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New Hampshire Passes Transgender Discrimination Bill


Under a new law signed by Gov. Chris Sununu, transgender individuals in New Hampshire will have expanded civil rights protections. This issue has sparked controversy in other states, notably North Carolina, but the New Hampshire bill passed with bipartisan support.


This new law extends existing protections from discrimination to transgender individuals. Prior to the law’s enactment, New Hampshire law made it illegal to discriminate against individuals based on their race, sex, religion, or sexual orientation in employment, housing, or public accommodations. The new laws adds gender identity to the list.


Most states do not extend protection from discrimination based on gender identity. When the Charlotte City Council did so in North Carolina, it prompted a state law that prohibited local anti-discrimination ordinances. This prompted a national backlash that led state officials to modify that law.


Opponents of the law say that this will allow men to use women’s bathrooms, giving sexual predators easier access to their victims. They often refer to this type of legislation as “bathroom bills.” Supporters of protecting individuals based on their gender identity counter that there is no evidence that these laws make it easier to commit crime. They contend that such laws are necessary to protect transgender individuals from being denied housing and jobs.


This legislation passed with both Democratic and Republican support in New Hampshire. Governor Sununu, a Republican, signed it into law in mid-May.


Do you think that the government should protect individuals from discrimination based on their gender identity?


Seattle Passes a Head Tax on Employees


The tech boom has been good to Seattle. Companies like Amazon have revitalized a city that was once in such a severe decline that it featured a billboard requesting, “Will the last person leaving Seattle turn out the lights?” Now the city council has unanimously voted to mandate that large companies in the city to pay a new tax on every employee – an idea that many fear would hurt job growth there.


Under this tax plan, companies that have $20 million in annual gross receipts would be subject to a tax of $275 a year for every employee working at these companies. This tax would end in five years, with the council having the option of renewing it. The revenue from this tax is slated to be used for constructing affordable housing units and emergency services for the homeless.


Initially, the tax was $500 a year for every employee and it would have been replaced by a .7% payroll tax in 2021. Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan pushed for a lower tax that did not transition to a payroll tax.


Advocates of this tax say it is needed because the companies being targeted have contributed to the high cost of housing in the city. These advocates contend that it is only fair to ask these companies to pay a special tax to help the city government provide affordable housing and homeless services.


Opponents of the tax include business owners and some unions. They say that it will penalize companies for creating jobs in Seattle. This will discourage companies from hiring new workers or locating their business in Seattle. These observers note that companies can set up their headquarters in suburbs and still enjoy many of the benefits of being located in the Seattle metropolitan area.


Amazon paused consideration an office building’s construction during the consideration of the tax and said that it would look at leasing some of its space to other companies. Tax supporters accused Amazon of trying to blackmail the city, while tax opponents said this was the natural reaction of a business being targeted by a punitive tax proposal.


Do you think that large companies should pay a special tax for every person they employ to fund government affordable housing programs and homeless services?


Illinois Governor Wants to Revive Death Penalty


It has been 18 years since Illinois stopped executing prisoners on death row. If Governor Bruce Rauner gets his way, however, the death penalty will once again become part of the state’s criminal justice system.


Under a proposal floated by Gov. Rauner, prosecutors could seek a death sentence for someone who commits mass murder or murders a police office. He said imposing this ultimate penalty is necessary to protect public safety.


Illinois formally repealed the death penalty in 2011. This followed a moratorium put in place in 2000 by then-Governor George Ryan. This moratorium lasted for ten years and was established in response to a series of questionable prosecutions and the exoneration a death row prisoner.


Gov. Rauner says that there will be safeguards put in place to guard against wrongful convictions and inconsistent application of the death penalty. Opponents of capital punishment say that regardless of the precautions taken by the state, there is always that chance that an innocent person could be convicted and executed.


Reinstatement of the death penalty must be approved by the legislature. With Democrats in charge of both houses of the legislative branch, it is unlikely that the governor’s idea will be enacted.


Do you think that Illinois should bring back the death penalty for someone who murders a police officer or commits mass murder?


Senate Ramping Up Court Confirmations


Donald Trump made the appointment of federal judges a key part of his appeal to Republican voters when he ran in 2016. He has not ignored this issue since taking office, and neither has Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. In recent weeks, much of the Senate’s time has been devoted to confirming these judges – something that pleases the president’s conservative base but worries liberals.


