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Ohio House Bill 89: Use Medicaid Funding for Individualized Education Programs


Check out this key bill recently passed by elected officials in Ohio, and go to to signup and see how your legislators voted.


House Bill 89, Use Medicaid funding for individualized education programs: Passed 31 to 1 in the state Senate on December 7, 2016


To classify service providers in school individualized education programs as "a licensed practitioner of the healing arts" in order to get federal reimbursement for student educational assistance.


Missouri House Bill 91: Adopt a "Right to Work" Law


Check out this key bill recently passed by elected officials in Missouri, and go to to signup and see how your legislators voted.


House Bill 91, Adopt a "right to work" law: Passed 100 to 59 in the state House on January 16, 2017


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


Homeschooling Legislation Advancing in the States


Once strictly regulated or even banned in most states, homeschooling now encompasses 3% of the U.S. student population. Individual states have authority over the laws and rules governing homeschooling. That means that every year during state legislative sessions, there are efforts to change these laws in ways both big and small.


Here are some of the bills being considered this year that could affect homeschooling:


“Tebow Bill”: Tim Tebow was a top player in the NFL who was allowed to play football at a public high school while he was being homeschooled. Tebow grew up in Florida, but not all states allow homeschoolers to play sports or participate in other school activities with public school students. This year legislators in Virginia, West Virginia, and Texas are considering bills that would allow them to do this. Virginia legislators passed a similar bill last year, but Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed it.


Registration with local districts: In 2013, Iowa ended the requirement that homeschooling parents register with their local school districts. But In 2016, two homeschooled students within the state suffered abuse and died at the hands of their parents. Some Iowa legislators are now pushing to require parents who homeschool to once again register with the government, and for local school districts to make home visits every four months.


Shift rule-making authority: In New Hampshire, a homeschooling legislator plans to introduce legislation that would remove the authority of the state board of education to set rules about homeschooling. Instead, this authority would move to the state legislature.


Constitutional protection: Homeschooling is legal in Texas, but one state legislator wants to ensure that it has a higher level of protection. Rep. Mark Keough has introduced a measure that would add parents’ right to homeschool their children to the state constitution.


What do you think about homeschooling? Should parents have significant freedom to teach their children at home? Or should the state have regulations in place to govern how students are taught at home?


The Road Ahead for Neil Gorsuch


President Trump has nominated Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. What lies ahead on Gorsuch’s path to sit on the high court?

To become the ninth justice, Gorsuch must be confirmed by the Senate. Traditionally, nominees take weeks meeting individually with any senator who requests a meeting. After that, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings.


Judiciary Committee hearings have become “must see TV” for political junkies over the past few decades. This is a chance for senators to ask questions about a judge’s past rulings, his or her judicial philosophy, and anything else that a senator desires. A nominee may or may not answer these questions directly. For instance, it is a general practice for nominees to refuse to answer any questions about how he or she will rule on certain issues.

The committee hearings may last weeks. Once this step is completed, the committee will then vote on the nominee. A favorable vote will send that nominee to the full Senate floor. As has been the case with many recent nominees, we can probably expect that there will be something of a partisan divide when the Judiciary Committee votes. It is likely that every Republican will vote in favor of Gorsuch. Many, perhaps the majority, of Democratic committee members are likely to oppose him.


The real political drama will begin when the full Senate considers Gorsuch’s nomination. Currently, Senate rules allow a minority of senators to filibuster (or debate without a time limit) a Supreme Court nominee. The only way to stop this debate and proceed to a vote on the nominee is a successful cloture vote, which takes 60 senators to approve. Prior to 2013, senators could filibuster any judicial nominee. Harry Reid, who was the Democratic majority leader at the time, ended that practice.


Some Democratic senators have already indicated that they intend to filibuster Gorsuch’s nomination. One of their main complaints is that the Republican majority did not even schedule a committee hearing when President Obama nominated Merrick Garland for this position last year. They contend that the seat is “stolen” and should not be filled by President Trump. An actual filibuster attempt against a Supreme Court nominee has rarely been attempted, however.


If 40 of these senators engage in a filibuster, then Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader, could engineer a change in Senate rules to eliminate the filibuster option for Supreme Court nominees. Sen. McConnell has long been wary of changing Senate rules, and he has defended the filibuster in the past. But in the face of a filibuster over Gorsuch, he may expand on the precedent set by Harry Reid in 2013.


Some Senate Democrats are also wary of ending the filibuster. There are likely to be some senators who will vote against Gorsuch but who will not support a filibuster. In that instance, we would see at least 60 votes to end debate on the Gorsuch nomination, but fewer votes to approve Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Given that there are 52 Republicans in the Senate, approval of Gorsuch is almost assured. The real question is how many Democrats will join the Republicans in voting for him.


Do you think that Senate Democrats should filibuster Gorsuch’s nomination?


Reactions to Supreme Couty Nominee Neil Gorsuch Split Along Party Lines


On Tuesday, President Trump nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.


