Look up your lawmaker. Track your lawmaker's votes in Congress.

Are you Engage{d}

Marijuana Ballot Measures in Upcoming State Elections

The 2014 midterm elections were critical for marijuana legalization policy and the validation of the voter-passed ballot initiatives in Colorado and Washington in 2012. This past election cycle saw a number of other states begin to recognize the benefits of legalization both socially and economically. As of June 2015, Alaska, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Oregon and Washington have all legalized marijuana for recreational use; other states including Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York and Vermont have all legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes. This leaves 27 states where the use of marijuana remains illegal under any circumstance. With the tides slowing turning in favor of legalization, upcoming elections and ballot measures in 2015 and 2016 are shaping up to change the national landscape of marijuana prohibition.

Ohio is the only state that will vote on a ballot measure regarding the sale, use and growth of marijuana in 2015. The Ohio Marijuana Legalization Initiative is a constitutional amendment that will be on the ballot this November and seeks to allow the commercial production and sale of marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes. If passed, this initiative would make Ohio the fifth state in the nation, and the first Midwest state, to legalize marijuana.

2016 will be a national tour de force for legalization across the country with 17 states planning on hosting ballot measures relating to legalizing marijuana. Florida, Idaho, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming will see ballot initiatives relating to legalizing medical marijuana. Arizona, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada and New Mexico will see full recreational legalization initiatives.

Many initiatives hinge on regulating marijuana like other legalized controlled substances. The Marijuana Policy Project is an advocacy group that works solely on marijuana policy reform in the country by sponsoring ballot initiatives and running ballot initiative campaigns. The Marijuana Policy Project is currently coordinating ballot initiative campaigns to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol in Arizona, Massachusetts and Nevada. A coalition of groups is also coordinating a similar ballot initiative campaign in California. Along with the “Community Act to Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis of 2016,” California has eight other ballot initiatives dedicated to marijuana legislation. If California passes any of these legalization measures in 2016 the entire west coast will have legalized marijuana for recreational use.

Other types of marijuana initiatives focus on cultivation of the marijuana plant itself rather than the consumption. The Arizona Industrial Hemp Farming Act Initiative is a ballot measure that is pending approval to be included on the 2016 ballot. The measure would establish an industrial hemp committee with the Arizona Department of Agriculture and allow industrial hemp farming by permit and registered persons. This measure would also allow for registration and cultivation of industrial hemp for research and development and commercial purposes. In Arkansas, the Arkansas Hemp and Marijuana Legalization Amendment is a constitutional amendment that is also pending approval for the 2016 ballot. This measure would legalize the cultivation, production, distribution, sale, possession, and use of the cannabis plant and all products derived from the cannabis plant.

As the political acceptance surrounding marijuana legalization continues to shift and more and more states are taking up marijuana legalization as an issue, it will be interesting to watch how many more states legalize marijuana in these next election cycles and even more so how they handle regulation without federal government interference.

Stagnant Federal Transportation Funding Forces States to Fend for Themselves

Last month Congress passed a bill to extend federal funds for highway and transit to states for three months, marking the 34th short-term transportation extension since 2009. This most recent bill, HR 3236, extends the government’s authority to process aid payments to states through the end of October. Although the federal government is considering long term funding legislation, the constant short-term fixes have already caused problems for state infrastructure and unemployment rates. States such as Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Montana, Tennessee and Wyoming have already delayed about $2 billion in construction projects, according to State Net. This, coupled with expected declines in tax revenues, has prompted at least one-third of states to take action to rev up their own transportation funding and investment.

Keep Reading…

Governor’s Signing Deadline Causes Confusion in Maine, Other States

Maine’s Supreme Court recently sided with the state’s legislature in a bitter and odd dispute over the Governor’s signing deadline and whether Republican Gov. Paul LePage had waited too long to take action on a group of 65 bills. Because the Governor took too long to take action on the bills, they took effect without his signature per the state’s constitution. This was seen as a big win for Democrats in the legislature, who have long had a contemptuous relationship with the Tea Party affiliated Governor. Earlier this year, LePage had pledged to veto all bills presented to him that were sponsored by Democrats. The unanimous decision by the state’s highest court found that Governor LePage misinterpreted the state constitution, thinking it allowed him more than 10 days to veto the bills, and that the bills will take effect without his signature. A full list of the bills in question can be found here.

Keep Reading…

Are Tax Incentives for the Film and Television Industries Worth the Cost?

A number of states began to enact film and television production incentives in the early 2000s to encourage in-state film production as a way of boosting their economies. The earliest states to offer such packages were Louisiana and New Mexico, both hoping to attract film business that had begun to flee to Canada for their tax breaks and favorable exchange rates. This phenomenon of “runaway production,” grew rapidly from just a few states in 2002 to its peak in 2010, where a total of 42 states, plus the District of Columbia, were offering incentives. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 39 states and Puerto Rico have tax incentives of some sort provided to the film and television industries as of 2014.

