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State and Local Issues to Dominate U.S. Supreme Court Docket

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear cases this term related to campaign finance, affirmative action, public prayer and unions. The court’s ruling in these cases could make state elections much more expensive and change the way state and local governments hire and interact with their employees, especially their unionized workforce.

The most politically-charged case on the 2013-2014 docket is McCutcheon v. Federal Election Committee, a case related to the amount individuals can contribute to candidates and political parties. Should the court agree with the plaintiff’s argument that the two-year aggregate campaign contribution limit violates the First Amendment, they would expand upon Citizens United by increasing the threshold for individual contributions directly to candidates or political parties from $123,000 every two-year election cycle to $3.6 million. The court will be asked to agree with an amicus curiae brief presented by the Republican National Committee and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and do away with direct contribution limits altogether.

Race-based policies have drawn  a skeptical response from the Supreme Court in recent years, and states like Oklahoma, Nebraska and Arizona have responded by approving constitutional amendments banning affirmative action. Against this backdrop, the justices took up Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration & Immigrant Rights, and Fight for Equality by Any Means Necessary, a Michigan affirmative action case with a 10-year history. In 2006, Michigan voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative amending the state constitution to ban affirmative action in higher education and public sector hiring, and consequently, minority enrollment at the University of Michigan plummeted. A federal appeals court in 2012 ruled that the voter-approved referendum itself was discriminatory, and opponents of the referendum point out that all other state admissions policies are set by a popularly-elected board of regents. The state could take away the regents’ power to set admissions criteria or could enact another system that promotes diversity. To do so, however, minority groups would have to embark on the costly and challenging process to re-amend the state constitution with a second referendum. The vote for affirmative action in 2003 was 5-4; justices stressed at the time the intended temporary nature of the programs.

The high court will consider the constitutionality of prayer in legislative settings in Greece v. Galloway. In Greece, New York, a local preacher has traditionally opened town meetings with a prayer. The town argues that the meetings are open to anyone who wants to give a prayer, but the invocations are consistently Christian in nature and often ask non-Christians to participate.  The appeals court ruled the activity an endorsement of a certain religion. In a recent brief issued by the White House, the Obama administration stated, “So long as the goal of the government-backed prayer is not to recruit believers or criticize a given faith then the practice should be supported.”  Depending on the breadth of the ruling, the decision’s impact could seriously affect religion’s role in the public sphere.

SCOTUS also granted certiorari to a number of cases related to employment law. The court’s decisions last session could be characterized as pro-employer, and court watchers expect this trend to continue in the 2013-14 term.

The Illinois case Harris v. Quinn promises to have great repercussions for the future unionization of state and municipal workers. The plaintiffs claim that SEIU’s collection of non-political dues from non-member home health care workers employed by the state constitutes a violation of their First Amendment rights of association and petition. Also at issue in this case is whether workers paid through Medicaid but employed as independent contractors can be considered state employees. The district court dismissed the plaintiff’s claim, but the Supreme Court could find in their favor. According to Gabriella Khorasanee, a blogger for FindLaw, SCOTUS may even nullify its previous decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education to argue that non-union members cannot be forced to pay non-political portions of union fees laid out in collective bargaining agreements.

In another union related case, the Eleventh Circuit found in Florida case Mulhall v. Unite Here Local 355 that union arrangements with management to ease the process of unionization in exchange for its neutrality can constitute a bribe. They argued that the employee contact list that the management of Mardi Gras Gaming turned over to UHL was a “thing of value,” but the union claimed that these kinds of agreements are regular features of labor relations, and to make a change now would “wreak havoc” with labor law.

The decision in an Indiana case could “rein in the Department of Labor’s efforts to alter the Fair Labor Standards Act without formal (i.e., legislative) changes,” according to Sara Eber of employment law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP. In Sandifer v. US Steel, SCOTUS will decide whether the time spent “donning and doffing” protective gear should be paid. The Department of Labor argues that it should, but the Seventh Circuit found in favor of US Steel.

Ark. Legislators Reconvene to Address Teachers’ Insurance Rates; N.H. Lawmakers to Tackle Medicaid Expansion in Nov.