So far this year, the Senate has confirmed the following circuit court nominees:


David Ryan Stras, U.S. Circuit Judge for the Eighth Circuit: 56-42

Elizabeth L. Branch, U.S. Circuit Judge for the Eleventh Circuit: 73-23

Stuart Kyle Duncan, U.S. Circuit Judge for the Fifth Circuit: 50-47

Kurt D. Engelhardt, U.S. Circuit Judge for the Fifth Circuit: 62-34

Michael B. Brennan, U.S. Circuit Judge for the Seventh Circuit: 49-46

Michael Y. Scudder, U.S. Circuit Judge for the Seventh Circuit: 90-0

Amy J. St. Eve, of Illinois, U.S. Circuit Judge for the Seventh Circuit: 91-0

Joel M. Carson III, U.S. Circuit Judge for the Tenth Circuit: 77-21

John B. Nalbandian, U.S. Circuit Judge for the Sixth Circuit: 53-45


These judges, who can serve for life, will sit on circuit courts that are one level below the Supreme Court in terms of jurisdiction. The U.S. is divided into twelve judicial circuits, with a panel of judges serving on each court.


The appointees to these circuit courts has become increasingly contentious over the past two decades. Members of both parties began to use the filibuster to block appointments to these courts, forcing the president’s party to come up with 60 votes to confirm a judge. In 2013, then-Majority Leader Harry Reid ended the filibuster for circuit court nominees. That allowed some of President Obama’s circuit court picks to advance over the objection of Republicans, but also paved the way for relatively easy confirmation of President Trump’s nominees.


While two of President Trump’s nominees received unanimous votes (those of Amy St. Eve and Michael Scudder), the Senate was closely divided on many of the others. This has been the pattern for many of the president’s nominees, whether for judicial posts or for executive branch positions.


Are you happy that the Senate has confirmed so many of President Trump’s judicial nominees? Or do you think that President Trump’s judge picks will reshape the federal judiciary in a way that you disagree with?


Abortion Ultrasound Bill Vetoed in Minnesota


Should doctors ask women seeking an abortion if they would like to see an ultrasound of the fetus? In Minnesota, legislators and Governor Mark Dayton disagree on this issue. In early May, Governor Dayton vetoed a bill that would mandate that doctors do this, illustrating the divisions in the state over this controversial issue.


The legislation at question would have required doctors to as a woman if she would like to see an ultrasound picture of her fetus prior to starting the abortion procedure. The bill would not have mandated that a woman view the ultrasound.


Governor Dayton vetoed this bill, saying that it interfered with the doctor-patient relationship. He also pointed out that the state medical association and the state’s association for obstetricians and gynecologists were opposed to it, too.


Supporters of the bill said that it was a way to provide more information to women seeking to end their pregnancy. They said that some women may choose a different option if they were able to see an ultrasound prior to an abortion.


Many states around the nation have considered laws regulating abortion this year. Some states, such as Iowa, have seen governors sign these restrictions into law. In other states, like Minnesota, there is disagreement between the governor and legislators over what the law should be regarding abortion. Some abortion restrictions enacted recently in states have prompted legal challenges, with courts striking down or putting on hold a few of these new laws.


Do you think that doctors should be required to offer an ultrasound picture of the fetus to women prior to an abortion?


Michigan Making it More Difficult for Government to Seize Assets


In Michigan, as in many other states, if police think you are involved in a drug crime, they can take your money and your property. They do not have to prove that you are dealing or even using drugs; the mere suspicion of involvement is all that it is required to seize your assets. Legislators are on the verge of ending law enforcement’s power to do this.


Under civil asset forfeiture, police agencies have broad power to seize and keep property from suspected criminals. Even if there is no conviction for a crime, this property can still be legally kept by the state. Individuals who owned that property can fight to get it back, but the legal barriers are high and such a fight is costly and time-consuming.


The Michigan House of Representatives voted to reform this practice in mid-May. Under legislation that passed that chamber, any property valued at $50,000 or less could only be forfeited to the state if there is a criminal conviction, a plea agreement, or if the owner relinquishes the property to the state.


