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Colorado House Bill 1143: Audit government communications with Medicaid recipients

 

Check out this key bill recently passed by elected officials in Colorado, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!

 

House Bill 1143, Audit government communications with Medicaid recipients: Passed 63 to 0 in the state House on February 21, 2017

 

To audit correspondence between the government and recipients of Medicaid for readability, understandability, and accuracy.

 

Comment below to share what you think of Colorado House Bill 1143!

 

Michigan House Bill 4001: Cut state income tax rate .2 percent

 

Check out this key bill recently passed by elected officials in Michigan, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!

 

House Bill 4001, Cut state income tax rate .2 percent: Failed 52 to 55 in the state House on February 23, 2017

 

To cut the state income tax from the current 4.25 percent to 4.05 percent over two years. Twelve Republicans voted 'no' and one Democrat voted 'yes.'

 

Comment below to share what you think of Michigan House Bill 4001!

 

What’s Up with President Trump’s Budget?

 

 

Defense spending up. Big cuts to social programs. Federal funding for the arts on the chopping block.

 

You may have seen headlines or social media posts that give details about President Trump’s budget. Depending on where you stand, you may be cheering, weeping, or shrugging your shoulders. But what is actually going on with the president’s spending plan?

 

Officially, nothing is going on – yet. A 1990 law requires that the president submit a budget proposal to Congress by early February. Donald Trump has not done so (he wouldn’t be the first president to miss the deadline). In fact, his spokesman says that the president’s budget will be unveiled “later this year.”

 

Right now, the White House has asked agencies to find a way to increase defense spending by $54 billion and cut other spending by an equal amount.  That gives a broad idea of what the president will propose, but it does not give any details about what agencies may be targeted for cuts or what shape those cuts may take.

 

Even after the president submits his budget, this does not mean that his spending plan will go into effect. Under the federal budget procedure, the president submits a budget, but Congress must pass its own budget resolution. The congressional budget resolution may or may not incorporate what the president wants to see happen. Each chamber passes its own resolution, and these two versions must be reconciled by the two chambers.

 

The congressional budget is not even the final spending plan. It is, instead, a detailed outline of what spending should look like. If the resolution recommends changes to mandatory spending programs such as Medicaid and Social Security, Congress must pass those changes. For non-mandated spending, such as on defense or national parks, the congressional budget resolution provides a guide for appropriation committees to allocate actual spending amounts. The budget resolution does set forth special rules for consideration of some items, so it is a useful blueprint for Congress to take on future spending decisions.

 

It should be pointed out that this process is often ignored by Congress. Some years it does not pass any budget resolution. Instead, it simply passes appropriations bills to authorize a certain level of federal spending. We don’t know if that could happen this year. Given that the president is not close to submitting his budget resolution (remember, it was due in early February), chances are good that we’ll see some interesting maneuvers during this year’s budget process.

 

Comment below and share how you think President Trump and Congress should structure the 2017 federal budget!

 

Pennsylvania Senate Bill 166: Ban Deduction of Fees for Union Political Activity

 

Check out this key bill recently passed by elected officials in Pennsylvania, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!

 

Senate Bill 166, Ban Deduction of Fees for Union Political Activity: Passed 28 to 22 in the state Senate on February 8, 2017

 

To prohibit governments from deducting money from employees on behalf of unions that the unions will then use for political purposes.

 

 Comment below to share what you think of Pennsylvania Senate Bill 166!

 

Iowa Follows Wisconsin’s Lead on Unions

 

 

The fight over government worker unionization has come to Iowa.

 

Last week, the legislature passed a bill that would limit the power of government employee unions. Here is how VoteSpotter described the bill:

 

To limit the scope of collective bargaining for union of government workers, require ongoing elections of employees to keep a union in place, and prohibit the government from collecting dues or political contributions for a union. Some parts of this act do not apply to public safety employees.

 

With Republicans controlling the legislature and the governorship, this bill faced little serious opposition on its way into law.