Update at 2:45 p.m.: StateTrack’s Manuel Alex Moya notes that the New Hampshire Legislature will meet for a two-week special session in November.

The Executive Council of New Hampshire approved Gov. Maggie Hassan’s request for a Nov.  7-21  so  legislators can work toward a bipartisan plan to expand Medicaid.

“We have a significant opportunity to improve the health and financial well-being of our families, strengthen our economy, and improve our state’s financial future,” said Hassan.

In order for a consensus to be achieved, Democrats, who control the House, will need the support of Republicans, who hold a 13-to-11 seat lead in the Senate.

An attempt to come to such an agreement failed earlier this year during regular session. Instead, a bipartisan advisory panel was established to hear testimony from state and national experts for almost four months. They eventually concluded with a unanimous recommendation that New Hampshire expand Medicaid through the promised $2.5 billion in federal funding while also considering private insurance options and ways to protect taxpayers.

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StateTrack‘s Cheryl Robins reports that Gov. Mike Beebe (D) called for a special session in the Arkansas General Assembly to address the forthcoming health insurance rate increase for the Public School Employee Plan.  The session will begin on Thursday at 3 p.m. and will likely conclude by the end of the day on Saturday.

One proposed measure would reduce the 2014 rate increase from 50 percent to 10 percent through the provision of $43 million in one-time surplus funds. Proposed legislation also would redirect future savings from the Education Facilities Partnership Fund; modify requirements for Teacher Professional Development; establish a task force to study and revise the Public School Employees Plan; and clarify the distribution of state revenue generated from the Uniform Rate of Tax and direct that revenue to the Educational Facilities Partnership Fund.

 

Utah, Wisconsin Legislatures Convene for Special Sessions

StateTrack’s Cheryl Robins reports that Gov. Gary R. Herbert (R) of Utah and Gov. Scott Walker (R) of Wisconsin have called their respective legislatures back into to the capitals for special sessions. The Utah Legislature convened Wednesday, Oct. 16, a day after Walker called Wisconsin lawmakers back.

The Utah Legislature is considering various actions to offset the effect of the federal government shutdown on state operations. Issues under consideration include the appropriation of state funds to open and operate national parks, authorizing unemployment benefits for furloughed employees, and funding for other obligations occasioned by delays in federal funding. To view a copy of the proclamation, please click here.

Walker called the legislature back into session to consider legislation to cut taxes for property owners by $33 over two years for a typical homeowner, spending down the state surplus by $100 million. Wisconsin ended its 2011-13 budget with a $759.2 million surplus, $89 million higher than expected. The extra surplus is largely due to $71.5 million in higher-than-expected tax revenue.  The Legislative Fiscal Bureau reported that the tax cut proposal would increase the estimated shortfall in the 2015-17 budget to $725 million from $545 million.

On Tuesday, the Senate approved the property tax cut by 28-5, with Democrats arguing that the  cut would barely amount to a dollar a month and the funds instead should go into the state’s rainy day fund, which is currently $278.5 million, after a $153.2 million addition in the most recent budget. The Assembly is expected to take up and pass the legislation on Thursday and Walker  is expected to sign it shortly afterwards.

To view a copy of the Executive Order, please click here.

Mississippi Tea Party Candidate to Announce Possible Cochran Primary Challenge

Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel is scheduled to announce on Thursday whether he will challenge six-term Sen. Thad Cochran in the GOP primary, according to invitations to the event from local tea party groups.

“Mississippi state senator Chris McDaniel, a favorite of many Mississippi for Liberty and Tea Party members, stated just minutes ago that he plans to make an important announcement regarding his future political aspirations this coming Thursday, October 17th,” wrote Mississippi for Liberty’s Jim Cunningham to supporters, according to an email obtained by CQ Roll Call.

Another organization, the Mississippi Tea Party, sent out a similar invitation for the Ellisville, Miss., event. The Clarion-Ledger, which first reported the news of the impending announcement, notes that a third organization, the South Mississippi Tea Party, is chartering buses to take supporters to the announcement.

Read More on Roll Call Mississippi Tea Party Candidate to Announce Possible Cochran Primary Challenge

Senate Leaders Optimistic About Debt, Shutdown Deal After House Plan Collapses

The Senate’s leaders appear to have a path forward on a legislative package to avert a default and reopen the government, but a lot of staff work remains before reaching the finish line.