As may be expected in these polarized times, reactions to Gorsuch largely fell along partisan lines. Republicans and conservatives praised him, while Democrats and liberals attacked him.


Senator Mike Lee of Utah said that Gorsuch is “a prepared, thoughtful, and careful jurist, who has demonstrated a strong commitment to textualism and originalism.” Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky said, “Judge Gorsuch is a worthy successor to Justice Scalia, a committed originalist and a strong defender of religious liberty and states’ rights.” According to Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, “Gorsuch is a highly-regarded jurist with a record of distinguished service, rooted in respect for the law.”


Mark Joseph Stern at Slate wrote, “Gorsuch’s credentials are impeccable. His writing is superb, incisive, witty, and accessible in the style of Scalia and Justice Elena Kagan. In speeches and oral arguments, he comes across as thoughtful and fair-minded.”


Others hold a different view of Gorsuch. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi accused Gorsuch of being “hostile to women’s rights,” and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York said that Gorsuch favored “corporations over workers.”


Senate Democrats expressed a varying range of opinions on Gorsuch, and on what should happen to his nomination. Some, like Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Ron Wyden of Oregon, said outright that they would not support him.


Others expressed dismay at the process, contending that this nomination is flawed because last year Senate Republican’s refused to consider former President Obama’s nomination, Merrick Garland. “This is a stolen seat being filled by an illegitimate and extreme nominee, and I will do everything in my power to stand up against this assault on the Court,” said Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon


Taken together, it seems Senate Democrats may be poised to filibuster Gorsuch’s nomination, which, if successful, would require a supermajority to overcome en route to Gorsuch’s confirmation. Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island contends that this is reasonable because “all of President Obama’s Supreme Court nominees cleared a sixty vote threshold and President Trump’s nominee should adhere to the same standard.”


Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may also engineer a rule change eliminating the ability to filibuster Supreme Court nominations, thereby lowering the votes required for confirmation to a simple majority.   (This would be similar to the rule change then-Majority Leader Harry Reid engineered in 2013 for lower court nominations).


The next few weeks should give us a better idea about how the Senate will proceed on the Gorsuch nomination.


Do you think Gorsuch is qualified to fill the empty seat on the Supreme Court?


Trump Nominates Neil Gorsuch to Supreme Court


Today President Donald Trump nominated federal judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the vacant seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. A Colorado native, Judge Gorsuch currently serves on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. President George W. Bush appointed him to that position in 2006.


If approved, Gorsuch will fill the Supreme Court seat vacated by the death of Antonin Scalia early last year. President Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to fill that seat, but the Republican majority in the Senate refused to give Garland a committee hearing, much less a vote on the Senate floor. Since then, the Supreme Court has been operating with eight members.


Garland’s nomination expired with the end of the previous session of Congress, giving President Trump an opportunity to name his own nominee for the seat. 


Gorsuch will spend the next few weeks meeting with individual senators ahead of his hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Once recommended by the Senate Judiciary Committee, a vote by the full Senate will follow.


The fifty-two Senate Republicans have the simple majority needed to confirm Gorsuch, but Senate Democrats have signaled that they will filibuster the nominee. A successful filibuster would require a supermajority of sixty votes to end debate and force a final vote. If Democrats go this route, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could pursue the “nuclear option” and move to end the ability to filibuster Supreme Court nominees. In 2013, then-Majority Leader Harry Reid did something similar by ending the ability to filibuster lower court nominees.


All eyes are now on the Senators Chuck Grassley and Dianne Feinstein, the chair and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. They and the eighteen other committee members will be the first to provide ‘advice and consent’ on President Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.


"Constitutional Carry" Reform



Across most of the U.S., you must obtain a permit from the state if you want to carry a concealed firearm. But in an increasing number of states, people who are legally allowed to carry a concealed firearm can do so without a permit.


This practice of permitless carry is sometimes called “constitutional carry” by its proponents. Currently, eleven states have some form of this law. After this year’s legislative session, that number may grow.


Here are some of the state’s considering “constitutional carry” bills:


Indiana: Four Indiana legislators introduced a bill that would make Indiana a “constitutional carry” state.


Minnesota: Legislators will consider a bill this session that would end the requirement for a state permit to carry concealed firearms.


New Hampshire: the state senate has already passed a bill that would end the state’s concealed carry permit requirement. Governor Chris Sununu would likely sign such legislation.


North Dakota: A bill has been introduced in the state House of Representatives that would make North Dakota’s concealed carry permit optional.


Tennessee: Legislators will be considering a bill that would legalize openly carrying a firearm. Concealed carry would still require a permit.


Texas: A legislator in Texas has introduced a bill to allow permitless concealed carry. This would build on bills passed in recent legislative sessions that allowed concealed carry on college campuses and permitless open carry.


Utah: In 2013, Utah’s governor vetoed legislation that would have allowed concealed carry without a permit. Legislators will consider a bill this year that is similar to the 2013 legislation.


Do you think that states should require permits for anyone who wants to carry a concealed firearm?


