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Pennsylvania House Bill 602: Allow dogs to track wounded game


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House Bill 602, Allow dogs to track wounded game: Passed 196 to 0 in the state House on May 10, 2017


To allow blood-tracking dogs to track legally wounded deer, bear, and elk.


Comment below to share what you think of Pennsylvania House Bill 602!


Arizona House Bill 2022: Legalize rat-shot and snake-shot ammunition


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House Bill 2022, Legalize rat-shot and snake-shot ammunition: Passed 35 to 25 in the state House on February 1, 2017


To permit the use of rat-shot or snake-shot ammunition within a municipality by exempting it from laws against discharge of firearms.


Comment below to share what you think of Arizona House Bill 2022!


Missouri Senate Bill 329: Update warranty repair mandates for car dealerships


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Senate Bill 329, Update warranty repair mandates for car dealerships: Passed 31 to 0 in the state Senate on March 16, 2017


To revise a law that prohibits consumers from having warranty repairs done at the shop of their choice and only permits franchise dealers to do that work. This bill would remove confusion about how the law applies to engine manufacturers.


Comment below to share what you think of Missouri Senate Bill 329!


Trump Names Lower Court Nominees



Let the fight over judicial nominations begin.


President Trump recently sent the names of 10 people for the Senate to consider as federal judges. With more than 100 vacant federal judge positions, Donald Trump has an opportunity to make a significant impact on how federal laws are interpreted and applied.


According to John Malcolm of the Heritage Foundation, “They are all highly regarded in conservative legal circles and by practitioners in the states where they reside.” During the election, many conservative voters said that federal court nominations were one of the most important reasons they were backing Trump.


As we saw with the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, however, these appointments are likely to be made over significant Democratic opposition in the Senate. Democrats say that Republicans took steps to delay or hinder judicial nominations under President Obama, which is why there are so many vacancies for Trump to fill. They view this as ample reason to fight these new nominations.


However, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid eliminated the filibuster for lower-court judicial nominees in 2013. That means Senate Democrats, who are now in the minority, have no tools to stop Trump’s appointments. Some are vowing to use every tool they can to slow them down, though.


Do you support President Trump’s judicial nominees? Or do you support efforts by Democratic senators to hold up and possibly stop these nominations?


Michigan Senate Bill 98: Authorize Flint “promise zone” tax increment financing authority


Check out this key bill 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 98, Authorize Flint “promise zone” tax increment financing authority: Passed 35 to 2 in the state Senate on May 16, 2017


To authorize a “low educational attainment promise zone” tax increment financing authority in Flint. These entities “capture" a portion of  increases in school property tax revenue and use the money to partially subsidize college tuition for local students.


Comment below to share what you think of Michigan Senate Bill 98!


The FBI: Now What?


In early May, President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. Considering that a president has fired an FBI Director only once previously in the modern era, many people have questions about what this means for the future of the FBI.


We’re here to provide some context.


The FBI is part of the Department of Justice, but the FBI Director is under the authority of the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence. The president appoints the FBI Director and the Senate must confirm the nominee. The Director serves for one ten-year term, although Congress can pass legislation to extend this term. The president has authority to fire the FBI Director for any reason.


The presidential appointment authority for the FBI Director dates back to reforms made in 1968. The fixed 10-year term was legislated in 1976. The agency’s activities during the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement raised concerns about the power of the FBI Director. After the death of iconic FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover in 1972 after 48 years of service, there was a consensus that long tenure for a Director was not desirable. Limiting the term and bringing that appointment under the president were ways to place limits on this power.


On the whole, the FBI Director has generally remained generally independent of the president and partisan politics. A ten-year term means that a Director will outlast any president who appoints him or her. Prior to Comey, the only FBI Director who has been fired was William Sessions, whom President Clinton removed due to ethical issues. It remains to be seen if President Trump’s action will set a new precedent that leads to more dismissals of future FBI Directors.


President Trump will have the task of naming a new FBI Director. The Senate will have the power to confirm or reject that nominee. The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on the nominee, and then vote whether to recommend the nominee to the full Senate for consideration. Most nominees for FBI Director have been confirmed unanimously. In fact, the only one not to be confirmed without opposition was James Comey, who received one dissenting vote from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).


Do you think that President Trump should have fired Director Comey? Who should President Trump appoint as the new Director of the FBI?


