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Western Forest Fires Spark Climate Debate

Devastating forest fires are burning across the West, especially in California and Oregon. In the wake of the destruction left by these fires, some activists are saying that they show the need for a greater focus on climate change. Others, however, contend that poor land management practices at the state and federal level are largely responsible for larger and more intense fires.


Throughout the West, a thick blanket of smoke has caused air quality to be listed as "hazardous" in many areas. This smoke is coming from a series of fires in California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and other states. In Oregon, 10 deaths have been linked to these fires. 


The number of wildfires, which burn both forests and grasslands, have been declining, but their intensity has been increasing. Some scientists link this to a warming climate, which they contend lengthens fire season and provides more time when areas are so dry they burn easily. They argue that reducing greenhouse gas emissions will lessen the effects of these fires.


Others, however, note that land management practices contribute significantly to how fires burn. They say that if federal and state agencies used more prescribed burns to clear out fuel on a regular basis, fires would not be as intense. Some also argue that the reduction in logging and timber thinning has led to a buildup of flammable material across the West.


President Trump is on a campaign swing through the West, and today he stopped to visit firefighters in California.


What do you think should be done to reduce the danger of wildfires?

Senate Rejects New Coronavirus Aid Bill

Yesterday, Senate Republicans tried to pass what they called a “skinny” coronavirus relief bill. Senate Democrats blocked the measure, arguing that it did not go far enough. Now prospects of passage of another aid bill for the pandemic before the election are dim.


Here is ow VoteSpotter describes this new coronavirus bill:


To provide an additional $300-per-week payment in unemployment benefits, an expanded loan program for small businesses affected by coronavirus, $105 billion for schools to deal with coronavirus as well as to fund school choice, $20 billion for farmers and ranchers affected by coronavirus, $31 billion for vaccines, $16 billion for testing and contact tracing, and $10 billion in loan forgiveness for the Postal Service if it makes certain reforms, among other things.


The total cost of the legislation is roughly $650 billion, although only around $300 billion is new spending. The other $350 billion is re-purposed funds that were already authorized.


Senators voted 52-47 to invoke cloture on the bill, which would have cut off debate and led to a vote on the package. However, this type of vote needs 60 senators to succeed. No Democrats voted in favor of cloture, and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was the only Republican to vote against it. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) did not vote.


Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) faulted this bill for not including a variety of aid that Democrats think is needed, including money for food, housing, broadband, and state and local governments. He accused Republicans of putting forward a bill so they can say they tried to do something, but with no intention of actually passing anything.


Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Senate Majority Leader, said the Democrats were the ones playing politics. He said Democrats were more interested in hurting President Trump than in working with Republicans to aid American families.


The House of Representatives passed a coronavirus aid bill in July that had a price tag exceeding $3.4 trillion. 


What do you think Congress should do about coronavirus aid?

Portland Bans Use of Facial Recognition Software

This week the Portland city council unanimously passed legislation to ban the use of facial recognition technology by either government entities or private businesses.


When this ban takes effect in January 2021, Portland will join a handful of other cities in prohibiting the use of this technology. Portland’s prohibition of facial recognition technology will be the strictest among these other cities, however. It not only bars the police and other local government agencies from deploying facial recognition software, it also prohibits private companies (including airlines using the Portland airport) from doing so.


Privacy advocates have raised concerns about the use of this technology to track individuals. They contend that it leads to the government gaining too much information on individual behavior. They also note that studies have found racial bias as part of the software. Police and law enforcement support this technology, arguing that it helps identify criminals. Stores also use facial recognition software to identify shoplifters.


There have been moves at the federal level to prohibit the use of this technology, but Congress has yet to act on this legislation. 


Do you think facial recognition software should be banned?

Trump Announces Offshore Drilling Moratorium

This week, President Trump announced that the federal government was imposing a 10-year moratorium on offshore oil and natural gas exploration off of the Southeastern U.S. coast.