Law enforcement groups testified against this legislation during its consideration. They said that civil asset forfeiture is necessary to combat drug trafficking, depriving dealers of the proceeds of their crime. They also said that the money from forfeiture helps fund law enforcement, so limiting the practice will deprive them of money that they need.


Opponents of civil asset forfeiture point out that if drug dealers are convicted of crimes, then their property can still be seized. They say that there are many instances where law enforcement takes someone’s property, but never charges or convicts that person of a crime. Those who pushed for reform say that the government should not be able to confiscate someone’s property without convicting that person of a crime, and then force the person to go through a lengthy and costly process to get the property back.


This bill will now be considered by the state Senate.


Do you think that the government should be able to take someone’s property if they are only suspected of a crime but never convicted or even charged with one?


Taxes, Abortion, and Opioids at Play in Iowa Legislature


Iowa legislators went into overtime during their 2018 session. While scheduled to last for 100 days, legislators went well beyond that time limit this year. During this lengthy session, they finalized work on a number of hot-button issues, including tax cuts, abortion restrictions, and new opioid requirements.




Legislators debated a variety of changes to the state’s tax code, but finally settled on a package that cut rates and reformed the code. The final tax reform bill reduced the number of brackets from nine brackets to four, and lowered the top rate from 8.98% to 6.5%. They also reduced the corporate income tax rate from 12% (the highest in the nation) to 9.8%, in addition to making other changes to lower taxes on business income.




Governor Kim Reynolds signed legislation that ban abortions if a doctor could detect a fetal heartbeat. This was the second major anti-abortion bill passed in the last two years in Iowa. During the 2017 session, legislators banned abortion after 20 weeks and imposed a three-day waiting period on women seeking abortion. That law has been blocked while the courts consider its legality.




As is the case with many other states, Iowa has had a significant problem with opioid addition and overdoses. Legislators passed a bill that would change state law in a variety of ways to address these problems. One of the provisions place new controls in the state’s prescription monitoring system. Another is a “good Samaritan” provision that would allow people to report overdoses without being charged with a crime. A third part of the bill would require doctors to use electronic prescriptions for opioids to help combat forged written prescriptions.



Do you think that Iowa taxes should be cut? Do you support legislation to ban abortion if doctors can detect a fetal heart beat? Should opioid prescriptions be subject to strict limits?



West Virginia Bets on Sports Wagering


Many Americans bet on sports, but only one state allows legal, widespread sports gambling – Nevada. The Supreme Court recently invalidated a federal law that restricts sports betting. West Virginia is poised to take advantage.


That state’s legislature passed a bill this year that would legalize wagering on sports events if the Supreme Court overturned the federal ban. Some casinos in that state were already making plans to offer this type of betting if the court issued a favorable decision. Now that the court has ruled, casino operators say that they can begin allowing such games within three months of a court ruling.


Prior to the court’s decision, federal law only allowed sports betting in Nevada, Delaware, Montana, and Oregon. A 1992 federal law banned states from authorizing these games except in the four states whose laws already allowed such wagering. Of these four, only Nevada has an active sports betting scene, with casinos in that state offering a variety of propositions from which gamblers can choose. Delaware casinos offered a limited opportunity for gamblers to bet on football games.




In recent years, many states have expanded gambling. As they have done so, they are looking for new avenues to attract customers. Sports betting is something that lawmakers in a number of states have talked about doing, but they had been stymied by federal law.


At issue before the Supreme Court was a law in New Jersey that attempted to legalize sports gambling. In 2011, voters approved the law by referendum, and then-Governor Chris Christie began implementation even though he knew the federal government would push back. Lower federal courts have ruled that the New Jersey law violated the federal law that bans states from authorizing sports betting.


During arguments before the high court last year, lawyers representing New Jersey seem to have found a receptive audience from a majority of the justices. These justices seemed skeptical that it was proper for the federal government to place such a restriction on state governments. They also worried about this ban violating federalism, since gambling regulations are traditionally a state area of regulation.


The major sports leagues support the federal gambling ban. In the past, they have worked together to thwart efforts by states to weaken the prohibition. Now that the Supreme Court has overturned the federal law, however, there will likely be a number of states that will legalize sports betting. West Virginia is already poised to allow casinos to offers such wagers.