Congress Laying Groundwork for President Trump



In early January, members of Congress returned to Washington with an aggressive legislative agenda. Even though Barack Obama was still president during the first few weeks of the month, representatives and senators were busy passing laws that reflect the priorities of the incoming president, Donald Trump.


President Obama would have likely vetoed many, if not all, of the bills passed by Congress during this time. However, President Trump is almost certain to welcome them if they make it through both houses of Congress. These bills lay the foundation for presidential action during Trump’s first 100 days in office.


Here are some of the things that Congress has done so far:


Cleared the way for General Mattis to be Secretary of Defense: federal law prohibits anyone who has served in the military during the past 7 years from being Secretary of Defense. This prohibition would have disqualified Trump’s pick for Defense Secretary, General James Mattis. Both the House and Senate passed a bill that essentially waives this requirement for Gen. Mattis.


Set budget rules for Obamacare repeal: President Trump has made no secret of his desire to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. The Senate rejected a series of amendments to its budget resolution that would have prevented that body from considering repeal legislation. These amendments were designed to highlight what Democrats consider problems with repealing the law, such as cutting Medicaid or ending the mandate for contraceptive coverage. When the Senate passed its budget bill, it set in motion a process that will allow certain repeal legislation to proceed with a majority vote. That will prevent Democrats from using a filibuster to stop such bills.


Revamped regulatory process: it has been a regular practice for presidents to propose a large number of regulatory changes during their final weeks in office. President Obama has been no exception, and his proposed regulations have drawn the ire of Congress. To end the “last minute” regulatory push by lame duck presidents, the House of Representatives passed legislation that would allow Congress to reject these rules as a whole. Current law allows Congress to reject rules one-by-one, but this is a time consuming process. The House also passed a bill that would require Congressional approval of regulations that would have an economic impact of $100 million or more. Another bill passed by the House would require the issuance of less-costly regulations, make it easier for judges to overturn new rules, and prevent large regulations from taking effect until court actions against them are completed.


What do you think should be the legislative priorities of President Trump and Congress?


Right-to-Work Laws Likely to Expand in 2017

While there wasn’t much attention paid to labor issues in the 2016 race, voters in a handful of states decided contests that could have a big impact on union membership.


These measures mainly involved right-to-work statutes, which ban contracts that force workers to pay labor organizations for representation. Two states voted on placing right-to-work provisions in their state constitutions. Alabama voters approved their state’s measure by 70%, while 54% of Virginia voters rejected their state ballot question (Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who had expresses support for right-to-work previously, campaigned against the measure). With both Alabama and Virginia already states that have right-to-work legislation on the books, the success or failure of these measures do not change anything for workers. The move to put them in the state constitution was simply an effort to give right-to-work a stronger status as state law.


South Dakota voters also faced a ballot measure that was related to union membership. Eighty percent of the state’s voters rejected Measure 23, which would have allowed unions to charge non-union workers a fee for representation.


These ballot measures were not the only election results that affected right-to-work laws. Because of changes in which party controls the governorship or state legislature, three states could enact right-to-work laws in 2017:


Kentucky – prior to the 2016 election, Kentucky’s governor and state senate supported right-to-work legislation. The state’s voters gave Republicans control of the other chamber of the state legislature, so that means it is likely that Kentucky will see a successful push to enact a right-to-work law in 2017.


Missouri – legislators in Missouri have passed right-to-work legislation, but Governor Jay Nixon vetoed it. With the election of Republican Eric Greitens, however, there is a clear path to enacting right-to-work in 2017.


New Hampshire – similar to Missouri, legislative attempts to enact right-to-work in New Hampshire have been blocked in recent years by a Democratic governor. The state’s voters chose Republican Chris Sununu to be governor in 2017, however, which means likely success for a right-to-work bill.


Do you think that these states should enact right-to-work laws?

Gun Control in the States

Gun rights or gun safety?


This is the question facing many lawmakers in states across the U.S. While Congress considered and failed to enact any gun control legislation in 2015 or 2016, state legislators have faced a variety of measures relating to gun regulation. In some states, we’ve seen stricter controls put on gun ownership or use. In other states, however, lawmakers have relaxed restrictions.


Stricter gun control laws


California legislators led the way in enacting new gun control laws in 2016, passing 12 bills that imposed new restrictions. Governor Jerry Brown signed most of them, such as a bill to require background checks for ammunition purchases, one banning guns with magazine locking devices, and one that prohibits temporary firearm loans to anyone but family members. Governor Brown vetoed bills that would have regulated unfinished firearm frames and that would have required the mandatory reporting of a lost or stolen firearm within 48 hours.


Connecticut passed legislation that would prohibit those who have a temporary restraining order filed against them from possessing firearms.


Voters weighed in on gun control laws in the 2016 election, too. In California, they continued the trend started by legislators by approving a ballot measure that requires a permit to buy ammunition, bans the possession of large-capacity magazines, and advances the effective date of a state law that prohibits buying ammunition out-of-state, among other things. Washington voters approved a referendum that allows courts to issue “extreme risk protection orders,” which allows guns to be taken from someone deemed to be a significant danger to himself or others. Nevada voters supported a ballot initiative that would require anyone who sells or transfers a firearm do so through a licensed dealer who must run a background check, while Maine voters rejected a similar measure.


