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Maryland Candidate Pushes Single-Payer Health Care


Ben Jealous once ran the NAACP. Now he wants to be Maryland’s governor. A key part of his platform is imposing a single-payer health care system on the state. Jealous contends that this will improve health care quality and save lives, but critics counter that it will lead to huge tax increases for the state’s residents.


Jealous won his primary election over a crowded field of rivals. Though never holding elective office previously, Jealous triumphed over more experienced politicians by tapping into liberal activists around the state. Ideas like a single-payer health care system helped animate these volunteers.


The plan released by the Jealous campaign has few specifics about how his plan would work.

However, under its broad contours, the state would outlaw private health insurance. Employers would no longer be able to offer their employees health insurance as a benefit and individuals would not be able to purchase their own coverage. Instead, the state would create what Jealous calls a “Medicare for all” system. Under such an arrangement, the state would pay for all health care services.


The Jealous campaign has not specified exactly how this will be funded. Other states that have examined transitioning to a single-payer system, such as Vermont, abandoned efforts because it was too expensive. The Jealous campaign does not give specifics about this proposal’s cost, but it does float some ideas about new taxes to pay for it. These include a tax on employers, a sales tax increase, or increasing the income tax.


Proponents of this system say that it will give everyone in the state access to high-quality, affordable care. They contend that it builds on the state’s current health care pricing system and that it would be a natural extension of the Affordable Care Act. Critics contend that the price tag for such a plan would require huge tax increases. They also note that the federal government would have to grant waivers to implement parts of a single-payer system, something that is unlikely.


Jealous faces incumbent Governor Larry Hogan in November’s election.


Do you support a single-payer health care system?


California Soda Tax Ban Saves Local Taxing Powers


Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill in late June banning local governments from imposing soda taxes, but he was not happy about it. Many legislators who supported the bill were not very keen on it, either.


So why are soda taxes now banned in the Golden State? It all has to do with preserving the ability of local governments to raise taxes. The beverage industry was pushing a statewide initiative that would have made it more difficult for local governments to increase all taxes and many fees. In return for a ban on soda taxes, the beverage industry withdrew the initiative.


The initiative being proposed would have required that any local governmental body seeking to increase taxes and certain fees could only do so through a two-thirds vote. Then such a tax increase could only go into effect if it was approved by two-thirds of the voters. Any tax increase that would have been proposed under the state’s initiative system would also have had to receive approval by two-thirds of the voters under this proposal.


Governor Brown and legislators did not like such restrictions on local governments’ taxing power. They worked with the beverage industry to craft a compromise measure that would end the threat of local soda taxes. Prior to the law being signed, four municipalities in the state imposed such taxes.


Some legislators were glad to see the soda tax ban, but were displeased that such a ban would short-circuit the larger tax limitation measure. They said that this compromise bill ignored the voices of the more than one million Californians who signed petitions to place the tax limit measure on the ballot.


Those supporting the compromise bill said that the tax limit initiative would have crippled local governments’ ability to raise revenue. They said it was better to stop soda taxes rather than impose new limits on how local governments can increase other taxes.


Do you agree with California banning soda taxes? Should local governments be required to get approval from two-thirds of voters before they increase taxes or fees?


Seattle Bans Plastic Straws


If you buy a latte in Seattle, don’t expect to receive a plastic straw with it. If you order carryout food there, you won’t be getting a plastic fork, either.


Seattle recently banned retailers from offering plastic straws and utensils to their customers. Previously, the city had enacted a law that mandated that any food containers or cups offered by retailers must be recyclable. Straws and utensils were originally exempt, but they are now being covered by the same mandate.


Advocates say this law is necessary to reduce plastic waste that ends up in the ocean. They contend that animals ingest plastic, shortening their lifespan. A plastic straw ban, according to them, will help reduce the amount of non-recyclable waste that enters the environment.