The areas covered by the president’s order include the eastern part of the Gulf of Mexico around Florida, as well as the Atlantic coastal areas of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. The Gulf of Mexico already had an oil and gas drilling moratorium in place, but that was set to expire in 2022. This order extends that moratorium for 10 years and expands it to cover the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf.


This move is a reversal from previous Trump Administration policy. The president had supported opening more offshore areas to oil and gas production. Such production is currently allowed in the western part of the Gulf of Mexico as well as parts of Alaska. In 2017, the administration announced it wanted expanded drilling, including around Florida. 


Supporters of this moratorium argue that it is necessary to protect the tourist industries of these areas as well as the environment. They also contend that the U.S. should be transitioning to the use of renewable energy, not fossil fuels. Opponents of placing these areas off-limits to oil and gas production contend that such energy exploration is already being done safely elsewhere, so it can be done safely here. They also note that this type of energy production would create jobs for coastal communities as well as generate significant government revenue.


Do you support a moratorium on oil and gas production off of the Atlantic Coast?

Deep Dive: How COVID-19 Has Affected Congress

As with other businesses that have seen shutdowns and employees working from home, Congress has adapted to the new “socially distanced” workplace. In this Deep Dive, Votespotter looks at some of the ways the coronavirus epidemic has changed the way Congress, and especially the House of Representatives, works.


Disrupted Calendar


One of the first effects of the coronavirus pandemic was to disrupt the normal business calendar of Congress. At the beginning of the year, both House and Senate leadership decide on a calendar that lays out the days when each body will be in session. Once the extent of the coronavirus began coming into focus in early March, however, House leadership decided to alter their calendar. The Senate’s calendar largely remained intact.


Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi canceled many weeks of House sessions. She then called the House back into session periodically to consider legislation the Democratic leadership deemed important, including coronavirus relief bills and legislation to provide further aid to the U.S. Postal Service. The House has not met for significant periods of time during the pandemic, however, and only has 5 full weeks of session scheduled for the rest of the year.


Proxy Voting


As discussed in a previous Deep Dive, the House of Representatives has approved proxy voting for members who do not want to come to Washington, D.C. during the coronavirus pandemic. On May 15, the House voted 217-189 in favor of House Resolution 965.  Under this rule change, a member can designate another member who will be physically present in the House chamber. That member can then cast a vote on behalf of the absent member, but only if the absent member has authorized such a vote in writing.


While the House has previously allowed proxy voting in committee, which the Senate currently does, neither chamber has allowed proxy votes to be cast on actual bills considered by the entire body. Speaker Pelosi steered this rule change through the House earlier this year, contending that it permits the House to continue operating while members have concerns about the coronavirus. She argues that the proxy voting procedures put in place earlier this year ensure that the will of the member casting such a vote is protected.


House Republicans disagree, however. They voted against this rule change and have also filed a lawsuit to stop it, arguing that it violates the Constitution. The Republican members also contend that this procedure concentrates power of the House majority’s leaders because it means there will be fewer House members present for deliberations and votes. 


Under the rule change, proxy voting may continue as long as the Speaker declares a public health emergency related to the coronavirus. The declaration remains in effect for 45 days, but the Speaker can renew it. 


House Resolution 965 also allowed committees to meet remotely, using technology to allow members to question witnesses and take votes. However, closed executive sessions of committees must still take place in person.


Session Procedures


Both the House and Senate have altered some procedures to incorporate social distancing and other precautions aimed at combating the coronavirus. Outside visitors to congressional offices are limited, and these offices no longer conduct Capitol tours. The Senate, with fewer members than the House, has made suggestions to its members about social distancing and testing. The House, however, has implemented mandatory procedures aimed at keeping members separate from one another.


Members of the House who are present in Washington, D.C., face a number of new requirements for their time in the Capitol complex. Only those members actively involved in congressional debate can be in the House chamber when the debate is occurring; otherwise members must remain in their offices or can sit in the House gallery (which is now closed to the general public). Votes are held for longer periods of time, with members entering the chambers in staggered groups to limit the number of individuals in the chamber at one time. Face coverings are required for access to the House floor and in committee meetings.