Removing restrictions on guns


In states that are controlled by Republicans, gun legislation generally involves loosening rules on ownership or carrying.


For instance, Tennessee lawmakers passed bills allowing both concealed and open carry of firearms on college campuses, which the governor allowed to become law. Georgia legislators also passed a bill allowing the carrying of concealed firearms on college campuses, but Governor Nathan Deal vetoed it.


There were unique dynamics in the debate over gun laws in Virginia this year. In December 2015, Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring announced that the state would no longer recognize concealed carry permits issued by many other states. This prompted a backlash in the Republican legislature. Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe worked with legislators in 2016 and agreed to sign a bill that enshrines right-to-carry reciprocity in state law. In return, legislators passed bills favored by the governor that make it more difficult for domestic abusers to possess firearms and that station state police agents at gun shows to provide voluntary background checks.


Virginia legislators also passed a bill that would have allowed state workers to keep firearms in their cars and one that overturned the governor’s ban on firearms in state buildings. Both of these bills were vetoed by Governor McAuliffe.


In 2015 and 2016, four states (Kansas, West Virginia, Idaho, and Mississippi) passed laws allowing the carrying of concealed firearms without a permit. Other states have considered similar legislation. For instance, Virginia senators deadlocked 20 to 20 in a 2016 vote for a similar law in that state. Both houses of the Montana legislation voted in 2015 to allow concealed carry without a permit in that state’s cities and towns (it is already legal in outside of city limits), but Governor Brian Schweitzer vetoed it. New Hampshire’s governor also vetoed permit-less concealed carry legislation in 2015.


The Voters Speak: State Ballot Initiatives

Although laws differ across the country, voters in many states can have a direct say in governing through initiatives and referendums. According to the Initiative and Referendum Institute, voters in 34 states had their say on 157 ballot propositions. 

Here are some of the issues that voters decided in this way on Tuesday:



  • Alabama puts right-to-work in the state constitution. Virginia voters rejected the idea of putting it in their state’s constitution. 
  • Higher minimum wage: Arizona; Colorado; Washington enacted increases to their minimum wage requirements on businesses.



  • Go ahead, buy your full-strength beer at the supermarket: Oklahoma will let people buy full-strength beer at grocery stores and convenience stores on Sundays.
  • Wanna bet? New Jersey rejects letting casinos expand beyond Atlantic City. Massachusetts rejects putting slots at a race track. Rhode Island will now allow a casino in the town of Tiverton.
  • Cigarette taxes, yes and no: Voters in California, Colorado, Missouri, and North Dakota considered tobacco or cigarette tax increases. Only in California did a tax increase pass.



  • Politician pay raises: The pay of legislators in Minnesota will no longer be decided by legislators themselves. Instead, it will go to an independent committee.
  • Statewide ranked-choice voting: Maine enacts a new method of casting and counting ballots, which is used in some cities nationwide.
  • Voter ID required: Missouri will require people show a photo ID when voting.
  • Primaries open to all: Colorado allows people to vote in a party’s primary election without declaring a party affiliation.
  • Limits on campaign spending: Missouri and South Dakota will limit how much money people can contribute to state races; Washington approves a system of taxpayer funding on campaigns.
  • Keep partisan primaries: South Dakota rejected a measure to ban party affiliations in primary elections and replace it with a system under which the top two vote-getters in the primary appear on the general election ballot.



  • No to more charter schools: Massachusetts voters rejected a measure to expand charter schools.
  • No to state control of schools: Georgia voters said ”no” to a measure that would have allowed the state to take over under-performing public schools.



  • No to single-payer in one state: Colorado voters rejected a 10 percent payroll tax to fund a state-run health care system.
  • Doctor-assisted, on my own terms death: Colorado will let people who have a diagnosis of six months to live get a prescription for fatal doses of medication.



  • Capital punishment: Voters in Oklahoma say that capital punishment is not “cruel and unusual punishment,” and instructed the state to come up with a new means of execution of the existing ones are ruled impermissible by courts.
  • Voters in California rejected a ballot measure that would have repealed the death penalty, while narrowly approving a measure that would speed up the death penalty appeals process.  And Nebraskans overturned a state law that repealed the death penalty.


  • No to carbon taxes: Washington voters rejected a carbon tax that would have imposed a $100 per-ton carbon tax.


Abortion Restrictions Advancing in the States

The issue of abortion is one that has been prominent in the American political debate for over four decades. At the national level, there is often a lot of talk about abortion, but there is generally little legislative action on it. On the state level, however, we have seen a lot of measures to impose new restrictions on abortion.


