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Colorado Looks to Tighten Vaccine Exemptions

Colorado legislators are considering making it a little more difficult for parents to opt their children out of vaccinations required to attend public school.

 

Current Colorado law does not mandate that children be vaccinated in order to attend school. Children who have medical conditions can opt out of vaccines, and parents who have religious or personal objections to vaccines can also refuse vaccination for their children. In order to do so, they must file forms that attest to this.


The legislative proposal being considered would standardize these forms and tighten the requirements for exemption. They would also improve data collection on exemption rates. Legislators defeated a similar bill last year.

 

Sponsors of the legislation say this is necessary to ensure that as many children as possible are vaccinated. They argue that vaccinations are a vital way to protect public health. Opponents, however, say that mandatory vaccination is government overreach. Parents, they contend, should be free to decide whether or not to give their children vaccinations.

 

Another Colorado legislator has introduced a bill that would require health care providers to give parents information about what he terms “vaccine injuries” and would prevent the state and local governments from taking adverse actions against parents who refuse to vaccinate their children.


Do you think that government should make it more difficult for parents to opt out of vaccinating their children who attend public school?

Virginia Legislators Tackle Gun Control, Abortion, ERA

With Virginia voters last year giving Democrats complete power in Richmond, this year’s legislative session has seen the passage of numerous bills on hot-button issues. Here are some of the notable bills that were discussed or passed by legislators this week:

 

  • Enacting gun control. The House of Delegates passed legislation that would impose background checks on private gun sales, limit the purchase of handguns to one per month, and allow police to seize the firearms of someone they deem a threat. Similar legislation had already passed the state senate.
  • Loosening abortion restrictions. Both houses of the legislature have passed bills that would end the 24-hour waiting period before a woman can get an abortion, the requirement that doctors show a woman an ultrasound prior to abortion, and certain mandates on abortion clinics.
  • Passing the Equal Rights Amendment. The House of Delegates took a final vote to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Although the congressionally-mandated deadline has passed to ratify the amendment, Virginia becomes the last state necessary to add it to the Constitution. There will now be a legal fight over whether Congress can put a time limit on ratification.
  • Ending legislator immunity from arrest. After a state delegate was stopped on suspicion of drunk driving but was let go without being arrested, it prompted many to call for a change to the state constitution. A current provision in the constitution gives legislators immunity from arrest while the legislature is in session. This week, a senator introduced a constitutional amendment that would end that immunity.

 

Do you support ending the 24-hour-waiting period for abortions? Should handgun purchases be limited to one per month? Should legislators be immune from arrest during session?

Arizona Legislators Consider Banning LGBTQ Discrimination

This year’s legislative session in Arizona features two bills that would place legal limits on state residents’ ability to refuse service to gay, lesbian, or transgender individuals.

 

Currently, the state does not ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Some cities in the state have anti-discrimination laws, but a recent decision by Arizona Supreme Court established that business owners do not have to provide services for same-sex weddings. This has prompted statewide supporters of an anti-discrimination law to renew their efforts in the legislature.

 

Under the bills being considered, it would be illegal for business owners to refuse service to individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity in many circumstances. Under this bill, an employer could not fire an employee due to that employee being gay or a landlord could not refuse to rent to a transgender person.

 

Supporters say this bill is necessary to help ensure that Arizona law protects all Arizonans. They also argue that businesses will be attracted to the state because of it. Opponents counter that this could infringe upon the rights of religious Arizonans to conduct their businesses in line with their beliefs.

 

There have been anti-discrimination bills considered in previous legislative sessions, but none have advanced. It remains unclear what the prospects of this year’s legislation will be.

 

Do you think the law should prohibit business owners from discriminating against gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals?

South Dakota Set to Ban Plastic Straw Bans

Some cities and states are banning the use of plastic straws and single-use plastic bags. South Dakota legislators want to go in the other direction – they are considering prohibiting cities from imposing such bans.

