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Supreme Court Allows Political Attire at Polling Places

 

When you go to vote this year, you are now free to wear a t-shirt proclaiming your support for your favorite candidate or political cause. The Supreme Court recently ruled that states cannot prohibit a person from wearing attire with a political message when they vote. Observers see this as a major victory for free speech.

 

In 2010, a man wearing a t-shirt that said “Don’t Tread on Me” and had the logo of a national Tea Part group tried to vote in Minnesota. Election officials said that his clothing violated a state law banning political attire in polling places. In Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky, the high court ruled that this law was a violation of the First Amendment.

 

The court’s vote was 7-2, with Chief Justice Roberts writing the majority opinion. He noted that the state may indeed ban some kinds of electioneering inside a polling place, but that the Minnesota ban on political apparel was overly broad. Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Samuel Alito, and Elena Kagan joined him in his finding.

 

Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer dissented from this ruling. Justice Sotomayor wrote that the Supreme Court should not have made a sweeping First Amendment ruling on this case; instead, the court should have sent it to the Minnesota Supreme Court to make a more narrow judgment.

 

Many states have bans on political apparel or signs in polling places. Chief Justice Roberts noted that some of those laws have more specific bans than Minnesota did, so they may be permissible. However, this ruling does lay the groundwork for anyone to challenge these laws under the First Amendment. Thanks to this ruling, there is an expectation that states should favor free expression, not restrictions on political attire.

 

Do you think that people should be able to wear clothes and buttons with political messages when they vote?

 

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Connecticut Mandates Contraception Coverage

The federal mandate that health insurance must cover contraceptive services may be under fire from the Trump Administration, but Connecticut is moving forward with its own version of the requirement. Under a bill passed during this year’s legislative session, insurance companies in the state must offer a wide variety of contraceptive services at no cost.

 

Starting on January 1, 2019, insurance companies selling policies in Connecticut must include coverage of all contraceptive drugs, products, and devices approved by the Food and Drug Administration without charging any out-of-pocket expenses on an individual.

 

This law comes after a Trump Administration effort in 2017 to expand the ability of businesses to opt out of including contraceptive coverage if such coverage violated a business owner’s religious beliefs. This mandate came about under the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, and led to a Supreme Court case. Some people consider certain contraceptive methods to be equivalent to abortion. The Connecticut law allows employers of explicitly religious organizations to purchase health insurance that does not include contraceptive coverage upon request, but does not allow a wider exemption from the mandate.

 

Supporters of a contraceptive requirement contend that this is a cost-effective way to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Opponents say that the government should not force business owners to subsidize contraception if they have a moral objection to it. They point out that individuals can still purchase contraception even if it is not paid for by their insurance policy.

 

Do you think that the government should mandate that contraception services be provided at no cost through someone’s insurance?

“Sore Loser” Law Keeps Blankenship off West Virginia Ballot

 

Coal magnate Don Blankenship’s words and actions focused national attention on West Virginia during his race for U.S. senator. Thanks to a state law, however, he will not be able to take his unique style into the general election. That has led some to call for changing how the state treats losing primary candidates who want to run for general election.

 

Blankenship may have lost the Republican primary for U.S. senator, but he still wants to run for office. The Constitution Party wants to give him their nomination. The only thing standing in their way is West Virginia’s “sore loser” law that prohibits candidates who have lost in a primary election from running an independent or third-party candidacy in the general election.

 

Forty-five other states have similar laws. These ensure that candidates can choose only one path to be on the general election ballot – a major-party nomination or an independent or third-party candidacy. They cannot try their luck in the Republican or Democratic primary and then run on a smaller party ticket in the general election.

 

Blankenship, who finished third in the state’s Republican primary, is aware that the state law blocks his path to a Constitution Party nomination. He has said he would challenge the law in court, seeking to invalidate it so he can challenge the two major-party nominees in November.

 

Supporters of “sore loser” laws say they are necessary to prevent losing candidates from circumventing the primary process to get on the ballot. They contend this could lead to numerous losing candidates cluttering up the ballot, confusing voters. Opponents of these laws say that voters should have the ultimate choice as to whom they elect, regardless of whether someone lost a major party’s nomination. They also point out that primary voters tend to reflect the party’s base and may choose more extreme nominees, so sore loser laws may keep more moderate candidates off the ballot.