Here are some of the most prominent abortion legislative trends in states:


Defund Planned Parenthood


In light of undercover videos taken of Planned Parenthood executives discussing the sale of fetal tissue, legislators have moved to cut off state funding for this organization. There have been bills in Ohio and Wisconsin that would end state funding for organizations that provide abortions or make referrals to organizations that provide abortions. Virginia legislators passed a bill that would have banned state funding for abortions and for organizations that provide abortions. Governor Terry McAuliffe vetoed this legislation. These bills would generally only affect Planned Parenthood.


Related to the Planned Parenthood videos, North Carolina legislators passed legislation to ban the sale of parts from aborted fetuses.


There was legislation in Congress to launch an investigation into Planned Parenthood, and 12 states launched similar investigations.


Ban certain types of abortions


While the Supreme Court has held that states cannot enact blanket abortion bans, it is legal for states to ban certain types of abortions. Alabama, Mississippi, and West Virginia have enacted legislation to ban abortions that involve dismembering the fetus. In Pennsylvania, for instance, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would ban dismemberment abortions after 20 weeks. There were efforts in 13 other states this year to pass a ban on these types of abortions.


While of dubious constitutionality, 9 states considered legislation that would effectively ban abortion. Only in one state, Oklahoma, did such a ban pass the legislature, but the governor vetoed the bill.


Ban abortions after a certain time period


In South Dakota and South Carolina, lawmakers this year banned abortions after twenty weeks. Legislators in Ohio and Wisconsin considered similar bills. There are 17 states that now have this type of abortion ban on the books. Legislators in Ohio also considered a bill that would ban abortion if the fetus has a detectable heartbeat.


Abortion center safety


Twenty-six states had enacted rules on abortion clinics that imposed new rules on their operations, such as requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at hospitals or mandating that abortion clinics meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers.  The Supreme Court invalidated these restrictions in June, however, in the case of Whole Women’s Health vs. Hellerstedt.


In 2017, we are likely to see further moves in state legislatures controlled by Republicans to place new restrictions on abortion. Depending on what happens with the Supreme Court vacancy caused by the death of Antonin Scalia, we may also see rulings in future years that will overturn such restrictions. It’s safe to say that abortion will continue to be a controversial issue in state legislatures for decades to come.


Right to Work in the States

Should workers be compelled to pay a union as a condition of employment?

That is the question at the heart of the debate over “right to work” laws. The federal government enacted legislation in 1947 allowing states to prohibit employment contracts that mandate employees join or pay an agency fee to a union. As of 2016, there are 26 states with such laws.


Proponents of right to work laws say they are necessary to stop coerced unionization. They contend that people should be free to take a job without being forced into paying a labor organization with which they disagree. Opponents of the concept say that unions bargain for benefits and pay increases that go to all workers, so it is unfair to have only some workers join.


Legislators and governors are the ones who ultimately decide whether a state is a right to work state or not. There has been some action in recent years to enact such laws:


Wisconsin – Legislators passed a right to work bill in Wisconsin in early 2015, with Governor Scott Walker signing it into law in March. A state judge invalidated the legislation in April 2016, but that ruling was overturned. As of now, Wisconsin’s right to work law is in effect, but legal challenges to it continue.


West Virginia – In February 2016, West Virginia’s Republican legislature passed a right to work bill that Democratic Governor Earl Tomblin vetoed. The legislature overrode Tomblin’s veto, and the bill became law. Much like in Wisconsin, there have been legal challenges to the law. In West Virginia, however, the law is on hold until the legal issues are resolved.


Virginia - the legislative effort around right to work took a different form in Virginia, which has been a right to work state since 1947. In the 2015 and 2016 sessions, legislators approved a measure to place a question before voters on whether they want to see right to work placed in the state constitution. Proponents of this measure said that it was necessary to ensure that it would be immune from future legislative repeal. Having this as a constitutional amendment would also foreclose the possibility that the attorney general could refuse to defend it in court. Opponents contended that it was unnecessary because right to work was already state law.


Legislators have also introduced right to work bills in other states, but West Virginia is the last state to enact such a law. In Pennsylvania, legislators introduced a set of bills that would make the commonwealth a right to work state, but none has advanced through committee. There have been efforts in Ohio to enact a right to work law, but Governor John Kasich has said that he wasn’t focused on this issue. In that state, one of the bills would allow government workers to opt out of a union, but would not apply to private sector workers.


The recent trend has been for one or two states to enact right to work laws every few years. There have been no successful efforts to repeal these laws once they are in place. It is likely that we will see the number of right to work states edge up towards 30 before the end of the decade.


Depending on how you stand on labor issues, this is either an advance for worker freedom or a blow to workers’ rights. What do you think about right to work laws?

*Updated 12/13/16: A previous version mistakenly used "join" instead of "pay"


Voters Back Pot for Pleasure and Pain

Are Americans’ attitudes towards marijuana changing? If the results on Election Day 2016 are any indication, it seems that the tide is shifting when it comes to marijuana legalization.