Some Senators Say “No” to (Almost) All of Trump’s Nominees


Part of a new president’s job is to fill a variety of jobs that require Senate confirmation. Donald Trump is no exception, but some of his nominees have been controversial and faced nearly-united opposition from Democratic senators. Many other nominees have been less controversial, and have won over votes from most of the Senate Democratic caucus. However, there is a small band of senators who are committed to opposing almost every nominee put forward by the president.


Sen. Kristen Gillibrand of New York, for instance, has voted against all of the president’s high-profile nominees except Nikki Haley to be U.N. ambassador. Every other senator voted to approve Gen. James Mattis as Secretary of Defense, but Sen. Gillibrand voted “no.”


For other nominees, Sen. Gillibrand is reliably joined by Cory Booker (New Jersey), Kamala Harris (California), and Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts). They all voted against Sonny Perdue to be Secretary of Agriculture, Elaine Duke to be Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, and Dan Coats to be Director of National Intelligence. Sen. Harris voted for Elaine Chao to be Secretary of Labor, but the others all voted “no.”


At times, other senators such as Richard Blumenthal (Connecticut), Bernie Sanders (Vermont), and Cortez Mastro (Nevada) are part of another small group of senators who reliably oppose Trump nominees. For other votes, such as the Perdue nomination or the Coats nomination, Ron Wyden of Oregon will join them.


These votes are on nominees whom the majority of other Democratic senators support. Gillibrand has justified her votes in this way: “For many of them, I found them to be either unqualified or so far outside my world view and what I think is important and my view of morality that I had to vote against them.” Other observers suspect that these votes may be a way to please the Democratic base in case the senators are looking to run for president in 2020.


What do you think? Are you glad these senators are standing up against President Trump’s nominees, even the lower-profile ones? Or do you view this as obstructionism for political purposes?


The First 100 Days of President Trump


On April 29, Donald Trump had been president for 100 days. President Franklin Roosevelt began the idea that the president should take bold action in his first 100 days in office. President Trump has said that looking at this time period is “not very meaningful,” and he has a point. There is no constitutional or legal mandate that anything be accomplished during this time. However, it does serve as a way to sum up the start of a presidential term. So what has happened during this president’s first 100 days in office?


Biggest win: the nomination and confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court


For many conservatives, filling the Supreme Court seat left empty by Antonin Scalia’s death was a big reason to vote for Donald Trump. Once he took office, Trump wasted little time in nominating Neil Gorsuch to take this seat. While Senate Democrats raised issues about the nominee, and even tried to filibuster him, Senate Republicans had enough votes to place Gorsuch on the high court.


Biggest loss: the failure of the American Health Care Act


A large part of Trump’s presidential campaign was centered on repealing the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Trump worked with congressional Republicans to craft a bill to repeal and replace parts of Obamacare. There were many on both the right and left who did not like this bill, called the American Health Care Act. Despite Senate leadership’s failure to persuade enough Republicans to support it, and after vigorous pressure from the White House, the bill was pulled from consideration and never brought before the full House of Representatives for a vote.


Left undone: the border wall, tax reform, immigration reform, renegotiating trade deals


The 100-day window is an arbitrary way of looking at a presidency, and does not give any president enough time to accomplish many significant goals. Donald Trump promised many things on the campaign trail that have yet to be accomplished or even started. He is pushing Congress to fund the border wall, but is encountering resistance from Democrats. There are preliminary talks about tax reform, but no concrete plan has emerged. The president has issued some executive orders on immigration and trade (some of which the courts have halted), but there have been no moves for a massive change in direction on either issue.


What do you think of President Trump’s first 100 days in office?


Build the Wall or Shut the Government Down?


A wall that has not even been built could have been the obstacle that may have prevented many federal employees from going to work today.


The Trump Administration’s insistence that funding for a wall on the Mexican border be included in spending legislation was seen as a potential sticking point that prevents that legislation from passing Congress. If that had happened, it will mean portions of the federal government will not have funding to operate. A partial government shutdown would have been the result.


We have been in this position before. Clashes between the executive branch and legislative branch over federal spending bills have caused government shutdowns twice in the past. Those instances occurred when the two branches were controlled by different parties. Now, however, Republicans hold both the White House and Congress.


While Republicans control Congress, Democrats are playing a key role in this situation. Any spending legislation needs 60 votes to advance in the Senate. With only 52 Republicans, Senate Majority Leader McConnell needs to attract some Democratic votes for any bill that would avert a government shutdown.