Opponents of the straw ban point out that straws make up a miniscule fraction of the plastic waste that reaches the oceans. They also note that biodegradable straws are much more costly than plastic straws and do not work as well. Many business owners oppose this law because they say it is expensive and complicated to comply with.


Under this ordinance, retailers cannot offer straws to customers. If a customer asks for one, then the straw must be both biodegradable and compostable. Business owners that violate this law could face fines up to $250.


Do you support banning plastic straws to help the environment? Or is a straw ban a feel-good gimmick that will have little effect on pollution?


“Stand Your Ground” May Be Coming to Ohio


There is a difference of opinion on gun laws in Ohio between the executive and legislative branches of government. Governor John Kasich is pushing for legislators to approve a package of gun control bills. Instead, legislators are getting ready to vote on a bill that would expand the ability of Ohioans to use deadly force if they felt threatened.


When they return from their summer recess, members of the state House of Representatives will consider a bill that would remove legal liability in some cases where people use lethal force to defend themselves outside their homes or cars. This bill would allow someone to use such force if they felt threatened, and would remove that person’s duty to retreat in the face of such a threat. Similar bills have been passed in other states, and are known as “stand your ground” laws.


This stands in stark contrast to the firearms agenda being pushed by Gov. Kasich. In the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, Gov. Kasich sent a set of bills to legislators that would impose new limits on gun owners. One of these bills would allow law enforcement to seize weapons from someone they consider a threat.


Those opposed to “stand your ground” bills say they make shootings more likely. They point to the incident where George Zimmerman shot teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida. Supporters of such bills counter that they are necessary to allow people to defend their lives when confronted by criminals. In these cases, say supporters, the law should not punish people who think their lives are being threatened.


Gov. Kasich has said he would veto the “stand your ground” bill, but legislative leaders may have the votes to override such a veto.


Do you support “stand your ground” legislation that would make it easier for people to use deadly force if they think they are in danger?


A Battle over Hog Farms in North Carolina


There are a lot of hog farmers in North Carolina. This hog farming produces a lot of jobs in related industries. But for the neighbors of some of these farms, the operations also produce a lot of flies, foul odors, and other nuisances.


This dispute between farmers and their neighbors has not only led to legal battles in the state’s courts, but has also produced a rift between Democratic Governor Roy Cooper and the Republicans who control the state legislature. Governor Cooper recently vetoed a bill that would have limited nuisance lawsuits against farmers, but legislators quickly overrode his veto.


The legislation, SB 711, expands the state’s right-to-farm law to make it more difficult to bring nuisance lawsuits against farming or forestry operations that have been in existence for more than one year. Under this legislation, such lawsuits would be allowed only if the operation undergoes a “fundamental change,” which does not include a new owner, a change in size, the use of new technology, or engaging in a new type of farming or forestry.


This bill comes in the wake of high-profile lawsuits from residents who live near large hog farms. In one April case, a jury awarded $50 million to 10 neighbors who sued over a nearby hog farm. That amount was later reduced. Another trial against Smithfield Farms is currently ongoing.


Governor Cooper vetoed the bill in late June. In his veto message he said, “North Carolina’s nuisance laws can help allow generations of families to enjoy their homes and land without fear for their health and safety… Our laws must balance the needs of businesses versus property rights. Giving one industry special treatment at the expense of its neighbors is unfair.”


Within two days of the governor’s veto, both houses of the legislature voted to override it. Those backing this bill said that farmers who follow state law should not fear that they would be sued for millions of dollars. They pointed out the importance of farming to the state’s economy, contending that nuisance suits could drive farmers out of business.


Do you think that it should be more difficult to sue farmers for nuisances like odors?


Sports Betting Coming to New Jersey


With Governor Tom Murphy and legislators fighting over a state budget, it may seem that not much could bring lawmakers in Trenton together. Perhaps only one issue could unite the divided state capitol – gambling. Legislators recently passed legislation to allow sports betting in the state, and there was not a single vote in dissent.


