Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee

State of the States (Week of August 24th, 2016)

State of the States (Week of August 24th, 2016)

For the Week of August 24th

TABLE OF CONTENTS

KEY QUOTES

“We're trying to make it easier for people to participate, given the complexities of modern life.”

California state Senator Ben Allen (D) is the author of sweeping legislation that could change the future of California elections. Senate Bill 450 would spur a major expansion of absentee ballots and replace neighborhood polling places with temporary "vote centers." The measure would give local officials the power to offer a wide variety of election services like early voting and same-day voter registration, as well as a limited number of in-person voting booths, through the vote centers. The proposal passed the Assembly on a party-line vote but faces an August 31 deadline to make it to Gov. Jerry Brown's desk. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla supports the elections makeover, saying, "From a voter choice standpoint, all of a sudden you have the choice to go [to] any vote center in your county." Many of the bill's supporters are eager to try a new strategy after the recent June primary "exposed the weaknesses" in the current system. The Democratic measure was inspired by Colorado's shift away from traditional polling places in 2013, with the goal of "empowering each and every county in California" and enfranchising communities.

“The governor’s veto statement is alarmingly replete with right-wing political talking points and grandstanding...This bill was a start toward making our streets safer, particularly in our urban areas, but sadly, Gov. Christie has once again put his political ambitions above the public safety of New Jersey residents. That’s shameful.”

New Jersey Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D) expressed his disappointment in Gov. Chris Christie's decision to pander to the NRA and Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. It was no secret that the NRA pressured Christie to kill bills A1426 (which would have loosened restrictions on personalized handguns with the aim of preventing accidental shootings) and S2165/A3689 (companion pieces for a resolution passed by Democrats in June, the bills sought to more strictly define the "justifiable need" New Jerseyans must show in order to obtain a handgun permit), and Christie had taken a harder stance against the state's gun safety laws since he threw his hat into the ring for the Republican presidential nomination last year. Democratic state Senator Loretta Weinberg echoed this belief: "The governor's action on these bills is a pathetic attempt to pander to pro-gun groups outside of New Jersey at a time when he is focused on national politics."

STORIES OF THE WEEK

The Courts Begin to Call Out Lawmakers

Linda Greenhouse, (The New York Times)
August 18, 2016

The Supreme Court’s 1971 decision, Palmer v. Thompson, stands as the epitome of judges’ reluctance to call out lawmakers for acting with a bad motive, or any particular motive at all, especially if the action can be described as neutral on its face or if it comes with an explanation of surface plausibility. “It is extremely difficult for a court to ascertain the motivation, or collection of different motivations, that lie behind a legislative enactment,” Justice Hugo L. Black wrote for the court, observing that closing the public pools “to black and white alike” didn’t on its face look like a denial of equal protection. “It is difficult or impossible for any court to determine the ‘sole’ or ‘dominant’ motivation behind the choices of a group of legislators,” he added.

The facts may not be as bald, or the judicial response quite so cringe-inducing, but judges and justices across the ideological spectrum express versions of Justice Black’s sentiment so often that reluctance to label the obvious almost seems hard-wired into the judicial soul. (Justice Benjamin N. Cardozo wrote in 1935 that “There is a wise and ancient doctrine that a court will not inquire into the motives of a legislative body or assume them to be wrongful.”) As the constitutional scholar Paul Brest once explained: “To declare a law unconstitutional on its merits is to hold that the decision maker made an error. But a finding of illicit motivation often is tantamount to an accusation that the decision maker has violated his constitutional oath of office. Especially where the decision maker claims to have pursued only legitimate objectives, a judicial determination of illicit motivation carries an element of insult; it is an attack on the decision maker’s honesty.”

Against that background, it’s worth stopping to observe a notable development this summer. In the face of spurious explanations for public policies that would foreseeably inflict real damage on identifiable groups of people, judges and justices are abandoning the traditional diffidence of the judicial role and expressing a new willingness to call out legislatures for what they are really doing, not just what they say they are doing.

These are not obscure cases, but rather decisions on two of the hottest current subjects, abortion and voting rights. I’m in no way suggesting that the Supreme Court’s June 27 decision in the Texas abortion case or the appeals court decisions last month invalidating voter ID laws in Texas and North Carolina have been overlooked. Far from it. But understandably, the focus has been on the bottom lines and consequences of the decisions, rather than on how the courts are approaching their task.