“They’re still working out the details between Sens. McConnell and Reid, and we’re close,” Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin said.

“They had a basic agreement of what would be included. The staff is now working on a lot of — action going on right now on a lot of different items, but all pointing in the right direction at this moment,” the Illinois Democrat told reporters a few minutes later.

To that end, senior aides from the Budget and Appropriations committees, as well as others, were seen in the vicinity of Majority Leader Harry Reid’s second floor suite.

Read More on Roll Call: Senate Leaders Optimistic About Debt, Shutdown Deal After House Plan Collapses

Clark Wins Democratic Nod in Massachusetts Special Election

State Sen. Katherine Clark won a crowded special primary in Massachusetts’ 5th District on Tuesday night, defeating  four other Democrats and most likely becoming the sixth woman ever elected to Congress from the Bay State.

Clark received 30 percent of the vote, beating Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, who recieved 22 percent of the vote, with 83 percent of precincts reporting, according to the Associated Press.

Read More on Roll Call: Clark Wins Democratic Nod in Massachusetts Special Election

Ted Cruz, House Republicans Meet in Secret at Tortilla Coast

Sen. Ted Cruz met with roughly 15 to 20 House Republicans for around two hours late Monday night at the Capitol Hill watering hole Tortilla Coast.

The group appeared to be talking strategy about how they should respond to a tentative Senate deal to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling without addressing Obamacare in a substantive way, according to sources who witnessed the gathering. The Texas Republican senator and many of the House Republicans in attendance had insisted on including amendments aimed at dismantling Obamacare in the continuing resolution that was intended to avert the current shutdown.

Sources said the House Republicans meeting in the basement of Tortilla Coast with Cruz were some of the most conservative in the House: Reps. Louie Gohmert of Texas, Steve King of Iowa, Jim Jordan of Ohio, Raúl R. Labrador of Idaho, Justin Amash of Michigan, Marlin Stutzman of Indiana, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Tim Huelskamp of Kansas.

The group is a collection of members who have often given leadership headaches in recent years by opposing both compromise measures as well as packages crafted by fellow Republicans. And, it seems, leadership unwittingly became aware of the meetup.

Read More on Roll Call: Ted Cruz, House Republicans Meet in Secret at Tortilla Coast

No Deal at White House, but Both Sides Will Keep Talking

Updated 10:33 p.m. | A lengthy meeting between top House Republicans and President Barack Obama failed to reach a deal, but staff on both sides will continue to talk this evening in an effort to agree on a plan to reopen the government and extend the debt limit.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said the afternoon meeting between President Barack Obama and GOP lawmakers was “constructive” and “clarifying.”

“We had a constructive conversation. Agreed to continue discussions. Talks will continue tonight. And hopefully we’ll have a clearer way, path forward,” he said.

Other Republicans said the two sides were effectively negotiating — something they have been demanding all along.

House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said, “We agreed to try to make conditions for a CR,” which would reopen the government. “We’ll get back with each other tonight,” he added.

“We’re negotiating,” said Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin. “He didn’t say yes and he didn’t say no.”

Read More on Roll Call: No Deal at White House, but Both Sides Will Keep Talking

Can John Lewis Break Democrats’ Losing Streak in Montana?

While Democrats have controlled both Montana Senate seats since Jon Tester’s initial victory in 2006, and the party has had no trouble winning the governorship, the state’s at-large House district has been much more elusive. John Lewis hopes to break the streak.

No, it’s not that John Lewis you’re thinking of.

This one is a 35-year-old Democrat who spent a dozen years working for Democratic Sen. Max Baucus. Baucus is retiring next year and the state’s lone House representative, Republican Steve Daines, is expected to run to succeed him. Meanwhile, Lewis is the lone Democrat in the race to replace Daines. His journey won’t be easy.

Democrats haven’t won a House race in Montana since 1994 when incumbent Rep. Pat Williams won re-election with 48.7 percent. The seat has been open three times in the past two decades (1996, 2000 and 2012). Republicans won each of those contests but with 52 percent twice and 53 percent last year.

