Commentary & Community

West Virginia Voters May Strip Abortion Rights from Constitution


“Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion.”

This November, that is the language that West Virginia voters will decide whether to place in the state’s constitution.


Nationally, there has been a lot of attention on the future of abortion rights due the departure of Justice Anthony Kennedy from the Supreme Court. Some observers fear that with a more conservative justice on the court, cases could be brought that will further limit abortion or even overturn the case that made it legal throughout the U.S.


This battle over abortion is also being fought at the state level, however. In 1993, the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the state constitution protected a woman’s right to an abortion. The court also held that the constitution mandated that the state fund abortion the same way it does other health services. That means that West Virginia’s Medicaid system pays for abortions.


If this constitutional amendment passes, abortion will not be outlawed in West Virginia. What it does mean is that legislators would face fewer limitations in what types of regulations they place on abortion. They would be bound only by federal law, not the state Supreme Court decision. They could decide, for instance, to stop state funding of abortions.


In the event of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturns Roe v. Wade and returns the decision-making authority over abortion’s legality to the states, this constitutional amendment would then open the door to a state ban on abortion. Without state constitutional protection of the practice, legislators would be free to do as they wished on this issue if there is no federal abortion right.


Do you think the West Virginia Constitution should protect abortion rights? Or does the state constitution go too far in requiring taxpayer funding of abortions?


Missouri Pushes for Federal Term Limits Amendment


Members of the Missouri General Assembly are subject to term limits. Now they want members of the U.S. Congress to face term limits, too.


As the legislative session was ending in Jefferson City, Missouri legislators passed a concurrent resolution calling on Congress to convene a convention of states to consider proposing a term limits amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Article V of the Constitution requires Congress to call such a convention if two-thirds of the states request it.


This resolution did not specify how many terms such an amendment would impose upon members of Congress. In Missouri, state senate members are limited to two four-year terms while state representatives are limited to four two-year terms.


In the early 1990s, some states had imposed term limits on members of Congress in addition to state legislators. The Supreme Court struck down these congressional term limits in 1995, saying that states cannot add qualifications for members of the federal House of Representatives or Senate that go beyond what the Constitution allows. The only way to impose such amendments would be to change the Constitution, which is what Missouri’s legislators are attempting to do.


Supporters of term limits say they are a way to end politicians who make a career out of public service. They contend that term limits are necessary to return to the days of citizen legislators. Term limits opponents counter that voters have a chance on Election Day to reject politicians who serve too long.


If enough states did succeed in their call for a constitutional convention, any amendment that resulted would still need to be approved by three-fourths of the states to become part of the Constitution.


Do you think that there should be a constitutional convention to propose a term limits constitutional amendment?


Activists Seek Ban on Using Live Rabbits to Train Hunting Dogs

In New Hampshire, some hunters capture live rabbits and then use them as part of hunting dog training. Animal rights activists are pressuring the state to ban this practice, saying it violates the state’s law against cruelty to animals.


State rules currently allow what is called “hare hounding,” where snowshoe rabbits are trapped and then released to be chased by a pack of beagles. The dogs are then judged based on their performance in these field trials.


In May, a state commission voted on rules that would expand the trapping of hares for this purpose. This sparked an outcry from New Hampshire’s animal rights community. They flooded the commission with public comments. One organization said that the commission was violating state law by allowing it, since New Hampshire bans cruelty to animals.


Supporters of the practice say it is in keeping with the state’s tradition of hunting and trapping. Opponents say that it is an outdated, cruel practice that serves no useful purpose.


The issue is now being taken up by the legislative committee that oversees administrative rules. It is also possible that there could be legislation introduced in the General Court next year that would modify or ban this practice. If legislators do so, it would join other rules that curtailed hunting practices that some consider cruel. The state placed restrictions on bear-baiting in 2015 and considered limiting bobcat hunting in 2016.


Do you think that hunters should be allowed to use live rabbits to train hunting dogs?


Supreme Court Allows Political Attire at Polling Places


When you go to vote this year, you are now free to wear a t-shirt proclaiming your support for your favorite candidate or political cause. The Supreme Court recently ruled that states cannot prohibit a person from wearing attire with a political message when they vote. Observers see this as a major victory for free speech.


In 2010, a man wearing a t-shirt that said “Don’t Tread on Me” and had the logo of a national Tea Part group tried to vote in Minnesota. Election officials said that his clothing violated a state law banning political attire in polling places. In Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Mansky, the high court ruled that this law was a violation of the First Amendment.


The court’s vote was 7-2, with Chief Justice Roberts writing the majority opinion. He noted that the state may indeed ban some kinds of electioneering inside a polling place, but that the Minnesota ban on political apparel was overly broad. Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Samuel Alito, and Elena Kagan joined him in his finding.


Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer dissented from this ruling. Justice Sotomayor wrote that the Supreme Court should not have made a sweeping First Amendment ruling on this case; instead, the court should have sent it to the Minnesota Supreme Court to make a more narrow judgment.