 

Do you think that states should bar candidates who lost their party’s primaries from running in the general election as third-party or independent candidates?

 

Michigan Eliminates Prevailing Wage Mandate

 

Should the state mandate a union wage on government construction projects? Michigan legislators answered “no” to this question in early June. They passed legislation to repeal the state’s prevailing wage requirement. While unions bemoaned this move and promised payback at the ballot box, businesses and some workers applauded the move to allow greater flexibility on construction projects financed by the state government.

 

For decades in Michigan, government construction projects operated under the requirement that they pay the “prevailing wage” in a region. That is a state-set wage rate that was supposed to equal the wage and benefits paid to the majority of workers in a certain area. Usually, this meant the union wage rate. This allowed unions to have easier access to these projects and made it more difficult for non-union companies to compete for government construction contracts.

 

A business group had collected enough signatures to place a repeal of Michigan’s prevailing wage law on the November ballot. Legislators had the option of enacting this measure by approving it through a majority vote. Both houses of the legislature did so, with most Republicans voting to repeal the wage requirement and most Democrats voting against it.

 

Proponents of repealing the prevailing wage mandate say that taxpayers will save money because labor costs on government construction projects will be lower, perhaps by as much as 15%. They also say that this will mean more companies will be able to bid on government construction projects, thus giving more job opportunities to workers who are not in unions.

 

Organized labor fought against this law’s repeal, arguing that it would lead to lower wages for workers. They contend that it will drive skilled labor out of the state. They also say that this law helped working families.

 

Do you think that states should mandate a union wage scale on government construction projects?

 

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New York City Sues Oil Companies over Climate Change

A lawsuit by New York City is advancing a novel legal claim – oil companies should pay for the effects of climate change. The city’s lawyers say that these companies are responsible for a large amount of greenhouse gas that is hurting the city. Some observers say that the city is abusing the legal system in pursuit of a politically-motivated payout.

 

In early 2018, New York City sued BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Royal Dutch Shell, claiming that their production of oil is leading to climate change that has damaged the city and will damage the city in the future. The greenhouse gas that results from these companies’ products is a “nuisance,” according to the city’s legal theory, and the companies should be liable for the damages caused by them. In addition, New York claims that the companies knew that the use of oil causes climate change and hid that information from the public.

 

New York is not alone in bringing this type of lawsuit. Some other local governments, such as cities in California, have done so, too. But state attorneys general from around the country have pushed back, filing legal briefs opposing these types of suits.

 

The opponents of climate change lawsuits contend that the federal laws and regulations govern air pollution. They point to a 2011 Supreme Court case that decided that Congress authorized the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon emissions, not the courts. There has also been some pushback by a federal judge who asked the cities to explain why the oil companies, but not other businesses or individuals involved in emitting greenhouse gases, should be held legally liable for climate change.

 

It is unclear when these cases may be decided or whether more cities – or even states – may join them.

 

Do you think that cities should sue oil companies over climate change?

 

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Connecticut Legislators Deal with Illegal Immigration, Marijuana, and Gun Control

It was a busy legislative year in Connecticut. Lawmakers in that state considered a number of controversial issues before adjourning in mid-May. Here are how they dealt with some of these hot topics:

 

Dreamers – There has been a push on the federal level to do something to resolve the legal status of “Dreamers,” children who were brought to the U.S. as illegal immigrants. While there has been no consensus in Washington on what to do about these individuals, there has been movement in Hartford. Connecticut legislators passed a bill that would allow Dreamers to apply for financial aid for state higher education institutions.

 

Marijuana – While there was a push to legalize recreational marijuana, legislation that would accomplish this did not receive a vote in either house of the legislature. However, the House Appropriations Committee did pass the bill, which is further than similar proposals have advanced in the past. Advocates hope to build on this small show of support during next year’s legislative session.

 

Gun control – Legislators overwhelmingly voted for a bill that would ban bump stocks, which can be added to guns to mimic automatic weapons fire.

 

The Electoral College – Connecticut will join the “National Popular Vote” compact under a bill passed this year. If states that have 270 electoral votes join this compact, then each individual state has agreed to allocate its electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote nationwide, regardless of which candidate prevails in that state.

