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Trump Judicial Pick Neomi Rao under Scrutiny Today

President Trump has made judicial appointments a top priority. That has not escaped the notice of Senate Democrats and liberal activists, who have mobilized to oppose many of them. This battle over the fate of the federal judiciary is once again on display today as Neomi Rao faces senators in the Judiciary Committee.


The president has nominated Rao to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The seat has been left empty with the elevation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Rao is currently Administrator for the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.


The president and many legal commentators have praised Rao for her background. They point out that as head of an agency that specializes in regulatory affairs, she is well suited to serve on the D.C. Circuit Court, which handles many regulatory and administrative matters.


Opponents counter that she has never served as a litigator. They also say that, while she was in college, she wrote troubling things about women and rape.


With Republicans in control of the Senate, Rao’s path to confirmation seems assured. What remains to be seen is if she will pick up any Democratic support in the final Senate vote.


Do you think that Neomi Rao should be confirmed as a federal judge? Do you think that someone’s writings during college should be held against them decades later?

Baltimore May Bar Landlords from Rejecting Section 8 Tenants

If a potential renter approaches a Baltimore landlord with Section 8 voucher, that person can be turned away. The city council may soon make this illegal.


Under a bill supported by a majority of city council members, Baltimore landlords could not discriminate against potential renters based on how someone pays his or her rent. While this would apply to any payment method, the intention is to prevent what some see as discrimination against Section 8 voucher holders.


Proponents of this law argue that there is an affordable housing crisis, so this requirement would make it easier for people to find homes. They say that landlords should not be able to discriminate against someone merely because they think that people with Section 8 vouchers would make bad tenants. Opponents of the mandate argue that landlords should have the freedom to choose their tenants. They say that accepting Section 8 vouchers poses a variety of problems and that the issues are not with the tenants but with these other complications.


The Baltimore bill has yet to receive a vote, but it is cosponsored by enough city council members to pass. Fifteen states and a variety of local governments have similar mandates that landlords must take all types of payment that renters offer. Maryland does not have such legislation, although a bill to impose such a mandate did pass one house of the General Assembly in 2017.


Do you think that landlords should be forced to accept tenants using Section 8 vouchers?

A Battle over Hog Farms in North Carolina


There are a lot of hog farmers in North Carolina. This hog farming produces a lot of jobs in related industries. But for the neighbors of some of these farms, the operations also produce a lot of flies, foul odors, and other nuisances.


This dispute between farmers and their neighbors has not only led to legal battles in the state’s courts, but has also produced a rift between Democratic Governor Roy Cooper and the Republicans who control the state legislature. Governor Cooper recently vetoed a bill that would have limited nuisance lawsuits against farmers, but legislators quickly overrode his veto.


The legislation, SB 711, expands the state’s right-to-farm law to make it more difficult to bring nuisance lawsuits against farming or forestry operations that have been in existence for more than one year. Under this legislation, such lawsuits would be allowed only if the operation undergoes a “fundamental change,” which does not include a new owner, a change in size, the use of new technology, or engaging in a new type of farming or forestry.


This bill comes in the wake of high-profile lawsuits from residents who live near large hog farms. In one April case, a jury awarded $50 million to 10 neighbors who sued over a nearby hog farm. That amount was later reduced. Another trial against Smithfield Farms is currently ongoing.


Governor Cooper vetoed the bill in late June. In his veto message he said, “North Carolina’s nuisance laws can help allow generations of families to enjoy their homes and land without fear for their health and safety… Our laws must balance the needs of businesses versus property rights. Giving one industry special treatment at the expense of its neighbors is unfair.”


Within two days of the governor’s veto, both houses of the legislature voted to override it. Those backing this bill said that farmers who follow state law should not fear that they would be sued for millions of dollars. They pointed out the importance of farming to the state’s economy, contending that nuisance suits could drive farmers out of business.


Do you think that it should be more difficult to sue farmers for nuisances like odors?