Gaining those votes is proving difficult, as Democrats resist President Trump’s desire to have funding for a border wall (or at least funding to start on a wall) included. Some Democrats point to the president’s promise that Mexico would pay for a wall, wondering why the American taxpayers should pick up the tab for this. Others oppose the wall on principle.


The federal government is at this point because Congress and President Obama did not agree on long-term spending bills prior to the start of this fiscal year on October 1. Instead, they passed short-term funding measures. These measures end on April 28. Congress must either pass legislation that funds the federal government through the end of the fiscal year, or it must pass a continuing resolution that would provide short-term funding. If these things do not happen, then “non-essential” government personnel will not be reporting to work next Monday.


What do you think that Congress and the president should do? Should disputes over a border wall hold up funding for the rest of the federal government?


What’s Next for Health Care?


In early March, Republicans in the House of Representatives released their health care legislation. Intending to live up to their promises to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare), Republican congressmen and President Trump tried to get majority support to pass the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which they said would improve America’s health care system.


Ultimately, they failed to persuade enough Republicans to get a winning margin in Congress. However, they said that reform efforts weren’t over with the failure of this bill.


It is unclear what will happen now. There are differing perspectives on this issue from conservatives and liberals. With the GOP controlling Congress, the conservative direction seems more likely to prevail if some health care bill emerges in the legislative branch. But with an election occurring next year, it is possible that Democratic wins in 2018 could produce a liberal direction on health care reform in future years.

Here are some of the options being discussed in DC now:


Conservative ideas


Replace Obamacare: This is what the AHCA tried to do. It would have repealed some of Obamacare’s provisions and then enacted new provisions that tried to meet different health care goals. With the demise of the AHCA, President Trump and members of Congress have said they are continuing to work on ideas that would approach this issue from a different direction.


Repeal Obamacare: On the surface, this option is simple – all Congress has to do is repeal the legislation passed in 2010. Then, in theory, the health care marketplace would go back to its pre-Obamacare days. However, a lot has changed in the health care world in the past seven years. Individuals and companies have taken steps to comply with the ACA. Even in the world before ACA, there was heavy government involvement in health care. Many conservatives would like to see reforms that deal with the problems they saw in 2010 with the level of government regulation at the time. Repealing the ACA will not be enough for them.


Block-grant Medicaid: Instead of a wholesale repeal and/or replacement of the ACA, some conservatives would like Congress to focus on block granting Medicaid. The Medicaid program provides health coverage for people with disabilities, the poor and the near-poor. As a joint state-federal program, some conservatives see Medicaid as an opportunity to give states an ability to experiment with different methods of providing health care. Right now, the federal government provides funds to states based on the state’s income level and enrollment. Under a block grant, states would receive a set amount of money, but in return would have more freedom to innovate.


Liberal ideas


Single-payer: Under “Medicare for All” legislation, the federal government would pay for every American’s health care. Private companies could offer supplemental insurance, but health care would largely be a government-run system.


Expanded Medicaid: Under the ACA, the federal government provides incentives for states to expand their Medicaid programs to cover people who make up to 138% of the federal poverty level. Some liberals have called on the federal government to raise that cap, which would likely lead to more states expanding Medicaid to larger groups of people.


The status quo


Until Congress passes legislation, the ACA is still the law of the land. Its provisions will continue to be in effect. The federal government will enforce the law. However, that raises some issues, since the executive branch tasked with overseeing the ACA is headed by President Trump.


The new president has two options. One would be to do all he can to make the law work efficiently. Another would be to direct federal agencies not to fix issues as they come up with the law. The second seems more likely, as the president has tweeted “ObamaCare will explode…” However, it’s unclear exactly what path the Trump Administration will take when it comes to implementing the ACA. Regardless, the ACA will exist and be operational until there is a change in federal health care law.


What do you think Congress should do about health care reform?


Trump Wants us to “Buy American, Hire American”


President Trump has signed an executive order that is aimed at increasing the hiring of U.S. workers and ensuring that government agencies buy U.S. goods. Called “Buy American, Hire American,” some people are asking what this means for the average person.


The executive order directs federal agencies to step up efforts to police abuse of a visa program that allows high-skilled foreigners to work in the U.S. The order also tasks agencies to find ways to modify this visa, called an H-1B, so it would be re-oriented to go to the most highly-skilled and most highly-paid foreign workers. That’s the “Hire American” part of the plan.