 

Minimum wage – Labor leaders pushed legislators to enact a $15 an hour statewide minimum wage, but bill to mandate this wage level passed either house.

 

Net neutrality – in the wake of the Federal Communications Commission ending federal regulations that treated Internet service providers as “common carriers” subject to stricter rules, Connecticut legislators considered a bill that would impose net neutrality in the state. While this bill passed the Senate, it did not receive a vote in the House.

 

Do you think that Connecticut should legalize recreational marijuana? Should a state give its electoral votes to the national winner of the popular vote, regardless of who wins in that state? Should states raise their minimum wages to $15 an hour?

 

Gov. Cooper: Raise Taxes and Increase State Employee and Teacher Pay

 

Thousands of teachers marched on the state capitol in Raleigh to greet North Carolina legislators as they started deliberations in mid-May. Their demands for higher pay found an ally in Democratic Governor Roy Cooper. His budget proposal would give teachers and state workers a salary increase. To pay for these plans and other spending hikes, he wants to cancel a scheduled tax decrease. The Republicans who control the legislature have other ideas.

 

Under Governor Cooper’s budget proposal, teachers would see a pay increase of 8%. The current budget provides a 6% pay increase for these teachers. The governor is also proposing a pay increase for state employees of 2% or $1,250, whichever is higher. State law enforcement officers would receive an additional $1,000 pay increase on top of that.

 

This would be paid for by halting some tax decreases that were passed in 2013. Instead of lowering the tax rate to 5.25% on households making income over $200,000, the governor wants to keep that tax rate at 5.499%. He would also like to cancel the tax rate decrease on corporate incomes.

Governor Cooper points out that North Carolina teacher salaries are below the national average. He says that with federal tax cut legislation, there is no longer a pressing need for all of North Carolina’s scheduled tax cuts to take effect.

 

Republican legislative leaders are wary of canceling tax decreases, pointing out that this would really be a tax increase for those who were scheduled to receive them. They say that they would like to help teachers, too, and are looking at using state money for one-time bonuses. Some legislators charge that the governor is using this issue as a political stunt in an election year.

 

Whatever legislators pass in the budget bill, it is subject to Governor Cooper’s veto.

 

Do you think that scheduled tax decreases should be stopped in order to give North Carolina teachers a raise of 8%?

 

Florida Supreme Court Considering Quality Education Standard

 

What does it take to provide a “high quality” education? Florida voters, judges, and lawmakers have been wrestling with this issue for years. Soon the state Supreme Court will decide if courts should play a role in deciding how the state constitution’s quality education mandate should be interpreted.

 

In 1998, Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment that mandated the state provided a “high quality education system.” Advocacy groups and the state have waged a long legal battle to determine what these words mean. Groups suing the state say that the judicial branch should have a role in determining what constitutes a “high quality education system.” The state says that this is an inherently political question, so the courts should stay out of it.

 

In states like Connecticut and New York, judges have become involved in setting education spending levels in order to meet similar constitutional provisions in other states. Florida advocates want something similar in that state. They say that if there is no authority for the judiciary to mandate ways to comply with that constitutional provision, the education amendment is toothless.

 

The state pushes back against that argument, noting that there is no agreed-upon standard that will produce the mandated “high quality education system.” The state says that this is an inherently political decision, and that judges should not be setting education policy or determining education spending levels.

 

Lower courts have agreed with Florida’s arguments in this matter. The state Supreme Court, however, can overturn these lower court decisions and give the judicial branch authority to involve itself in the fight over Florida’s education policy.

 

Do you think that judges should be able to set education spending levels or determine what constitutes a “high quality” education?

 

Colorado Overhauls Pension System

 

 

Colorado’s pension system has a big problem – it doesn’t have enough money to pay its promised benefits. Reforms enacted during this year’s legislative session may be enough to fix these problems, but they will bring changes to the way state employees plan for retirement.

 

At the beginning of this year, the gap between what the state government promised its retirees and what its pension system had available to pay those promises was between $32 billion and $50 billion. If lawmakers did not find a way to close this gap, retirees would face large benefit cuts in the future.

