Posted by 14 August 2020
Governor Gavin Newsom has prohibited schools in some California counties from opening for in-person classes. Some parents are now suing him to overturn his order.
In July, Gov. Newsom ordered that schools in counties with rising coronavirus cases must meet online. This order covered 32 of the state’s 58 counties. The largest California cities are included. His order also included criteria that schools would have to meet before reopening for students.
Some parents are frustrated with this order, arguing that it will lead to academic decline for their children. They are now suing the governor, saying that he should give parents the choice about whether to send children to school in person or online. They also contend that the path to reopening school buildings should allow more regional variation, and not be a “one size fits all” dictate.
Gov. Newsom argues that closing schools in high-risk areas will help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. He says that it is not safe to open school buildings to masses of students, and points to other states where schools have been open and the virus has spread. The state’s teachers’ union supports the governor’s decision.
Whether or not to open schools for in-person learning has been a large controversy across the nation. Governors and local school districts are struggling with how to balance children’s education needs with the desire to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Do you think that schools should be open for in-person learning?
Posted by 13 August 2020
President Trump has been a vocal critic of federal regulations restricting how much water can flow from showerheads. Now the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing a new rule that would effectively remove restrictions on showerhead flow.
During the Obama Administration, the EPA implemented regulations that limit the showerhead flow to 2.5 gallons per minute. Some critics of this rule, including President Trump, say that this is not enough water for people who are taking showers. While intended to reduce water usage, these critics argue that it actually leads to more water being wasted as people take longer showers.
This new proposal from the EPA reclassifies some shower parts, which would allow manufacturers to bypass the 2.5-gallon limit. This will result in more water flowing through showerheads, something that President Trump has long supported.
Others, however, say that this move by the EPA is unnecessary and counterproductive. They argue that there is no evidence that lower water flows from showerheads affects people negatively. They also note that in many areas these low-flow showerheads are a vital part of water conservation efforts. They have vowed to fight the EPA in court to reverse this action.
Do you support changing federal regulations to allow more water to flow from showerheads?
Posted by 12 August 2020
This week, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said that the ride-sharing service may temporarily shut down in the wake of a court decision requiring the company to classify their drivers as employees.
A San Francisco Superior Court judge ruled that, under California law, Uber must stop treating its drivers as independent contractors. Instead, the judge said, the law requires that the company hire the drivers as employees and provide them with the various benefits and legal protections provided to employees.
This ruling comes in the wake of the enactment of AB 5 in California. That law put severe restrictions on how companies could use independent contractors. Supporters said it was necessary to crack down on unscrupulous companies that were trying to avoid paying workers benefits and higher wages. Opponents countered that it was the government meddling in arrangements that worked well for both employees and contractors.
With the law’s implementation, businesses have begun restructuring or ending their relationships with California independent contractors. If Uber does suspend its business in the state, that would affect a significant number of Californians who currently drive for the company.
Uber and other companies are backing a ballot initiative that would overturn AB 5. Uber said that unless the courts prevent the current ruling from going into effect, the company will cease operating in the state until the fate of the ballot initiative is known.
Do you think that the government should require Uber to treat its drivers as employees instead of as independent contractors?
Posted by 11 August 2020
For two months, protesters have gathered for all-day protests at a plaza across the street from the Tennessee capitol building. Legislators are now preparing to meet in a special session aimed at, among other things, cracking down on such protests.
During this three-day session, legislators are expected to bring up bills that would criminalize some aspects of what protesters are doing and increase penalties for some current crimes. These measures include imposing mandatory minimum sentences on people convicted for illegally camping on some state property, making such camping a felony, imposing mandatory sentences on individuals who assault or spit on law enforcement officers, and stripping local district attorneys of discretion to bring charges against protesters in some instances.
Legislators contend that these laws are necessary to stop the disruptive protests that have occurred in Tennessee and around the nation. They also contend that police need more protection from protesters and rioters. Opponents of the law, however, argue that they will criminalize peaceful protests and impose harsh sentences on people advocating changes in the government.