The “Buy American” aspect of Trump’s order would make some changes to federal purchasing rules so it would be more difficult for agencies to buy foreign products. There is a requirement already on the books that the federal government buy American products when possible, but waivers can be granted to get around it.


Supporters of the president’s actions say they will prioritize American workers and American businesses. Foreign workers using H-1B visas, the argument goes, take jobs from American workers. Changing the system to prioritize higher-paid foreign workers will ensure that there are more jobs for Americans to do. And strengthening the “Buy American” law already in place will stimulate U.S. companies that supply goods to the government.


Opponents of this order point out that many companies need foreign workers to compete in the global marketplace. They say this is especially true of companies that use H-1B visas, since they tend to be in the high-tech industry. Without foreign workers, the argument goes, these companies would not be able to fill the jobs they need filled. As for “Buy American,” critics contend that government should be looking for the lowest price possible for products, regardless of where they come from. Anything less is wasting taxpayer money.


What do you think? Do you support President Trump’s actions to help U.S. workers and businesses? Or will this executive order hurt high-tech companies and taxpayers?


Tax Reform May be Next on DC’s Agenda


Taxes are forefront in the minds of millions of Americans today. As you rush to file your taxes, you may be thinking that there should be an easier way. The idea of tax reform is a popular one, but the consensus breaks down over details. Reduce rates, hike taxes on the rich, simplify the code – there are numerous ideas about how the tax code could be modified.


These issues may soon be taken up by members of Congress. President Trump has said that he would like to see a tax reform bill on his desk by August. That is unlikely to happen, given the complexity of the issue and the fact that real work has yet to start. However, changes to the tax code are probably the next big thing that lawmakers in Washington will be discussing.


Here are some of the ideas being considered:


Lower tax rates: In his presidential campaign, Donald Trump was clear that he wanted tax rates cut. He sees these cuts as a way to stimulate economic growth. President Trump also campaigned on consolidating tax brackets from seven into three. The questions for Congress to work out include how low should rates be cut, should revenue losses from rate cuts be offset with higher taxes elsewhere, and what group of taxpayers should benefit from cuts?


Increasing the standard deduction: If you don’t itemize your income tax deductions, you get to deduct a portion of your income right at the start. President Trump’s campaign plan called for more than doubling this standard deduction.


Border adjustment tax: Some House Republicans have floated the idea of changing the way taxes are collected from businesses. Right now, the U.S. government collects taxes on what companies produce in the U.S. Under this proposal, the U.S. government would collect taxes from what companies sell in the U.S. That means no taxes on goods that are exported but new taxes on goods that are imported for purchase by American consumers.


Cutting payroll tax: The taxes that fund Social Security and Medicare are called payroll taxes. Unlike the income tax, these taxes aren’t progressive – that is, they don’t increase as income goes up. Some in Congress have proposed cutting these taxes as a way to lighten the tax load on lower-income workers. However, if this happens they would need to find other tax streams to pay for Social Security and Medicare.


Eliminating deductions: Removing provisions of the tax code that give breaks for certain behavior is one of the main ways to simplify the code. Eliminating these tax breaks also means more revenue, which could help offset any tax rate cuts. That is what happened during the tax code rewrite in 1986, a bipartisan effort that many hail as a good blueprint for future action. One thing being discussed is the elimination of the deduction for state and local taxes.


Cutting the corporate tax rate: Compared to other countries, the U.S. has a high corporate income tax rate. There has been bipartisan support for lowering this rate. For instance, President Obama proposed lowering it from 35% to 28%.


Given that it is early in the process, there are certain to be many other ideas for altering the tax code. It may even prove to be too contentious to achieve majority support around a single reform package, which will leave us with the current tax code in place. However, after the failure of legislation that would have repealed Obamacare, President Trump and congressional Republicans have significant motivation to score a victory on this issue.


What do you think that tax reform should include?


States Taking Action on the Minimum Wage


Unions and other liberal groups are going all-in with their “Fight for 15.” Will they be successful?


There is a nationwide push to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. The federal government sets the minimum wage at $7.25 an hour, but states can mandate higher minimum wages.


With Congress in Republican control and Donald Trump in the White House, the national minimum wage is unlikely to change. However, there is movement in the states and some cities on this issue. In some places, legislation is being considered to raise the minimum wage. In other states, however, there is legislation advancing that would prohibit local governments from taking this step.