Read More on Roll Call: Can John Lewis Break Democrats’ Losing Streak in Montana?

GOP Senators Skeptical of House Short-Term Debt Limit Plan Without End to Shutdown

A growing chorus of Republican senators support reopening the government either as part of or before any agreement to raise the debt limit, despite a House GOP plan to keep the government shuttered while taking the risk of default off the table.

A significant number of GOP senators dismissed the House Republicans’ proposal either as short-sighted or out of touch with the political and economic realities of the shutdown. And at least one member of the GOP Conference said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is still active in leading conversations to resolve the current standoff, as Roll Call first reported last week.

“If we don’t reopen the government, we are failing the American people. We cannot continue to go on [like this],” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who proposed a plan to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling. “With each passing day, the harm is more widespread and the consequences will be more deeply felt by the American people and by our economy. I just don’t see how you can ignore the fact the government is shut down.”

“I don’t think we’re serving any policy or political goals by keeping the government shut down,” said Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who last Congress served in the House.

“I don’t think we should just address the debt limit and not address the shutdown,” said Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.

Read More on Roll Call: GOP Senators Skeptical of House Short-Term Debt Limit Plan Without End to Shutdown

Could These Senators Solve the Shutdown and Debt Limit Mess?

With Speaker John A. Boehner still trying to figure out what, if anything, he can pass to reopen the government and avoid a catastrophic default on the debt, the Senate may be the place where a deal to end the current impasse must arise.

If or when that time comes, the key question turns to who in the polarized chamber might be able to craft a plausible agreement.

“You should make a list of 20 Democrats and then for the Republicans just put one big question mark,” quipped one Democratic aide.

Democrats, who are insisting on clean continuing resolution and debt ceiling bills, do not believe there are any Republicans who have enough clout to broker an agreement that could pass the Senate, even if Democrats did offer concessions.

Read More on Roll Call:

Members Question: Is Shutdown Fundraising Worth It?

The government has shut down, but Charlie Palmer, Johnny’s Half-Shell, The Monocle and many other local congressional fundraising haunts aren’t closed.

For some members, they might as well be.

When the government shut down last week, many members rushed to cancel long-planned events at restaurants, spas and shooting ranges. Without an edict from party leaders, members must decide individually whether it’s kosher to bring in bucks during the spending impasse.

So far, vulnerable members have rationalized that the optics of walking into a mega-donor event isn’t worth the cash.

“It’s just a moral decision that each person is making on their own,” said vulnerable Rep.Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz. “We’ve got people out of work. There’s still high unemployment in my district. This is not the time to be raising money.”

Read More on Roll Call: Members Question: Is Shutdown Fundraising Worth It?

Republicans Refocus From Obamacare to Spending

As the GOP searches for a way to save face with conservatives, climb out of the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling, senior House Republicans are hoping to shift the focus from Obamacare to spending.

Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed from Rep. Paul D. Ryan titled “Here’s How We Can End This Stalemate,” and noticeably absent was the one word that prompted the shutdown chess match: Obamacare.

The Wisconsin Republican is advocating broad, long-term cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, calling those mandatory spending programs “the nation’s biggest challenge.”

He isn’t alone in that thought. Many senior Republicans have long felt the party would be better off fighting for a spending and entitlement overhaul than for a delay or repeal of parts of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.

Read More on Roll Call: Republicans Refocus From Obamacare to Spending

GOP Skeptical of Combining Debt Limit and CR Fights

House Republicans head into their Tuesday conference meeting divided over whether their leaders should attempt to keep the question of reopening the government and raising the debt limit separate.

While next week’s deadline to increase the debt ceiling would seem to force the two issues together, many Republicans say they fail to see how Republicans gain greater negotiating leverage by lumping the two issues together — and that could mean the government shutdown could stretch past the debt limit deadline of Oct. 17, regardless of whether Congress resolves the debt issue.

Others say the timeline has forced the House Republicans hand on both.

“Time has collided them,” said one GOP lawmaker who spoke on background.

Read More: GOP Skeptical of Combining Debt Limit and CR Fights

Will a Sidecar Help Avert Debt Limit Disaster?

