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Judge Upholds Washington Gun Control Initiative

Yesterday, a federal judge rejected arguments of plaintiffs seeking to overturn a Washington initiative that imposed new laws on gun purchases.


In 2018, Washington voters approved Initiative 1639 to prohibit 18- and 19-year-olds from purchasing semi-automatic rifles and ban the sale of those guns to residents of other states, as well as require a stricter background check for in-state residents purchasing such guns. Opponents of the initiative, including the National Rifle Association, argued that it violated the Constitution.


U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Leighton disagreed. He granted the State of Washington's request to dismiss the case, saying that the initiative was constitutionally permissible.


Washington's attorney general had defended the initiative in court, pointing out that the restrictions it imposed had not been struck down by the Supreme Court. The plaintiffs, however, argued that they infringed upon the Second Amendment rights of individuals.


The backers of Initiative 1639 said it is necessary to prevent people from accessing high-powered weapons. They say that semi-automatic rifles are more dangerous than other guns, and that there should be more restrictions on them. Opponents of this initiative pushed back against the idea that these rifles are any more dangerous than other guns, saying this assertion has no basis in fact. They also noted that these types of guns are used in very few crimes.


Do you think that there should be stricter laws governing the possession of semi-automatic rifles?

NJ Gas Tax Going Up

Buying gas in New Jersey will cost more starting October 1.


Last week, State Treasurer Elizabeth Maher Muoio announced that the gas tax would be increased by 9.3 cents in a month. This is the result of a 2016 state law that requires a steady level of revenue for transportation projects. The law requires that tax rates be adjusted yearly to obtain that revenue. This year, with driving down because of the coronavirus pandemic, gas tax revenue decreased dramatically. That set the stage for an automatic gas tax hike for New Jersey drivers in the coming fiscal year.


The tax hike will mean that for every gallon of gas purchased in New Jersey, 50.7 cents will be paid in taxes. Currently, the state has the 10th highest gas tax rate. After October 1, it will have the 4th highest rate in the nation.


This impending tax increase has critics. They say it is coming at an especially bad time for both consumers and businesses. They argue that consumers who are already suffering from high unemployment and an economic slowdown cannot afford to pay higher gas prices. They also contend that New Jersey businesses that sell gas will be hurt by this increase. 


Unless legislators change the law, however, this gas tax will go into effect automatically. 


Do you support increasing the gas tax?

Federal Government Executes Fourth Inmate in Two Months

This week, the federal government executed its fourth federal prisoner in two months, a pace of federal executions not seen since the 1950s.


This week, it executed Lezmond Mitchell, who was convicted of carjacking and murder. In July, the Trump Administration executed three men. Prior to these executions, the federal government had not put anyone to death in 17 years. The last time that four men were put to death during a single president's term of office was during the administration of Dwight Eisenhower.


Attorney General William Barr has made it a priority for the Justice Department to resume the use of capital punishment. Attorneys for prisoners on death row have been asking federal courts to stop their executions, but judges have cleared the way for lethal injection to resume after over a decade-and-a-half hiatus.


The death penalty is a deeply divisive issue, with some states recently abolishing it. However, there are 58 individuals on federal death row -- 57 men and 1 woman. The Trump Administration is resuming executions after the last ones that occurred were during the George W. Bush Administration. 


Do you support resuming federal executions?

New Jersey May Give “Baby Bond” to Most Children in the State

If you are born into a family that earns up to 500% of the federal poverty level, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy wants the state to give you a $1,000 “baby bond.”


Under a proposal unveiled by Gov. Murphy this week, the state would place $1,000 in an account for most New Jersey children. That money would accrue interest and be payable when the child is 18. This would apply to any children who are in households that earn under 500% of the federal poverty level (roughly $131,000 for a family of four). Gov. Murphy estimates 75% of New Jersey children would qualify.


Gov. Murphy and supporters of these bonds contend that they will help reduce inequality. They contend that they will provide money for young adults who otherwise may not have a savings account, giving them a better start in life. This is part of Gov. Murphy’s legislative proposals that he contends will reduce inequality.


Critics of the bonds counter that they will do very little to help, since they will not accrue significant interest in 18 years. They argue that this is an expensive measure that is more about looking like the governor is helping address inequality instead of taking real measures to help the poor. The first-year cost of the program would be approximately $80 million.

New Jersey Senator Cory Booker has proposed similar legislation at the federal level. The New Jersey legislature must approve Gov. Murphy’s “baby bond” plan before it goes into effect.

Do you think the government should give every child a $1,000 bond that matures when the child turns 18?

Arizona Voters Could Raise Taxes to Fund Schools

Activists have placed a proposition on the Arizona ballot this year asking voters to decide if they want to raise income taxes in order to fund more education activities.


Proposition 208 would impose a new 3.5% income tax on individual taxpayers who make $250,000 or households that make $500,000. The current tax rate on those incomes is 4.5%, so passage of this proposition would mean these taxpayers would have a total tax rate of 8%.