Here are some of these state and local developments:


Arizona – In Flagstaff, the minimum wage was scheduled to increase to $12 this summer. The city council recently voted to cut that increase to $10.50.


Iowa – In response to some Iowa towns mandating minimum wages above the state level, legislators passed a bill that would prevent local governments from doing this. Governor Terry Branstad signed this bill into law in late March.


Maine – State voters approved a ballot measure in 2016 to increase the minimum wage. Legislators are considering bills that would limit the impact of this increase. One would stop automatic minimum wage increases as the inflation rate goes up. Another would allow employers to pay students and minors less than the minimum wage.


Maryland – In Baltimore, the city council voted to increase the city’s minimum wage to $15. The mayor vetoed the legislation because of concerns over how it would impact city businesses.


Missouri – Legislators are considering a bill that would ban local governments from having a higher minimum wage than the state rate.


Nevada – There were dueling minimum wage increase bills in the Nevada legislature this year. One would have raised the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022, while another would have increased it to $11 an hour. Neither bill passed.


New Hampshire – In late March, state senators voted along party lines to kill a bill that would have raised the state’s minimum wage to $12 an hour by September 2018.


North Carolina – Senate Democrats introduced legislation to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15. The bill is unlikely to be successful in the Republican-dominated legislature.


Do you support increasing the minimum wage? Or do you think it’s a good idea to keep the minimum wage at its current level?


Iowa’s Rightward Turn


In the 2016 election, Iowa voters gave control of the state Senate to Republicans. Voters also increased the GOP’s governing margin in the state House of Representatives. This legislative control, coupled with a Republican governor, has meant that the 2017 legislative session is notably more conservative than in past years.


This shift in Iowa government can be seen when looking at some of the notable conservative legislation passed by one or both chambers so far this year:


House Bill 516 -- To require voters to present an ID: Passed 59 to 40 in the House and 26 to 21 in the Senate

To require voters to present an ID before receiving a ballot, and to require the state to give a voter registration card free of charge to those who do not have one of the forms of ID stated in the law. It also prohibits straight-party voting.


Senate Bill 471 – To ban abortions after 20 weeks: Passed 32 to 17 in the Senate and 55 to 42 in the House

To declare that anyone who terminates a pregnancy 20 weeks or later after fertilization is guilty of a felony. The act establishes some exceptions for preserving the life or health of the pregnant woman, or when the fetus has "an irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function."


House Bill 295 -- To prohibit counties and cities from creating their own minimum-wage laws: Passed 56 to 41 in the House and 29 to 21 in the Senate

To prohibit local governments from setting their own laws on the minimum wage and other matters concerning employment, and to pre-empt existing minimum-wage laws in counties. The bill also prohibits local governments from banning plastic bags.


Senate Bill 43 -- To prohibit state or local governments from requiring "project labor agreements" on public works: Passed 26 to 21 in the Senate

To prohibit government managers from requiring "project labor agreements" on taxpayer-funded construction projects. In effect, such agreements require union labor.


House Bill 517 -- To make several changes to state laws on gun ownership and use, including putting in a "stand your ground" standard: Passed 58 to 39 in the House and 33 to 17 in the Senate

To make a number of changes to state law on gun ownership, including putting in place a "stand your ground" provision and letting citizens sue local governments for enacting gun-free zones.


House Bill 242 – To remove a line on the state income tax form that funds Iowa political parties: Passed 65 to 34 in the House

To remove a line from the state's income tax forms that lets taxpayers direct a portion of their state tax to Iowa political parties.


House Bill 291 -- To limit collective bargaining for unionized government workers and require ongoing recertification of unions: Passed 53 to 47 in the House and 29 to 21 in the Senate

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.


Senate Bill 2 – To end taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood: Passed 30 to 20 in the Senate

To direct the state health department to not spend Medicaid money on organizations that perform abortions, and to set up a new state program to give family planning services. This is known in the press as the "defund Planned Parenthood" bill.


House Bill 542 – To increase work requirement for drawing unemployment again: Passed 58 to 39 in the House and 29 to 21 in the Senate

To increase the work requirement seeking a second (or later) claim for unemployment insurance. Currently, a person who receives unemployment pay must earn $250 before filing for unemployment again. The bill increases that requirement to 8 times the amount the person received in a weekly unemployment check.


What do you think of these bills? Are you happy with the conservative direction that legislators are taking? Or do you think they are moving too far to the right?