 

Governor John Hickenlooper and legislators crafted a bipartisan bill that changed the state retirement system in a number of ways:

  • The percentage of pay that state employees must contribute as their share of paying for the pension plan will go up from 8% to 10%.
  • The retirement age for both teachers and state government workers will go up to 64. Currently, teachers can retire at 58 and state employees at 60.
  • More workers can opt out of the pension plan and instead choose to use something like a 401(k) for their retirement.
  • Current retirees will not have a cost-of-living raise for the next two years.
  • Once that two-year freeze is over, the cost-of-living increase will be 1.5%, down from 2% currently.
  • The state will pay $225 million a year to the pension system to meet its unfunded liabilities.
  • There will also be a .25% payroll tax that the state government and school districts will pay that will go towards meeting pension obligations.

 

These reforms come on top of 2010 legislation that also attempted to shore up the pension system.

 

Some unions representing state employees did not like all of the changes, such as raising the retirement age to 64. The proposal also came under attack from some conservative commentators, who say that it does not go far enough to fix the state pension system’s problems.

 

Do you think that it is fair to ask state employees to retire at 64 instead of 58 or 60? Should retirees’ cost-of-living increase for their pensions be lowered to 1.5% to help shore up the pension fund?

 

California Mandates Solar Panels on All New Homes

 

If you want to build a new home in California after 2020, you’ll need to put solar panels on it.

 

In mid-May, the California Energy Commission voted to impose this requirement on most new construction. This mandate would apply to houses as well as apartment buildings and condominiums that are up to three stories high. There would be limited exceptions, such as for homes that are too shaded or that do not have enough roof space.

 

The commission originally considered a mandate that would require all new homes to be “net zero” in terms of energy use. That is, the homes must produce as much energy as they consume. However, because of technological limitations and concerns about the availability of renewable energy sources, the commissioners settled on a solar mandate. In 2007, the commission adopted a “net zero” goal for new home construction.

 

Supporters say that this mandate is a good way to help the state meet its carbon-reduction goals. Opponents contend that requiring solar panels for new homes will increase costs to home buyers, making an expensive housing market in California even worse.

 

Some experts estimate that this new mandate, as well as other energy efficiency requirements, could boost the cost of a new home in California by $30,000.

 

Do you support mandating that all new homes should have solar panels? Or should the decision to install solar panels be left to home buyers?

 

Iowa Court Rules Against Cops Seizing Cash

 

Thanks to an Iowa Supreme Court ruling, it will be a little more difficult for police to seize cash and property from people who are not convicted of crimes.

 

In late May, the state’s highest court said it was illegal for law enforcement to continue using a handful of practices that were common in the seizure and forfeiture of property. Civil asset forfeiture, where police take someone’s cash or property upon suspicion, not conviction, of a crime, is a controversial process. In recent years, media reports have brought to light many questionable cases that have occurred in Iowa.

 

The Supreme Court ruled on a case brought against the state by two men who had $45,000, some equipment, and their SUV taken by the law enforcement. One man was charged with speeding but no other crime.

 

The court’s decision held that law enforcement cannot require someone to answer questions about the property being seized in order to get it returned. The decision also held that a court must determine if law enforcement acted properly during the seizure prior to the court forfeiting that property to the state. In addition, the high court ended the practice of prosecutors dropping their challenge to people seeking return of their forfeited property at the last minute. This was a way to avoid being held liable for attorney costs if a court ruled against the state in such cases.

 

This decision strengthens protections that individuals in Iowa have against police taking their assets upon mere suspicion of criminal activity. It does not affect asset forfeiture in criminal cases.

 

Do you think that there should be stricter rules on the state taking someone’s property when that person is only suspected, but not convicted, of a crime?

 

Virginia Expands Medicaid

 

A key part of the Affordable Care Act – or Obamacare – is an expansion of Medicaid. This joint state and federal program provides health care coverage for low- and lower-income Americans. Eight years after Obamacare’s passage, Virginia is moving to take advantage of this Medicaid expansion. Critics worry that this move may prove to be a burden on the commonwealth’s taxpayers.

 

Governor Ralph Northam came into office this year supporting the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. This would mean allowing access to the program for childless adults who live in households earning up to 139% of the federal poverty level. Virginians in this population currently do not have access to Medicaid at any income level.

 

In February, the state House of Delegates passed a budget bill that contained Medicaid expansion. Other bills during the regular budget session on this issue did not advance, although there was some support for an expansion bill that also contained a work requirement for Medicaid enrollees.