This move by New Jersey legislators is only appropriate. The Supreme Court case that overturned the federal ban on sports betting was originally named Christie v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, with the “Christie” in the title referring to the state’s former governor, Chris Christie.


That case arose when New Jersey voters approved a 2011 non-binding resolution to move forward with sports betting. In 2012, the legislature passed an act allowing such betting, and the state was promptly sued by a variety of sports leagues. Governor Christie fought back, setting in motion a court case that invalidated the 1992 federal law requiring states that banned sports betting at that time to continue banning such bets into the future.


With the Supreme Court ruling in mid-May that the federal government overstepped its authority with this law, states are now free to legalize sports betting. New Jersey’s law will establish a set of regulations for these bets. It would also tax them at a rate of 8.5% in person and 13% for Internet bets. State casinos are already gearing up to offer wagering on a variety of sports events.


Do you support states expanding gambling to include betting on sports?


Trump Nominates Kavanaugh to Take Kennedy’s Place on High Court


All that stands between Brett M. Kavanaugh and a seat on the Supreme Court is a Senate vote. With President Donald Trump’s nomination of Judge Kavanaugh on Monday night, the stage is set for a showdown in the Senate over the future of the Supreme Court.


Judge Kavanaugh has significant experience in the legal field. He currently sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, where he has served for 12 years. Prior to that, he clerked for two federal appellate judges as well as Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. He also served in the solicitor general’s office during the George H. W. Bush Administration and was part of the independent counsel’s team investigating President Bill Clinton. He attended Yale Law School.


The seat to which the president nominated Kavanaugh opened when Justice Kennedy resigned effective July 31. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he wants to schedule a confirmation vote prior to the November elections.


Among conservatives, Kavanaugh has garnered wide praise for his experience and breadth of judicial knowledge. The D.C. Circuit upon which he currently sits is often viewed as a prime training ground for Supreme Court justices, since many of its decisions deal with the same issues that the high court often confronts. Liberals, however, have largely come out against Kavanaugh. They are concerned that his rulings will harm many liberal causes, such as abortion rights and gay marriage.


With the end of the filibuster over judicial nominations, Kavanaugh can be confirmed with a bare majority of Senate votes. With only a 51-seat margin in the Senate, Majority Leader McConnell cannot afford to lose many Republicans. President Trump’s prior Supreme Court nomination of Neil Gorsuch did garner some Democratic support. Given that pattern, it is likely that the Senate will vote narrowly to confirm Kavanaugh this fall.


Do you support the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court?


Washington State Sues Feds over Child Separations at the Border


The federal policy of separating migrant children from their parents as they cross the U.S./Mexican border has upset many Americans. Two Washington state officials, Governor Jay Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson, have directed their outrage towards this policy into a lawsuit against the Trump Administration. They say they are trying to stop an inhumane policy, while their critics see nothing more than a political stunt.


The lawsuit, filed in late June, alleges that the federal government is violating the due process rights of both parents and children by the separation policy. In addition, the lawsuit alleges that the Trump Administration is violating federal law governing asylum applications by rejecting individuals who show up seeking asylum.


Washington is taking the lead on this lawsuit, but it is joined by 16 states and the District of Columbia.


Attorney General Ferguson said it was necessary to bring this lawsuit to stand up for the Constitution and human decency. Others point out that this is a good way for the attorney general and governor to insert themselves into news stories about a contentious political issue. They also point out that this is a pattern by the attorney general, who has filed 27 other suits against the Trump Administration.


President Trump has signed an executive order aimed at ending the separation practice, and there is also bipartisan movement in Congress to pass legislation to address this issue.


Do you think that states should sue the Trump Administration over family separations that occurred at the nation’s southern border?


Missouri Pushes for Federal Term Limits Amendment


Members of the Missouri General Assembly are subject to term limits. Now they want members of the U.S. Congress to face term limits, too.