Effects on Transparency


Except for members of Congress, most of this will have little direct effect on you. The changes do affect the public indirectly, however. With the House reducing the number of days it is in session, and lengthening roll call vote times, there is less time to consider legislation. These time constraints, coupled with the absence of members from the Capitol due to the availability of proxy voting, means there are also fewer opportunities for members to debate legislation.


This session of Congress will likely produce fewer new laws than in past sessions because of how coronavirus-related procedures have limited the congressional calendar and mandated lengthier voting times. With Congress operating in a different manner than in the past, some of its actions may be less visible to the public. VoteSpotter is working to inform you of the votes taken by your representatives in Congress and the issues they are considering, then allow you to give feedback on what your representatives in Washington, D.C., are doing.


Visiting Washington, D.C.


If you are planning to visit Washington, D.C., and the Capitol, these changes in congressional operations will affect you. Visitors can no longer observe the House and the Senate sessions in person from their visitors’ galleries. Tours of the Capitol are also canceled. In fact, access to congressional buildings is highly restricted, with many staff working from home. Visitors to congressional offices are only permitted with an escort from an employee of the House of Representatives or Senate.

Trump's Payroll Tax Deferral Plan Sparks Controversy

President Trump has long supported a payroll tax cut, but Congress has been reluctant to follow his lead. In response, the president has put forward a plan allowing businesses to defer the collection of payroll taxes through the end of the year. This move has met resistance from both employers and employees, who contend that doing this may actually hurt workers.


The desire for a payroll tax cut has been a consistent theme with President Trump. When the initial economic effects of the coronavirus began to become apparent in March, he suggested the same thing. Congress has not included it in any coronavirus relief bill, and is not discussing such a tax cut currently. 


In response, Trump directed the Treasury Department to give businesses the option of deferring collection of payroll taxes through the end of the year. This is not a tax cut, however, since the deferred taxes would have to be collected at the beginning of 2021. In essence, this would give employees a boost in pay through December, but double the payroll taxes collected on their paycheck in the first few months of 2021.


Many business owners have refused to participate in this plan. They point out that while employees may get a temporary take-home boost in their pay, they will see a big reduction in take-home pay next year. The plan is optional for private sector employees, but mandatory for federal employees. The union representing many federal workers has asked that this tax deferral be optional for them.


Payroll taxes are levied on income to pay for Medicare and Social Security. Cutting these taxes would affect every worker, especially those with lower incomes. An income tax cut mainly benefits higher-income workers, since lower incomes are not subject to the tax. Payroll taxes, on the other hand, are levied on the first dollar of income, and are capped for higher-income workers.


Since 2009, there have been other payroll tax cuts that have been aimed at stimulating the economy. Some economists argue that since they affect lower-income workers, they provide money to go back into the economy more quickly. Others argue that there are more effective ways to stimulate the economy, such as direct payments to individuals. Some critics are also concerned about the long-term effect of cutting payroll taxes on Medicare and Social Security.


Do you support President Trump's plan to defer collection of payroll taxes and then collect those deferred taxes next year?

Budget Deficit Hits Record High

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) announced this week that the projected budget deficit for 2020 will hit $3.3 trillion -- a record high gap between government revenues and spending.


The projected $3.3 trillion far exceeds the last record-high yearly deficit, which occurred in 2009. In that year, the budget deficit was $1.4 trillion. As explained in this Deep Dive, the budget deficit is when the federal government spends more than it receives in revenue in one fiscal year.


The U.S. has had a budget deficit every year since the late 1990s, and for many years prior to then. The accumulated deficits make up the national debt. The CBO projects the national debt to exceed the total Gross Domestic Product (the measure of how much economic activity occurs the U.S.) next year.