Iowa Court Rules Against Cops Seizing Cash


Thanks to an Iowa Supreme Court ruling, it will be a little more difficult for police to seize cash and property from people who are not convicted of crimes.


In late May, the state’s highest court said it was illegal for law enforcement to continue using a handful of practices that were common in the seizure and forfeiture of property. Civil asset forfeiture, where police take someone’s cash or property upon suspicion, not conviction, of a crime, is a controversial process. In recent years, media reports have brought to light many questionable cases that have occurred in Iowa.


The Supreme Court ruled on a case brought against the state by two men who had $45,000, some equipment, and their SUV taken by the law enforcement. One man was charged with speeding but no other crime.


The court’s decision held that law enforcement cannot require someone to answer questions about the property being seized in order to get it returned. The decision also held that a court must determine if law enforcement acted properly during the seizure prior to the court forfeiting that property to the state. In addition, the high court ended the practice of prosecutors dropping their challenge to people seeking return of their forfeited property at the last minute. This was a way to avoid being held liable for attorney costs if a court ruled against the state in such cases.


This decision strengthens protections that individuals in Iowa have against police taking their assets upon mere suspicion of criminal activity. It does not affect asset forfeiture in criminal cases.


Do you think that there should be stricter rules on the state taking someone’s property when that person is only suspected, but not convicted, of a crime?


Congress Reining In Asset Forfeiture


How much leeway should the government have to take the property of someone suspected, but not convicted, of a crime?


That is the debate surrounding civil asset seizure and forfeiture, a process where the government takes property from someone based on the belief that the property was used in a crime. Under civil forfeiture, no conviction is necessary for the government to take ownership of this property.


This practice has come under increasing fire from both liberals and conservatives. Legislators across the country have passed bills to restrict it. The Obama Administration also enacted a policy that prevents state and local law enforcement from using the federal government to bypass these restrictions.


Attorney General Jeff Sessions is not among those who support reform. In July, he rescinded the Obama Administration restrictions, saying “we will continue to encourage civil asset forfeiture whenever appropriate in order to hit organized crime in the wallet.”


The attorney general’s actions did not sit well with members of Congress. This week, the House of Representatives passed on a voice vote three amendments that would roll back his attempt to weaken asset forfeiture reform. Amendments offered by Jamie Raskin (D-MD), Tim Walberg (R-MI), and Justin Amash (R-MI) would limit or prohibit funding to implement the attorney general’s asset forfeiture policy.


Generally, VoteSpotter publishes links to congressional votes so individuals can see how their member of Congress voted on bills or amendments. However, in this case the votes were voice votes, which means they were not recorded. It also suggests that there was overwhelming support in the House of Representatives for these amendments. If a voice vote is close, generally opponents of a measure will call for a recorded vote.


The bill containing these amendments must still be considered by the Senate. Regardless of the final outcome, it seems clear that there is strong congressional support in both parties to restrict civil asset forfeiture.


Do you think that civil asset forfeiture is an abusive practice that needs to end? Or is it a necessary tool to fight crime?


Florida House Bill 277


Check out this key bill voted on by elected officials in Florida, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!


House Bill 277, Allow Electronic Wills: Passed 73 to 44 in the state House on may 4, 2017. 


To allow for the creation of electronic wills. This bill allows for electronic wills to be signed, modified, notarized, and witnessed remotely on a computer instead of in person and on paper, which is currently required.


Comment below to share what you think of Florida House Bill 277!



States Curbing Police Property Seizures


Did you know that law enforcement can seize your cash and your property without you being convicted of a crime in many states? This seizure of property, and the forfeiture of it to the government, has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years. This attention has led legislators in some states to take steps to curtail this practice.


Asset forfeiture is when the state takes and keeps someone’s property. Criminal forfeiture comes after a criminal conviction. Civil forfeiture occurs when law enforcement seizes the property of someone who is suspected of a crime, but the property is kept by the state without a criminal conviction. Law enforcement officers say that civil forfeiture is needed to combat crimes like drug dealing, while opponents liken it to legalized theft.


