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Trump Pushes Tax Cut to Deal with Economic Effect of Coronavirus

The fallout from the coronavirus is already having an effect on the stock market. Analysts think it may have larger ramifications for the global economy. To help give the U.S. economy a boost, President Trump is today talking to members of the Senate about a tax cut.


The details of the tax cut have yet to be worked out, but the president has suggested it should be a payroll tax cut. Payroll taxes are levied on income to pay for Medicare and Social Security. Cutting these taxes would affect every worker, especially those with lower incomes. An income tax cut mainly benefits higher-income workers, since lower incomes are not subject to the tax. Payroll taxes, on the other hand, are levied on the first dollar of income, and are capped for higher-income workers.


Since 2009, there have been other payroll tax cuts that have been aimed at stimulating the economy. Some economists argue that since they affect lower-income workers, they provide money to go back into the economy more quickly. Some Democrats in Congress are pushing back on President Trump’s proposal, however, saying that such a tax cut would not provide relief to those who lost jobs or who are in the gig economy.


President Trump is urging Congress to take action to avoid a recession. It is unclear what the economic effects of the coronavirus will be at this early state. However, if there is widespread restriction on travel and public activity, many businesses will suffer.


Do you think that Congress should cut payroll taxes to prevent a recession related to the coronavirus?

House to Consider Providing Immigration Detainees a Right to Legal Counsel

Currently, if someone seeking to enter the U.S. is detained at a point-of-entry, he or she does not have the right to consult a lawyer. Under legislation being considered by the House of Representatives this week, that would change.


The House will be voting on The Access to Legal Counsel Act this week. Here is how VoteSpotter summarizes that bill:


To provide that anyone held or detained at a port of entry or a detention facility overseas with a right to see a lawyer or other person, such as a relative, within an hour after the inspection process begins.


This legislation does not provided a taxpayer-funded lawyer for a detainee, but does give that detainee a right to see a lawyer or a family member during the time they are being examined by immigration authorities.


The House is considering this bill in response to complaints by detainees at U.S. points-of-entry that immigration officials are not letting them see lawyers prior to them being denied entry into the country. They say that if lawyers could advise them of their legal rights, their situations may be different.


The Constitution provides that individuals in criminal cases can consult with attorneys. Immigration detention cases, however, do not involve criminal law. Those being detained currently have no right to see legal counsel. To obtain such a right, federal law must be changed with this type of legislation.


Those opposing the bill argue that allowing detainees to see legal counsel would slow the system down, overwhelming immigration agents and leading to a breakdown in the border crossing process.


The House of Representatives is likely to pass this bill, but the Senate is unlikely to consider it.


Do you think that individuals detained at U.S. points of entry should be able to talk to lawyers?

Congress Passes $8.3 Billion Coronavirus Bill

Acting quickly and in a bipartisan manner, both houses of Congress passed legislation this week to provide money aimed at combatting the spread of the Coronavirus.


With the House of Representatives voting 415-2 and the Senate voting 96-1, members of Congress sent a $8.3 billion spending bill to President Trump. The money in this legislation will be used for vaccine development and use, prevention activities, preparedness for the virus, and for federal response if the virus spreads widely.


There was little opposition to this legislation in either the House or the Senate. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) offered an amendment to cut funding from international programs to offset the new spending in this bill. By a vote of 81-15, senators tabled, or killed, the amendment. Sen. Paul was the only senator to vote against the final version of the bill.


President Trump had requested $2.5 billion in emergency spending for the Coronavirus. Members of Congress in both parties said this amount was too low, and they worked together to craft a much larger spending bill. The president has indicated that even though he did not initially propose as much money, he would sign this higher funding amount.


Do you support spending $8.3 billion to combat the Coronavirus? Should funding for international programs have been cut to pay for this new spending?

Maryland May Legalize Sports Betting

Voters in Maryland may get a chance to determine if sports betting will be legal in the state. Legislators are considering a bill that would place a question on November’s ballot to allow sports betting at racetracks, casinos, and online.