Many experts say that in the midst of an economic crisis, it is not wise to focus on deficits and debt. They argue that the federal government should spend freely to prop up the economy. Other experts counter this claim, noting that the federal government was engaged in deficit spending during good economic times, too. They say that at some point our nation's large amount of debt will hurt the economy and the ability of the government to provide services.


The new deficit numbers may affect the ongoing talks to produce another coronavirus spending bill. Democrats are pushing for a bill that contains over $3.4 trillion in new spending. Senate Republicans are likely to pass spending legislation that is around $500 billion due to many Republicans' hesitation about higher spending levels. 


Are you concerned about the record-high $3.3 trillion budget deficit?



Trump Administration Orders Evictions Halted

This week, the Trump Administration issued an order banning landlords from evicting tenants who could not afford rent due to the coronavirus pandemic.


The Centers for Disease Control announced the eviction ban on Tuesday, using the authority of a federal law giving the agency power to take steps to stop the spread of communicable diseases. Under this order, tenants must meet certain qualifications:

  • Earn less than $99,000 (or $198,000 for joint tax filers)
  • Declare that their income will fall below the income threshold
  • Seek all federal rent assistance available
  • Declare that they cannot pay their rent due to the pandemic


Under this order, tenants are still liable for the rent owed, but they cannot be evicted for failure to pay that rent.


There was a previous federal foreclosure and eviction moratorium that expired July 31. Housing advocates have been pressuring the Trump Administration to issue another eviction ban. They argue that with high unemployment and economic disruption, an eviction moratorium is necessary to prevent widespread homelessness. Landlords, however, are pushing back, noting that they are still required to pay their mortgages and for property upkeep.


The new eviction moratorium lasts until December 31.


Do you support a federal ban on evictions during the coronavirus pandemic?


Judge Upholds Washington Gun Control Initiative

Yesterday, a federal judge rejected arguments of plaintiffs seeking to overturn a Washington initiative that imposed new laws on gun purchases.


In 2018, Washington voters approved Initiative 1639 to prohibit 18- and 19-year-olds from purchasing semi-automatic rifles and ban the sale of those guns to residents of other states, as well as require a stricter background check for in-state residents purchasing such guns. Opponents of the initiative, including the National Rifle Association, argued that it violated the Constitution.


U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Leighton disagreed. He granted the State of Washington's request to dismiss the case, saying that the initiative was constitutionally permissible.


Washington's attorney general had defended the initiative in court, pointing out that the restrictions it imposed had not been struck down by the Supreme Court. The plaintiffs, however, argued that they infringed upon the Second Amendment rights of individuals.


The backers of Initiative 1639 said it is necessary to prevent people from accessing high-powered weapons. They say that semi-automatic rifles are more dangerous than other guns, and that there should be more restrictions on them. Opponents of this initiative pushed back against the idea that these rifles are any more dangerous than other guns, saying this assertion has no basis in fact. They also noted that these types of guns are used in very few crimes.


Do you think that there should be stricter laws governing the possession of semi-automatic rifles?

NJ Gas Tax Going Up

Buying gas in New Jersey will cost more starting October 1.


Last week, State Treasurer Elizabeth Maher Muoio announced that the gas tax would be increased by 9.3 cents in a month. This is the result of a 2016 state law that requires a steady level of revenue for transportation projects. The law requires that tax rates be adjusted yearly to obtain that revenue. This year, with driving down because of the coronavirus pandemic, gas tax revenue decreased dramatically. That set the stage for an automatic gas tax hike for New Jersey drivers in the coming fiscal year.


The tax hike will mean that for every gallon of gas purchased in New Jersey, 50.7 cents will be paid in taxes. Currently, the state has the 10th highest gas tax rate. After October 1, it will have the 4th highest rate in the nation.


This impending tax increase has critics. They say it is coming at an especially bad time for both consumers and businesses. They argue that consumers who are already suffering from high unemployment and an economic slowdown cannot afford to pay higher gas prices. They also contend that New Jersey businesses that sell gas will be hurt by this increase. 