 

South Dakota senators are likely to approve legislation that would stop local governments from banning single-use plastic bags, plastic straws, and other types of packaging. This would pre-empt local bans that have occurred in cities in other states, though not in South Dakota.

 

Activists have increasingly attacked single-use plastic bags and straws due to concerns about plastic pollution. Supporters of these bans argue that they are necessary to protect wildlife, reduce litter, and save landfill space.

 

Legislators in South Dakota disagree, however. They note that such bans affect small businesses, making it more difficult for them to offer the products that consumers want. People with disabilities also contend that such bans hurt individuals who need to use straws because of mobility issues. There is also skepticism about how much such bans do to reduce plastic use.

 

While there have been efforts in cities and counties to ban the use of these plastic products, this has prompted some states to consider pre-emption laws similar to what’s being proposed in South Dakota. Fourteen states have passed laws that take this power away from local governments.

 

The legislative session in South Dakota lasts through March 30.

 

Do you support banning businesses from providing plastic bags and straws?

Marijuana Legalization May Be Coming to New Mexico

If Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has her way, New Mexico will become the 12th state to legalize the sale and possession of marijuana for recreational uses.

 

Gov. Lujan Grisham is backing legislation that would legalize marijuana for adults in the state and set up a way to tax it. The state Senate is considering legislation this week that embodies the governor’s goals.

 

Legislators also considered bills last year that would have legalized recreational marijuana. While such proposals did gain some bipartisan support, they failed to pass. This year, legalization legislation is encountering some pushback from those who supported the previous year’s bills. Republicans and moderate Democrats are expressing skepticism about this year’s plan.

 

Supporters of recreational marijuana legalization note that other states have removed legal restrictions on the drug, and are not seeing problems because of it. They also point out how much the state can raise in tax revenue from legalized marijuana. Opponents argue that this will set up conflicts with the federal government. Those who oppose this year’s legislation also have differing views on how it should be sold and regulated.

 

New Mexico legislators began a 30-day session last week. It is unclear if Gov. Lujan Grisham will have enough support to accomplish her goal of marijuana legalization this year.

 

Do you support legalizing recreational marijuana for adults?

Supreme Court Allows Immigrant Wealth Test Rule to Take Effect

A new rule affecting immigrants who are on public assistance or who may use public assistance in the future will go into effect under a Supreme Court ruling yesterday. In a 5-4 decision, the high court said that the Trump Administration can begin implementing this rule while legal challenges continue.

 

Last year, the Department of Homeland Security issued regulations that change the “public charge” definition used to judge immigrants’ applications for citizenship or Green Cards. This new rule tightened that definition, making it more difficult for immigrants who are on public benefits or who may use public benefits in the future to obtain permanent legal status in the U.S.

 

Issuing the rule, the Trump Administration noted that it was long-standing U.S. policy to admit only those immigrants who would not be a burden on taxpayers. They said that their new definition is a long-overdue update to the law. Opponents, however, said this was a backdoor way to limit immigration, especially from nations with large Latino populations. They argued that it was unfair to discriminate against immigrants who were not wealthy, since these individuals may have the most need to enter the U.S.

 

Critics of the rule went to court to fight it. Last year, a federal judge issued a nationwide injunction stopping the regulations from going into effect. This week, the Supreme Court lifted that injunction and allowed the implementation of the new standard.

 

Court fights over the rule continue. The Supreme Court’s decision did not touch on the ultimate legality of this change to immigration law.

 

Do you think that the federal government should take into consideration’s someone’s use of public benefits while determining if that person can remain in the U.S.?

House to Consider Ending Iraq War Authorization

 

In 2002, Congress voted to give President George W. Bush authorization to wage war in Iraq. This week, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has scheduled a vote to repeal that authorization.

 

Major military operations in Iraq by the U.S. have long been finished. There are still American troops in the nation, however, assisting Iraqi forces and protecting American assets. A recent drone strike ordered by President Trump to kill a high-ranking Iranian general in the country has renewed attention on U.S. military activities in that nation. The Iraqi parliament held a non-binding vote to expel all U.S. forces.