Do you think that sports betting should be legal in more states? Or will expanding sports betting harm consumers and hurt the integrity of sports?

New Jersey Passes Subsidies for Renewable, Nuclear Energy



During this year’s legislative session, lawmakers in the Garden State grappled with what to do about climate change. With a new Democratic governor and Democratic control of the legislature, there was general agreement that energy subsidies were the path forward. What emerged for Governor Phil Murphy’s signature were bills that increased the government’s renewable energy mandate and provided subsidies for nuclear power.

The first bill dealt with the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, which mandates that a set percentage of electricity in the state must be generated from renewable sources such as solar and wind. The bill that Governor Murphy signed into law would set one the most ambitious renewable energy goals in the nation. Previously, New Jersey’s renewable energy mandate was 24.5% by 2020. Under the new bill, this would be dramatically increased. The legislation would require the following:

  • A 35% renewable energy goal by 2025
  • A 50% renewable energy goal by 2050
  • An increase in both offshore wind and solar usage
  • More usage of utility net metering


Since renewable energy sources generally cost more than other sources of electricity, this mandate will likely lead to an increase in energy prices paid by New Jersey consumers.


These consumers will also be paying higher prices due to the other piece of energy legislation, a bill that gives subsidies to the state’s nuclear power plants. The operating costs of these plants make it difficult for them to compete with lower-cost energy sources, especially natural gas. Because they were losing money, the plants owners said that they would shut them down unless they received state aid. Legislators and the governor agreed, providing them with $300 million in yearly subsidies.


Supporters of these bills say they are necessary to help the state achieve its goal of achieving an 80 reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. They point out that nuclear power plants generate 40% of the state’s power without producing any carbon. If these plants shut down, they say, there would be no way for the state to lower its carbon emissions. The nuclear subsidies, as well as the state support for renewable energy, will put New Jersey on the path to a lower-carbon future, according to advocates.


Opponents of the bills note that New Jersey ratepayers will be facing higher bills under this legislation. They contend that the nuclear subsidies are simply corporate welfare for well-connected energy companies. They also say that the renewable energy targets are unrealistic, considering the very small amount of energy that can currently be produced using wind or solar.


Governor Murphy and legislators have laid out an ambitious plan for carbon-free energy in New Jersey. It remains to be seen whether the state’s government support for these energy sources will allow the state to meet its ambitious environmental goals.


Do you think that electricity consumers should pay more to subsidize nuclear power plants and renewable energy? Or are subsidies for these carbon-free energy sources necessary to address climate change?



Tesla Battling to Sell Cars Directly to Connecticut Consumers


If you live in Connecticut and want to buy a Tesla, you have to travel to a neighboring state. Connecticut law mandates that new cars can only be sold through franchises, but Tesla sells their cars directly to consumers. Legislators are considering a bill that would change the way cars can be sold in Connecticut, but it has garnered fierce opposition from existing franchise owners.


For decades, Connecticut has prohibited automobile manufacturers from selling vehicles directly to people who want to buy them. Instead, the state mandates that car sales must be made through independent franchises. This law is similar to laws that all 50 states passed to protect independent vehicle dealers from what was perceived as unfair competition from automobile manufacturers. Lawmakers at the time saw manufacturers as having too much power to undersell or coerce independent dealers, so passed laws that prohibited these manufacturers from selling directly to the public.


Tesla does not operate its sales in the same was as other automobile companies, however. It contends that independent dealers will not prioritize sales of its cars, so it wants the ability to market them directly to people who are interested in buying them. The company has been working in states around the country to change laws that prohibit it from making sales in this way. Connecticut consumers can buy cars from Tesla dealerships in New York or Massachusetts, and some do. Tesla contends that Connecticut is losing out on tax revenue by banning the car’s sale in the state.


Franchise owners say that if legislators change the law, it will lead to an un-level playing field for them. They argue that Tesla dealerships have fewer employees and lower overhead, so they will have an unfair advantage. They also argue that jobs will be lost at franchises if the state allows for manufacturers like Tesla to sell directly to consumers.


Legislators have been debating this issue for four years in Connecticut. There have been attempts to find a compromise between dealers and Tesla, but so far the two sides cannot come to a consensus. It remains to be seen if this will be the year that lawmakers break through the impasse and allow Tesla’s cars to be sold in the state.