 

Republicans in the Hawkeye State were inspired by legislation from Wisconsin in 2011. That was when Governor Scott Walker and Republicans in that state’s legislature enacted a bill, known as Act 10, to limit collective bargaining for government workers over fierce pushback by union and activists. By contrast, the Iowa legislation did not feature nearly the heated theatrics and political wrangling as occurred in Wisconsin.

 

What will happen in the wake of this bill’s enactment in Iowa? It may face a court challenge, as Act 10 did. If courts uphold the law, then Iowa will likely see a decline in government union membership, given the experience of Wisconsin. One analysis concluded that Act 10 produced $5 billion in savings for Wisconsin taxpayers over five years, so something similar could occur in Iowa, too. In fact, it seems that the effects of Act 10 are still being sorted out in Wisconsin, so it may take Iowa years to see the full impact of this legislation.

 

What do you think of this type of legislation? Are government unions too powerful? Or are legislators on the wrong track in limiting collective bargaining for government employees?

 

Updates to Missouri Senate Bill 19: Adopt a "right to work" law

 

 

Check out this key bill recently passed by elected officials in Missouri, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!

 

Senate Bill 19, Adopt a "right to work" law: Passed 21 to 12 in the state Senate on January 26, 2017 and 100 to 59 in the state House on February 2, 2017

 

To prohibit employers from requiring employees to join or financially support a labor union as a condition of employment.

 

Senate Bill 19, Submit 'right-to-work' law to statewide voter referendum: Failed 12 to 21 in the state Senate on January 23, 2017 and 64 to 91 in the state House on February 2, 2017

 

To submit to the voters in November of 2018 a referendum to prohibit employers from requiring employees to join or financially support a labor union as a condition of employment.

 

Senate Bill 19, Limit union ability to delay right-to-work law in workplace: Failed 10 to 20 in the state Senate on January 25, 2017 and 60 to 98 in the state House on February 2, 2017

 

To delete language from the new Missouri right-to-work law that defines any changes made to an existing collective bargaining agreement as essentially making it a new agreement. The law becomes effective in a particular workplace only after its current union contract expires. In some states that recently enacted right-to-work laws, public employee unions and employers claimed to make themselves exempt by extending the duration of existing contracts. Missouri's law prohibits doing that here, and the amendment would have removed that language.

 

Senate Bill 19, Change the penalty for violating right-to-work law: Failed 12 to 20 in the state Senate on January 24, 2017

 

To change the penalty for violations of a Missouri right-to-work law from a "class C misdemeanor" to an "infraction" (which means no threat of jail or prison).

 

Comment below to share what you think of Missouri Senate Bill 19!

 

Iowa House Bill 291: Limit Collective Bargaining for Unionized Government Workers and Require Ongoing Recertification of Unions

 

Check out this key bill recently passed by elected officials in Iowa, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!

 

House Bill 291, Limit collective bargaining for unionized government workers and require ongoing recertification of unions: Passed 29 to 21 in the state Senate and 53 to 47 in the state House on February 16, 2017

 

To limit the scope of collective bargaining for union of government workers, require ongoing elections of employees to keep a union in place, and prohibit the government from collecting dues or political contributions for a union. Some parts of this act do not apply to public safety employees.

 

Also of note: Legislators in both chambers attempted to 'kill' the bill before its passage - 

 

Senate Bill 213, To kill a bill that would limit the scope of collective bargaining in government: Failed 21 to 29 in the state Senate on February 14, 2017

 

To amend the bill that limits the scope of collective bargaining for government employees by deleting its "enacting clause," effectively killing the bill.

 

House Bill 291, To kill a bill that would limit the scope of collective bargaining in government: Failed 41 to 55 in the state House on February 15, 2017

 

To amend the bill that limits the scope of collective bargaining for government employees, effectively removing its prohibition on collective bargaining for most topics.

 

Comment below to share what you think of Iowa House Bill 213!

 

North Carolina House Bill 7: Earmark share of revenue increases to the state's rainy-day fund

 

 

Check out this key bill recently passed by elected officials in North Carolina, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!