Voters in four states approved ballot measures that legalizes the recreational use of marijuana, but purchasers of legal marijuana will generally be paying hefty taxes for the privilege:


California: It is now legal for Californians 21 and older to buy marijuana in the most populous state in the nation, subject to a 15% retail tax. Cultivators will also have to pay a special tax on their product. The revenue from these sales is divvied up to pay for health and law enforcement programs related to legalization, youth drug education and treatment programs, environmental programs, and DUI-reduction programs.


Maine: Purchasers of legal marijuana in Maine will pay a 10% tax, with 98% of that revenue going to the state general fund and 2% to local governments.


Massachusetts: The Bay State will imposes a 3.25% tax on marijuana purchases in addition to the state sales tax. This revenue will go to the state’s general fund. The first day for legal marijuana is December 15.


Nevada: Starting January 1, Nevadans can legally possess pot. Local governments can impose an excise tax on marijuana purchases, but the state of Nevada will impose a 15% wholesale tax. The state revenue will be used for education and to administer marijuana industry regulations.


These states join Colorado, Oregon, and Washington as states that have repealed laws banning possession and sale of marijuana.


Arizona was the only state to reject a marijuana legalization initiative on Election Day.


Voters in Florida, Arkansas, North Dakota, and Montana legalized marijuana for medical use. These states join 25 other states and Washington, D.C., in allowing medicinal marijuana.


Do you think that more states should relax their laws on marijuana use for recreational or medicinal purposes?


What’s Going to Happen in the Lame Duck Congress?

Members of the House of Representatives and the Senate return this week for a “lame duck” session of Congress. This session, held after the election but before newly-elected members are sworn in, has a number of important issues to deal with. With Donald Trump being elected president, however, Republicans are likely to make efforts to ensure that any high-profile controversies are moved into next year. They would much rather deal with President Trump in 2017 than with President Obama in the waning days of 2016.


Here are some areas where we could see movement before Congress adjourns in December:


Appropriations: A short-term spending measure to keep the government funded expires on December 9. If Congress and the president don’t agree on a spending plan by then, the government will partially shut down. Congress has two options: pass an omnibus spending bill that will fund the government through the end of this fiscal year, or pass a short-term continuing resolution that funds the government through the beginning of President Trump’s term. There are significant differences between the spending plan favored by Congress and the one favored by President Obama, especially over defense funding. These differences are likely to go away under President Trump, so expect Congress to pass a short-term spending measure and then make a longer-term deal with the new president.


Defense: legislation that authorizes spending on our nation’s defense is being held up by a provision that would exempt defense contractors from Obama Administration anti-discrimination rules. Republicans in Congress have inserted language in the bill that they say protects the religious freedom of contractors when it comes to dealing with gay and lesbian individuals. If Congress does not remove this language, it could lead to a presidential veto of the bill.


Iran: the Iran Sanctions Act expires at the end of this year. The House of Representatives has a bipartisan bill that would renew the sanctions for 10 years. Some Republicans in the Senate want a tougher measure.


Medical: there is bipartisan support for legislation that would remove federal roadblocks to approval of new drugs and medical treatment. This could be a rare area of agreement in the lame duck between Congress and the White House.


Supreme Court: Senate Republicans have refused to hold hearings or a vote on President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Merrick Garland. With Trump’s election, there is no chance that they will allow Garland’s confirmation in the lame duck session. President Trump will name his own nominee to fill this seat once he takes office in January.


Trans-Pacific Partnership: Trump never hesitated to express his disdain for this and other trade agreements. The Senate will not consider this trade accord during the lame duck session.


The Senate Agenda for 2017

Post-election update: Republicans won most of the key Senate battles on Tuesday, setting up a scenario where a Republican majority will serve with President Trump. It is unclear the extent of the majority, since two races are currently unresolved. Regardless of the outcome of these races, Republicans will not have enough senators to defeat Democratic filibusters. That means Trump will have trouble getting his policies through this chamber if he does not work across party lines. Because Senate Republicans refused to hold a vote on Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, it is likely that Trump will face a fight early in his term over filling this Supreme Court vacancy. The Senate is also likely to tackle an Obamacare repeal early in 2017. Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell of Kentucky will be the majority leader and New York’s Chuck Schumer will be minority leader.


What will the U.S. Senate look like when new senators are sworn in on January 3, 2017?


The fate of Republican control of the Senate depends on how races turn out in a few states, such as North Carolina, Florida, Indiana, and Pennsylvania. If Hillary Clinton wins the presidency, Democrats need to pick up four seats now held by Republicans (Tim Kaine, as vice president, would break any tie in a Senate divided 50-50 between the two parties). A Donald Trump win would mean that the Democrats need to gain five seats.


Because of the Senate’s rules and traditions, a switch in partisan control does not bring a major swing in policy direction. That is especially true in an evenly-divided Senate or one where a party has narrow majority. To advance a bill that has even a hint of controversy requires that the majority leader must find a super-majority. That is because a cloture motion, or motion to cut off debate on legislation, requires 60 votes.


Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois is likely to be the majority leader if the Democrats take control of the Senate, and the minority leader if they don’t. Republican Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is almost certain to remain majority leader if his party retains control, but be demoted to minority leader if the Democrats prevail in enough close races to take the Senate.


Under a Clinton presidency, a Democratic Senate majority would not have a free hand to push through whatever legislation they favor. Even if they are in the minority, Republicans will have enough seats to block legislation and nominees through a filibuster. The reverse holds true for a Republican majority during a Trump administration. For a bill to emerge from the Senate, it takes bipartisan cooperation. Given this year’s election, that is likely to be in short supply no matter who sits in the White House.


The next president’s term could also see an end to the tradition that Supreme Court nominees are not filibustered. Republicans have already signaled that they may block any Clinton nominee to the high court, and Democrats may do the same under President Trump.


It is unclear how a Senate with a Republican majority would work under a Trump presidency. Some Republican senators, such as Jeff Flake from Arizona and Ben Sasse of Nebraska, have openly rejected the GOP nominee. Others have wavered in their support of him. Would these senators feel party loyalty to President Trump, or would they feel free to oppose him when he is office just as they oppose him on the campaign trail? A Democratic majority under a Trump presidency would ensure numerous roadblocks for any legislative proposal that may come from the White House.


Regardless of which party holds power, some senators in the liberal wing of the Democratic Party have said they would work with Vermont’s Bernie Sanders (who is an independent, but who caucuses with the Democrats) to push what they call a “progressive agenda” of a higher minimum wage, criminal justice reform, and a focus on the environment. These liberal senators have said that even under a Clinton presidency, they may oppose cabinet nominees who they view as too cozy with business.


Given the unpredictable nature of this election, no one can make a solid bet about which party will end up in control of the Senate in January 2017. Only once the votes are counted on Election Day will we know for sure.


What initiatives do you think senators should pursue next year?


What Will Happen in the House in 2017?

Post-election update: Democrats gained seats in the House of Representatives, but not enough to end the GOP majority. Working with President Trump, House Republicans will likely pass legislation to repeal Obamacare (in whole or part) early in 2017. They could also move quickly to enact Trump’s tax policies and pass legislation to deal with immigration. Due to Paul Ryan’s lukewarm support of Trump, there will likely be efforts to replace him as Speaker of the House. These efforts probably do not have enough support to have any effect.


With Election Day quickly approaching, it seems likely that Republicans will retain control of the House of Representatives. Even though this is a continuation of the situation that exists currently, that does not mean that all will remain the same in the lower body of Congress.


Even if Republicans keep control, for instance, that does not mean that House Speaker Paul Ryan is guaranteed to keep his job. Some House members are dissatisfied at Ryan’s lackluster support of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. When the new session of Congress convenes in January, there will likely be some effort to replace Ryan as speaker. It is unlikely that a majority of the House members would support such an effort, however.


Under a Clinton presidency, a Republican-led House would act similar to what it has done under the Obama Administration. There would be major fights over the yearly appropriations bills, with the possibility of more partial-government shutdowns if the White House and Congress cannot agree. The House would also pass legislation, such as eliminating Obamacare, which members know will not survive the Senate or the president’s veto. Any major initiatives that President Clinton would propose would likely be stopped or scaled back by a Republican House. House Republicans would also be very likely to open numerous investigations into Hillary Clinton’s activities.


President Trump would find it easier to work with a Republican House. The House members would not be a stumbling block to his major initiatives. Of course, Trump could face issues from the group of Republicans who did not support him or who only offered tepid support. It is unlikely that a Republican-majority House would act as a rubber stamp for President Trump, but it is also unlikely that they would frustrate him the way they would try to do President Clinton.


In the event that the Democrats took the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi would probably retake the gavel as speaker. She would use that power to support President Clinton’s initiatives or to thwart whatever President Trump sent to Capitol Hill. Under Democratic control, any major investigations of Clinton would be few, if any.


In the House of Representatives, whoever controls the majority of seats controls the agenda in a way that is unlike the Senate. There are few procedural checks on the majority’s power in the House, and there is nothing like the Senate filibuster. The Speaker of the House has vast powers to determine what the body does and what legislation will pass. That makes having a friendly House majority very important for whichever candidate wins the White House.


What do you think the House agenda should be for 2017?


All about Iran: payments, assets, financial transactions, heavy water, and compensating terror attack victims


Check out these key votes made by elected officials in Congress during the current legislative session, and go to to signup and see how your elected officials voted on these and other issues that impact your daily life.


House Bill 5931, Prohibit prisoner release payments to Iran: Passed 254 to 163 in the House on September 22, 2016

To prohibit the U.S. government from making payments to Iran to release U.S. citizens held as prisoners.


House Bill 5461, Require report on Iranian officials’ assets: Passed 282 to 143 in the House on September 21, 2016

To require the Treasury Department to compile a report on the assets held by certain Iranian officials and disclose this report to the public. Opponents of the measure contend it is a way to undermine the recent nuclear deal with Iran.