Do you think that state laws should prohibit Tesla from being sold directly to consumers? Or do you think it is a good idea to have laws that mandate cars be sold through independent franchises?



Illinois May Stop Taxpayer-Funded Sexual Harassment Payments


More than 200 people have asserted that they have experienced sexual harassment in the Illinois state government. With investigations occurring and public scrutiny at an all-time high on this issue, state lawmakers are moving to prohibit any taxpayer funds from being used by legislators to pay sexual harassment claims.


A bill passed unanimously in the state House of Representatives would bar the use of public funds to pay anyone for “his or her silence or inaction related to an allegation or investigation of sexual harassment” concerning a member of the General Assembly. The bill now goes to the Senate for its consideration.


This legislation comes in the wake of reports from state legislatures and Congress that government funds have been used to pay for settlements in sexual harassment claims. The revelations of these payments, as well as fresh accusations of sexual misconduct, have led to legislators and members of Congress resigning.



Even though there are allegations of harassment in the Illinois state government, there have been no harassment-related resignations in the General Assembly. There have been actions to address these issues in the state, however. Legislators must now attend mandatory sexual harassment training. They are also holding hearings on other bills that are aimed at addressing the issue. The task force that has been formed to deal with harassment will release a report later this year.


If the Senate passes the ban on taxpayer-funded sexual harassment payments and the governor signs it, any legislators facing accusations will be required to use their private funds to settle such cases.


Do you think that taxpayers should provide money for legislators to settle sexual harassment claims?

Job Licensing Reform Dies in Florida



If you want to work as a hair braider or a boxing announcer in Florida, the state mandates that you get a license. Some legislators think that workers pursuing these jobs should not be forced to get permission from the state. They passed a bill in this year’s legislative session that would have de-licensed these and a few other occupations. But this push for occupational license reform did not survive the legislative process, meaning that anyone wishing to work in these jobs must still get a state license.


In early January, the Florida House of Representatives passed a bill that would end the requirement that people looking to work in the occupations of hair braiding, hair wrapping, body wrapping, boxing timekeeping, and boxing announcing must obtain a state license. The bill also reduced the number of hours of mandatory training that someone seeking to work as a barber, nail specialist, face specialist, or a full beauty specialist must complete. The legislation was the same as a bill passed the previous year in the same body.


Those supporting this reform contend that occupational licenses are a barrier to Floridians seeking work. These licenses keep people from being able to get jobs and act to protect those already in the occupation from competition. They also say that the licenses may be defended as a way to protect the public, but the evidence indicates that these licenses don’t offer a public benefit.


The bill met stiff opposition from barbers and those in the beauty field. The professional associations and licensed workers testified that the longer training hours were necessary to ensure that the public is not harmed by barbers or beauty workers who did not know their craft. They said that the state should mandate more hours to protect the public, not cut the mandatory hours.


While this legislation passed the House of Representatives, it died in the Senate. Given the history of this proposal, a similar bill is likely to be debated in the 2019 Florida legislative session.


Do you think that the state should impose a mandatory license on hair braiders and boxing announcers? Should the state require barbers complete 1,200 hours of training before they cut hair professionally?



Wisconsin Bans Local Wage and Hour Laws



Across the nation, city and county governments are passing laws that regulate how employers pay their employees or what benefits they provide. In Wisconsin, however, these local governments recently lost their power to enact such ordinances.


In mid-April, Governor Scott Walker signed legislation that pre-empts local authority to regulate employee wages and hour. The bill to do this passed 58 to 32 in the Assembly and 18 to 14 in the Senate. Governor Walker is a Republican, and both of the legislative bodies are controlled by Republicans.


This act prohibits local governments from doing the following:

  • Imposing mandatory “labor peace agreements,” which are requirements that businesses enter into agreements with unions as a condition for doing government work
  • Regulating employee hour and overtime
  • Regulating employment benefits
  • Prohibiting employers from asking job candidates their past salary information


Nationwide, local proposals to increase the minimum wage or mandate paid sick leave generally occur in cities led by liberal leadership but located in states that have a conservative state government. The actions of local officials in this area often prompt a backlash from state officials, such as was seen in Wisconsin. Local governments have no inherent authority to regulate these areas; states can pre-empt any efforts by cities or counties to pass laws on this subject.