 

In the U.S., members of Congress complained that the president did not consult them prior to the strike. But President Trump says that he has the authority to do what he wants thanks to the 2020 use of force authorization. Repealing that authorization will make it more difficult for the president to act militarily in the Middle East.

 

Supporters of this repeal point out that the original military objectives set out in 2002 have been accomplished. Saddam Hussein is no longer in charge (and no longer living). The Iraqi government at the time has been overthrown. According to those who want this resolution passed, there is no longer any justification to continue military operations in that nation under that 18-year-old authorization. They argue that if there is a need for military force today, then Congress should pass a new authorization.

 

Opponents of this move counter that Iraq may be different than in 2002, but it is still dangerous. They argue that there is a continuing need for U.S. military activities in the region to protect American interests and allies. They say that repealing the use of force will only hamper the military’s ability to keep Americans safe.

 

There are likely enough votes in the House to pass this repeal, but it is unlikely to be considered in the Senate.

 

Do you think Congress should repeal the 2002 Iraqi use of force authorization?

Trump Appears at Annual March for Life

Today is the 47th annual March for Life. But this year, the marchers have a special guest who has never joined them before – the president of the United States.

 

The March for Life is a yearly demonstration in Washington, D.C., near the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade. That decision legalized abortion nationally. Republican presidents in the past have spoken before the March for Life, but have never appeared in person. This week, President Trump tweeted that he would join the marchers.

 

The march is occurring as anti-abortion legislators are enacted a raft of bills restricting the practice nationwide. These include laws that impose a host of new regulations on abortion clinics to outright bans after a fetal heartbeat can be detected. Federal judges have prevented most of these laws from going into effect. Supporters hope that the Supreme Court will take up one of these cases and use it to overrule Roe v. Wade and other decisions that have found that abortion is a constitutionally-protected right. If this occurs, then states would be free to legalize or ban abortion.

 

At the federal level, however, there is little momentum for nationwide laws dealing with abortion. Annual spending bills have a provision, known as the Hyde Amendment, that bars federal money from being used to pay for abortion except in limited circumstances. Some Democratic lawmakers want to see this removed, but have yet to succeed in doing so.

 

Do you support placing more restrictions on abortion, or banning it completely?

Feds Propose to Tighten Rules Allowing Animals on Flights

As more people bring service animals or animals they say are necessary for “emotional support” onto flights, there are more complaints from other passengers and rising incidents with the animals. Now the federal government is looking to revamp rules that require airlines to accommodate these animals.

 

Under current government rules, airlines must permit service animals and emotional support animals. The rules are vague about what qualifies an animal to serve these tasks. Critics say that this has allowed people to claim that their pet is an emotional support animal to get special treatment on planes. There have been a rising number of incidents of people taking animals onto planes that have resulted in bites or other incidents.

 

The proposed Federal Aviation Administration regulations would still require airlines to allow service animals and emotional support animals on board. However, it sets criteria that these animals must meet. Among other things, those wishing to bring the animals on a plane must show that they are trained for the duties that are being claimed. The animal’s owner would also be subject to new paperwork requirements, such as attesting that the animal will not relieve itself on the flight or will do so in a sanitary way.

 

Supporters of the rule change say it is necessary to stem the tide of fake service and emotional support animals being let on planes. They argue that current rules allow people to claim that their pets are serving another function without actually having to prove such a role. Critics counter that this rule will require too much paperwork for people with disabilities or an emotional issue, so it will discourage them from flying.

 

The regulation is in the proposal stage. The public can comment on it for the next two months, then the Trump Administration will finalize it.

 

Do you think the federal government should set stricter rules about allowing service and emotional support animals on planes?

High Court Considers Religious School Funding

Thirty-seven states have constitutional prohibitions on government money going towards religious education. Today, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether those amendments are discrimination against religion or whether they are essential to preserving the separation of church and state.