 

During a special budget session called by Governor Northam, state senators supported a bill that would allow the Medicaid expansion with work requirements. The requirement that some Medicaid recipients seek or obtain jobs was vital to obtaining enough Republican votes for passage. A work requirement must get approval by the federal government. The Trump Administration has allowed states to do this, while the Obama Administration turned down similar state requests.

 

Proponents of the Medicaid expansion say that it is needed to provide low-income Virginians with access to health care. They contend that with the federal government picking up 90% of the cost, Virginia is turning away significant federal dollars that will help the state’s economy. Opponents counter that the federal government may cover 90% of the cost now, but that this could change in the future. If that happens, they point out, Virginia will be facing a significant budgetary burden.

 

Do you think that Virginia lawmakers were wise to expand Medicaid?

 

Governor, Legislators at Odds over Minnesota Oil Pipeline

 

An energy company wants to build a new oil pipeline through Minnesota, but it is meeting some resistance from activists and elected officials. The fight over Enbridge’s Line 3 replacement project has caused a heated debate in St. Paul. Governor Mark Dayton, a Democrat, and the Republicans who control the legislature have differing approaches on the project’s approval.

 

Enbridge already operates a pipeline, named Line 3, through Minnesota. This pipeline starts in Alberta, Canada, and ends in Wisconsin, but it delivers crude oil to Minnesota. The current pipeline was built in the 1960s, and Enbridge wants to replace it with a modern pipeline. The easiest way to do this is construct a new pipeline along a different route from the current one.

 

Environmentalists, tribal communities, and religious groups oppose this new route. They cite a variety of concerns, such as the new route going through environmentally sensitive areas and infringing upon areas that Indians consider sacred. Enbridge says that this new route is necessary to ensure that there is no disruption from taking the existing pipeline offline.

 

In May, legislators passed a bill that would direct the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to approve the pipeline route. Governor Dayton vetoed the bill. This leaves the final decision with the PUC, which will hold a series of hearings this month on the project. After those hearings, the commissioners will vote on Enbridge’s route request.

 

Do you support the replacement project for the Line 3 oil pipeline in Minnesota?

 

Trump Imposes Tariffs, Other Nations Retaliate

 

Living up to his campaign rhetoric to be tough on trade issues, President Trump in late May imposed high tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. In response, a number of America’s trading partners said they would impose new tariffs on U.S. products.

 

Under federal law, the president has authority to impose tariffs on national security grounds. The president announced he would do so in March, but gave countries time to negotiate voluntary trade restrictions in order to avoid tariffs. The European Union, Canada, and Mexico did not enact such restrictions, so President Trump imposed a 25% tariff on steel and a 10% tariff on aluminum.

 

The law under which the president is operating allows him to impose tariffs if the Secretary of Commerce certifies that imports threaten national security. However, the president tweeted out “FAIR TRADE!” the day the tariffs went into effect and has generally justified them on economic, not national security, grounds.

 

This action to increase the price consumers pay for imported steel and aluminum has caused Canada, Mexico, and the EU to impose retaliatory tariffs on a variety of goods. While some domestic steel and aluminum workers may benefit from penalizing their foreign competitors, the reciprocal tariffs from other nations will hurt U.S. workers in those industries. U.S. businesses that use steel and aluminum in their products will also be harmed by this trade war.

 

While the president justifies his actions by saying it will help U.S. workers and national security, others point out that this action will have the opposite effect. Many critics from across the political spectrum expressed disappointment in President Trump’s actions. They note that these tariffs target strong U.S. allies, so they may undermine national security. They also point out that experts agree that these tariffs will end up costing far more jobs than they save.

 

Do you support President Trump’s imposition of steel and aluminum tariffs?

 

Right-to-Work an Issue in West Virginia Campaign

 

It has been two years since legislators enacted legislation that made West Virginia a right-to-work state. Unions and their supporters are now striking back, hoping to make support for overturning this law a winning issue this election year.

 

In 2016, then-Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat, vetoed legislation that would end the requirement that individuals join a union or pay a fee to a union as a condition of employment. This bill passed the Republican-controlled legislature, and these lawmakers overturned Gov. Tomblin’s veto. After a year-long court battle, West Virginia’s right to work law went into effect in 2017.