Supporters of these pre-emption laws say that they are necessary to provide uniform labor laws across the state. They contend that a patchwork of local labor laws makes it difficult for businesses to operate. Opponents of the state pre-empting local government labor regulations say that cities and counties should have the power to adopt laws that meet needs in their jurisdiction, which may be different from what works in other jurisdictions across the state.


Do you think that Wisconsin cities should be able to enact laws, such as a higher minimum wage, than what state law allows? Or should there be uniform wage and labor laws that apply across Wisconsin?



Can the Government Mandate Honest Online Ads?


In the wake of allegations over Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Congress is looking at regulating advertising on Facebook, Twitter, and other online platforms. This month, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spent two days testifying before members of the House of Representatives and the Senate on this and other topics. But some are asking if federal rules for online ads will be an effective way of bringing transparency to the electoral process.


Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, has introduced the “Honest Ads Act,” to expand federal regulation of election ads to cover those placed on Facebook, Twitter, and other sites. If passed, that act would express the sense of Congress that “the dramatic increase in digital political advertisements, and the growing centrality of online platforms in the lives of Americans, requires the Congress and the Federal Election Commission to take meaningful action to ensure that laws and regulations provide the accountability and transparency that is fundamental to our democracy.”


For its enforcement provisions, the Honest Ads Act would expand the current federal rules governing electioneering to apply to ads that are being run online. This would require these ads to have some indication of who paid for them. The bill would also mandate that companies with more than 50 million monthly online visitors must maintain a database that has information on anyone who bought more than $500 in political ads, a copy of the ads, the rate charged, and the audience targeted.


Senator Klobuchar’s bill is cosponsored by 22 other Democratic senators and a lone Republican, John McCain of Arizona. There is also a companion bill in the House sponsored by Rep. Derek Kilmer, a Democrat from Washington.


Supporters of this legislation say that it is a way to stop Russians and others from using Facebook and Twitter to influence American voters. They contend that mandatory disclosure on ads will help to prevent these activities from taking place in the future. Opponents of the bill say that anyone wishing to use online ads to meddle in U.S. elections can easily evade these reporting requirements. They also point out that maintaining the database as required in the bill will impose significant costs for online companies.


Both Facebook and Twitter have endorsed the bill, although Twitter said it would work with lawmakers to refine and revise it. The companies have also said that they would voluntarily work to provide more transparent information to the public about political ads.


Do you support expanding federal election regulations to cover online political advertisements? Or will these new rules be easily evaded by those looking to influence U.S. elections?



Pennsylvania May Ban Abortions Based on Down Syndrome Diagnosis


Abortion has been a controversial issue for decades, as lawmakers at the state and national level fight over laws to limit or expand access to abortion services. The latest battleground in the war over abortion is in Pennsylvania, where legislators may pass a bill limiting the procedure based on a diagnosis of Down syndrome.


Members of the Pennsylvania House Committee have advanced a bill that would prohibit doctors from performing an abortion if the woman seeking it is doing so based solely on the diagnosis that the fetus may have Down syndrome. This legislation is likely to be taken up by the full House soon.


Down syndrome is a genetic condition resulting from someone possessing three copies of chromosome 21, rather than two. Individuals with the condition experience intellectual impairment and a higher risk of childhood leukemia, among other conditions. Genetic tests can give a fairly reliable indication if a fetus has this extra chromosome. In the U.S. roughly two-thirds of the women who learn that they are carrying a baby with Down syndrome choose to abort.


The support and opposition for this bill falls along the usual lines, with many Republicans expressing a pro-life stance while many Democrats express opposition to more government restrictions on abortion. This bill is similar to laws passed in Ohio, North Dakota, Indiana, and Louisiana. In March, a federal judge has blocked Ohio’s law from going into effect after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a suit against it. Another federal judge struck down parts of Indiana’s law.


The Republican-controlled legislature passed another bill dealing with abortion in late 2017. That bill would have banned abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, but Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, vetoed it. If legislators pass this bill, Gov. Wolf will probably veto it, too. There is unlikely to be enough support to override his veto.


Do you support prohibiting abortions if the woman is seeking it based on a diagnosis that the baby may have Down syndrome?