McAuliffe’s Vetoes Stick in Virginia


Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has vetoed more bills than any other governor in the commonwealth’s history. Remarkably, none of these vetoes have been overridden by legislators. That record still stands after a recent veto-override session of the General Assembly.

Legislators met on April 5 to vote on overriding Gov. McAuliffe’s vetoes of bills that emerged from the General Assembly this year. In the Senate, 27 votes are needed to override a veto. Republicans have a 21-19 edge in that chamber, so 6 Democrats would have to join the GOP in any override vote. In the House, legislators need 67 votes to override a veto. With a 66 to 34 edge in that chamber, it is easier for Republicans to peel off a Democratic vote to be successful. However, the House was unable to muster a 67-vote majority to override any bill this session.


Here are some of the bills vetoed by Gov. McAuliffe this year which are now officially dead after override efforts failed:


HB 1400, Allow students to take online schooling: Passed 57 to 40 in the House on February 7 and 22 to 18 in the Senate on February 21

To establish the Virginia Virtual School, which will serve up to 5,000 Virginia student. This online education must meet state standards and will be available beginning 2019.


House Bill 1468, Mandate cooperation with federal immigration authorities: Passed 68 to 31 in the House on January 25 and 21 to 19 in the Senate on February 13

To mandate that corrections officials and sheriffs comply with request from the federal government to turn over an incarcerated alien to them.


House Bill 2002, Mandate reporting of refugee or immigrant resettlement: Passed 59 to 36 in the House on February 3 and 21 to 19 in the Senate on February 14

To mandate that nonprofits resettlement agencies for immigrants or refugees make an annual report to the state of the number of individuals resettled, the demographic information of those resettled, and the locality where they were resettled.


Senate Bill 1362, Allow nonduty military personnel to carry concealed weapons: Passed 22 to 18 in the Senate on January 24 and 67 to 32 in the House on February 22

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


Senate Bill 872, Require photo ID for absentee ballots: Passed 20 to 19 in the Senate on January 30 and 60 to 38 in the House on February 14

To require that anyone requesting an absentee ballot by mail to include a copy of his or her photo ID with the request. When the voter submits the completed ballot, he or she must also submit a copy of his or her photo ID. Exempt from this requirement are military and overseas voters as well as voters with disabilities.


Senate Bill 1455, Criminalize payments for registering to vote: Passed 21 to 19 in the Senate on January 30 and 60 to 29 in the House on February 14

To make it a felony to offer a payment to someone in exchange for that person registering to vote.


Senate Bill 1299, Allow concealed carry with protective order: Passed 27 to 13 in the Senate on January 24 and 66 to 32 in the House on February 14

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.



Do you think that legislators should have overridden his vetoes of some of these bills? Or are you happy that legislators sustained the governor’s vetoes?


Partisanship in Judicial Elections

Is it important for voters to know whether a judge is a Democrat or a Republican?

That is the question at the heart of the debate over whether judicial elections should be partisan.


The U.S. is a two-party system. With only rare exceptions, we elect people to the presidency, Congress, governorship, and legislatures from either the Republican or Democratic parties. These party labels are useful because they tell us something about the ideology of a candidate. Voters use party identification as shorthand to help them make up their minds about whom to vote for.


In judicial races, however, most states do not have partisan elections. According to Ballotpedia, there are seven states that have partisan races for state supreme court seats. Nine states have partisan elections for appellate court judges and twenty have partisan elections for trial court judges.


This issue has recently come up in North Carolina. Superior and district court elections were partisan in that state until 1996 and 2001, respectively. This year, Republican legislators passed a bill to once again make them partisan. Democratic Governor Roy Cooper vetoed the bill, but legislators overrode the veto. During a special session in late 2016, legislators passed a bill that made the state’s supreme court elections partisan. Then-governor Pat McCrory signed that bill into law. North Carolina supreme court candidates ran with party labels prior to the 2004 election.


Proponents of partisan judicial elections say that these party labels are needed so voters know the ideology of the judges they are electing. After all, the reasoning goes, these judges decide matters of great importance to the state, so voters should have as much information as possible to indicate how they may rule.


Opponents of partisan elections contend that judges have a different role to play than politicians. Judges interpret the law, not make it, so they should not be bringing partisan considerations into their role.


What do you think? Should judges run with party labels? Or do party politics have no role to play in judicial elections?