As the legislative session was ending in Jefferson City, Missouri legislators passed a concurrent resolution calling on Congress to convene a convention of states to consider proposing a term limits amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Article V of the Constitution requires Congress to call such a convention if two-thirds of the states request it.


This resolution did not specify how many terms such an amendment would impose upon members of Congress. In Missouri, state senate members are limited to two four-year terms while state representatives are limited to four two-year terms.


In the early 1990s, some states had imposed term limits on members of Congress in addition to state legislators. The Supreme Court struck down these congressional term limits in 1995, saying that states cannot add qualifications for members of the federal House of Representatives or Senate that go beyond what the Constitution allows. The only way to impose such amendments would be to change the Constitution, which is what Missouri’s legislators are attempting to do.


Supporters of term limits say they are a way to end politicians who make a career out of public service. They contend that term limits are necessary to return to the days of citizen legislators. Term limits opponents counter that voters have a chance on Election Day to reject politicians who serve too long.


If enough states did succeed in their call for a constitutional convention, any amendment that resulted would still need to be approved by three-fourths of the states to become part of the Constitution.


Do you think that there should be a constitutional convention to propose a term limits constitutional amendment?


Illinois OKs Medical Marijuana for Pain


With fears rising about the abuse of prescription painkillers, especially opioids, Illinois legislators think they may have an alternative – medical marijuana.


These legislators passed a bill that would allow doctors to prescribe medical marijuana instead of prescription painkillers for a variety of ailments. The bill would also remove the requirements that medical marijuana users go through a background check and be fingerprinted. It is aimed at expanding access to medical marijuana in the hopes of deterring dependency on, and abuse of, opioids.


By creating a pilot program for Illinois residents with pain issues to have access to medical marijuana, legislators hope to give them an alternative to opioids. Proponents of this program point to evidence that suggests where medical marijuana is available there is less consumption of opioids.


If this bill becomes law, there will still be significant state restrictions on who can use medical marijuana and how doctors can recommend it. There are also tight limits on medical marijuana dispensaries.


Governor Bruce Rauner has not yet indicated if he would sign this legislation.


Do you think that states should allow patients to use medical marijuana in place of opioids?


Gov. Ducey Stands Behind Evolution Education in Arizona


In light of proposed changes to Arizona’s science curriculum standards, Governor Doug Ducey has come out firmly in favor of teaching evolution in the state’s schools. His stance puts him at odds with Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas. She has proposed weakening the state curriculum’s language regarding evolution, and has expressed her personal support for teaching intelligent design.


The occasion for this disagreement comes as Arizona is looking to revises its existing high school science standards. As part of that, Superintendent Douglas has proposed changing how these standards refer to evolution. For instance, instead of references to “evolution,” the standards would say, “the theory of evolution.” She would also like to replace the use of “evolution” in some areas of the standards with terms like “biological diversity.”


Personally, Superintendent Douglas has also expressed that she thinks that intelligent design should also be taught in public schools. Intelligent design is a theory that an intelligence created and designed the universe, rather than it evolving through natural selection. She points out, however, that this is her own opinion and that none of the state’s science standards refers to or teaches intelligent design.


Asked about the controversy, Governor Ducey said that he believes the state should teach evolution as part of its science curriculum. He notes that creation stories can be taught in other areas, such as in literature courses. The governor has no direct say over school curriculum.


The state science standards will be set after public comments are taken into account.


Do you think that intelligent design should be taught alongside evolution in public schools?


Senator Jeff Flake Tries to Take Down Trump’s Tariffs


It is no secret that Arizona Senator Jeff Flake and President Donald Trump have their differences. Among the long list of things that divides them is trade policy. The latest skirmish between the two involves actions by the Republican senator to seek a vote on an amendment to strip the president’s power to impose sanctions unilaterally. He is using his power to block the president’s judicial nominees to get it.


After President Trump imposed steel and aluminum tariffs, many U.S. businesses have announced how this would hurt them. In response, a group of senators, including Sen. Flake, have said they want to force a vote on an amendment that would prevent a president from imposing tariffs on national security grounds without congressional approval, which current law allows.