Calling legislatures out is serious business, and there is nothing casual about these opinions. Each is highly attentive to facts — not only to isolated facts, but facts in suggestive patterns, facts in context. In the Supreme Court’s abortion decision, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the question was whether a new Texas law setting elaborate physical requirements for abortion clinics and requiring the clinics’ doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals imposed an “undue burden” on access to abortion. In his majority opinion finding the regulations unconstitutional, Justice Stephen G. Breyer observed the ways Texas singled out abortion for restrictions not imposed on more dangerous medical procedures. “Nationwide, childbirth is 14 times more likely than abortion to result in death,” he noted in one of several examples, “but Texas law allows a midwife to oversee childbirth in the patient’s own home.”

In other words, abortion regulations that in isolation may seem inoffensive or even desirable assume a different cast when placed alongside the state’s more relaxed treatment of outpatient medical procedures (Justice Breyer discussed colonoscopy and liposuction) that carry higher risk.

[Read More]

Court Rules Ohio Doesn’t Have to Offer Additional Early-Voting Period

Brent Kendall, (The Wall Street Journal)
August 23, 2016

Voting procedures in Ohio took another turn Tuesday, when a federal appeals court ruled the battleground state didn’t have to offer a “golden week” of balloting, which would have allowed early voting along with same-day voter registration.

The ruling, by a divided panel of the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, overturned a trial judge’s decision from May that required the state to restore the additional voting period.

Tuesday’s ruling was a win for Republicans. The state’s GOP-controlled Legislature in 2014 eliminated the extra week of voting.

The state said its current rules remained generous, with 29 days of early voting still available. Eliminating the additional week of voting eased administrative burdens on election officials and reduced the fraud risk that came with overlapping registration and early voting, the state argued.

Democrats had challenged the procedural changes, arguing they imposed disproportionate burdens on African-Americans, who made greater use of the golden-week voting that allowed registration and voting simultaneously.

The Sixth Circuit majority said it remained easy to vote in Ohio, with opportunities for citizens to vote during evening and weekend hours ahead of Election Day. The court said it was at most minimally burdensome to require Ohio residents to register and vote on separate occasions.

The two judges in the majority were appointed by George W. Bush. The dissenting judge, a Barack Obama appointee, found the voting changes improperly burdened voting rights for African-Americans.

The ruling potentially could affect close political races in Ohio. More than 80,000 people voted during the golden-week period in 2012, while more than 60,000 people did so in 2008, according to the earlier trial court opinion.

[Read More]

COMING UP

August 30

Primary Election - Arizona
Primary Election - Florida

September 8

Primary Election - Massachusetts

September 9

Primary Election - Delaware
Primary Election - New Hampshire
Primary Election - Rhode Island

LEGISLATIVE BULLETIN

Abortion

AZ: Court: Arizona abortion-reversal law is no more - AZ Central
FL: Judge definitively blocks Florida abortion law - Florida Politics
NC: Courts are roadblocks to NC lawmakers’ right turn - The Charlotte Observer
TX: Texas has highest maternal mortality rate in developed world, study finds - The Guardian

Guns

CA: California cops would need to lock up guns in cars under this measure - Los Angeles Times
IL: Rauner signs law to toughen penalties for gun trafficking - Chicago Tribune
NE: UNL Faculty Senate continues to oppose efforts to allow guns on campus - The Daily Nebraskan
NJ: Chris Christie vetoes gun bills - Asbury Park Press
TX: Federal judge denies UT professors' request to block implementation of campus carry - The Dallas Morning News
VT: Democrats To Push For Universal Background Checks This Legislative Session - VTDigger

Health Care

CA: As a drug pricing transparency bill stumbles in Sacramento, the battle turns to November's ballot - Los Angeles Times
CO: Liberal groups split on ColoradoCare universal health care measure - The Denver Post
FL: Group calls on Florida officials to reconsider their stand against Medicaid expansion - Tampa Bay Times
NY: New York looks to medical marijuana expansion - Times Union
OK: Oklahoma medical marijuana petition gets enough signatures to be examined for ballot - The Oklahoman