House Bill 4992, Restrict financial transactions with Iran: Passed 246 to 181 in the House on July 14, 2016

To authorize regulations that prohibit financial institutions from directly or indirectly transferring dollars to Iran until the president certifies it is not supporting acts of international terrorism or developing weapons of mass destruction.


House Bill 5119, Prohibit the purchase of heavy water from Iran: Passed 249 to 176 in the House on July 13, 2016

To prohibit any federal agencies from purchasing heavy water from Iran, which is a substance used to produce nuclear bombs. This would block part of the Obama Administration’s nuclear deal with Iran.


House Bill 3457, Keep Iran sanctions until it compensates terror attack victims: Passed 251 to 173 in the House on October 13, 2015

To bar the White House from removing economic sanctions against Iran unless Iran compensates U.S. victims of terror attacks financed by the Iranian regime. Lifting economic sanctions is part of the deal the President negotiated with Iran on its nuclear bomb program. American courts have awarded $46 billion to over 1,300 victims of terrorist attacks sponsored by Iran. The White House says the bill would "obstruct implementation" of the Iran deal.


Right to work, family leave, sick leave, government retirement program, wood stove rules


Check out these key votes made by elected officials in Wisconsin during the most recent legislative session, and go to to signup and see how your elected officials voted on these and other issues that impact your daily life.


Senate Bill 44, Adopt a "right to work" law: Passed 17 to 15 in the Senate on February 25, 2015, and 62 to 35 in the Assembly on March 5, 2015

To prohibit employers from requiring employees to pay union dues or fees as a condition of employment.


Assembly Bill 70, Establish a state-run retirement fund for Wisconsinites: Failed 36 to 60 in the Assembly on January 19, 2016

To create the Wisconsin Private Retirement Security Board, which will administer a state-run retirement plan for residents of the state. This vote was to suspend the rules and withdraw this bill from committee in order for the Assembly to consider it.


Assembly Bill 516, Mandate more employers grant family leave: Failed 36 to 60 in the Assembly on January 19, 2016

To mandate that employers of more than 25 employees offer those employees family leave. This is an increase from the current family leave law that applies to employers of more than 50 employees. The bill also expands the circumstances for which employers must provide family leave, and establishes a family and medical leave insurance program to be paid for by an additional payroll tax. This vote was to suspend the rules and withdraw this bill from committee in order for the Assembly to consider it.


Assembly Bill 474, Mandate paid sick leave: Failed 36 to 60 in the Assembly on January 19, 2016

To mandate that anyone in the state who employs at least one full- or part-time employee offer that employee paid sick leave. This vote was to suspend the rules and withdraw this bill from committee in order for the Assembly to consider it.


Assembly Bill 25, Prohibit stricter regulations of wood stoves: Passed 63 to 35 in the Assembly on June 9, 2015, and 19 to 13 in the Senate on March 15, 2016

To prohibit the state from issuing a state rule or enforcing a federal rule that applies a stricter emissions standard to residential wood stoves.


Capital punishment, abortion restrictions, aborted baby parts sales, illegal aliens and sanctuary cities


Check out these key votes made by elected officials in North Carolina during the most recent legislative session, and go to to signup and see how your elected officials voted on these and other issues that impact your daily life.


House Bill 297, Ban the sale of aborted baby parts: Passed 79 to 29 in the House on September 28, 2015, and 41 to 3 in the Senate on September 24, 2015

To prohibit the sale of an unborn child's remains that resulted from an abortion or miscarriage. The bill also bans the state from entering into contracts for family planning services with organizations that perform abortions.


House Bill 465, Impose more restrictions on abortion: Passed 71 to 43 in the House on June 3, 2015, and 32 to 16 in the Senate on June 1, 2015

To increase the waiting period for an abortion from one to three days, to limit the types of doctors that may perform abortions, and to mandate new inspections on abortion clinics. The bill also establishes the Maternal Mortality Review Commission, which will inspect records from health care facilities and pharmacies with the goal of reducing maternal deaths.


House Bill 318, Require state contractors verify they employ no illegal aliens and ban sanctuary cities: Passed 80 to 39 in the House on April 23, 2015, and 28 to 17 in the Senate on September 28, 2015

To mandate that, for most state contracts, a contractor must verify his or her employees’ legal status using the federal E-Verify program. The legislation also prohibits cities from banning their law enforcement officers from collecting information regarding an individual’s immigration or citizenship status and providing that information to the federal government.


House Bill 774, Change capital punishment procedure: Passed 74 to 34 in the House on July 29, 2015, and 33 to 16 in the Senate on July 27, 2016

To allow a medical professional other than a licensed physician to be present at the execution of a death sentence and to shield information about the drugs being used in executions from public disclosure.


Senate Bill 15, Reform unemployment compensation: Passed 36 to 7 in the Senate on August 27, 2015, and 83 to 27 in the House on August 20, 2015

To modify the state’s unemployment compensation system by, among other things, requiring a valid photo ID to collect benefits, allowing investigators more discretion to check for identity theft, and strengthening safeguards so that inmates do not collect benefits.


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