Under the proposal being debated in the General Assembly, Maryland voters would decide whether or not to allow sports betting at a variety of locations throughout the state. These include the state’s three racetracks and six casinos. The bill would also allow sports betting at a new Redskins football stadium, an inducement to keep the team in Maryland when its lease on the current stadium expires in 2027. In addition, these locations could develop online sports betting sites.


States surrounding Maryland, including Delaware and Pennsylvania, have legalized sports betting. Some legislators argue that Marylanders are visiting these states to bet, so it makes sense for the state to legalize the practice so Maryland benefits. The state estimates that it could raise $20 million a year in tax revenue from legalizes sports betting.


Horse racing tracks in the state are pushing for the bill as a way to stem declining attendance at races. These tracks have been facing financial issues for many years as horse racing has become less popular.


Legislators are considering ways to pay for a state commission slate of recommendations regarding education. Legalizing sports betting is one way to provide some of the money that would be necessary to fully fund the programs called for by this commission.


Do you think that states should legalize sports betting?

Ban on Gay Discrimination Faces Uphill Battle in Nebraska

A business coalition is pushing Nebraska legislators to enact a law to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Legislators and the governor are cool to the idea, however.


The business owners supporting this bill say it will help the state attract workers. They argue that in a world where businesses are competing for employees in a tight labor market, such a law would bolster the state’s reputation. That, they argue, will draw new workers.


Gov. Pete Ricketts is skeptical, however. He notes that many states with high-performing economies do not this type of anti-discrimination law. His spokesperson also said that such laws can be used to attack businesses whose owners have faith-based objections to performing certain transactions.


Legislators seemed more aligned to Gov. Ricketts’ position than the stance being taken by business groups. As in past sessions, there is a bill that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. And, just like in past sessions, it seems destined to be voted down. In previous years, however, there has not been a push by the statewide chamber of commerce or business groups in favor of the bill.


There are 25 states that have laws banning anti-gay discrimination.


Do you think that it hurts a state’s economy if that state does not have a law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity?

Senate to Consider Energy Bill This Week

Energy issues will be in the forefront of Senate debate this week. Senators will consider legislation that contains a host of new energy initiatives.


Among the items in S. 2657 are:

  • Set energy efficiency standards for federal buildings
  • Extend incentives for hydropower
  • Provide credits for consumers who purchase energy efficient appliances
  • Promote research of nuclear power
  • Authorize more funding for research into renewable energy technology
  • Provide funds for carbon capture
  • Ease restrictions on mining for critical minerals


This legislation largely avoids taking on more controversial energy policies, such as greater efforts to tackle climate change.


Sponsored by Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Joe Manchin (D-WV), this bill has bipartisan support. However, some Democrats have expressed concern that provisions may be too friendly to mining interest. They also say that the bill should go further in tackling climate change. However, even in the face of this opposition, the bill is expected to pass easily later this week. It is unclear if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will bring it for a vote in that chamber.


What should Congress do about climate change?

NY Plastic Bag Ban Takes Effect

Starting this week, shoppers can no longer expect to receive single-use plastic bags from New York stores.


A statewide ban on these bags took effect on Sunday. Proponents say it is a good step towards cleaning up the environment. Opponents argue that it will do little to help the environment, but a lot to hurt small businesses and consumers.


Legislators passed the ban on plastic bags last year, but delayed its effective date. State officials had been ramping up a public education campaign about the ban in the weeks leading up to its implementation. On Sunday, restaurants and stores were supposed to stop offering these bags to consumers.


Instead of single-use plastic bags, consumers are now expected to use multi-use tote bags. A state program provides such bags for some low-income families. The plastic bag ban is not absolute, since they can still be used for some items, such as pharmaceuticals or uncooked meat.