 

The case originates in Montana, and is being brought by a parent who was using a state-funded scholarship program to pay for tuition at a private religious school. The parent’s children had suffered bullying and other problems at their public school, and so she used a state scholarship program to pay for private school.

 

Under Montana’s scholarship program, individuals could donate money to the fund and the state would give them a tax credit of up to $150. Parents could apply to use the money in the fund to pay for tuition at any private school in the state, including religious schools. The Montana Supreme Court ruled that this arrangement violated a constitutional ban on state money going to religious schools.

 

Many states have similar prohibitions, known as “Blaine Amendments.” They originated in the late 1900s, when there was growing concern about Catholic private schools. Opponents of these provisions argue that they are motivated by religious bigotry. They say that it is unconstitutional to allow funding to go to some private schools but not religious schools. There have been recent Supreme Court cases that have followed this line of reasoning in other areas, but have never directly ruled on the constitutionality of the Blaine Amendment.

 

Supporters of the prohibition on money going to religious schools say that taxpayer dollars should not be used to support religious education. They also argue that this will divert money from public schools, leading to worse education for the majority of students.

 

Do you think that states should be able to prohibit taxpayer dollars from going to religious schools?

VoteSpotter Deep Dive: Senate Impeachment Trial

After weeks of delay, the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has transmitted the articles of impeachment to the Senate. By a vote of 228-193, the House of Representatives appointed impeachment managers. This follows two votes by the House on December 18 to impeach President Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The Senate is expected to take up the trial of President Trump on January 21. This VoteSpotter Deep Dive takes a look into this process and what the Senate will do next. 

 

Impeachment is the bringing of charges against the president, vice president, or other “civil officials,” such as cabinet officers. Impeachment does not remove them from office, however. Instead, impeachment refers charges to the Senate, which then must vote to remove that person from office.

 

Impeachment and the Constitution

 

The Constitution establishes the impeachment and removal process, explaining it in a few key sections:

 

  • Article I, Section 2: The House of Representatives “shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.”

 

  • Article I, Section 3: “The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present. Judgment in Cases of impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.”

 

  • Article II, Section 4: “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

 

The U.S. impeachment and removal process is similar to the process that existed in Britain during the writing of the Constitution. However, the British Parliament impeaches and removes officials in one action. The framers of the U.S. Constitution made impeachment and removal two separate processes, thus weakening the ability of the legislative branch to remove executive branch officials.

 

How Removal by the Senate Works

 

The House Judiciary Committee begins the impeachment process. Its members consider articles of impeachment, with approval coming with a majority vote. If approved, these articles of impeachment move to the full House of Representatives for a vote. The House then debates and votes on these articles. If a majority approves them, then that person has been impeached.

 

The Senate then begins its role. With the Chief Justice of the U.S. presiding, the Senate conducts a trial. The Chief Justice presides, but does not have any say in trial’s outcome. He can make rulings on points of procedure, but a majority of the Senate can overrule him.

 

There are established rules that govern impeachment trials by the Senate. These rules include:

  • Senators must keep silent while the case for removal is being made.
  • The Senate may compel witnesses to testify, but witnesses are not mandatory for a trial.
  • Counsel for the accused can speak in defense of his client, or the person accused may appear to rebut the charges.
  • If senators have any objections or procedural motions, they must be made in writing to the presiding officer.
  • Only House managers or the counsel for the accused may question witnesses directly. If senators wish to question witnesses, they must submit their questions to the presiding officer.

 

When the trial begins in the Senate, that body will approve new procedures and rules to govern this particular situation. These rules can pass by simple majority.

 

The House of Representatives appoints members to manage the case before the Senate, laying out the charges contained in the articles of impeachment. The president’s counsel will present the case to the Senate why the president should not be removed. Every member of the Senate will be present in the Senate chambers to hear these managers lay out the case for removing the president from office. After the House managers conclude their case, the senators will enter a closed session to deliberate. The Senate then votes in open session, with a two-thirds vote of the members present being necessary to remove that person from office.