Unless legislators change the law, however, this gas tax will go into effect automatically. 


Do you support increasing the gas tax?

Federal Government Executes Fourth Inmate in Two Months

This week, the federal government executed its fourth federal prisoner in two months, a pace of federal executions not seen since the 1950s.


This week, it executed Lezmond Mitchell, who was convicted of carjacking and murder. In July, the Trump Administration executed three men. Prior to these executions, the federal government had not put anyone to death in 17 years. The last time that four men were put to death during a single president's term of office was during the administration of Dwight Eisenhower.


Attorney General William Barr has made it a priority for the Justice Department to resume the use of capital punishment. Attorneys for prisoners on death row have been asking federal courts to stop their executions, but judges have cleared the way for lethal injection to resume after over a decade-and-a-half hiatus.


The death penalty is a deeply divisive issue, with some states recently abolishing it. However, there are 58 individuals on federal death row -- 57 men and 1 woman. The Trump Administration is resuming executions after the last ones that occurred were during the George W. Bush Administration. 


Do you support resuming federal executions?

New Jersey May Give “Baby Bond” to Most Children in the State

If you are born into a family that earns up to 500% of the federal poverty level, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy wants the state to give you a $1,000 “baby bond.”


Under a proposal unveiled by Gov. Murphy this week, the state would place $1,000 in an account for most New Jersey children. That money would accrue interest and be payable when the child is 18. This would apply to any children who are in households that earn under 500% of the federal poverty level (roughly $131,000 for a family of four). Gov. Murphy estimates 75% of New Jersey children would qualify.


Gov. Murphy and supporters of these bonds contend that they will help reduce inequality. They contend that they will provide money for young adults who otherwise may not have a savings account, giving them a better start in life. This is part of Gov. Murphy’s legislative proposals that he contends will reduce inequality.


Critics of the bonds counter that they will do very little to help, since they will not accrue significant interest in 18 years. They argue that this is an expensive measure that is more about looking like the governor is helping address inequality instead of taking real measures to help the poor. The first-year cost of the program would be approximately $80 million.

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker has proposed similar legislation at the federal level. The New Jersey legislature must approve Gov. Murphy’s “baby bond” plan before it goes into effect.

Do you think the government should give every child a $1,000 bond that matures when the child turns 18?

Arizona Voters Could Raise Taxes to Fund Schools

Activists have placed a proposition on the Arizona ballot this year asking voters to decide if they want to raise income taxes in order to fund more education activities.


Proposition 208 would impose a new 3.5% income tax on individual taxpayers who make $250,000 or households that make $500,000. The current tax rate on those incomes is 4.5%, so passage of this proposition would mean these taxpayers would have a total tax rate of 8%.


The revenue generated from this tax increase would be distributed as follows:

  • 50% to school districts and charter schools to hire new classroom personnel and increase wages
  • 25% to school districts and charter schools to hire support personnel and increase their wages
  • 12% for career and technical programs
  • 10% for teacher mentoring and retention
  • 3% for a teacher academy fund to provide incentives for students to become teachers


Supporters of Proposition 208 argue that it is only fair for wealthier Arizonans to pay higher taxes in order to pay for education services. They contend that the state’s economy will improve with a better-educated workforce. Opponents, counter that it’s unfair to single out a small slice of the population to pay for a program that the general public will benefit from. They also argue that this massive tax increase on high-income residents could lead some to leave the state.


In 2018, supporters of higher taxes for school funding tried to place a similar initiative on the ballot. State courts struck it down, however, saying that its language was misleading. This year, activists collected enough signatures to place Proposition 208 before voters. 


Do you support increasing taxes on those making $250,000 to raise revenue for public schools?

Rent Control at Stake in California Election

Among the 12 ballot propositions confronting California voters this election, one would advance a major goal of progressive activists -- allowing rent control in the state.