Those who supported this ban say that plastic bags end up in landfills or as litter. They say that prohibiting their use will cut down on this pollution that causes environmental problems. Opponents counter that these bags make up a very small amount of either landfill use or litter. They also note that this new law will be a large burden for businesses that must now change how they serve customers.


Two other states also have statewide bans on single-use plastic bags, while others are looking at such prohibitions.


Do you support banning single-use plastic bags?

Senate Fails to Pass Abortion Ban Bill

A majority of senators voted in favor of two bills to limit abortion this week. But the votes were not enough to overcome a Democratic filibuster that prevented the legislation from advancing.


Here’s how VoteSpotter describes the two bills:


U.S. Senate Bill 311: Require care for child born after an abortion

To mandate that health care workers must provide a reasonable degree of care to a child born after an abortion or an attempted abortion and immediately admit that child to a hospital. This motion is to invoke cloture, which requires 60 votes, and would mean ending the debate and proceeding to a vote on the bill.


U.S. Senate Bill 3275: Ban abortion after 20 weeks

To prohibit a doctor from performing an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy unless it is to save the life of the mother or the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest. This vote is to invoke cloture, or to end debate on the bill, so requires 60 votes to pass.


On S. 311, Democratic Senators Bob Casey (PA), Joe Manchin (WV), and Doug Jones (AL) joined the Republicans in supporting it on a 56-41 vote. On S. 3275, Sen. Manchin broke with his party to support it while Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Susan Collins (ME) joined the Democrats in voting “no.” The tally for that bill was 53-44.


These two roll calls were not actual votes to pass the bill. Instead, they were votes for cloture, or to cut off debate on the bills. A cloture motion requires 60 votes to succeed. The failure to end debate means that the Democrats can continue to filibuster the bill, or refuse to allow a final vote.


The use of this technique to stop legislation was once used sparingly. Today, however, any action of significant interest is subject to a filibuster. Then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) ended the filibuster for lower court judges when Republicans were subjecting them to filibuster during President Obama’s time in office. Current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has ended the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees during President Trump’s term. The filibuster for legislation continues, however.


Do you think that the federal government should ban abortion after 20 weeks?


Court Upholds Cutting Funds to Sanctuary Cities

President Trump has made no secret about his anger over some cities refusing to cooperate with federal immigration agents. Now a federal appeals court has given his administration the go-ahead to cut some funding for such jurisdictions.


The federal government cannot compel local governments, such as states and cities, to enforce federal law. These governments can choose to cooperate with federal law enforcement agencies, and routinely do. But so-called “sanctuary cities” have put in place policies that prohibit their law enforcement personnel from honoring requests from federal immigration agents or notifying the federal government of detainees’ immigration status.


These policies do not break federal law, so there is no way for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to attack them in court. However, the federal government does provide law enforcement grants to these jurisdictions. Under then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the DOJ announced a policy of reducing federal funding to areas with sanctuary policies.


Some of these jurisdictions sued, saying that this funding cutoff was unrelated to the purpose of public safety grants. This week, however, a federal appeals court ruled that the Trump Administration could indeed reduce funding under these grounds. The court held that Congress gave the Attorney General broad leeway to write rules and conditions for these grants.


The cities affected by this ruling are likely to appeal. The case could end up before the Supreme Court.


Do you support cutting some federal funding for “sanctuary cities” that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration agencies?

Virginia to End Requirement of Photo ID for Voting

In 2012, Virginia enacted a law requiring a photo identification for voting. This week, legislators passed a bill that ends this requirement.


Under HB 19, voters could show documents such as bank statements or pay-stubs in order to prove their identity and vote. They can also sign an affidavit attesting to their identity if they do not have these documents. They would no longer be required to produce a photo ID at their polling place.


This change, led by Democrats, undoes legislation that the previous governor, Bob McDonnell, signed into law eight years ago. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam has said he supports ending the photo ID requirement.