 

Impeachment and removal may be for a public official’s criminal act, but they are not criminal proceedings. The only penalty, as the Constitution stipulates, is removal from office. The underlying crimes can be prosecuted by civil authorities, however, which may result in criminal conviction and penalties after impeachment and removal from office.

 

The History of Impeachment

 

The House of Representatives has considered over 60 impeachment cases, but most have failed. There have only been 8 instances where individuals have been impeached and removed from office. Fifteen judges have been impeached, as have 2 presidents:

 

  • Andrew Johnson: The House passed 11 articles of impeachment against Andrew Johnson in 1868. The Senate came within one vote of removing him from office.

 

  • Bill Clinton: The House passed 2 articles of impeachment against Bill Clinton in 1998. The Senate vote to remove him from office failed.

 

In 1974, the House began the impeachment process against President Richard Nixon. The House Judiciary Committee approved 3 articles of impeachment against him, but Nixon resigned prior to a full House vote.

 

Federal Judge G. Thomas Porteous, Jr., was the last official impeached and removed from office. His impeachment and conviction occurred in 2010.

 

The Clinton Impeachment

 

The last presidential impeachment and trial took place over 20 years ago, when the House of Representatives impeached President Bill Clinton. If there are proceedings initiated against President Trump, it would likely follow the pattern set during these proceedings.

 

In 1998, Independent Counsel Ken Starr provided a report to Congress that contained evidence gathered in the course of his investigation into various allegations against President Clinton. The House Judiciary Committee passed four articles of impeachment. Two were for perjury, one was for obstruction of justice, and one was for abuse of power. The full House of Representatives passed two of those articles of impeachment, one for perjury and one for obstruction of justice, on December 19, 1998.

 

The House of Representatives appointed thirteen managers to present their case to the Senate, which began its trial on January 7, 1999. Chief Justice William Rehnquist presided. The trial lasted a month, with the Senate beginning closed-door deliberations on February 9. The Senate took a vote on February 13 on the articles of impeachment. The Senate defeated the perjury charge by a vote of 45-55 and the obstruction of justice charge by 50-50. Sixty-seven votes would have been necessary to convict the president and remove him from office.

 

While both the votes in the House and Senate were largely along party lines, there were members of Congress who broke with their party leadership on impeachment or conviction. Senator Arlen Specter, a Republican senator from Pennsylvania (who later became a Democrat), voted “not proved.” Many observers saw these proceedings as an example of partisanship on both sides. This is in contrast with the impeachment proceedings that had begun against President Nixon, where a bipartisan consensus was forming to impeach and remove him from office prior to his resignation.

 

What This Means for You

 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that the Senate impeachment trial will take place on January 21. It could last a week or longer. With many Republican members of the Senate expressing skepticism about the case against the president, it is unlikely that the Senate would have enough votes to remove him from office. If the Senate would convict the president and remove him from office, then the vice president would assume office.

 

Senate Passes Mexico-Canada Trade Pact

In a rare display of bipartisan agreement, the Senate passed the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) this week. The House of Representatives passed the USMCA last year, and President Trump has long pushed for this agreement.

 

By a vote of 89-10, this updating of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) passed the Senate with broad support from Democrats and Republicans. These are some of the major changes that USMCA made to NAFTA:

  • An increase in the amount of vehicle parts that must be manufactured in North America to qualify the vehicle as being exempt from tariffs
  • A mandate that 30% of the work done on vehicles must be done by workers making more than $16 an hour
  • A requirement that Mexico must loosen labor laws to make it easier for workers to unionize
  • Stricter safety standards for Mexican trucks entering the U.S.
  • An increase in the amount of U.S. dairy products that can be sold in Canada
  • Stricter protections for intellectual property
  • An agreement by Mexico to increase efforts to stop overfishing

 

One Republican, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, joined Democratic Sens. Booker, Gillibrand, Harris, Markey, Reed, Sanders, Schatz, Schumer, and Whitehouse in voting against USMCA. T

 

In the 1990s, Presidents Bush and Clinton shepherded the North American Free Trade Agreement into law, over the objections of critics like Ross Perot. This agreement came into being after years of negotiation between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico in order to promote freer trade between the three nations. 