Since 1995, California law has prohibited local governments from placing caps on rent increases. In 2019, though, legislators and the governor approved legislation that imposed statewide rent control, allowing landlords to raise rents by 5% plus inflation every year. In 2019, activists collected enough signatures to place a proposition on the ballot that would allow local governments to enact rent control policies, too. 


As a result, voters will now decide the fate of Proposition 21.


Supporters of this proposition say that it is a way to prevent landlords from pricing out low-income residents in the face of gentrification. They say rent control is a good way to stabilize neighborhoods and promote affordable housing. Rent control opponents say that the use of rent control in cities like New York has demonstrated that it leads to reduced investment in housing and higher rental rates for those not covered by rent control.


In 2018, California voters rejected a similar proposition, voting down Proposition 10 by a margin of 59%-41%.


Do you think that the government should tell landlords how much they can raise rent?


California Voters to Decide on 17-Year-Old Voting

In California, voters will decide whether some 17-year-olds will be able to vote in primary and special elections.


Under Proposition 18, 17-year-old Californians who will be 18 at the time of the next general election can register and vote in special elections and primaries.Voters will be asked to approve the proposed constitutional amendment during this year’s election, which will go into effect for the next election cycle.


Backers of this amendment argue that this allows greater participation for young voters in elections. They note that primary and special elections are part of the election cycle, so if someone will be 18-years-old for the general election, it makes sense to allow them to participate in these other elections. Opponents, however, counter that people who are legally minors should not be participating in the election process.


California legislators voted to place Proposition 18 on the ballot during their legislative session this year. It was overwhelmingly supported by Democratic legislators but nearly all Republicans voted against it.


Eighteen other states allow 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections as long at they will be 18-years-old by the time of the general election.


Do you think that 17-year-olds who will be 18 at the time of the general election should be able to vote in primaries and special elections?

Biden Labels Climate Change an "Historic Crisis"

When accepting the Democratic presidential nomination this week, former Vice President Joe Biden labeled climate change an "historic crisis."


During his speech, Biden said:


History has delivered us to one of the most difficult moments America has ever faced. Four historic crises. All at the same time...The worst pandemic in over 100 years. The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The most compelling call for racial justice since the '60s. And the undeniable realities and accelerating threats of climate change.


This speech pleased environmentalists, who had been urging Biden to focus attention on climate change. They are urging the Democratic presidential nominee to make it a large issue during this year's campaign. Biden's mention of climate change as part of three other high-profile issues indicate that he will indeed be using it in an attempt to win voters.


Biden has released an environmental plan that focuses on low- or no-carbon energy sources as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, his plan does not go as far the Green New Deal. That program advances an ambitious plan to end the use of fossil fuels and restructure America's economy. 


Critics of these plans say that massive government intervention is not a wise way to address climate change. They note that such intervention will be very costly to consumers. Instead, they point to private sector development of technologies like hydraulic fracturing, which has allowed the cheaper production of natural gas. That gas has replaced significant electricity generation by coal, something that has led to a drop in U.S. carbon emissions.


Supporters of aggressive government action say that the problem is too big to be left to the private sector. Instead, they argue that only a large-scale federal program that changes how U.S. energy is produced will avert environmental catastrophe.


What do you think should be done to address climate change?

Pelosi Sets Vote on Postal Bill

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called the House of Representatives back into session in order to vote on legislation dealing with U.S. Postal Service (USPS) issues.


The House will meet on Saturday to consider legislation that will:

  • Provide the USPS with $25 billion to cover revenue shortfalls
  • Reverse the changes made by USPS this year regarding its operations, including changes made to overtime pay practices and the closure of some processing facilities
  • Mandate that mail-in and absentee ballots be considered first-class mail


This comes after Democrats have accused the Trump Administration of harming the USPS’s operations in order to frustrate mail-in voting programs. President Trump has been clear that he does not want to see widespread mail-in voting. He prefers that people go to the polls in-person in November. Democrats, however, argue that in-person voting risks spreading the coronavirus, so it is safer to rely on voting by mail.