Gov. Bill Lee agrees with his fellow Republicans who control the legislature that such laws are needed. However, there is some disagreement about how far the mandatory minimum sentences should go.
Do you support stronger laws against protesters?
Posted by 10 August 2020
With Congress and White House negotiators unable to agree on a new coronavirus relief bill, President Trump issued four executive orders late last week aimed at achieving some of his key goals.
These executive orders would, among other things,
- Delay the collection of the payroll tax for workers who make less than $104,000 a year
- Extend the extra unemployment benefit of $400 per week (this will last until December 6 or until funding is gone)
- Require states to pay up to 25% of extra unemployment benefits
- Allow student loan recipients to defer payment through the end of the year, and waive all interest on federal loans through December 31
In addition, one of the president's orders requires the federal government to consider whether more actions should be taken to stop evictions as a way to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The president said these orders were necessary to protect Americans who were suffering because Congress would not act. However, he quickly faced criticism that he was acting in ways that were not authorized by the Constitution. Many pointed out that prior to taking office, he had criticized then-President Barack Obama for acting in the same way. Some legal experts contend that the president does not have the authority to take these measures, since only Congress can authorize federal spending.
In March, Congress had passed legislation that provided additional unemployment payments, but these payments ran out in late July. Members of Congress and the Trump Administration had been meeting to craft a new legislative package in response to the coronavirus pandemic. However, neither side could agree on a suitable compromise. It is unclear how the president's actions will affect attempts to come to an agreement. The fate of these executive orders will likely be decided by federal courts.
Do you support Presidents Trump's executive orders that, among other things, provided an additional unemployment payment?
Posted by 07 August 2020
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has introduced legislation to impose a new tax on any gains in wealth by billionaires during the coronavirus crisis.
S 4490 would impose a 60% tax on any gains in wealth by billionaires between March 1 and the end of the year. The revenue from this new tax would then be directed to Medicare in order to pay Americans' out-of-pocket medical expenses for the period of 1 year.
Taxing billionaires has long been a goal of Sen. Sanders. During his runs for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sanders often attacked the wealthy and suggested government policies to tax them. He estimates that this plan could raise over $422 billion.
Sen. Sanders argues that it is wrong for billionaires to be making more money during a time when so many Americans are suffering. He says his tax is a good way to help average Americans who are struggling with medical bills. Opponents, however, say that it is just another one of Sanders's socialist ideas that is aimed at punishing the successful. They also note the difficulty of administering the program.
Given the Senate's control by Republicans, this legislation is unlikely to be considered.
Do you support a 60% tax on billionaires' wealth gains that were made this year?
Posted by 06 August 2020
The New York attorney general has filed suit to dismantle the National Rifle Association (NRA), a move she says is necessitated by serious misconduct within the organization.
Letitia James announced the suit today, alleging that NRA President Wayne LaPierre and other defendants "fostered a culture of noncompliance and disregard for internal controls that led to the waste and loss of millions of assets and contributed to the NRA's current deteriorated financial state." The NRA has lost $64 million over the past three years.
The lawsuit alleges a variety of questionable spending by the organization's officials, including the use of private jets and international vacations. The attorney general alleges that those in charge of the NRA used it as a "piggy bank" to divert funds benefiting themselves instead of furthering the goals of the organization. The NRA's corporate charter is in New York, and that state's law allows organizations to be disbanded because of such misconduct.
The NRA disagrees with this characterization, however. It says that this suit is politically-motivated, noting that Attorney General James supports gun control. Wayne LaPierre rejects claims that he misspent funds.
This lawsuit will work its way through the New York court systems. Even if the attorney general can prove her claims against the defendants, courts could impose sanctions that are less stringent than disbanding the NRA.
Do you support New York's lawsuit to shut down the NRA?
Posted by 05 August 2020
On Tuesday, voters in Missouri voters approved expanding the state's Medicaid program by a margin of 53%-47%.