Two of Sen. Flake’s colleagues, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Bob Corker of Tennessee, have been stymied in their attempts to offer such an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill. Senator Flake, however, has decided to use his power as a member of the Judiciary Committee to force a vote. That committee is divided 11-10 in favor of Republicans. If Sen. Flake votes with the Democrats against the president’s circuit court nominees, he will assure that these nominations will not proceed.


Some of Sen. Flake’s Republican colleagues do not agree with the move. They say that these nominees are too important to be held up over a dispute over tariffs. Others say that they do not want to undercut the president on this issue.


Sen. Flake argues that the tariffs are hurting U.S. businesses, so Congress should act. He says that if the Senate wants to move forward on moving the president’s judicial nominees out of committee, all the GOP leadership has to do is promise him a vote on his amendment.


Do you think that the Senate should vote on an amendment that will prevent the president from unilaterally imposing tariffs? Is Senator Flake right to hold up judicial nominees to get a vote on his trade amendment?


Supreme Court Rules California Can’t Compel Abortion Speech


Abortion and free speech came together in a Supreme Court decision announced in late June. In a case over California’s law mandating that crisis pregnancy centers must tell patients about abortion services, the high court ruled that this type of requirement violated the First Amendment.


The case at question is National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra involving the California Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency Act. That law mandated that crisis pregnancy centers, which are set up by pro-life organizations to give prenatal counseling and provide post-birth services, must inform their clients about the health care services offered by the state, including subsidized abortions.


The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates sued the state, saying that the state could not compel individuals with anti-abortion views to counsel people about abortion services. In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court agreed that this likely violated the First Amendment.


Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas noted that the California law “imposes a government-scripted, speaker-based disclosure requirement that is wholly disconnected from the State’s informational interest.” In other words, it may be permissible for the state to require a disclosure about health care services, but it cannot single out these clinics to do so. He went on to write, “By requiring  petitioners to inform women how they can obtain state-subsidized  abortions—at the same time  petitioners try to dissuade women from choosing that option—the licensed notice plainly ‘alters the content’ of petitioners’ speech.”


Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the dissent, joined by three of his colleagues. He said that the majority opinion was written broadly enough to potentially undermine many government regulations requiring disclosure. He also pointed out that the court has ruled in prior abortion cases that doctors or other health care professionals can be compelled to offer advice that discourages abortion. He asked, “If a State can lawfully require a doctor to tell a woman seeking an abortion about adoption services, why should it not be able, as here, to require a medical counselor to tell a woman seeking prenatal care or other reproductive healthcare about childbirth and abortion services?”


Do you agree with the Supreme Court decision that crisis pregnancy centers cannot be forced to provide information about abortion?


Gambling Issues Face Florida Voters


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


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


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



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


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


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


Who Can Regulate Oil and Gas Production in Colorado?


Colorado is one of the top energy producing states in the U.S. This oil and natural gas development has come with some pushback, however. Local governments are attempting to impose restrictions on oil and gas producers. State courts have generally struck down these local rules, saying such regulatory power lies with the state government. This issue could come to a head on November’s ballot.


Thanks to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, oil and gas production has thrived over the last decade in Colorado. Some residents have pushed their local governments to enact new setbacks for oil and gas drilling rigs or imposes other restrictions on how this energy development can proceed. Some activists are also working with local governments to restrict or ban hydraulic fracturing, which they contend is dangerous.


When cities or counties enact these rules, the energy companies affected have argued that the state government has the authority to regulate oil and gas drilling. They have generally found sympathy from the state’s judiciary, which has ruled that state laws and regulations pre-empt local efforts to enact rules government energy production. The state Supreme Court struck down two high-profile city ordinances that would have banned oil drilling or placed a moratorium on it.