 

North Carolina House Bill 7, Earmark share of revenue increases to the state's rainy-day fund: Passed 110 to 3 in the state House on February 15, 2017

 

To set aside 15 percent of new revenue growth per year in the state saving reserve. That fund currently gets one-fourth of what's left over in state coffers at the end of the fiscal year. The bill would limit the fund's use to avoiding spending cuts if revenue declines, if a court ruling imposes damages against the state, or if there is a state emergency. Also, if a proposed withdrawal is more than 7.5 percent of the last state budget, the bill would require a two-thirds vote of both houses to approve it.

 

Comment below to share what you think of North Carolina House Bill 7!

 

Wisconsin Assembly Resolution 4: Prohibit Using Private Lawyers to Defend Redistricting

 

Check out this key bill recently passed by elected officials in Wisconsin, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!

 

Assembly Resolution 4, Prohibit using private lawyers to defend redistricting: Failed 35 to 62 in the state Assembly

 

To prohibit the legislature from contracting with private legal services to defend legislative redistricting efforts. In January, a federal court found that the legislative districts drawn by the legislature were unconstitutional. This bill would prohibit using tax revenue to pay private-sector attorneys to appeal. This vote was to withdraw the bill from committee to allow the entire Assembly to vote on it.

 

Comment below to share what you think of Wisconsin Assembly Resolution 4!

 

Virginia House Joint Resolution 549: Recognize Pornography as a Public Health Hazard

 

Check out this key bill recently passed by elected officials in Virginia, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!

 

House Joint Resolution 549, Recognize Pornography as a Public Health Hazard: Passed 82 to 8 in the state House on February 2, 2017

 

To state that the House recognizes “pornography as leading to individual and societal harms” and that there is a “need for education, prevention, research, and policy change at the community and societal level” regarding pornography.

 

Comment below to share what you think of Virginia House Joint Resolution 549!

 

Michigan Senate Bill 40: Expand State Subsidies for Particular Companies on State Line

 

Check out this key bill recently passed by elected officials in Michigan, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!

 

Senate Bill 40, Expand state subsidies for particular companies on state line: Passed 24 to 14 in the state Senate on February 9, 2017

 

To let particular businesses that are near the state line, and that have been selected by political appointees on a state 'economic development' program board, to each collect up to $10 million in state business subsidies for hiring people who do not live in Michigan.

 

Comment below to share what you think of Michigan Senate Bill 40!

 

U.S. Senate Motion 57: Affirm Senator Warren Broke Senate Rules

 

Check out this key bill recently passed by elected officials in the U.S. Senate, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!

 

Senate Motion 57, Affirm Senator Warren broke Senate rules: Passed 49 to 43 in the U.S. Senate on February 7, 2017

 

To uphold the ruling of the chair that Senator Elizabeth Warren broke Senate Rule 19, which prohibits any senator from “imput[ing] to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator." Senator Warren had been reading a letter by Coretta Scott King about Senator Jeff Sessions, whom President Trump had nominated to be Attorney General. The chair had ruled that by reading certain sections of this bill, Sen. Warren had disparaged her colleague, Sen. Sessions.

 

Comment below to share what you think of U.S. Senate Motion 57!

 

Congress Busy Overturning Regulations

 

Updated February 24, 2017

 

Congress has been very busy since it convened in early January. Even before Donald Trump was sworn in as president, members of Congress were busy writing and voting on legislation. One area is getting a lot of attention from our federal legislators – overturning regulations using the Congressional Review Act (CRA).

 

Not only is it unusual for Congress to target a large number of regulations to reject, but using the CRA at all is quite rare. After the Republican sweep in the 1994 election, Congress enacted the CRA in 1996 as part of the “Contract with America.” Its provisions have only been used one time prior to this year. Since January, however, the House of Representatives has considered eight resolutions that would overturn Obama Administration rules. More are on the way.

 

Under the CRA, a majority in Congress has the power to pass a resolution that would undo any rule issued by a federal agency issued within the prior 60 legislative days. The agency is barred from ever again issuing a regulation that is similar to the one rejected. Unlike other legislation, this resolution cannot be filibustered in the Senate. The president must sign the resolution for it to take effect.