Starting on July 1, 2021, Missourians who are able-bodied, childless, and younger than 65 will be able to enroll in Medicaid if their household incomes are below 133% of the federal poverty level. The Affordable Care Act allows states to expand eligibility to include these individuals. Medicaid is a joint state-federal health coverage program, with the federal government providing some funding as well as setting certain rules for how the states can operate.
Medicaid expansion has been a controversial topic in many states, especially ones where Republicans have the majority in the legislature. These states have largely been reluctant to expand the program, fearing long-run costs. Skeptics of expansion note that while the federal government funds 90% of the new enrollees, it still leaves state with a financial burden that will grow over time. They argue that the people covered by this expansion do not have disabilities or children to care for, so they should be seeking jobs that would have private health insurance.
Backers of expansion -- which included health groups, hospitals, and business interests in Missouri -- counter that Medicaid expansion is an effective way of helping those who cannot afford insurance. They say that it will save lives and reduce the use of emergency rooms. In some states where legislators refuse to vote in favor of expanding Medicaid, these advocates have gone directly to voters through ballot initiatives.
This is the second voter-approved Medicaid expansion in a Republican Midwest state this summer. In June, Oklahoma voters also voted in favor of a similar measure. There have also been successful citizen-initiated measures to add more enrollees to Medicaid in other GOP-controlled states. These include Idaho, Maine, Nebraska, and Utah. However, in both Missouri and Oklahoma, the initiative amends the state constitution; voters in the other states have only amended statutes. A constitutional amendment change prevents legislators from reversing the outcome or changing the program eligibility.
Do you support expanding eligibility in the Medicaid program?
Posted by 04 August 2020
Members of Congress are continuing to craft another coronavirus relief bill. Airlines and the unions representing their workers want to make sure that this legislation contains billions of dollars in aid for their industry.
Airline travel has declined significantly since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. With many people concerned that flying would expose them to the virus, and with many conferences and tourist destinations shut down, there are far fewer people flying than usual. This has led to significant financial difficulties for airlines, and has led to many airline employees fearing for their jobs.
In March, Congress included $32 billion in aid to airlines. It was conditioned on these airlines not making layoffs or wage cuts through September. Airlines and unions are pushing for this aid to be extended in the new legislation or new money to be provided to airlines. They argue that the prospects for increased travel do not look good, and that without aid there will be widespread layoffs in the airline industry.
Some in Congress are sympathetic to this view, noting that this is an issue that was beyond airlines’s control. However, there are also concerns about the overall cost of an aid package. Republicans are looking to keep the cost nearer to $1 trillion while some Democrats want to spend upwards of $3 trillion. Airline aid could be sacrificed in the negotiations.
Do you think that airlines should receive federal money to help them offset the decline in air travel related to concerns over the coronavirus?
Posted by 03 August 2020
Calling it a legacy of Jim Crow, last week former President Barack Obama urged an end to the Senate filibuster.
Speaking at the funeral of Rep. John Lewis, Obama said that a good way to honor the legacy of the civil rights veteran would be to end the ability of senators to filibuster legislation. He noted that Southern segregationists used the filibuster in attempts to stop the Senate from passing civil rights legislation. He said that Congress should focus on expanding voter access, such as making voter registration automatic and designating Election Day a federal holiday, and urged the Senate to end the filibuster if that is what it took to accomplish this.
Senate rules require that a 60 senators give assent to cut off debate and proceed to a vote on legislation. This means that any controversial legislation is unlikely to pass in a Senate that is closely divided between Democrats and Republicans.
The filibuster has been allowed in the Senate since the early days of the U.S., and while it has been modified over time, it has yet to be eliminated. This is not something that is found in the Constitution, so a simple majority vote in the Senate could change the rule. Such votes occurred within the past decade to eliminate the ability of senators to filibuster judicial nominees. However, senators from both parties are reluctant to end it for legislation.
Those opposing the filibuster point out that it prevents a majority of senators from conducting business. They say it gives a minority veto power of the Senate's agenda in a way that was never envisioned by the Founding Fathers. Filibuster supporters counter that the Senate is meant to be a deliberative body that gives significant power to individual members. They argue that ending the filibuster for partisan advantage will have long-term consequences that advocates do not recognize.