Supporters of changing the law contend that strict voter ID laws make it more difficult to vote. They say that they disproportionately impact minorities and the poor, so are a way to reduce Democratic turnout. Opponents of ending the photo ID requirement argue that this is a good way to prevent voter fraud. They point out that many areas in life require photo ID, so it is not a hardship to require it for voting.


There have been pushes in many states to require photo IDs for voting. In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that such laws were not unconstitutional.

Do you think that voters should show a photo ID before voting?

Court Allows Rule Defunding Planned Parenthood to Take Effect

A federal appeals court has rejected calls that it block a Trump Administration regulation that prohibits federally-funded family planning services from referring women for abortions.


This rule, issued in 2019, bans organizations that receive federal family planning funds from referring women to an abortion provider or from being associated with organizations that provide abortions. This regulation had a big effect on Planned Parenthood, which received significant federal family planning funding. After this rule went into effect, Planned Parenthood stopped accepting this money.


The federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Planned Parenthood and other plaintiffs who urged the court to block this rule. The court instead held that, given past Supreme Court precedent, the rule was likely to survive legal challenge and so courts should not stop it from going into effect. The Supreme Court had upheld similar restrictions on the use of federal money in the past.


Supporters of this rule argued that taxpayers should not be subsidizing the operation of organizations that provide abortions or counsel women to get abortions. They said that Planned Parenthood and other groups should be cut off from taxpayer dollars. Opponents countered that this rule would penalize poor women who use Planned Parenthood for family planning services unrelated to abortion.


There are still ongoing lawsuits over the ultimate fate of this regulations.


Do you think that the federal government should fund organizations like Planned Parenthood that refer women for abortions?

House to Vote on Flavored Tobacco Ban

Vaping has been under attack in Washington, D.C., and state capitals recently. This week, the House of Representatives will take another shot at vaping and the tobacco industry when it considers a bill that would ban flavored tobacco products.


This is how VoteSpotter describes HR 2339, sponsored by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ):


To ban the sale of flavored tobacco products, including vaping products and chewing tobacco. The bill also bans the sale over the Internet of tobacco and vaping products and mandates graphic warnings on cigarettes, among other things.


Those who support this bill contend that flavored vaping liquid is used to hook children on tobacco, leading to health problems. They say that the tobacco industry uses flavored tobacco products as a way to lure kids into an addictive habit. They argue that banning these products will reduce youth smoking.


Opponents, however, point to studies that indicate that adults use flavored vaping products as a way to quit smoking. They say that this ban will harm efforts to move people from cigarettes to vaping. They point out that vaping is far less harmful to one’s health than smoking, so this bill will actually hurt public health.


Over the past year, states have enacted bans on vaping products in response to concerns over the health effects of this practice. Congress also inserted a provision into the annual spending bill that increases the smoking age from 18 to 21. This legislation is a continuation of those efforts.


Do you think that the federal government should ban the sale of flavored tobacco products, such as flavored vaping liquid?

Florida to Require Parental Consent for Abortions

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is poised to sign a bill into law that will require minors who want an abortion to obtain parental consent. Abortion proponents are vowing to sue, saying it violates the state constitution.


Under the bill that legislators approved on Thursday, girls who are under 18 must obtain the consent of a parent prior to an abortion. Girls could seek a waiver from this requirement in cases of rape, incest, abuse, or when a parent may cause harm to the girl. Doctors who perform abortions without this consent would be guilty of a felony.


Supporters say that other medical procedures require parental consent, and abortion should be no different. They argue that an abortion is not a decision that a child should make alone. Opponents say that girls in this position should be free to make the best choice for them, and not to face repercussions from parents who may disapprove.


Those fighting this law also say that it violates the state constitution’s right to privacy. The point to a 1989 decision by the Florida Supreme Court holding that invalidated a parental consent statute.


Twenty-six other states have similar laws.


Do you support requiring that girls under 18 seek parental approval prior to an abortion?