 

This year is the first time when party control of Congress and the presidency coincide to make the CRA workable in any significant way. Republican President Trump took office from his Democratic predecessor, whose administration issued a variety of controversial regulations during its final year in office. Last year, members of Congress were out of town a lot, so the threshold of 60 legislative days stretches far back into 2016 to cover numerous regulations issued by the Obama Administration. President Trump has signaled that he is willing to sign regulatory rollback resolutions, so the Republican majority in Congress has an unrivaled opportunity to strike back at Obama-era rules that they don’t like.

 

Stay tuned and check the Regulatory Reform Tracker for weekly updates on Congress' efforts to rollback and overhaul regulations!

 

Missouri Senate Concurrent Resolution 4: Call to Congress for a Convention of the States

 

Check out this key bill recently passed by elected officials in Missouri, and check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted.

 

Senate Concurrent Resolution 4, Call to Congress for a Convention of the States: Passed 31 to 0 in the state Senate on January 5, 2017

 

To submit an application to Congress calling for a "convention to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution," limited to the issues of fiscal restraints, federal powers and congressional term limits.

 

 

Gun Control in Virginia

 

The issue of gun control is a hot topic in many states, and Virginia is no exception. With its Republican-dominated legislature, the Commonwealth’s lawmakers have advanced legislation in recent years that would expand the rights of gun owners. This has met some resistance from Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, although the two branches of government have found some common ground on this issue.

 

The beginning of the 2017 legislative session has already seen action on firearms legislation. For the most part, these bills are aimed at expanding the right for Virginians to carry concealed firearms:

 

House Bill 1582, Lower age for concealed handgun permit for military members: Passed 78 to 19 in the state House on January 18, 2017

 

To allow an active duty military member or a military member who has received an honorable discharge to obtain a concealed handgun permit at the age of 18. Current law allows concealed handgun permits for anyone 21 years of age or older.

 

Senate Bill 1362, Allow non-duty military personnel to carry concealed weapons: Passed 22 to 18 in the state Senate on January 24, 2017

 

To allow members of the Virginia National Guard, Virginia Defense Force, Armed Forces of the United States, or Armed Forces Reserves who is on non-duty status to carry a concealed weapon without a permit.

 

Senate Bill 1299, Allow concealed carry with protective order: Passed 27 to 13 in the state Senate on January 24, 2017

 

To allow anyone who is protected by a protective order to carry a concealed weapon without a permit for 45 days after the protective order is issued. Only Virginians eligible under state law to carry a concealed weapon would be permitted to do this.

 

U.S. Senate Concurrent Resolution 3: Move Forward with Obamacare Repeal

 

Donald Trump made repealing the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, a central part of his winning campaign for president. Congressional Republicans have been working for years to repeal the law. Will 2017 be the year that Obamacare goes away?

 

In January, the Senate laid the groundwork for repeal legislation to proceed. It adopted a budget resolution for the U.S. Congress that makes it easier for Obamacare repeal legislation to proceed through the Senate. During consideration of this resolution, Democrats offered numerous amendments that, if adopted, would have effectively prevented Obamacare from being repealed. Senator Rand Paul also offered an amendment that would have capped federal spending, leading to a balanced budget by 2024.

 

These amendments all failed. It is doubtful the sponsors thought they would pass. Instead, they were likely offered as a way of putting senators on the record as opposing or supporting certain aspects of the Affordable Care Act. Here are some of the key votes that occurred during this early skirmish over Obamacare:

 

U.S. Senate Concurrent Resolution 3, Move forward with Obamacare repeal: Passed 51 to 48 in the U.S. Senate on January 12, 2017

 

To approve a Senate budget that allows committees to prepare legislation to repeal portions of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Under this resolution, votes to repeal certain parts of Obamacare could occur by majority vote instead of being subject to a filibuster which would have to be overcome by 60 votes.