Currently, some Coloradans are collecting signatures for a ballot measure that would enshrine the state power over energy production rules in the state constitution. They say it is necessary to end any confusion that exists over whether or not local governments have this regulatory power. They further contend that there should be one set of rules for energy production across the state, not a hodge-podge of local regulations. Opponents of this measure counter that doing this would remove any potential for local elected officials to respond to their constituents’ concerns over oil and gas drilling.


The backers of this initiative have until early August to collect enough signatures. If they do so, Colorado voters will have the chance to decide in November at what level of government energy production rules should be made. 


Do you think that the state government should set uniform rules for oil and gas production in Colorado? Or should local governments have the power to set oil and gas drilling rules that are tailored to meet their unique circumstances?


Wisconsin Offers Big Subsidies to Lure Foxconn


The Taiwanese manufacturing giant Foxconn is getting ready to open its North American headquarters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Understandably, Governor Scott Walker is proud of this move, which adds onto an announcement that Foxconn will build an LCD manufacturing plant elsewhere in the state. But critics say that the only thing that lured Foxconn to Wisconsin is billions of dollars in corporate welfare.


Gov. Walker dismisses any criticism of the subsidies provided to Foxconn, noting that they were necessary to create thousands of new jobs in the state. These subsidies passed after strenuous lobbying by the governor. He convinced the Republicans who control the legislature to pass the incentive package last year.


Here is how VoteSpotter described the subsidy bill, which passed 20-13 in the state Senate and 59-30 in the Assembly:


To allow the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to provide tax credits up to $2.85 billion in a new technology manufacturing zone. The bill also exempts the purchase of construction material in this zone from the state's sales tax.


The sales tax exemption is worth roughly $150 million, making the state subsidy package a $3 billion offer to Foxconn. With other government incentives included, this one company could be receiving as much as $4.5 billion directly or indirectly from taxpayers. There is also a move by a local government to use eminent domain to seize some land designated as “blighted” and turn it over to Foxconn.


The end result would be between 3,000 and 13,000 new jobs created in Wisconsin. While Gov. Walker touts the jobs figure of 13,000, legislators rejected a Democratic proposal that would have required Foxconn to repay its subsidies if it does not create this number of jobs.


Do you support Wisconsin using $4.5 billion in subsidies to lure Foxconn into the state? Should the government designate land as “blighted” so it can use eminent domain to seize it and turn it over to Foxconn or other private businesses?


Maryland National Guard Pulled Off Border to Protest Family Separation


The federal policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the U.S./Mexican border has spurred a firestorm of controversy throughout June. In response to the enforcement of this policy, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has ordered his state’s National Guard troops on the border to come home.


President Trump has asked governors to send members of their National Guard units to the border to help support the activities of the federal Customs and Border Patrol. Governor Hogan responded by dispatching a National Guard helicopter and its crew to the area.


On June 20, however, Governor Hogan gave orders that the crew return home. He then tweeted, “Until this policy of separating children from their families has been rescinded, Maryland will not deploy any National Guard resources to the border. Earlier this morning, I ordered our 4 crewmembers & helicopter to immediately return from where they were stationed in New Mexico.” The governor was referring to the federal policy of family separation at the border. The Trump Administration is charging these parents with criminal offenses, which results in children being removed from their parents’ custody.


There has been a furor over this policy in the weeks before Governor Hogan made his announcement. While family separation at the border has long been allowed, prior to the Trump Administration it was general practice not to charge parents with children with a criminal offense. If a parent is making an asylum claim after being charged with a criminal offense, it can lead to a child being separated from his or her parents for a significant period of time.


Elected officials from both policies have called on President Trump to reverse his administration’s actions regarding family separation. President Trump has called on Congress to change the law that allows separation.


President Trump has since ordered an end to the family separation policy.


Do you think that Governor Hogan was right to remove Maryland’s National Guard units from the border to protest the policy of family separation?

Congress Acts to Rescind $15 Billion in Spending


In Washington, Congress appropriates or authorizes money and the president has the authority to spend it. Or that is how it generally works. President Trump, however, has decided to exercise a little-used presidential power and ask Congress to reverse itself on spending.