 

President Trump has long been a supporter of high tariffs and skeptical of free trade and trade agreements. He claims that foreign trade hurts American workers, and the U.S. should enact barriers to the sales of foreign products in the U.S. Free trade supporters note that evidence clearly shows that trade has wide benefits for the economy, with both consumers and workers experiencing benefits overall. 

 

The House of Representatives vote in favor of USMCA was also overwhelmingly bipartisan. The trade agreement now goes to President Trump for his signature.

 

Do you support passage of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which updates NAFTA?

Equal Rights Amendment Passes in Virginia

After years of partisan disagreement over the Equal Rights Amendment, the Virginia legislature this week finally ratified it. Legislators’ action on this amendment now sets up a fight over whether or not this amendment should be added to the U.S. Constitution.

 

The Equal Rights amendment states:

 

Section 1: Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

Section 2: The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Section 3: This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

 

Congress passed the ERA in 1972 and sent it to states for ratification. The original resolution required that the necessary number of states (38, or three-fourths of the states) must act within 7 years or the amendment would die. Not enough states ratified the amendment within that time, so Congress extended the deadline to 1982. Even with this extended deadline, the ERA still failed to meet the necessary number of states for ratification.

 

During this time, 35 states ratified the ERA. However, as controversy grew over the amendment, 5 states rescinded their ratification. Since 2017, 3 states (including Virginia) have ratified the ERA. Democratic Virginia legislators have been attempting to pass the ERA in recent years, but their efforts were thwarted by the Republican majority. In last year's elections, Virginia voters gave Democrats the majority in the legislature.

 

The issue of whether states can rescind their ratification is a controversial one, with many experts saying that these rescissions are not valid. The statutory deadline for ratification is also under question. The Trump Administration has issued an opinion stating that even with 38 states ratifying the ERA (which does not count states that have rescinded their ratification), the congressionally-imposed deadline should bar the amendment from being added to the Constitution.

 

Virginia legislators were aware of these controversies, but dismissed them. They argued that it was their job to pass the amendment to support equal rights, recognizing that there will be a legal battle over whether the amendment will become part of the Constitution.

 

Supporters of the ERA say it is necessary to have a constitutional bar against discrimination based on sex. They argue that this is the only way to ensure that women’s rights are protected. Opponents counter that the Constitution already prohibits discrimination and that this amendment could lead courts to strike down restrictions on abortion.

 

Do you support the Equal Rights Amendment?

House Sends Impeachment Articles to the Senate

The House voted on December 18 to impeach Donald Trump. Today it finally voted to send the impeachment articles to the Senate.

 

As explained in our VoteSpotter Deep Dive, impeachment is only one step in the process of removing the president. The Senate must hold a trial and two-thirds of its members must convict the president before that happens. But in order for the Senate to hold a trial, the House must provide the articles of impeachment to the Senate. It must also approve managers who will present the House’s case to the senators when they are assembled for the trial.

 

By a vote of 228-193, the House approved the following members as impeachment managers:

  • Adam Schiff (D-CA)
  • Jerry Nadler (D-NY)
  • Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)
  • Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY)
  • Val Demings (D-FL)
  • Jason Crow (D-CO)
  • Sylvia Garcia (D-TX)

 

This vote also approves sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate.

 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated that the Senate trial will convene in January 21. Chief Justice John Roberts will preside, as the Constitution commands. Look for an upcoming Deep Dive to explain in more detail what the Senate will do during this trial.

 

For weeks, Speaker Pelosi had resisted calls to send the impeachment articles to the Senate. She said that she was concerned about the Senate’s procedures. She wanted senators to hear from witnesses and take other steps that she said would make the trial fairer. Majority Leader McConnell demurred in any commitments on Senate procedure.