California May Restrict Police Use of Deadly Force


The issue of police shootings has been a topic of heated debate in recent years. From 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri to the shooting of Stephon Clark in Sacramento last month, many are questioning the standard under which police officers can legally kill someone. In response to these incidents, a handful of California legislators want to make it more difficult for law enforcement to use lethal force.


Currently, police operate under the standard of “reasonable use” of deadly force. That is, prosecutors ask whether police acted reasonably when they killed someone whom they perceived to be threatening them. Critics of this standard contend that it gives police broad discretion to use lethal force, with few officers found to be acting “unreasonably.”


California legislators have introduced a bill that would change this standard. If this bill becomes law, it would allow police to use deadly force only when necessary and there is no other way to prevent injury. Under this standard, police would have to use de-escalation tactics prior to shooting at someone.


This proposal is not the only bill that would reform the way law enforcement operates in California. Other bills would allow more public access to police personnel records. Under the state’s Peace Officers’ Bill of Rights, these records are tightly sealed. Under a bill that is being considered, the public would have access to records involving use-of-force, sexual assault, and lying on duty.


Police unions in the state have been successful in convincing legislators to defeat bills that would have changed the laws governing their activities in the past. They argue that such bills would hamper their ability to protect the public.  


Given that past bills to change law enforcement procedures have not been successful in California, many are predicting that this legislation will fail in the legislature, too. However, there is increasing public scrutiny over police shootings in the state in the wake of the killing of Clark, who was unarmed and whom family say was shot in the back. Governor Jerry Brown has not indicated his support of or opposition to these bills.


Do you think that it should be more difficult for police to use deadly force on a suspect? Or would new restrictions on police use-of-force hurt efforts to fight crime?



Sandoval Disagrees with Trump on National Guard for Border


President Donald Trump has a plan for border security. Part of his vision involves sending National Guard troops to assist federal Border Patrol agents. One Republican governor disagrees with his party’s president on this idea.


Governor Brian Sandoval of Nevada said that using National Guard troops in this way was not appropriate. This places him at odds with other Republican governors in the region. The governors of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas back President Trump’s proposal.


President Trump has not yet requested that Governor Sandoval call up his state’s National Guard troops to help with this project. If Governor Sandoval refuses the president’s request to do so, Trump could nationalize the troops and take control away from the governor. It is unclear if the president would do this, however.


This dispute comes amidst the president’s calls to reform the nation’s immigration laws and construct a border wall. In the recent omnibus budget bill, Congress denied funds to build such a wall. There has not been any effort on immigration reform legislation in the House of Representatives or the Senate, either.


President Trump can request the use of National Guard troops without congressional approval. The president said he would do so, with plans to send 2,000 to 4,000 Guard members to the border region. They would assist the Border Patrol with surveillance and other support services.


Do you think that governors should refuse to let their state’s National Guard troops assist on border patrol duty? Or is President Trump right that National Guard troops are needed to help stop drug trafficking and illegal immigration?




New Hampshire Governor, Legislators Differ on Parole


New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu does not issue many vetoes. In fact, until this month, he only used his veto authority one time. But the governor’s opposition to a bill that would loosen the state’s parole rules has resulted in the second veto of his term.


Current New Hampshire law requires that parolees who violate their terms must return to prison for 90 days if they were convicted of a sex crime, a violent crime, or if their violation was related to the crime for which they were convicted. Any parolees who violate parole more than once are automatically returned to prison for 90 days.


Legislators passed a bill that would give the state parole board discretion to waive this penalty if a parole violator completes a substance abuse program. Law enforcement groups testified against it, contending that parole violators could use drug abuse as an excuse to get out of returning to prison. Supporters of the bill said that it would help provide people with the help they need so they would not re-offend once they were let out of prison.


Governor Sununu said that he supports efforts to keep people from returning to prison, but that this bill went too far. He also pointed out that there are drug treatment programs in prison for those who need them.

Legislators were unable to muster enough votes to override the governor’s first veto last year. It is unclear if they will have the support to do so this time. The legislation was approved by a voice vote in each chamber this year, so it is difficult to determine how strong support for it is in the legislature.


Do you think that parole violators should be automatically returned to prison for 90 days? Or should the parole board have discretion to reduce the punishment for parole violators who complete drug treatment?