The latest state to enact asset forfeiture reforms is Pennsylvania. Legislators originally considered a bill that would require a conviction before seizing property. Ultimately, however, legislators amended the bill to retain the state’s power to retain property without a criminal conviction, but did strengthen the standard for civil forfeiture. The bill also imposes a reporting requirement so the public can know the extent of asset forfeiture in that state.


Colorado also enacted civil forfeiture reform this year. That state law increased the standards the state must meet before keeping property and mandated public disclosure of forfeited items. The law also made it more difficult for the state to partner with the federal government on asset forfeiture in order to skirt state restrictions.


There are also efforts in other states, such as Texas, to reform their asset forfeiture process.


Do you support making it more difficult for state and local governments to keep the property seized by law enforcement without a criminal conviction? Or do you think that asset forfeiture reform hinders the ability of law enforcement officers to do their jobs?


Arizona House Bill 2406: Limit county authority to acquire land within a city or town


Check out this key bill passed by elected officials in Arizona, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!


House Bill 2406, Limit county authority to acquire land within a city or town: Passed 51 to 7 in the state House on February 16, 2017 and 16 to 14 in the state Senate on May 4, 2017


To require that a management agreement agreed to by a city or town be in place before a county is allowed to acquire land in that city or town.


Comment below to share what you think of Arizona House Bill 2406!


North Carolina House Bill 2: Broaden property tax exemption of disabled veterans


Check out this key bill passed by elected officials in North Carolina, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!


House Bill 2, Broaden property tax exemption of disabled veterans: Passed 116 to 0 in the state House on March 29, 2017


To increase the annual property tax exemption of homes owned by disabled veterans or their unmarried surviving spouses from the first $45,000 in property valuation to the first $100,000. The bill would have the state reimburse local governments for lost property tax revenues from the change. In addition, the bill would give an unlimited property tax exemption to unmarried surviving spouses of fire, rescue, and police officers killed in the line of duty.


Comment below to share what you think of North Carolina House Bill 2!



North Carolina House Bill 3: Constitutional amendment on using eminent domain to take private property


Check out this key bill recently passed by elected officials in North Carolina, check-in to the VoteSpotter app to see how your legislators voted, and comment below to share what you think!


House Bill 3, Constitutional amendment on using eminent domain to take private property: Passed 104 to 9 in the state House on February 16, 2017


To add provisions to the state constitution related to eminent domain property takings, limiting this to "public use" purposes only. Current law allows it for "public use or benefit." The state Supreme Court has also let it be used for "public purpose." The amendment would also require the amount of "just compensation" for taking the property to be determined by a jury trial, if the property owner requests it. It would add natural gas facilities and pipelines to the list of public uses.


Comment below to share what you think of North Carolina House Bill 3!


Should Pennsylvania Decriminalize Marijuana Possession?

If Governor Tom Wolf gets his way, Pennsylvanians will no longer be going to jail for possessing modest quantities of marijuana.

The governor told WITF-FM, “There are too many people who are going to prison because of the use of very modest amounts or carry modest amounts of marijuana, and that is clogging up our prisons, it's destroying families, and it's hurting our economy, so I think decriminalization is the first step.”

Gov. Wolf is proposing decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana, which is different from full legalization. Decriminalization means that it is still against the law to possess marijuana, but it is a civil infraction or a misdemeanor with no chance of jail time. Legalization, on the other hand, is removing any criminal or civil penalties for marijuana possession.

Possession of small amounts of marijuana is decriminalized in 21 states and the District of Columbia. Fifteen of those states impose only a civil penalty (such as a fine) for possession, while in 6 states possession is a misdemeanor that does not involve jail time.

Four states (Alaska, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon) along with the District of Columbia have fully legalized possessing minor amounts of marijuana for recreational use. Voters in those states have approved initiatives that removed criminal and civil penalties for this type of drug use.

Do you think that the commonwealth should follow the lead of 21 other states and decriminalize marijuana possession?

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