 

Unions and their political supporters fought hard to defeat the law, but were unsuccessful. They now see this year’s state elections as a way to put candidates in office who will overturn it.

 

They have already had some success. In the May primary election, one of the Republican senators who fought hardest for this law lost his primary. He was beaten by a state delegate who opposed the 2017 law and received support from the state teachers’ union.

 

Support for overturning the right to work law also features heavily in the campaign of Richard Ojeda, who is a Democrat running for the U.S. House of Representatives in the state’s Third Congressional District. According to him, “Right-to-work needs to go…If we take back the state of West Virginia, we will be the first state to overturn right-to-work.”

 

Those opposing right-to-work in West Virginia say that the law hurts workers’ ability to bargain for higher wages and better benefits. Supporters of the law contend that it will help attract businesses and new jobs to West Virginia.

 

Do you support right-to-work laws?

 

Iowa Governor Candidates Take Aim at Tax Credits

 

The Democrats running for governor in Iowa have a lot of differences, but there is one thing they agree on – limiting the tax credits that go to businesses.

 

Like many states, Iowa offers a variety of tax credit programs that benefit business owners. These programs give a credit against taxes paid if businesses meet certain criteria. In some programs, the tax credits paid by the state can exceed the amount of taxes paid by the business.

 

These programs are touted as an economic development tool. Their supporters say that they are necessary to bring companies to the state. They are also used as a way to give incentives for companies that meet goals favored by politicians, such as pay certain wage rates.

 

Critics say that tax credits are merely corporate welfare under another name. The programs, these observers point out, are really state money being paid to businesses. They take money that could go to other services and instead give it to private corporations.

 

The candidates seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination largely focus on that last point. They propose ending some or all of these tax credit programs and using the new revenue for education and other public services.

 

While all the candidates support reforming the state’s tax credit programs, one of them – Fred Hubbell – served on the economic development board that allocated tax credits. His opponents attacked him for his work in that position, while Hubbell said that he tried to focus tax credits on progressive goals.

 

The state’s primary election is June 5.

 

Do you support tax credit programs that provide funds for private businesses? Are these programs a necessary way to create jobs in a state or are they corporate welfare that diverts tax money from public services to wealthy business owners?

 

Missouri Legislators Tackle Marriage Age, Abortion, and Charter Schools

 

The political news in Missouri is dominated by the scandal surrounding Governor Eric Greitens, who is facing a criminal trial and announced Tuesday he would resign effective Friday at 5 p.m. In the face of the media circus surrounding the governor, the work of governing must go on. Legislators recently completed work on a variety of bills for the year. Here are how some of the big issues fared during this year’s Missouri legislative session:

 

Marriage age: It will no longer be possible for someone under 16 to get married in Missouri. Legislators passed a bill that prohibits marriage under this age and requires anyone who is 16 or 17 to get his or her parents’ permission to get married. Anyone who is over 21 will not be able to marry anyone under 18.

 

Lieutenant governor appointment: The Senate passed a measure that would allow the governor to appoint a lieutenant governor if there is a vacancy in that office. The Senate would confirm this appointment. The House rejected this proposal, however, leaving unclear the process for filling a vacancy in that office. This issue was highlighted in the legislature because Gov. Greitens could have been removed from office. He has since announced his resignation, and the current lieutenant governor will assume the governorship.

 

Gas tax: Legislators voted to place a ballot measure before voters in November that would raise the gas tax by 10 cents per gallon. The increase from the current tax rate of 17 cents per gallon to 27 cents per gallon would be phased in through 2022. The proceeds are slated to fund road projects and the highway patrol.

 

Charter schools: Currently, Missouri only allows charter schools to operate in Kansas, St. Louis, and unaccredited school districts. Legislation to expand charter schools statewide received support from two House committees but never received a vote from the full House.

 

Abortion: The House passed a bill to ban abortions after 20 weeks. The Senate failed to take this measure up.

 

Non-discrimination: A House committee passed legislation that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations. The full House never considered the bill, however.

 

Do you think that the marriage age should be set at 16? Should abortions after 20 weeks be banned? Do you support expanding the use of charter schools?

 

Marijuana Legalization Coming to New Mexico?