Neil Gorsuch’s Road to the Supreme Court


After enduring a barrage of questions from senators on the Judiciary Committee, Judge Neil Gorsuch has a clear path to take his seat on the Supreme Court. However, Senate Republicans may have to change Senate rules to get him there.


The Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on Gorsuch’s nomination today, April 3. The committee, controlled by Republicans, is almost certain to approve him. That means his nomination will move to the full Senate for consideration.


Some Senate Democrats have said they will filibuster the nomination. To overcome a filibuster, Republicans must prevail on what is called a cloture vote. Such a vote requires 60 senators. There are only 52 Republican senators. But there is a way to overcome that 60-vote threshold.


Republicans faced with a filibuster can change the Senate rules to eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees. Senator Harry Reid, a Democrat who was then majority leader, did this for lower court nominees facing Republican filibusters in 2013. It is a big step to change Senate rules in this way, however, and many senators are uncomfortable with doing so.


Both Republicans and Democrats have an interest in preserving the filibuster. Republicans may be in the majority today, but that could end with the 2018 election. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has always been a strong supporter of retaining the filibuster to protect the minority party. The Democrats’ interest in retaining the filibuster is more obvious, since they are in the minority today. Preserving it for future Supreme Court nominees could be useful for them if President Trump names someone to the court in the future who is less distinguished than Gorsuch. In a case like that, moderate Republicans could join Democrats in using the filibuster to stop that nominee. With three GOP defections, there would be no chance to end Senate rules in this scenario.


Facing the serious implication of changing Senate rules, some Senate Democrats may not support the filibuster of Gorsuch. They can support moving to end debate on Gorsuch’s nomination but still vote against him being placed on the Supreme Court. That would preserve the ability to filibuster future Supreme Court nominees


Democrats are facing pressure from their base to do everything possible to stop this nomination, however. If they don’t filibuster, they could be accused of being too soft on what many see as a “stolen” Supreme Court seat that should have been filled by Barack Obama. If more than 40 Democrats decide to filibuster, however, Republicans are likely to change the Senate rules like Harry Reid did in 2013. Even though many have expressed reservations with doing this, Republicans have a greater interest in putting Gorsuch on the court than preserving a Senate tradition.


Either way, it appears that Neil Gorsuch will be taking his place on the Supreme Court. The only unknown is if Republicans will end the ability to filibuster Supreme Court nominees to get him there.


States Taking Different Directions on Sanctuary Cities


How should states and cities deal with illegal immigrants?

President Donald Trump has taken a variety of actions on immigration at the federal level. Lawmakers in the states are pondering what they can do on this issue, too. Some cities have declared that they are “sanctuary cities” in an attempt to blunt federal immigration efforts. Legislators in some states are working to counteract these efforts. In other areas, legislators want to see their entire state embrace a sanctuary policy.


The federal government controls immigration. Federal law determines who can enter this country and who cannot. There is a federal agency, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), that enforces immigration law. There is a longstanding U.S. legal doctrine that forbids the federal government from commandeering state resources to enforce federal laws. This was confirmed by a 1997 Supreme Court decision that overturned a federal law mandating that sheriffs perform background checks for gun purchases.


States and cities do not make immigration law, and the federal government cannot compel these law enforcement agencies to do so. City, county, and state law enforcement can cooperate with the federal government on immigration issues in many ways, however, such as informing ICE of detainees’ immigration status or turning over immigrants to ICE upon request.


In sanctuary cities, lawmakers have said that local law enforcement will not cooperate with the federal government’s immigration enforcement. ICE is still free to operate in the city, but if an illegal immigrant is in the city jail, for instance, the city will not inform ICE.


Cities that have sanctuary policies are not breaking federal law. However, these policies have earned the ire of some state legislators. State governments are ultimately in charge of the extent of cities’ lawmaking jurisdiction. In general, if the state mandates cooperation with the federal government, then cities must comply. Or if state governments refuse to provide funds to cities that do not cooperate with ICE, then cities face a fiscal penalty for their policies.


States where legislators are considering bills to prohibit or punish cities refusing to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement include Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Virginia.


Other states are moving in the opposite direction. Legislators in California and Maryland are considering bills that would prohibit state and local law enforcement officers from cooperating with federal immigration authorities. These bills would take sanctuary city policies and mandate them on a state level.


Do you support sanctuary cities (or sanctuary states)? Or should cities work with the federal government on immigration issues?


The Arcane World of Senate Rules


Filibuster. Cloture. Table. Civility.