The revenue generated from this tax increase would be distributed as follows:

  • 50% to school districts and charter schools to hire new classroom personnel and increase wages
  • 25% to school districts and charter schools to hire support personnel and increase their wages
  • 12% for career and technical programs
  • 10% for teacher mentoring and retention
  • 3% for a teacher academy fund to provide incentives for students to become teachers


Supporters of Proposition 208 argue that it is only fair for wealthier Arizonans to pay higher taxes in order to pay for education services. They contend that the state’s economy will improve with a better-educated workforce. Opponents, counter that it’s unfair to single out a small slice of the population to pay for a program that the general public will benefit from. They also argue that this massive tax increase on high-income residents could lead some to leave the state.


In 2018, supporters of higher taxes for school funding tried to place a similar initiative on the ballot. State courts struck it down, however, saying that its language was misleading. This year, activists collected enough signatures to place Proposition 208 before voters. 


Do you support increasing taxes on those making $250,000 to raise revenue for public schools?

Rent Control at Stake in California Election

Among the 12 ballot propositions confronting California voters this election, one would advance a major goal of progressive activists -- allowing rent control in the state.


Since 1995, California law has prohibited local governments from placing caps on rent increases. In 2019, though, legislators and the governor approved legislation that imposed statewide rent control, allowing landlords to raise rents by 5% plus inflation every year. In 2019, activists collected enough signatures to place a proposition on the ballot that would allow local governments to enact rent control policies, too. 


As a result, voters will now decide the fate of Proposition 21.


Supporters of this proposition say that it is a way to prevent landlords from pricing out low-income residents in the face of gentrification. They say rent control is a good way to stabilize neighborhoods and promote affordable housing. Rent control opponents say that the use of rent control in cities like New York has demonstrated that it leads to reduced investment in housing and higher rental rates for those not covered by rent control.


In 2018, California voters rejected a similar proposition, voting down Proposition 10 by a margin of 59%-41%.


Do you think that the government should tell landlords how much they can raise rent?


California Voters to Decide on 17-Year-Old Voting

In California, voters will decide whether some 17-year-olds will be able to vote in primary and special elections.


Under Proposition 18, 17-year-old Californians who will be 18 at the time of the next general election can register and vote in special elections and primaries.Voters will be asked to approve the proposed constitutional amendment during this year’s election, which will go into effect for the next election cycle.


Backers of this amendment argue that this allows greater participation for young voters in elections. They note that primary and special elections are part of the election cycle, so if someone will be 18-years-old for the general election, it makes sense to allow them to participate in these other elections. Opponents, however, counter that people who are legally minors should not be participating in the election process.


California legislators voted to place Proposition 18 on the ballot during their legislative session this year. It was overwhelmingly supported by Democratic legislators but nearly all Republicans voted against it.


Eighteen other states allow 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections as long at they will be 18-years-old by the time of the general election.


Do you think that 17-year-olds who will be 18 at the time of the general election should be able to vote in primaries and special elections?

Biden Labels Climate Change an "Historic Crisis"

When accepting the Democratic presidential nomination this week, former Vice President Joe Biden labeled climate change an "historic crisis."


During his speech, Biden said:


History has delivered us to one of the most difficult moments America has ever faced. Four historic crises. All at the same time...The worst pandemic in over 100 years. The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The most compelling call for racial justice since the '60s. And the undeniable realities and accelerating threats of climate change.


This speech pleased environmentalists, who had been urging Biden to focus attention on climate change. They are urging the Democratic presidential nominee to make it a large issue during this year's campaign. Biden's mention of climate change as part of three other high-profile issues indicate that he will indeed be using it in an attempt to win voters.


Biden has released an environmental plan that focuses on low- or no-carbon energy sources as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, his plan does not go as far the Green New Deal. That program advances an ambitious plan to end the use of fossil fuels and restructure America's economy. 


Critics of these plans say that massive government intervention is not a wise way to address climate change. They note that such intervention will be very costly to consumers. Instead, they point to private sector development of technologies like hydraulic fracturing, which has allowed the cheaper production of natural gas. That gas has replaced significant electricity generation by coal, something that has led to a drop in U.S. carbon emissions.


Supporters of aggressive government action say that the problem is too big to be left to the private sector. Instead, they argue that only a large-scale federal program that changes how U.S. energy is produced will avert environmental catastrophe.


What do you think should be done to address climate change?

Pelosi Sets Vote on Postal Bill

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called the House of Representatives back into session in order to vote on legislation dealing with U.S. Postal Service (USPS) issues.