Many states have bans on political apparel or signs in polling places. Chief Justice Roberts noted that some of those laws have more specific bans than Minnesota did, so they may be permissible. However, this ruling does lay the groundwork for anyone to challenge these laws under the First Amendment. Thanks to this ruling, there is an expectation that states should favor free expression, not restrictions on political attire.


Do you think that people should be able to wear clothes and buttons with political messages when they vote?


Trump Challenges Media


President Donald Trump has little love for the traditional media. His latest statements on “fake news” repeat familiar themes about what he perceives as media bias. But some observers see a threat to the First Amendment in the president’s suggestion that outlets should be shut down.


This brouhaha started with the president tweeting, “With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!” He followed up with another tweet, saying, “Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to public!” Then he went on to say to reporters that “It’s frankly disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write and people should look into it.”


President Trump is clearly upset with how some media figures discuss him and his policies during news programs. However, there is little he can do to shut down a network like NBC. Most stations that broadcast NBC news (or other network news) are locally owned. Their licenses can be challenged, but it would essentially be impossible to revoke a license due to someone disliking the content of the news reporting. The Federal Communication Commission, which regulates broadcast networks, is an independent agency that is not directly under the control of the president.


Even though it appears that TV licenses are safe, the president’s words worry many people. They say that it is dangerous for an elected official to suggest shutting down media outlets because he or she is upset with news coverage. Courts have consistently held that the First Amendment protects speech that is critical of politicians. Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, a Republican, tweeted “Words spoken by the President of the United States matter. Are you tonight recanting of the oath you took on January 20th to preserve, protect, and defend the First Amendment?”


While there is little chance that the FCC will revoke licenses based on news reporting, there is precedent for the agency regulating how broadcasters present controversial issues. The agency once imposed a rule, known as the “Fairness Doctrine,” that required broadcasters to present controversial issues in a way that the government deemed balanced. From 1949 to 1987, the federal government monitored broadcast media content on controversial issues. FCC commissioners voted unanimously to revoke the rule in 1987.


There have been efforts through the years to reinstate this federal “fairness” mandate. In the past, President Reagan vetoed legislation that would re-impose the Fairness Doctrine. More recently the issue has been pushed by Democrats, with party leaders like Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Dick Durbin expressing support. However, some Democrats, such as Barack Obama, have opposed efforts to revive the Fairness Doctrine. It remains to be seen if the Trump White House will take up this old FCC rule as a way to battle what it perceives as unbalanced treatment by the news media.


Do you support a federal rule that would require broadcast news to strive for “balance”? Or do you think that news reports should be free from government control?


Florida House Bill 1027


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 1027, Regulate Drones and Robots: Passed 115 to 0 in the state House on May 5, 2017.


To create size and speed requirements for personal delivery devices, such as robots. This bill allows these devices to operate on sidewalks when delivering property. This bill also gives the state the authority to regulate unmanned aircraft systems, commonly known as drones, and prohibits local governments from regulating the use of drones unless it is regarding an illegal act. Additionally, this bill allows drones to be used for commercial delivery.


Comment below to share what you think of Florida House Bill 1027!



The First 100 Days of President Trump


On April 29, Donald Trump had been president for 100 days. President Franklin Roosevelt began the idea that the president should take bold action in his first 100 days in office. President Trump has said that looking at this time period is “not very meaningful,” and he has a point. There is no constitutional or legal mandate that anything be accomplished during this time. However, it does serve as a way to sum up the start of a presidential term. So what has happened during this president’s first 100 days in office?


Biggest win: the nomination and confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court


For many conservatives, filling the Supreme Court seat left empty by Antonin Scalia’s death was a big reason to vote for Donald Trump. Once he took office, Trump wasted little time in nominating Neil Gorsuch to take this seat. While Senate Democrats raised issues about the nominee, and even tried to filibuster him, Senate Republicans had enough votes to place Gorsuch on the high court.


Biggest loss: the failure of the American Health Care Act


A large part of Trump’s presidential campaign was centered on repealing the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Trump worked with congressional Republicans to craft a bill to repeal and replace parts of Obamacare. There were many on both the right and left who did not like this bill, called the American Health Care Act. Despite Senate leadership’s failure to persuade enough Republicans to support it, and after vigorous pressure from the White House, the bill was pulled from consideration and never brought before the full House of Representatives for a vote.


Left undone: the border wall, tax reform, immigration reform, renegotiating trade deals


The 100-day window is an arbitrary way of looking at a presidency, and does not give any president enough time to accomplish many significant goals. Donald Trump promised many things on the campaign trail that have yet to be accomplished or even started. He is pushing Congress to fund the border wall, but is encountering resistance from Democrats. There are preliminary talks about tax reform, but no concrete plan has emerged. The president has issued some executive orders on immigration and trade (some of which the courts have halted), but there have been no moves for a massive change in direction on either issue.


What do you think of President Trump’s first 100 days in office?


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