The world of the U.S. Senate is one that may seem somewhat strange to outsiders. A variety of rules and norms operate in the upper body of the legislative branch. Most of the time the general public doesn’t pay attention to them. But sometimes an action happens on the Senate floor that causes people to notice. If you want to keep an eye on what your state’s senators are doing in Washington, then it may be good to become acquainted with how this body works.


Unlike the House of Representatives that operates more or less under majority rule, the Senate uses rules that are designed to give single members significant power to stop or delay many actions. However, these rules can be suspended under certain circumstances. To do this requires unanimous consent by the members, which is how many things get done in the Senate. However, if one member objects to suspending the rules, then the Senate must follow the process laid down for completing that specific matter.


Much of the business of the Senate is uncontroversial and is done under unanimous consent. However, when there is controversy, then senators invoke Senate rules in an attempt to stop passage of measures with which they disagree. One of the most common tactics under the rule to do this is the filibuster. The Senate rules allow for unlimited debate on a measure. If a senator or group of senators disagrees with a bill or a nomination, they can attempt to talk for as long as possible to stop it. That is a filibuster. Another senator can invoke cloture to stop a filibuster, which requires the approval of 60 senators.


The filibuster used to be relatively rare in the Senate. Today, its use has increased to an extent that senators threaten a filibuster over any item where there is disagreement. In 2013, Senator Harry Reid, who was the Democratic Majority Leader, engineered a change in Senate rules to end the ability to filibuster judicial nominees for positions below the Supreme Court. Some senators have indicated a willingness to filibuster the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. If that filibuster cannot be broken with the 60-vote threshold, it is likely that Mitch McConnell, who is currently the Republican Majority Leader, would follow in Reid’s footsteps and eliminate the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations.


At times, senators will vote not on whether to pass a bill, but to lay a bill or resolution on the table to delay its consideration (to “table it”). Technically, anything tabled can be brought up for consideration again (or taken off the table, in parliamentary terms). However, most of the time a vote to table a measure is a vote to kill it. Last year, for instance, the Senate held a vote to table Senate Joint Resolution 39. This resolution expressed disapproval over selling military equipment to Saudi Arabia. The vote to table it was a vote to kill it, so the vote was effectively a vote to support the sale of military equipment to Saudi Arabia.


The Senate also has rules about how members should act during debates and floor action. There are also norms of civility in the Senate, which is why you may hear senators referring to someone with whom they are debating as “my good friend” or the “honorable gentleman.” A notable example of this aspect of Senate behavior coming under public scrutiny was when Senator McConnell invoked Rule 19 to prevent Senator Elizabeth Warren from continuing a speech about Senator Jeff Sessions. That rule specifies that one senator may not disparage another. Senator Warren appealed the ruling of the chair. In cases like this, the majority of the Senate can decide whether the chair was right. On a party-line vote, the Senate did uphold the decision that Senator Warren broke Rule 19.


The Senate is a deliberative body that prides itself on giving significant power to individual members and to having a strict code of civility. Some see the Senate’s rules and traditions as making it the “world’s greatest deliberative body.” Others view them as byzantine procedures that frustrate the will of the majority. What do you think about how the Senate operates?


Do Soda Taxes Hurt or Help Consumers?


Philadelphia rang in the new year with a tax on soda and other drinks. With city residents living under this tax for three months, we can begin to see its impact. Some observers are happy with the changes it has brought to consumer behavior, but others are calling for an end to the soda tax.


One effect is clear: beverage sales are down. This makes sense, of course. Generally, if the price of a product goes up, sales decrease. Public health experts are no fans of sugar-sweetened drinks, so this could have a positive impact on health. However, some experts question whether the Philadelphia tax is written in a way that will have a significant impact, since it taxes drink volume (not sugar content) and also covers sugar-free and zero-calorie drinks.


The economics of the tax may be as unclear as its health effects. What is apparent is drink companies and other businesses are reporting a negative fallout from the tax:


  • Pepsi has stopped selling 2-liter bottles and 12-packs in the city. Pepsi also laid off 80 to 100 workers at a local distribution plant.
  • Temple University increased the price of its meal plan by almost 5%.
  • Canada Dry distributor announced it would cut its workforce by 20%.
  • A grocery chain said it would lay off 300 workers.


What do you think about soda taxes? Should government target these drinks to improve public health? Or should consumers (and workers) not be penalized for choosing certain drinks over others?


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