The House will meet on Saturday to consider legislation that will:

  • Provide the USPS with $25 billion to cover revenue shortfalls
  • Reverse the changes made by USPS this year regarding its operations, including changes made to overtime pay practices and the closure of some processing facilities
  • Mandate that mail-in and absentee ballots be considered first-class mail


This comes after Democrats have accused the Trump Administration of harming the USPS’s operations in order to frustrate mail-in voting programs. President Trump has been clear that he does not want to see widespread mail-in voting. He prefers that people go to the polls in-person in November. Democrats, however, argue that in-person voting risks spreading the coronavirus, so it is safer to rely on voting by mail.


The USPS has long faced problems with profitability and service issues. Supporters of the USPS contend it needs more money from the federal government to operate, and that it should be relieved of its obligation to pre-fund retirement benefits. Critics of the USPS contend that its labor contracts and outdated management practices have left it in a precarious position.


The House will vote on the USPS legislation on Saturday.

Do you support the federal government providing $25 billion to the Postal Service?


West Virginia Sues Walmart, CVS over Opioids

Contending that CVS and Walmart contributed to the state’s opioid crisis, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has filed suit against these companies.


In his lawsuit, Attorney General Morrisey claims that the companies should have monitored suspiciously large orders of opioids and refused to deliver them to retailers in the state. He says that corporate practices led to West Virginians becoming addicted to opioids and causing significant harm to the state. 


This suit is one of many filed by state and local governments against opioid manufacturers, distributors, and retailers. At the base of these suits is the idea that companies knew these drugs caused harm and were being misused, but did nothing to stop them. These suits allege that these companies’ policies encouraged the use of opioids, making the problem worse. They argue that companies should have taken steps to stem the flow of opioids to consumers once they realized that people were abusing the drugs.


These suits are not without controversy, however. Critics point out that opioids are legal drugs that have legitimate purposes. They contend that the companies did nothing illegal in their actions, and that they are not responsible for people who misuse the drugs. Some allege that the politicians filing the suits are simply looking for easy money from deep-pocketed companies.


In total, states like West Virginia are seeking over $26 billion in compensation for opioid-related harms.


Do you think that states should sue drug makers and retailer over the opioid crisis?

Judge Blocks Idaho Transgender Athlete Law

A federal judge has prevented Idaho from implementing a law that would prohibit transgender athletes from competing unless they compete in leagues that match their gender identity at birth.


The law was passed as an attempt to stop transgender girls from competing in girls' sports leagues. Sponsors say that it is necessary to stop unfair competition. They contend that transgender athletes have unfair biological advantages over competitors. Legislators passed the law earlier this year and Gov. Brad Little signed it into law.


Critics immediately sued to stop its implementation. They argue that this law mandates unlawful discrimination based on someone's sex, and federal judge David Nye agreed that these arguments are likely to succeed. He said that Idaho could not enforce the law while the legal case was ongoing, noting that the law seems to contradict recent Supreme Court decisions.


The issue of transgender athletes has been controversial in recent years. Athletic leagues have different rules for how transgender individuals can compete, but all allow such competition if the transgender athlete meets certain conditions. The Idaho law did not take these conditions into account, instead saying that if someone wanted to compete in school athletics, they must do so according to their gender at birth. The law also established a process to investigate this issue if there were a controversy over someone's gender.


The legal case against the Idaho law will continue to be decided by federal courts.

Do you think that transgender athletes should only be allowed to compete in leagues that match their birth gender?

Trump Administration Moves Ahead with Arctic Refuge Oil Development

This week the Department of the Interior finalized plans to hold oil and gas lease sales in the 

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).


ANWR is a 19 million acre wildlife refuge in Alaska that contains significant energy deposits. 

Republicans had been pushing to open up the refuge to energy leasing for decades. George W. Bush attempted to obtain congressional approval in the early 2000s, but was unable to do so. However, once Donald Trump became president and the Republicans had a congressional majority in 2017, legislation allowing such sales became law.


The Alaska congressional delegation and the state’s governor support energy development in ANWR. They see the potential for new jobs and energy revenue. However, there is also opposition to ANWR oil drilling in Alaska from people who think it could lead to environmental damage.


Supporters of opening ANWR to energy exploration point out that drilling activities will only affect a small portion of the refuge. They argue that oil and gas development can be done in an environmentally-responsible way that will impose very little disturbance on wildlife. Opponents, however, say it is improper to be drilling for oil in a wildlife refuge. They worry that such activities will harm caribou.


This week’s action by the Interior Department sets the stage for it to hold a sale of leases by the end of the year. 


Do you support oil and natural gas development in ANWR?

California Parents Sue for In-Person Schooling

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?


Rule Change Would Allow More Water from Showerheads

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?

Court Decision May Lead Uber to Shut Down in California

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?

Tennessee Legislators Looking to Strengthen Anti-Protest Laws

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?

Trump Issues Coronavirus Executive Orders

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?

Sanders Pushing 60% Tax on Billionaires' Wealth Gains

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?

NY Sues to Disband the NRA

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?

Missouri Voters Approve Medicaid Expansion

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?

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