Collective Bargaining for Government Workers May Be Coming to Virginia

Only three states do not allow government workers to unionize and collectively bargain for wages and benefits. Virginia legislators are moving to reduce this list to two states.


State senators have passed a bill that would permit government employees to collectively bargain, something the law currently prohibits. This is something that has been sought for years by public employee unions, especially teachers’ unions.


Those who are backing this bill argue that government employees deserve the same right as private sector employees to join unions and negotiate collectively. They say that this is essential to them obtaining higher wages and better benefits. Teachers’ unions also say it will help improve education in the state.


Opponents counter that such a move will be costly for taxpayers. They also argue that government workers are not the same as private sector workers, since they have the ability to vote and campaign for and against the elected officials in charge of negotiation. These opponents also dismiss the idea that collective bargaining improves school quality.


Governor Ralph Northam has said he will consider both sides of this issue if this bill passes the legislature, which is likely. Most observers expect him to sign it.


If Virginia enacts this law, only North Carolina and South Carolina will bar public sector collective bargaining.


Do you think that government employees should be able to collectively bargain for wages and benefits?

Washington Bill Would Ban Bottled Water Production in the State

Under a bill being considered by the Washington legislature, companies could not extract groundwater from the state and use it to produce bottled water.


Some environmental groups are pushing this bill to ban bottled water production in Washington and other states, saying that groundwater is an “essential public resource.” According to these groups, water should not be used for corporate profit, but be left for the use of the state’s residents. Opponents counter that bottled water plants create jobs. They also note that there is enough groundwater for use in bottled water plants as well as for local residents.


This legislation is the first nationwide that would enact such a ban. However, other states are considering laws that could restrict the use of groundwater for bottled water. Other legislation would impose new taxes on the industry.


There have also been local efforts to fight bottled water companies that want to open plants. These are the result of residents who fear the impact on their water supplies. The companies point out that they have a positive economic impact in areas and contend they are not depleting springs or ground water.


It is unclear if the Washington bill has enough support to pass the legislature. Governor Jay Inslee has not yet taken a position on the legislation.


Do you support banning companies from extracting groundwater for sale as bottled water?

"Assault Weapons" Ban Blocked in Virginia Legislature

A ban on some types of semi-automatic firearms with military features is dead – for now – in Virginia. But legislators could bring up a ban on guns they label as “assault weapons” in 2021.


When Democrats took control of the legislature in January 2020, they made gun control one of their top priorities. They had the support of Democratic Governor Ralph Northam in these efforts. He had long supported measures like limiting handgun purchases and banning assault weapons, but he faced opposition when Republicans controlled both houses of the legislature. With Democrats taking the majority in the 2019 elections, however, it paved the way to achieving new restrictions on gun ownership.


While legislators have passed a variety of gun control measures, a Senate committee blocked the assault weapons ban this week. Instead of prohibiting these guns, legislators voted to request a study of the issue from a state commission. They postponed a vote on the ban until 2021.


Supports of an assault weapons ban argue that these guns are military guns that do not belong in civilian hands. They argue that such a ban will reduce mass shootings. Opponents counter that these guns only look like military guns, and that they are only used in a very small amount of crimes. They also point out that studies found little to no effect on crime reduction during a federal assault weapons ban.


Many pro-gun Virginians have rallied in Richmond, urging legislators to vote against gun control.


The Senate committee vote effectively ends efforts this year to enact a ban this year. It remains to be seen what a study will produce and whether legislators will have an appetite for such a ban next year.


Do you support banning semi-automatic firearms that have the same cosmetic features as military guns?

House Votes to Remove ERA Ratification Deadline

Supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) thought that its chances of being added to the U.S. Constitution ended in 1982. But thanks to a vote in the Virginia legislature and the U.S. Congress, their hopes are being kept alive.