 

U.S. Senate Concurrent Resolution 3, Kaine amendment to stop Obamacare repeal: Failed 48 to 52 in the U.S. Senate on January 5, 2017

 

To prevent the Senate from considering legislation to eliminate the Affordable Care Act's insurance subsides, its Medicaid enrollment expansion and more. This amendment would have changed Senate rules to effectively halt consideration of legislation to repeal or modify the Affordable Care Act using a budget reconciliation process that does not require a three-fifths majority to end debate and pass the bill.

 

U.S. Senate Concurrent Resolution 3, Sanders amendment to prevent changes to entitlement programs: Failed 49 to 49 in the U.S. Senate on January 10, 2017

 

To prohibit the Senate from considering legislation that would reduce Social Security benefits, privatize Social Security, increase the Social Security retirement age, or reduce Medicare and Medicaid benefits.

 

U.S. Senate Concurrent Resolution 3, Paul amendment to balance the budget: Failed 14 to 83 in the U.S. Senate on January 9, 2017

 

To amend a Senate budget resolution by adding provisions intended to generate a balanced federal budget by 2024 by capping federal spending. The amendment would also allow for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, and its replacement simultaneously.

 

U.S. Senate Concurrent Resolution 3, Klobuchar amendment to allow re-importing Canadian drugs: Failed 46 to 52 in the U.S. Senate on January 11, 2017

 

An amendment to the Senate budget bill that would allow legislation to permit pharmacists, wholesalers, or Americans with a valid prescription to buy drugs in Canada and bring them into the United States.

 

U.S. Senate Concurrent Resolution 3, Menendez amendment to prevent Medicaid funding cuts: Failed 48 to 50 in the U.S. Senate on January 11, 2017

 

To prohibit the Senate from considering legislation that would reduce Medicaid funding for states that expanded their Medicaid programs in compliance with the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. This expansion was not mandatory for states. The federal government covered over 90% of the share of enrolling new Medicaid recipients who were able-bodied and made more than 138% of the federal poverty level. The federal government generally covers 43% of the cost of traditional Medicaid enrollees.

 

U.S. Senate Concurrent Resolution 3, Gillibrand amendment to prevent repeal of Obamacare contraceptive mandate: Failed 49 to 49 in the U.S. Senate on January 12, 2017

 

To prevent the Senate from considering legislation that would end the mandate in the Affordable Care Act that requires insurance coverage of reproductive health services such as contraception, birth control, or maternity care.

 

Pennsylvania Senate Bill 181: Establish Performance-Based Budget Review

 

Check out this key bill recently passed by elected officials in Pennsylvania, and check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted.

 

Senate Bill 181, Establish performance-based budget review: Passed 49 to 0 in the state Senate on February 6, 2017

 

To direct the Secretary of Budget to review agency budgets based on performance instead of on subtracting or adding to traditional spending levels. Under a performance-based review, an agency would have to show how its proposed spending is being allocated to meet certain performance goals and benchmarks. The bill would allow the Secretary to undertake a review at least once every five years, and the General Assembly could also request such a review. The bill also directs the state to undertake a review of the effectiveness of various state tax credits.

 

Michigan Legislature: 2017 Preview

 

The Michigan State House of Representatives and Senate have a busy year ahead in 2017. Potential upcoming bills will affect all citizens of Michigan; the topics and issues addressed in these bills including: children, offenders, voting and voter registration, vehicles and taxation. With so many bills to cover, below are outlined some of the key potential bills likely to impact the people of Michigan in a substantial way –

 

Children:

 

SB 0052 adds crimes involving sexual conduct or abuse of a child under 18 years of age to the list of crimes with no statute of limitations.

 

HB 4042 includes people involved with school and recreational youth sport to those people responsible for reporting suspected child abuse or neglect.

 

Offenders

 

SB 0022 mandates, where possible, for inmates aged approximately 18-22 to be housed only with inmates of similar ages and all within the same correctional facility.

 

HB 4065 outlines the new Department of Corrections policy allowing individuals convicted of a felony to work within the Department. These individuals must have disclosed their felony prior to employment and the felony must not be of such a nature as to negatively impact public safety or the running of the Department.