 

Do you think that Speaker Pelosi should have waited so long to transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate?

Warren Pledges to Unilaterally Eliminate Federal Student Loan Debt

Elizabeth Warren says that American’s student debt load is a crisis, and she wants to get rid of it. She has recently said that, if elected, she plans on using her authority to start canceling student debt on her first day in office. She said that there is no need for Congress to approve such a move.

 

Under her plan, upon taking office she would immediately begin canceling up to $50,000 in debt for 42 million Americans. This would cover about 95% of those who have borrowed money from the federal government.

 

This is not new territory for Warren. She has previously announced a higher education plan that has as its centerpiece the forgiveness of student loan debt. Much of the forgiveness focuses on borrowers who have incomes under $100,000 a year. Under that proposal, however, Warren would seek legislation from Congress to eliminate debt. Her recent announcement relies upon a legal theory that the Secretary of Education already has the authority to begin such debt forgiveness.

 

According to Warren, this student loan debt is crushing middle class families and holding them back from achieving the American Dream. Her plan is costly, but she says she will finance it by imposing a tax on the highest income earners. Critics argue that her proposal is an expensive taxpayer giveaway to people who can afford to pay the money they borrowed, since they have an education that should lead to higher-paid work.

 

If Warren is elected president and attempted to eliminate these loans without congressional authorization, it is likely she would face a legal challenge.


Do you support Elizabeth Warren’s plan to end federal student debt without congressional approval?

Gun Control Advancing in Virginia

Democrats are now in charge of the two houses of the Virginia legislature and the governor’s mansion. They are taking advantage of this opportunity to push through gun control bills that had long been stopped by Republicans.

 

Among the bills moving through the legislature in Richmond:

  • Banning firearms from the capitol building complex, including firearms carried by law enforcement, legislators, and those with concealed weapons permits
  • Limiting handgun purchases to one per month
  • Mandating background checks for all firearms purchases, including private sales between individuals
  • Permitting local governments more leeway in enacting gun bans for certain events
  • Giving police the ability to remove guns from someone’s possession if they think that person poses a threat of imminent harm

 

Democratic Virginia legislators have long tried to pass these bills, but Republicans who controlled the legislature quashed these efforts. Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, called legislators into special session last year to consider gun control bills. Republican leaders adjourned the session without doing so.

 

In the 2019 elections, however, Virginia voters gave Democrats control of both legislative bodies for the first time in years. With Northam still in the governor’s mansion, it set up a situation where Republicans no longer had the votes to thwart gun control bills. This is what Democrats have focused on in the early days of the legislative session.

 

Those pushing these bills say they are necessary to reduce gun violence and protect Virginians. Opponents counter that gun control targets law-abiding gun owners and that there is little evidence that it actually reduces crime.

 

Do you support limiting handgun purchases to one per month? Should all gun sales, even private sales, be subject to background checks?

 

Congress Votes to End Military Activities against Iran

The House of Representatives yesterday expressed its displeasure with President Trump’s military actions against Iran.

 

By a vote of 224-194, the House passed House Concurrent Resolution 83, which invokes the War Powers Act to end Iranian hostilities. The resolution states that the President must stop military action against or in Iran until:

 

(1) Congress has declared war or enacted specific statutory authorization for such use of the Armed Forces; or

 

(2) such use of the Armed Forces is necessary and appropriate to defend against an imminent armed attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its Armed Forces, consistent with the requirements of the War Powers Resolution.

 

This resolution was prompted by President Trump’s drone strike, which killed a top Iranian general. Many members of Congress have said this action will likely lead to war with Iran. They point out that the Constitution requires that Congress declare war. President Trump pushed back, saying that what he did was allowed because he is commander-in-chief. He said that the drone strike saved American lives and stopped an imminent threat.

 

The War Powers Act, invoked by this resolution, requires that presidents consult with Congress before military actions and seek congressional approval for longer-term military deployments. Enacted in the 1970s in the wake of the Vietnam War, presidents have routinely claimed that the law is an unconstitutional violation of their powers as commander-in-chief.

