 16 October 2020
The future of Nevada's energy production will be decided by the state's voters on Election Day.
Passage of Question 6 would enshrine in the state's constitution the requirement that 50% of Nevada's electricity must be from renewable sources by 2030. Gov. Steve Sisolak approved legislation in 2019 that would accomplish the same thing, but Question 6 would ensure that future legislators could not overturn this mandate. In 2018, voters approved a similar constitutional amendment. Under Nevada law, amendments must be approved in two consecutive elections to be added to the constitution.
Under Question 6, a variety of sources could qualify as renewable energy -- solar, wind, hydroelectric, biomass, and geothermal.
Backers of the amendment argue that Nevada, a state that receives abundant sunshine, should be doing more to generate electricity from renewable sources. They say that mandating more renewable energy will create jobs in that sector and help the environment. Opponents say that such a mandate will raise energy costs for consumers and reduce the reliability of electricity.
Do you support mandating that more energy be produced from renewable sources?
Posted by 15 October 2020
A tax cut was one of the major pieces of legislation during Donald Trump's first term as president. He's promising another round of cuts if he's re-elected.
In an interview with the Fox Business Network, President Trump said that he wants to lower corporate taxes to a 20% rate and pursue additional individual income tax cuts. This would build on the tax cuts from earlier in his term. That tax package reduced the corporate tax rate to 35% and also cut individual tax rates.
Trump's opponent for the presidency, Joe Biden, opposes the Trump tax cuts. He is campaigning on a platform that calls for raising the corporate tax rate to 28%.
Supporters of these tax cuts argue that the U.S. corporate income tax rate was among the highest in the world prior to it being reduced. They say that higher corporate income tax rates hurt U.S. businesses compete worldwide. President Trump has also said that his tax cuts have helped spur economic growth.
Those who want to raise tax rates argue that the Trump tax cuts have only deepened the deficit. They say that higher taxes are needed to pay not only for current deficit spending, but also for new programs like Medicare for All. The president's critics also contend that his tax cuts were mainly skewed towards the wealthy.
Future tax cuts in a Trump second term, should the president be re-elected, would be unlikely if Democrats retain the House of Representatives or take control of the Senate.
Do you support cutting the corporate income tax rate to 20%? Do you think that individual tax rates should be reduced?
Posted by 14 October 2020
Among the 11 ballot measures facing Colorado voters this year is one that could result in wolves taking up residence in the state for the first time in 7 decades.
If voters approve Proposition 114, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission would create a plan to reintroduce wolves on state land west of the continental divide by 2023. The proposition also establishes a fund to compensate livestock owners for any losses connected to wolves.
Gray wolves used to be present throughout much of the United States, including Colorado. They were viewed as nuisances by early settlers, however, and often had bounties placed on them. This resulted in wolves being eradicated from much of the U.S. The last one in Colorado was killed during the 1940s.
Supporters of this initiative say that wolves help establish an ecological balance. They point to the experiences in Yellowstone National Park, where the reintroduction of wolves helped control the elk population. These supporters argue that many environmental benefits will occur once a healthy wolf population is established. Opponents, however, counter that wolves will kill both livestock and endangered species. They say that there will be conflicts between wolves and humans.
The federal government has reintroduced wolves in some Rocky Mountain states, but not Colorado.
Do you support the reintroduction of gray wolves in Colorado?
Posted by 13 October 2020
The Senate Judiciary Committee is spending a lot of time discussing health care this week.
The issue of whether the Supreme Court could overturn the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, has become a centerpiece of Democratic opposition to the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett. Democrats fear that if the Senate confirms Barrett, she will vote with four other justices to invalidate the ACA. Judge Barrett has responded that she has not made up her mind on the fate of the controversial health care law.
Democrats point to Barrett's criticism of the 2012 Supreme Court decision that upheld the individual insurance mandate as a tax. Barrett countered by noting that the current cases dealing with the ACA involve completely separate issues. She also said that she is "not hostile" to the ACA.
The Senate Judiciary Committee is considering Barrett's nomination this week. Democrats on the committee have been pressing her on various issues, from gay rights to abortion. However, the fate of the ACA is one of their biggest topics of discussion. They see this as a pertinent issue during the runup to the November election.
The committee hearing is likely to conclude this week. There is little chance that any Democrats on the committee will vote for Barrett. But with Republicans in control of the chamber, there are few obstacles to a supportive committee vote and Senate confirmation before the end of the month.
Do you think the Supreme Court should overturn the ACA?