 

Voting

 

SB 0056 allows voter registration to take place online, with an online form submitted to the Secretary of State. A voter may update their address on the same website.

 

HB 4037 creates automatic voter registration for individuals when they are issued a driver’s license or a change of address notification for their existing driver’s license.

 

Vehicles

 

HB 4013 make vehicle registration shown in electronic form acceptable when it is required to be displayed to a police officer.

 

Taxation

 

SB 0059 allows a taxpayer to claim a tax credit on their state income tax equal to 50% of their yearly repayment of a student loan. However the total of this repayment must not exceed 20% of the average yearly tuition for Michigan’s public universities. This is a non-refundable tax credit.

 

HB 4014 allows a taxpayer to claim a tax credit on their state income tax equal to fees paid throughout the tax year for a dependent of the taxpayer to take part in any sport, program or other extracurricular activity offered through a school. This is a non-refundable tax credit.

 

SB 0060 allows a taxpayer who is eligible for a refundable tax credit under s21 of the Internal Revenue Code (regarding expense for household and dependent care services necessary for gainful employment) to claim a percentage of that credit against their state income tax. Percentages determined by annual income are:

  • Less than $25,000 = 110%
  • Greater than or equal to $25,000 but less than $40,000 = 100%
  • Greater than or equal to $40,000 but less than $65,000 = 80%
  • Greater than or equal to $65,000 but less than $100,000 = 30%

 

What do you think the Michigan Legislature should focus on in 2017?

 

Jackie Morgan contributed to this post

 

 

Is Gerrymandering Coming to an End?

 

Politicians drawing electoral districts to benefit politicians – it’s a practice that’s almost as old as the U.S. Criticism of this partisan redistricting, known as gerrymandering, also goes back to the early days of the republic. Actions by legislators and judges in 2017 may make some long-lasting changes to this long-lived process.

 

Practices vary, but in most states the legislature and the governor draw legislative and congressional districts. And while gerrymandering may be deplored by Republicans and Democrats alike, it is practiced by both parties to maximize their advantages at the ballot box.

 

In recent years there have been efforts to give nonpartisan commissions the power to draw these districts, in order to take the political considerations out of the process. Currently, four states have these independent commissions.

 

Actions to address gerrymandering go beyond mere legislative proposals. In some states, lawsuits have been filed to overturn what plaintiffs consider illegally partisan districts.

 

Here is what is happening in some states concerning gerrymandering:

 

Wisconsin – In January, a federal court ruled that Wisconsin’s legislative districts must be redrawn in time for the 2018 election. State legislators have approved using a private law firm to appeal this ruling, prompting complaints about using taxpayer dollars to do this.

 

Michigan – emboldened by the successful suit in Wisconsin, a former Democratic official is preparing to sue the state to overturn what he considers partisan gerrymandering in Michigan.

 

Virginia – legislators have advanced a resolution to amend the state constitution that would dampen gerrymandering by requiring that legislative and congressional districts must be compact, follow existing political boundaries (such as county lines), and not be drawn to protect a certain party or incumbent lawmakers.

 

Maryland – when in office, Governor Martin O’Malley approved a map containing some of the most gerrymandered congressional districts in the nation. Now that he’s out of office, O’Malley is having second thoughts. He has said he supports a nonpartisan commission to draw districts, something his successor in the governor’s office, Larry Hogan, is pushing legislators to adopt.

 

 

What do you think should be done about gerrymandering?

 

Iowa Senate Bill 166: Increase State Funding for Schools by 1.1 Percent

 

Check out this key bill recently passed by elected officials in Iowa, and check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted.

 

Senate Bill 166, Increase state funding for schools by 1.1 percent: Passed the state Senate 28 to 21 on February 2, 2017 and 55 to 40 in the state House on February 6, 2017

 

To increase the state funding of public schools by 1.1 percent for the next year. Also, the bill removes a requirement that the legislature fix the amount of state aid two years in advance.

 

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