While senators, both Joe Biden and Barack Obama opposed ending the filibuster. However, Biden now appears open to considering it if he is elected president.
Do you think the Senate should eliminate the filibuster?
Posted by 31 July 2020
This week, the House of Representatives approved language that prohibits the Department of Justice from interfering with state and tribal programs concerning legal marijuana.
The 254-163 vote was on an amendment to the appropriations bill for the Department of Justice. This type of amendment is known as a "rider," and it places policy restrictions on the spending of money by a federal agency. In this case, the amendment prohibits the Department of Justice from spending any money on actions to enforce federal marijuana law in states that have legal recreational or medicinal marijuana. As long as individuals or businesses are operating in compliance with state law, this amendment would stop the federal government from pursuing legal action against them.
Similar prohibitions have been part of past appropriations bills. This is an attempt to harmonize federal and state marijuana policy. The federal government considers marijuana a prohibited drug, and its use is illegal nationwide under federal law. However, states have been taking steps to either decriminalize or fully legalize marijuana's use. That means that marijuana is allowed under state law, but not under federal law in these areas. This legal limbo poses a special problem for marijuana-related businesses who are operating legally under state law but who potentially face federal penalties.
While the support for this amendment came primarily from Democrats, many Republicans have also been pushing for the federal government to refrain from enforcing marijuana law in states where it is legalized. President Trump has, at times, said he supports this type of federal policy. However, Congress has failed to pass any law that enshrines this principle in law. instead, it has passed appropriations bills that contain riders that contain this language. However, these riders only last as long as the spending bill does -- for the duration of the fiscal year.
The Senate must still pass the Department of Justice appropriations bill, so this prohibition on federal drug enforcement activity could still potentially be removed.
Do you think the federal government should enforce laws against marijuana possession in states that have legalized the drug?
Posted by 30 July 2020
President Trump has consistently been expressing his view that lack of in-person voting will reduce the integrity of this year's election. This morning, he suggested a way to deal with these fears: delaying the election.
In a tweet, he wrote:
With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???
For presidential electors, the Constitution states: "The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States." The Constitution also gives Congress the power to set election procedures for members of the House of Representatives and the Senate. During the early history of the republic, there was no uniform Election Day. But by 1854, Congress stepped in and fixed the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November as the day when voters choose presidential electors and members of the House and Senate.
While the Constitution does not mandate any specific day for Election Day, it does mandate that presidents must be inaugurated on January 20. Any election would have to be conducted prior to then, giving enough time for presidential electors to meet, cast their votes, then have those votes counted by Congress. Current law requires that electoral votes be counted during a joint session of Congress during the first week of January.
While President Trump may be open to the idea of delaying the election, he has no power to do this unilaterally. Only Congress can pass a law to set Election Day, and obtaining enough votes to do so is unlikely. In the event Congress did, any delay could not be for a significant period of time, since the new president must take office on January 20.
Do you think that this year's elections should be delayed?
Posted by 29 July 2020
Thousands of U.S. troops will soon begin leaving Germany. This comes after continued complaints by President Trump that Germany is not contributing enough to NATO.
The 11,900 troops will leave Germany as part of the move to re-locate the U.S. European Command to Belgium. Around 5,600 of those troops will go to Belgium or elsewhere in Europe, but the rest will return to the U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said this would cost "several billion dollars."
President Trump has repeatedly faulted Germany for not increasing its defense budget and contributing more to NATO. He cites the nation's failure to reach the NATO goal of every member nation contributing 2% of its GDP to defense. According to Trump, "We’re reducing the force because they’re not paying their bills. It’s very simple. They’re delinquent."
Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, as well as NATO Secretary Jens Stoltenberg, are decrying the move, however. They argue that this will lead to a loss of U.S. influence in Europe, giving Vladimir Putin exactly what he wants. They also note that Germany is not delinquent in any sense on NATO dues, and that the country has committed to meeting NATO's 2% spending goal.
Do you think that the U.S. should remove military personnel from Germany?