Keep Reading…

Florida Special Session

The Florida Legislature will reconvene August 10 for a 12-day special session, during which they will attempt to redraw the state’s congressional districts. This session marks the second time that lawmakers will redraw the lines in as many years due to legal challenges and comes almost a year to the date since the last redistricting. The Florida Supreme Court threw out the current map – itself a response to a circuit court judge’s ruling – on July 9, on the grounds that it favored Republicans and incumbents in violation of the Fair Districts Amendment to the Florida Constitution that voters passed in 2010.

Keep Reading…

Alabama Special Session

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) on Thursday called for a special session of the Alabama Legislature to begin July 13. Lawmakers adjourned on June 4 without passing a budget for the General Fund, which provides for most state government functions besides education.

The fund is poised to miss its mark by at least $200 million in the coming fiscal year, and new taxes supported by the governor to address this hole failed to secure the legislature’s approval during the regular session. The legislature previously passed a reduced budget which Bentley vetoed. One possible source of revenue is the $2.3 billion Deepwater Horizon settlement from BP that the state accepted last week, $1 billion of which will go to General Fund over the next 18 years. The governor’s full press release can be read here.

States Take Wait and See Approach on Fracking Regulation

A debate over how and whether to regulate hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is gaining momentum in state legislatures and municipal councils across the country. Fracking refers to the method of extracting natural gas from shale rock embedded within the earth by injecting water, sand and a mixture of chemical additives deep into the ground at high pressures. The mixture breaks through rock to allow oil and gas to flow to the surface. Evolving technologies in this process have not only made fracking easier, but also much less expensive. These cuts in price have led to a shale revolution across the states, one that has completely changed the shape of the United States energy economy.

Keep Reading…

Connecticut Special Session

Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy (D) has called a special session of the state’s general assembly. During the session, which convenes Monday, June 29, the legislature will propose adjustments to the state budget, after weeks of complaints from state businesses concerning anticipated tax hikes. The narrowly passed budget included approximately $1.5 billion in tax increases. Additionally, the legislature will consider a bond package and two criminal justice bills.

Supreme Court Upholds Nationwide Healthcare Subsidies

This morning the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Obama administration in the case of King v. Burwell, the most recent challenge to the Affordable Care Act. The main issue at hand was whether the Internal Revenue Service could permissibly promulgate regulations to extend tax-credit subsidies to coverage purchased through federally funded exchanges. The language in Section 1401 of the Affordable Care Act says that federal tax credits should go to those who bought health insurance through “an exchange established by the state,” and the court Justices determined that in spite of this language healthcare subsidies are permissible nationwide.

Keep Reading…

California Special Session

Governor Jerry Brown (D-CA) has called the legislature for a special session on Friday, June 19th.

Caltrans, the state’s Transportation Department, is currently underfunded and the Governor is calling the legislature back to adopt a permanent fix. The current fuel excise tax revenues provide $2.3 billion to Caltrans to make repairs, whereas the agency says they need at least $5.7 billion to make necessary repairs. The Governor is asking the legislature to permanently adopt “pay-as-you-go” funding to replace the current method which sees the California General Fund provide assistance for the funding shortage. The full text of the Governor’s proclamation can be found here.

Keep Reading…

South Carolina Special Session

The South Carolina legislature will enter a three day special session beginning Tuesday, June 16th.  South Carolina’s fiscal year begins on July 1st, but the legislature has yet to approve a budget.  Much of the special session will be spent on transportation related issues. Democrats want more money to be allocated for road improvements and a raise on the gasoline tax. In addition, the state has $400 million more in revenue than projected so lawmakers will have to find ways to spend it.  Lastly, ride share company Uber, which has been operating on a temporary license, will lobby to have permanent changes made to the South Carolina Department of Transportation. Uber’s current license is set to end on June 30th.

Minnesota Special Session

The Minnesota Legislature will convene a special session on Friday, June 12th, at 10:00 AM. The legislature will debate six appropriation bills which they failed to pass during the regular session. One of the major votes will be around the agricultural and environmental appropriation bill. Legislators are unsure if they have the votes to pass the measure according to the Grand Forks Herald. Immediate impacts of failing to pass the bill would include barring the State Parks service from taking new reservations for camping.   The proclamation ordering the special session can be found here.

Support Growing for Juvenile Incarceration Reform

Juvenile incarceration has become an increasing problem amongst state legislatures. The case of Kalief Browder, who was 16 years old when he was arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack in 2010, is a perfect example. Unable to pay the $10,000 bail, Browder spent a confirmed 1,000 days at Rikers Island awaiting trial. Eventually in 2013 his case was dismissed and for years after he suffered mental and emotional turmoil, as well as multiple suicide attempts. Browder took his own life on Saturday, June 6 at the age of 22, reported The New Yorker. This is just one among the many high profile juvenile incarceration injustices that are forcing states to re-examine their use of lengthy out-of-home placements in the juvenile justice system.