In early May, President Trump’s budget director sent a letter to Congress asking it to rescind $15.4 billion in spending that the legislative branch had appropriated or authorized. This funding includes:

  • $5.1 billion from the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that was never requested by states before the authorization to spend it expired on September 30, 2017
  • $4.3 billion from the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program, a loan program that is no longer being used
  • $523 million from a loan program that was authorized under the Obama Administration stimulus package
  • $133 million from the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Extended Benefits program, which expired in 2012


The authority to request these rescissions is authorized under the 1974 budget law that governs the federal spending process. Under this law any member of Congress can introduce a bill to enact the president’s proposal, and Congress has 45 days to act. If it does not act, then the president’s proposal dies. The last time a president requested a rescission was President Bill Clinton in 2000.


On June 7, the House of Representatives passed HR 3, the Spending Cuts to Expired and Unnecessary Programs Act, by a vote of 210-206. This bill contains the rescission requests made by President Trump. The Senate Appropriations Committee is now considering this bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that he supports the president’s rescission request. Even with the slim Republican majority in the Senate, this bill is likely to pass if it is acted upon within the 45-day limit.


Do you support President Trump’s proposal to rescind $15 billion in federal spending? Or is the president being unfair in rescinding funding for children’s health insurance?


Activists Seek Ban on Using Live Rabbits to Train Hunting Dogs

In New Hampshire, some hunters capture live rabbits and then use them as part of hunting dog training. Animal rights activists are pressuring the state to ban this practice, saying it violates the state’s law against cruelty to animals.


State rules currently allow what is called “hare hounding,” where snowshoe rabbits are trapped and then released to be chased by a pack of beagles. The dogs are then judged based on their performance in these field trials.


In May, a state commission voted on rules that would expand the trapping of hares for this purpose. This sparked an outcry from New Hampshire’s animal rights community. They flooded the commission with public comments. One organization said that the commission was violating state law by allowing it, since New Hampshire bans cruelty to animals.


Supporters of the practice say it is in keeping with the state’s tradition of hunting and trapping. Opponents say that it is an outdated, cruel practice that serves no useful purpose.


The issue is now being taken up by the legislative committee that oversees administrative rules. It is also possible that there could be legislation introduced in the General Court next year that would modify or ban this practice. If legislators do so, it would join other rules that curtailed hunting practices that some consider cruel. The state placed restrictions on bear-baiting in 2015 and considered limiting bobcat hunting in 2016.


Do you think that hunters should be allowed to use live rabbits to train hunting dogs?


Pennsylvania Looks to Change Judicial Elections


Voters elect legislators by districts, so should they elect appellate judges by district, too? That is the question that Pennsylvania legislators are currently considering.


As part of a larger anti-gerrymandering constitutional amendment, state senators in mid-June inserted a provision that would require appellate judges (including state Supreme Court justices) to run by district. Currently, these judges are elected statewide.


The senators who support this concept point out that most of the state appellate judges come from a few areas of the state (generally around Pittsburgh or Philadelphia). Electing them by districts, according to these legislators, would provide much-needed geographic diversity for the judicial branch.


Opponents say this is a Republican attempt to attack the Democratic-controlled state Supreme Court. They contend that there is no good reason to divide up judicial seats by geographic area, since these judges decide on statewide issues.


This proposed change to judicial elections came during consideration of a constitutional amendment that would establish a nonpartisan commission to draw election districts. The state Supreme Court recently invalidated the districts drawn by Republican legislators.


The state House of Representatives must now consider this proposed amendment. To go before voters, both houses of the General Assembly must pass an identical version of the amendment during two consecutive legislative sessions. If the House rejects the Senate’s idea, it would doom the overall nonpartisan redistricting effort.


Do you think that state Supreme Court justices should be elected statewide, or should they be elected by districts that would give more geographic diversity?


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