Posted by 28 July 2020
As the Democrats prepare their party platform for the 2020 election, advocates for marijuana legalization suffered a blow. Their efforts to obtain support from the Democratic Party for full legalization of marijuana failed by a vote of 50-106 this week.
As marijuana legalization becomes more popular with the public, advocates had been pressing for the Democratic party to embrace this position, too. The Democratic National Committee is meeting this week to prepare the party’s platform, and some members put forward a proposal to amend the platform to back full legalization. That vote failed, however.
Instead, the platform will continue to have language in it that supports marijuana decriminalization and federal recognition of state laws that relax marijuana penalties. This is in line with what presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden supports.
That stance, while significantly different from the GOP platform, does not go far enough for many of the Democratic Party’s base voters. They argue that marijuana laws are used to harm people of color and minority communities. They say that marijuana legalization is a necessary part of criminal justice reform.
The issue of marijuana’s legal status has been a growing concern in recent years. States across the nation have legalized it for recreational use, joining many states that also allow it for medicinal use. However, the drug is still on the federal controlled substances list. So while states may not recognize marijuana as being illegal, the federal government still does. That puts marijuana businesses and users in a legal limbo that will only change with changes in federal marijuana law.
Do you think that marijuana should be legalized?
Posted by 27 July 2020
In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to Nevada’s coronavirus shutdown that affects in-person church services.
In Nevada, the governor has ordered that churches must limit in-person attendance at services to 50 people. This differs from the standard the governor set for other businesses, such as casinos, which can allow people inside their premises at 50% capacity. Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley wanted to hold services with 90 attendees while observing social distancing rules. When the state refused permission, the church sued.
In its suit, the church alleged that Nevada was infringing up its First Amendment rights by denying it the ability to hold in-person services. It noted that since the state held other businesses to different standards, it should give more accommodation to churches that wished to allow more people inside. The state, however, argued that its rules are necessary in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The church had asked the Supreme Court to take up the case, but five justices declined to do so. They did not offer an opinion, which is customary in cases where the only issue is whether or not the high court will consider arguments in the case. But Justice Gorsuch did write a dissent, where he noted the inconsistency of allowing entertainment facilities to have looser standards than churches.
Do you think that states should give more leeway to churches that want to hold in-person services?
Posted by 24 July 2020
The Senate passed the Department of Defense authorization bill this week, but defeated a bipartisan amendment to ban the transfer of some surplus military equipment to state and local police.
Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hi) and Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) sponsored an amendment that would place new limits on a controversial program where the Department of Defense provides surplus military items to police department around the country. This program has come under increasing scrutiny with the police response to protests over the murder of George Floyd.
Under the Schatz amendment, the Department of Defense could not transfer these items to state or local police departments:
- Bayonets, grenade launchers, grenades (excluding stun and flash-bang), explosives, and firearms of .50 caliber or higher and ammunition of 0.5 caliber or higher.
- Tracked combat vehicles.
- Weaponized drones.
- Asphyxiating gases, including those comprised of lachrymatory agents, and analogous liquids, materials or devices.
Critics argue that these items are inappropriate for local police departments. They say that military hardware that is designed to kill a foreign enemy should not be deployed by domestic police departments. Supporters of the program contend that it is a vital way for police departments to obtain law enforcement tools at no cost. They say that many of these items are necessary to protect people and property.
While a majority of senators agreed by a vote of 51-49, the amendment needed 60 votes to be approved. Instead, the Senate voted 90-10 for an amendment by Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) that bans a much narrower category of military equipment from being transferred and imposes new training requirements.
Do you think the federal program to provide military equipment to police departments should be ended?
Posted by 23 July 2020
This week, two more states enacted a mask mandate as coronavirus cases continue growing across the nation.
On Wednesday, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz mandated that anyone eating indoors at a restaurant or in a business must wear a mask. He said it was the cheapest and most efficient way to stop the spread of the coronavirus and that it would help lead to a situation where schools could re-open.