 

If you want to use marijuana recreationally in New Mexico, you’re breaking the law. If some politicians running for election their way, however, next year could see a big change in how the state treats recreational marijuana users.

 

Nine other states have legalized marijuana, but legislation to do this in New Mexico has been blocked in the legislature. The current governor, Susana Martinez, also opposes legalization. A number of candidates running for both governor and legislative seats are taking a different position, however.

Two of the three Democratic candidates running for governor support legalization. A June 5 primary will determine who faces the lone Republican running for this office, who does not support allowing recreational marijuana use.

 

The state Democratic Party passed a platform plank at its convention this year that backs legalization. State Rep. Javier Martinez is planning a statewide tour to raise support for the issue in anticipation of a legislative push in the 2019 session.

 

According to a poll done earlier this year, a strong majority of New Mexican residents support marijuana legalization.

 

Those who want to keep marijuana illegal in the state point to New Mexico’s high rate of driving while intoxicated and drug addiction. They say that making marijuana legal will only worsen these problems. Supporters of legalization contend that regulating and taxing the drug’s sales will lead to responsible consumption and much-needed revenue for the state.

 

Do you think that marijuana for recreational use should be legalized in New Mexico?

 

Nevada Faces the Opening of Yucca Mountain

 

It has been three decades since Congress approved Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the nation’s permanent repository for spent nuclear fuel. Over that time, a generation of Nevada’s politicians have fought the opening of this site. Legislation advancing in Congress may finally put this issue to a rest, leaving Nevadans with the prospect of Yucca Mountain finally opening.

 

In early May, the House of Representatives approved legislation that would re-start the process of moving the nation’s nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain. This site was first approved by legislation in 1987, but funding for this project was stopped during the Obama Administration. Currently, spent fuel from nuclear power plants is stored at temporary facilities across the U.S. Yucca Mountain is envisioned as a permanent place to store this waste, buried underground in a geologic formation that is designed to prevent leakage.

 

Senator Harry Reid was a leading figure in fighting the opening of Yucca Mountain. He not only represented Nevada in the Senate, he also spent many years in Democratic leadership positions in that body. He used this influence to thwart efforts to finalize plans to use Yucca Mountain.

 

Supporters of Yucca Mountain say that it is a remote facility that has an ideal geologic composition to store nuclear waste safely for millennia. Opponents contend that it will poses huge risks to move nuclear waste from across the U.S. to Nevada, and that this facility is dangerously close to Las Vegas.

 

Even though Nevada’s House members opposed the recent legislation to move forward with Yucca Mountain’s planning process, the bill passed by a vote of 340-72. The bill garnered the support of both Democrats and Republicans. Nevada’s senators have vowed to do all they can to stop this legislation in the Senate, but it is unclear if they have enough votes to sustain a filibuster.

 

Do you support opening Yucca Mountain as a permanent storage facility for nuclear waste?

 

Congress Gives Terminal Patients Wider Access to Drugs

 

For some people who are dying, the ability to try any treatment option – even if it hasn’t been approved as effective by the FDA – provides hope for their future. Under new legislation passed by Congress, these patients may find it a little easier to access drugs that are experimental but promising.

 

Under this “right to try” legislation, the Food and Drug Administration would no longer have the authority to stop certain patients from having access to experimental treatments. These patients must have a terminal illness with a prognosis to die within months, have no other treatment options, and not have access to other clinical trials.

 

People who meet that criteria can work with their doctors to devise a treatment plan that includes drugs that have been proven safe by the FDA, but have not been proven effective. Drug companies would have to agree to provide the drugs, and the patients would bear the cost of those drugs.

 

The FDA had a program in place where terminal patients could request experimental drugs, but the agency retained the ability to approve or deny these requests.

 

Supporters of this legislation say that someone facing death should be able to try any drug that may be useful. They contend that the federal government should not be a gatekeeper between patients and potentially life-saving treatments. Opponents of the bill say that it short-circuits necessary safeguards. They also claim that very few people will be eligible for the program, and that those who are will face very high costs for drugs.

 

The Senate approved this legislation by unanimous consent on August 3, 2017, and the House of Representatives approved it by a vote of 250-169 on May 22. 

 

Do you support terminally ill patients having access to experimental medication? Or should the Food and Drug Administration still be able to oversee the process of providing experimental drugs to patients who are dying?

 

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