 

The vote was mainly along party lines. Three Republicans and one independent voted in favor of the resolution. Eight Democrats voted against it. The Senate is unlikely to take up a similar resolution.

 

Do you think that military action against Iran should stop until Congress votes to declare war against that country?

Congress to Debate Iranian Military Action

President Trump thinks that he has the authority to attack Iran without congressional approval. Some key members of the House and Senate disagree.

 

In the Senate, Republicans Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky blasted the Trump Administration after receiving a briefing on the drone strike that killed an Iranian general. The Trump Administration contends that the use of force resolution for the Iraq passed by Congress in 2003 covered his strike on Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Both Sen. Lee and Sen. Paul said this was absurd and that hostilities with Iran require new congressional approval.

 

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi agrees. She has introduced a use of force resolution that the House will vote on today. The premise of this resolution is that only Congress has the authority to legitimize military action against Iran.

 

The debate about which branch controls the war-making power is an old one. The Constitution says the president is commander-in-chief. Presidents argue that this gives them sole authority to direct the military. The Constitution also says that Congress must declare war. Members of Congress argue that the president can only use his power as commander-in-chief after congress has made such a declaration.

 

The House will likely pass its use of force resolution, but the Senate is unlikely to consider it. Many Senate Republicans are fine with what President Trump is doing in relation to Iran. Sen. Lindsay Graham went so far as to say that senators such as Sens. Lee and Paul who question the president’s actions are empowering the enemy.

 

Do you think that President Trump should seek congressional approval before taking military action against Iran?

Tennessee to Debate Bill Setting Rules for Transgender Athletes

How transgender athletes play school sports is at issue in this year’s Tennessee legislative session.

 

Under HB 1572, schools that allow a transgender boy to compete on a girls’ team or a transgender girl to compete on a boys’ team would be penalized. Schools that do not assign transgender athletes to teams of their birth sex would lose state funding.

 

This legislation comes in the wake of growing concerns among some that transgender athletes have a competitive advantage when competing in gender-specific sports, especially transgender girls competing in girls’ sports. Some critics allege that these transgender athletes have a biological edge that sets them apart from other athletes.

 

Opponents of this legislation push back, saying that transgender girls are girls, and should not be discriminated against. They argue that this will single out transgender children and set back the effort to provide them equal rights.

 

If Tennessee legislators pass this legislation, the state will likely face a lawsuit.

 

Do you think transgender athletes should only be allowed to play on sports teams that align with their birth gender?

Speaker Pelosi Still Refusing to Transmit Impeachment Articles

The House has voted to impeach President Trump. The next step in the process should be a trial in the Senate. But that is not happening (for now). Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is refusing to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate. Until that happens, no trial can take place.

 

The House votes on the two articles of impeachment occurred on December 18. Under normal procedure, the House would transmit the approved articles shortly after the vote. This allows the Senate to proceed to a trial. However, Speaker Pelosi has so far refused to transmit these articles to her counterparts across the Capitol building.

 

When either the House or Senate passes legislation or a resolution, a signed, or enrolled, copy of that item is hand-carried to the clerk of the other chamber. Only when that document is received by that chamber can its members then vote on it. If such a transmission does not happen, the body cannot act.

 

Speaker Pelosi is expressing concerns over how the Senate trial will be conducted. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused requests to allow witnesses or take other actions during the trial that Democrats have requested.

 

If Speaker Pelosi refused to provide the articles of impeachment to the Senate, there will be no trial. Some scholars say that the refusal to complete this process will invalidate the House’s actions, and President Trump will not have actually been impeached. The Constitution is silent on this issue. It does not require that the House will transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate, but it does envision a two-part process where the House does its duty and the Senate then completes the process.

 

For more information on impeachment, check out VoteSpotter’s Deep Dive here.

 

Do you think that Speaker Pelosi should transmit the articles of impeachment to the Senate?

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