This week the House of Representatives voted to remove the deadline on ratification initially imposed in the 1970s. 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 the time between 1972 and 1982, 35 states ratified the ERA. However, as controversy grew over the amendment, 5 states rescinded their ratification. Since 2017, 3 states have ratified the ERA. Among these 3 are Virginia, which just this year ratified the ERA. This means that the ERA has met the threshold in the Constitution for ratification, as long as the states who rescinded ratification are not included.


The ratification deadline is an obstacle to this amendment being added to the Constitution, however. The Trump Administration says that the deadline is enforceable, so the ERA is not part of the Constitution. Some legal scholars disagree, however. The House vote is an attempt to clear up the controversy. The view of its sponsors is if Congress imposed the deadline, Congress can remove it.


The ERA 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.


Although there is a bipartisan resolution to remove the ERA’s ratification deadline in the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is unlikely to bring it to the full Senate for a vote.


Do you think the ERA’s ratification deadline should be removed?

Ocasio-Cortez Introduces Fracking Ban Bill

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, would disappear from the United States under a new bill filed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.


Fracking is used by energy companies to produce oil and natural gas. The process involves injecting a highly-pressurized mixture of water, sand, and chemicals into underground shale rock to break it up and release oil or, more commonly, natural gas.


The use of fracking has been primarily responsible for the large increase in U.S. petroleum production over the past decade. It has made it much cheaper to access oil and natural gas in shale rock, leading to increased production and lower prices. However, residents in communities where fracking has occurred blame it for earthquakes, polluted water, and health problems.


Under the legislation sponsored by Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, fracking would be banned in 2025. In 2021, fracking could only occur if it was not within 2,500 feet of homes or schools. She says this legislation is necessary to protect health, land, and water. Others point out that her bill would destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs and hurt U.S. energy production, leading to higher oil and natural gas prices for consumers.


Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has introduced a similar bill in the Senate.


Do you think that fracking should be banned?

Virginia to Replace Lee-Jackson Day with Election Day Holiday

A day honoring Robert E. Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson may soon be removed from the list of Virginia state holidays. Instead, legislators want to give Election Day that honor.


Both the Virginia House and Senate have passed bills that would make Election Day a state holiday. This new holiday would replace Lee-Jackson Day, which is currently celebrated on the Friday prior to Martin Luther King, Jr., Day. Election Day was a holiday in Virginia until 1989.


Supporters of this idea argue that it will encourage voting by giving people the day off. They also say that Virginia should not celebrate Confederate generals, so ending Lee-Jackson Day is a good trade-off for an Election Day holiday. Opponents counter that there is no need to make Election Day a holiday, since the polls are open all-day and voters can request absentee ballots. They also argue that ending Lee-Jackson day is a blow to the state’s history.


Governor Ralph Northam said he supports this legislation.


Democrats in the legislature had been pushing to end Lee-Jackson Day for many years. However, the Republican-controlled legislature had never passed such legislation. With Democrats gaining control of both houses of the legislature in 2019, this bill is now likely to become law soon.


Do you think Virginia should have a holiday honoring Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson? Should Election Day be a holiday?

Massachusetts May Lower Voting Age to 16 for Local Elections

Legislators in Massachusetts are considering legislation that could result in some high school students gaining the vote.


Under this proposal, municipalities could request that the state allow them to permit residents who are 16-years-old and 17-years-old to vote in these local elections. The change would not be made statewide; it would only be considered for those jurisdictions that request it. If approved, these young voters would not be allowed to cast ballots in elections for legislators, state officials, or federal officers.


Supporters of the bill say that it will help spur civic participation from younger people, getting them involved in the political process. They note that municipal government decisions affect teenagers, so it is fair for them to have a say in selecting their officials. However, this proposal has met resistance for people who say that teenagers have not fully developed enough to be making such important decisions.


A legislative committee held a hearing on the bill last month. Some cities in the state have passed ordinances asking for this change to state law. It is unclear, however, if this legislation has enough support in the legislature to pass. It is also unknown if Gov. Deval Patrick will support it.


Do you support allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in city elections?

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