The USPS has long faced problems with profitability and service issues. Supporters of the USPS contend it needs more money from the federal government to operate, and that it should be relieved of its obligation to pre-fund retirement benefits. Critics of the USPS contend that its labor contracts and outdated management practices have left it in a precarious position.


The House will vote on the USPS legislation on Saturday.

Do you support the federal government providing $25 billion to the Postal Service?


West Virginia Sues Walmart, CVS over Opioids

Contending that CVS and Walmart contributed to the state’s opioid crisis, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has filed suit against these companies.


In his lawsuit, Attorney General Morrisey claims that the companies should have monitored suspiciously large orders of opioids and refused to deliver them to retailers in the state. He says that corporate practices led to West Virginians becoming addicted to opioids and causing significant harm to the state. 


This suit is one of many filed by state and local governments against opioid manufacturers, distributors, and retailers. At the base of these suits is the idea that companies knew these drugs caused harm and were being misused, but did nothing to stop them. These suits allege that these companies’ policies encouraged the use of opioids, making the problem worse. They argue that companies should have taken steps to stem the flow of opioids to consumers once they realized that people were abusing the drugs.


These suits are not without controversy, however. Critics point out that opioids are legal drugs that have legitimate purposes. They contend that the companies did nothing illegal in their actions, and that they are not responsible for people who misuse the drugs. Some allege that the politicians filing the suits are simply looking for easy money from deep-pocketed companies.


In total, states like West Virginia are seeking over $26 billion in compensation for opioid-related harms.


Do you think that states should sue drug makers and retailer over the opioid crisis?

Judge Blocks Idaho Transgender Athlete Law

A federal judge has prevented Idaho from implementing a law that would prohibit transgender athletes from competing unless they compete in leagues that match their gender identity at birth.


The law was passed as an attempt to stop transgender girls from competing in girls' sports leagues. Sponsors say that it is necessary to stop unfair competition. They contend that transgender athletes have unfair biological advantages over competitors. Legislators passed the law earlier this year and Gov. Brad Little signed it into law.


Critics immediately sued to stop its implementation. They argue that this law mandates unlawful discrimination based on someone's sex, and federal judge David Nye agreed that these arguments are likely to succeed. He said that Idaho could not enforce the law while the legal case was ongoing, noting that the law seems to contradict recent Supreme Court decisions.


The issue of transgender athletes has been controversial in recent years. Athletic leagues have different rules for how transgender individuals can compete, but all allow such competition if the transgender athlete meets certain conditions. The Idaho law did not take these conditions into account, instead saying that if someone wanted to compete in school athletics, they must do so according to their gender at birth. The law also established a process to investigate this issue if there were a controversy over someone's gender.


The legal case against the Idaho law will continue to be decided by federal courts.

Do you think that transgender athletes should only be allowed to compete in leagues that match their birth gender?

Trump Administration Moves Ahead with Arctic Refuge Oil Development

This week the Department of the Interior finalized plans to hold oil and gas lease sales in the 

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).


ANWR is a 19 million acre wildlife refuge in Alaska that contains significant energy deposits. 

Republicans had been pushing to open up the refuge to energy leasing for decades. George W. Bush attempted to obtain congressional approval in the early 2000s, but was unable to do so. However, once Donald Trump became president and the Republicans had a congressional majority in 2017, legislation allowing such sales became law.


The Alaska congressional delegation and the state’s governor support energy development in ANWR. They see the potential for new jobs and energy revenue. However, there is also opposition to ANWR oil drilling in Alaska from people who think it could lead to environmental damage.


Supporters of opening ANWR to energy exploration point out that drilling activities will only affect a small portion of the refuge. They argue that oil and gas development can be done in an environmentally-responsible way that will impose very little disturbance on wildlife. Opponents, however, say it is improper to be drilling for oil in a wildlife refuge. They worry that such activities will harm caribou.


This week’s action by the Interior Department sets the stage for it to hold a sale of leases by the end of the year. 


Do you support oil and natural gas development in ANWR?

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