With both Speaker John A. Boehner and President Barack Obama stuck in their corners on reopening the government, the dispute over the debt ceiling has taken center stage.

As it becomes increasingly clear that the two issues will be intertwined, the question turns to how long Obama can maintain a no-negotiation stance and whether Boehner can ultimately convince his restive caucus to vote for anything the president might sign that would avoid a default.

The White House opened the door to signing a short-term debt limit hike Monday — and didn’t immediately dismiss the idea of allowing legislative sidecars provided they aren’t a “concession” to the GOP.

Read More: Will a Sidecar Help Avert Debt Limit Disaster?

House Special Election Next Week Likely to Diversify Mass. Delegation

A special primary in Massachusetts next week will likely add diversity to the state’s congressional delegation — part of a larger shift in Bay State politics over the past few years.

On Oct. 15, a handful of top Democratic candidates will run in the definitive special primary for the open 5th District. The suburban Boston district is a strong Democratic seat and the nominee will likely take the House seat that Sen. Edward J. Markey held for decades.

Two of the top candidates are women, one is of Armenian descent, and another is openly gay. The winner could continue an evolution for the Bay State — historically one of the least diverse congressional delegations, especially for a traditionally liberal state. Since 1789, the state has only elected five women to Congress — two in the past five years — and has only had two black members, according to the House historian.

Local Democratic operatives characterized two female candidates — state Sens. Katherine Clark and Karen Spilka — as part of a trio of front-runners. But any one of the five candidates could win the low-turnout contest.

Read More: House Special Election Next Week Likely to Diversify Mass. Delegation

Boehner, Reid Staffers Spar Over Debt Limit and Shutdown

If the rhetoric coming from House and Senate staffers is any indication, the government shutdown isn’t ending soon — and Republicans and Democrats are miles apart on raising the debt limit.

On Monday a top aide for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sent around a statement questioning Speaker John A. Boehner’s candor, particularly his claim over the weekend that a “clean” continuing resolution could not pass the House.

“Speaker Boehner has a credibility problem,” said Adam Jentleson, the Nevada Democrat’s communications director. “From refusing to let the House vote on a bill that was his idea in the first place, to decrying health-care subsidies for members of Congress and staff that he worked for months to preserve, to stating that the House doesn’t have the votes to pass a clean CR at current spending levels, there is now a consistent pattern of Speaker Boehner saying things that fly in the face of the facts or stand at odds with his past actions.”

Read More on Roll Call: Boehner, Reid Staffers Spar Over Debt Limit and Shutdown

Race Ratings Change: GOP Chances Improve in California’s 52nd

There aren’t many congressional races where a challenger is running ahead of an incumbent in the polls more than a year and a half before Election Day, but that’s the situation in California’s 52nd District.

Two polls (one GOP survey in the spring and a media survey in June) show former San Diego City Councilman Carl DeMaio, a Republican, running ahead of Democratic Rep. Scott Peters.

Read More on Roll Call: Race Ratings Change: GOP Chances Improve in California’s 52nd

What the Government Shutdown Means to Your Advocacy Effort

With the government shutdown now in its second week and officials on both sides saying this may last through mid-October, Americans across the country are beginning to feel the effects of the showdown in Washington. While many have taken to the phones, social media and other traditional methods of advocacy to voice their concerns, the question is, are these messages even getting through? Even better, if the messages are getting through, is anyone there to read them?

Keep Reading…

McConnell’s Real Legacy Now Hangs in Supreme Court’s Balance

The first high-profile oral argument of the new Supreme Court term comes Tuesday morning in a campaign finance case officially called McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. Across the street, the dispute may come to be known instead as McConnell v. Donation Limits.

Mitch McConnell is guaranteed to make the news almost every day as the Senate minority leader. That’s even been true this fall, when the complexities of his squeezed-on-both-sides campaign for re-election in Kentucky have distracted him from (or prompted him to cede) his customary role as the indispensable dealmaker.

McConnell has been garnering headlines all fall as the leader who isn’t there, on issues starting with Syria and now most prominently on the government shutdown impasse, the future of Obamacare and next week’s prospective debt ceiling collision.

Read More on Roll Call: McConnell’s Real Legacy Now Hangs in Supreme Court’s Balance