Keep Reading…

North Dakota Legislature will Reconvene

The North Dakota Legislature will reconvene on Tuesday, June 16, 2015 to debate Senate Bill 2022, the appropriations bill for the North Dakota Public Employees Retirement System (NDPERS). The Grand Forks Herald is reporting that the legislators have come to an agreement on the bill and it is expected to pass. The dispute focused on the board which oversees NDPERS which approved a change to its health insurance contractor.

The press release from the North Dakota Legislature is below:

Posted June 10, 2015 – 10:48am
The Legislative Management, pursuant to North Dakota Century Code Sections 54-03-02 and 54‑35‑16, voted to issue a call for the 64th Legislative Assembly to reconvene at 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday, June 16, 2015.

New Mexico Special Session

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez (R-NM), has called a special session of the New Mexico Legislature to convene at noon on June 8, 2015. The purpose of the special session is to address four bills which failed to receive final passage before the adjournment of the legislature. The purpose of the four bills to account for different spending and taxation numbers for FY 2015. The first bill would change many provisions of the Revenue and Taxation Department. The second bill will allow the issuance of severance bonds. The third bill provides supplemental appropriations to the Department of Health and the Administrative Office of the Courts. The final bill is the legal authorization for the lawmakers to get paid for the daylong session. The GOP controls the House while the Democrats control the Senate.

The full text of the proclamation can be found here.

States Expand Voter Registration in 2015

The trend of allowing citizens to register to vote online has been quickly sweeping through state legislatures over the past two years. Online voter registration follows the same process as traditional paper-based registration, however the application is hosted on a website, not a physical paper copy, and is submitted electronically to election officials. The form is then validated by comparing the information on the online registration form against the information provided on an individual’s driver’s license or state identification card, according to NCSL. This method of registration boasts reduced costs, enhanced government efficiency, and voter lists that are more inclusive and accurately representative of the populous.

Keep Reading…

Arkansas Special Session

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has officially called a special session of the state legislature that will begin on May 26.  Lawmakers have been asked to consider providing incentives to bring a Lockheed Martin project to the company’s Camden, Ark. production facility. The proposal would make use of the legislature’s Amendment 82 authority to use the state’s general revenue budget to issue bonds to finance economic development projects. Lockheed Martin has expressed interest in building 5,500 Joint Light Tactical Vehicles at the Camden facility and Hutchinson’s office says the project would create nearly 600 new jobs. However the project would be contingent on the company winning a U.S. Army contract to build the vehicles.

The legislature is also expected to vote on a minor change to the state’s DWI law that is needed to prevent a loss of federal highway funding, and it will debate moving Arkansas’ primary elections from May to March.

Florida Special Session

A special session of both houses of the Florida state legislation will begin on June 1 at 1 pm and conclude on June 20 at 11:59 pm. Legislators are returning to Tallahassee to forestall a shutdown of the state government that could occur if lawmakers fail to pass a budget by the end of June. Debate over Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act hampered previous attempts to come to an agreement. The leaders of the House and Senate announced that in addition to health care, the session will address tax cuts and bills that were due for conference before the regular session was cut short by the House adjourning in April. A statement from the office of Senate President Andy Gardiner can be read here.

Budget Gaps Hit States Hard

In the fifth year of an economic recovery since the recession, states are still struggling to balance their budgets, as an unexpected trend of deficits has emerged despite the current overall successes of the nation’s economy. According to the Associated Press at least 22 states project shortfalls for the coming fiscal year, posing serious challenges for state governments both red and blue. These deficits range from the relatively small, in states such as Vermont and Rhode Island, with deficits of $17 and $34 million respectively, to large states like Illinois with a gaping $6 billion hole that somehow needs to be filled. Unlike the federal government, states cannot legally run a deficit. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that 49 states have statutory and constitutional provisions mandating budgets are balanced, Vermont being the only exception. This often forces state officials to make aggressive tax cuts to government-funded programs or borrow from “rainy day funds.”

Keep Reading…

E-cigarettes Regulations Stumps States

E-cigarettes are a nearly $2 billion industry that has operated largely outside the scope of federal regulators since its inception. E-cigarettes are battery-operated products designed to deliver nicotine, flavor and other chemicals by turning nicotine into an aerosol that is inhaled by the user, known as “vaping”. Since these products generally do not contain tobacco, e-cigarettes currently fall outside the jurisdiction of most traditional state laws regulating tobacco products. Due to this lack of regulation, state legislatures, the U.S. Congress, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have been exploring means of regulation via indoors use bans, tobacco taxes, and sales bans.

Keep Reading…