Virginia Governor Vetoes Bills on Lawyer Fees and Franchise Employees


Virginia’s newly-elected Democratic governor, Ralph Northam, faced his first legislative session this year. Republicans control the commonwealth’s General Assembly, although they face a narrower majority than they did under the previous Democratic governor. This split in partisan control in Richmond produced significant disagreements over policy this year, some of which resulted in gubernatorial vetoes.


Although Governor Northam has voiced concern with many legislative actions, he has only vetoed two bills so far this year:


House Bill 110

Clarify status of franchisee employees

Passed 50 to 48 in the House on January 25 and 20 to 19 in the Senate on February 22. Vetoed by the governor on March 9.

Clarifies that under Virginia law, neither a franchisee nor the employees of a franchisee are considered to be employees of a franchisor company. This employment status is not affected by any voluntary agreement entered into by the U.S. Department of Labor and a franchisee.


This bill involves a long-standing dispute between organized labor and business owners. Labor organizations would like franchise employees, such as those who work at a local McDonald’s, to be treated as employees of the larger company. Business owners say that these are employees of the local franchises owner, not the company that grants a franchise, or franchisor. Recognizing franchise employees as employees of the franchisor would open up this company to fines if local franchises broke labor laws as well as make it easier to organize workers into unions.


Senate Bill 926

Limit fees for outside attorneys used by the state

Passed 21 to 19 in the Senate on February 12 and 51 to 48 in the House on February 28. Vetoed by the governor on March 19.

To limit the contingency fees charged by private attorneys that the state contracts with for legal services. If the fees and expenses are expected to exceed $100,000, such attorneys could only be hired through a competitive bid process. The fees would be limited under this bill on a sliding basis, starting with a 27% cap for awards under $10 million and a 5% cap for awards over $25 million.


Governor Northam sees contingency fees as a valuable way to protect taxpayers by shifting the risk of trying and winning a case onto a private law firm, which recovers nothing unless they prevail. Opponents of high contingency fees contend that they are a way to enrich private lawyers for doing the work that government attorneys should be doing.


On another eighteen bills, Gov. Northam has recommended that legislators modify certain provisions. Legislators will meet April 18 to vote on whether to override the governor’s vetoes or act on his recommendations for the other bills. Given the narrow majority enjoyed by Republicans, the governor’s vetoes are likely to stand.


Do you think that Gov. Northam is right to veto bills that would limit fees for private attorneys working with the state government? Should franchise employees be treated as joint employees of the local franchise and the larger company that grants franchises?



Supreme Court Tackles Partisan Gerrymandering


Should politicians be able to draw congressional districts to favor members of their own party? That is the question considered by Supreme Court justices in late March. If they decide that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional, the ramifications for politicians and voters across the nation will be large.


The case at question in March’s deliberation involves a lawsuit over a Maryland congressional district. The district in question was represented by Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett in the last decade. However, after the 2010 census, Democrats redrew the district to give their party’s voters a large advantage. This is something that Martin O’Malley, the Democratic governor of the state at the time, admitted during a deposition for the case. He said that the new district “would be more likely to elect a Democrat than a Republican, yes, this was clearly my intent.”


In the past, the Supreme Court has ruled against efforts to draw congressional districts in ways that disenfranchise minority voters, but it has upheld congressional districts drawn with partisan ends in mind. This time, however, some justices appeared to think that the Maryland gerrymander was so partisan that it may have crossed the line into discriminating against Republicans based on their political views.


Some observers point out that if the courts get involved in determining how much partisan gerrymandering is too much, it will lead to many more lawsuits over district lines at not only the state level, but will also involve legislative and local election districts. They say that partisanship is the norm in redistricting, and that the only way to cure it is through the ballot box, not the courtroom.


Others say that there are ways to reduce partisanship, such as using independent commissions for redistricting. Governor O’Malley, no longer in power, said that he now favors such a commission to draw congressional and legislative lines.


The Supreme Court will announce a decision in this case, as well as a similar case involving Wisconsin, later this year.


Do you think that the Supreme Court should rule extreme partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional? Or is it wrong for the courts to get involved in political disputes over election lines? Is an independent commission a better way to draw congressional districts than leaving it to politicians?



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