That same day, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb also issued a mask order. His requires that anyone in public indoor spaces, on public transportation, or outdoors while not socially distanced must be wearing a mask. It covers anyone who is 8 or older. Ohio Gov. Mike Dewine issued a similar order on Wednesday, too.
There are now 31 states where face masks are mandatory. Governors from both parties have issued such mandates, seeing them as part of a public health strategy to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Critics of the mandate argue that this is an infringement of individual liberty. They say that businesses should be free to require masks, but that government should not mandate their use. Some also say the science is not strong enough to warrant such a mandate.
While President Trump has lately encouraged the wearing of masks, he has said he does not support a federal mask mandate.
Do you think state government should mandate the wearing of masks?
Posted by 22 July 2020
On July 31, the extra $600 per week in federal unemployment insurance authorized by coronavirus relief legislation ends. Democrats are fighting to extend it, saying it is necessary to help the unemployed. Republicans are vowing to block it, arguing that it is only helping prolong economic difficulties.
Congress included the additional unemployment money in the CARES Act when it passed in March. The rationale was that in a time of unprecedented economic uncertainty when many businesses are closing down, people who were unemployed needed extra help. Many Republicans were skeptical at the time of the additional payment, arguing that it would lead to many people earning more on unemployment than in a job. But it was included as part of the overall relief package, but with an expiration date of July 31.
With Congressional leadership considering what is going into a new coronavirus aid bill, the expanded unemployment benefits is a hot topic. Democrats say it would be cruel to end payments for people who are still out of work. Some economists also say that stopping the expanded benefits would hurt the economy. Republicans, however, point out that traditional unemployment benefits will continue. They also say that it's time to end government payments that give people an incentive not to seek out new jobs.
Previous coronavirus aid bills have been largely bipartisan. Differences between Republicans and Democrats in Congress, as well as differences between Congress and the president, are currently hampering efforts to craft new legislation. The expanded unemployment benefit is a big area of disagreement.
If congressional leaders can work out their differences, Congress is likely to pass another round of coronavirus aid in early August.
Do you support extending the extra payment of $600 a week in unemployment benefits?
Posted by 21 July 2020
Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden this week outlined a $775 billion proposal that would expand federal spending on child care and elder care.
The Biden plan would:
- Provide universal preschool for 3- and 4-year old children
- Create a federal program to build child care facilities
- Fund child and elder care jobs
- Expand the use of community health care workers
- Create a $5,000 tax credit for caregivers
The Biden campaign says this initiative will help millions of Americans who are caring for their children or elderly relatives. They argue that it will also create 5 million new jobs. The need for greater federal involvement in child care is something that has been a theme for Biden, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.
However, the initiative also has critics, which call it too costly. They also argue that expanding federal efforts in these areas constitute government intrusion on family activities.
If elected president, Biden would need to convince Congress to pass this package for it to go into effect.
Do you think the federal government should spend more on child care and elder care?
Posted by 20 July 2020
This week, the House of Representatives will vote on a bill that would result in the removal of 14 statues and a bust of individuals linked to the Confederacy or racist ideology.
HR 7573 would direct the Architect of the Capitol to remove the statues of 11 men who served the Confederacy, 3 men who advocated for white supremacy when in office, and a bust of former Chief Justice Robert Taney. Advocates of this change argue that the U.S. Capitol should not house statues or busts of individuals who fought against the government or who celebrated racism.
Each state can send two statues to be placed in the Capitol. Some states have selected statues of men who served the Confederacy. These include Gen. Robert E. Lee and Confederate President Jefferson Davis. One of the statues being targeted is that of John C. Calhoun, who served as senator and vice president. He was a strong advocate of slavery, arguing that it was a positive good for both the slaves and their masters. Chief Justice Taney authored the Dred Scott decision, which said that no one who had African ancestry could be a citizen of the U.S.
Those opposed to removing these statues say that such removal would be erasing history. They also contend that it is up to states to decide what statues they send to be placed in the Capitol, not Congress.
If the House passes this legislation, it will go to the Senate to be considered. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not been supportive of efforts to remove statues from the Capitol.
Do you support removing statues of Confederate officials from the U.S. Capitol?