Labor

CA: California court decision keeps teacher tenure protections - Associated Press
CA: Bill barring employers from asking about juvenile crimes moves out of the Senate - Los Angeles Times
NC: Courts are roadblocks to NC lawmakers’ right turn - The Charlotte Observer
OR: Citizen panel votes to endorse $3 billion corporate tax measure - The Oregonian
PA: Senate Labor & Industry to hold hearing in Harrisburg on discrimination bill - Times Leader

LGBT

CA: California Senate approves resolution urging passage of Federal Equality Act - LGBT Weekly
CA: On the Offense: Transgender Californians aim to pre-empt ballot struggle - Los Angeles Daily News
CA: Government travel to states believed to discriminate against LGBT people soon could be banned in California - Los Angeles Times
MI: Why Religious Employers Can Fire Trans People, According to a Michigan Court - The Atlantic
NC: NBA officially picks New Orleans to replace Charlotte as 2017 All-Star Game host - The Charlotte Observer
NC: House Bill 2 costs Chapel Hill-Carrboro area an estimated $1.2 million in business - The Daily Tar Heel
NC: Courts are roadblocks to NC lawmakers’ right turn - The Charlotte Observer
PA: Senate Labor & Industry to hold hearing in Harrisburg on discrimination bill - Times Leader
SC: South Carolina evangelicals ask Governor to guard them from trans folk - Associated Press
TX: Texas “bathroom bill” could deal devastating blow to San Antonio economy, local leaders warn - San Antonio Business Journal
U.S.: Obama’s Transgender Student Bathroom Policy Blocked by Judge - Bloomberg

Voting Rights

CA: Voting will never be quite the same in California if lawmakers pass reforms - Los Angeles Times
CO: Coloradans can now register to vote starting with a text message - The Denver Post
KS: Federal appeals court to hear Kansas voter registration case - Lawrence Journal-World
MI: Michigan AG Bill Schuette to fight for ban on voting by straight ticket - Detroit Free Press
NC: NC Republican Party seeks 'party line changes' to limit early voting hours - News & Observer
NC: Courts are roadblocks to NC lawmakers’ right turn - The Charlotte Observer
OH: Appellate court rules Ohio early voting limits, loss of Golden Week are legal - Cleveland.com
OK: Early voting begins in Oklahoma after voter ID law upheld - Associated Press
SD: In South Dakota, Voters Get Rare Chance to Transform Politics - Governing
VA: McAuliffe restores voting rights to 13,000 felons - The Washington Post
WI: Schimel drops early voting fight - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
U.S.: Voters will face a maze of new requirements in November - News21
U.S.: African-Americans in the South face new barriers to vote - News21
U.S.: A Majority Of Republican Voters Fear Something That Virtually Never Happens - The Huffington Post

CAMPAIGN UPDATES

CA: Democratic voter ranks surge in California heading into presidential election - The Sacramento Bee
CO: Proposed Tobacco Tax Hike Makes Colorado Ballot - Colorado Public Radio
CO: Latinos Rise in Colorado - The Colorado Independent
CT: Business Group Takes Aim At State Legislative Races - Hartford Courant
ID: Idaho GOP, Dems setting up ground game in key districts - Associated Press
ID: Idaho GOP registrations jump, though 40% remain unaffiliated - The Spokesman-Review
KS: Poll shows Kansas state Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook struggling in re-election race - The Kansas City Star
NY: Charter And Education Reform Groups Gear Up For Senate Battle - NY State of Politics
NY: Trump Could Tip Key Races for State Senate Control - Gotham Gazette
NY: In Race to Replace Espaillat, Ramifications for Senate Control, His Power, and More - Gotham Gazette
OK: Results from Tuesday elections in Oklahoma - NewsOK
OK: Oklahoma medical marijuana petition gets enough signatures to be examined for ballot - The Oklahoman
OR: Citizen panel votes to endorse $3 billion corporate tax measure - The Oregonian
RI: Where are the down-ballot Republicans? - RI Future
SD: In South Dakota, Voters Get Rare Chance to Transform Politics - Governing
TN: Knox Democrats choose Rick Staples to replace Joe Armstrong in state House race - Knoxville News Sentinel
VT: Primary Vote Highest in Forty Years - The Northfield News
U.S.: How A Trump Debacle Could Affect The House And State Legislatures - FiveThirtyEight

 

CONTACT

Carolyn Fiddler
National Communications Director
Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee
fiddler@dlcc.org