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After the Dust Has Settled: Where We Stand with the Affordable Care Act

Even
in states represented by such staunchly anti-ACA representatives, people
clamored for a chance to be able to meet their medical needs. Now ani-Obamacare lawmakers must contend with the sheer number of their newly insured constituents.

 

One week removed from the final push before the registration
deadline, only 15.6%
of American adults
are uninsured, the lowest figure since 2008, according
to Gallup. New insurance markets, made available through the ACA,
brought in 7.1 million new registrants, eclipsing the White House’s goal of 7 million before the deadline.

President Obama made several public appearances in support
of the rollout, and enlisted the support of prominent figures in politics and
entertainment across the county. Some right-leaning pundits came out against
this, decrying his appearances as “un-presidential.” But in the wake of these
appearances in the lead up to the deadline, healthcare advocates in states like
Ohio
had a great deal of success registering people over the phone and in one-on-one
meetings.

Additionally, Minnesota’s rollout, through state program, MNsure
was declared a “stable, secure
and successful
” endeavor by its interim CEO, despite initial struggles.

A 57-year-old new registrant
from TX
, Cynthia Donnell, said “I can go rest easy tonight and get some
good night sleep knowing that I have insurance and can go to my own private
doctor and get the care that I need.” Even in a state represented by such
staunchly anti-ACA representatives, people clamored for a chance to be able to
meet their medical needs.  

Now lawmakers who tried to stand as roadblocks
between their constituents and the healthcare they needed, are backed into a
corner by the facts and deny
the success of the rollout.

Much has been written about the Obamacare rollout and the
obstacles that it has overcome. But at the end of the day, the numbers don’t
lie: 7.1 million Americans now have access to medical care that they could not
have gotten otherwise, due in part to those willing to kick up a little dust. 

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Recent Movements to Protect Undocumented Immigrants

All too often, undocumented immigrants are told that they are welcome in the U.S. as long as they work the types of jobs that those of us with social security cards don't want. Across the nation, activists and lawmakers alike are working to help make the American dream accessible to everyone.

Undocumented
people, even those who have been in this country for generations and consider
America to be their home, have been a target for many on the right for years. But
the DREAMers and their allies have not been silenced. Here are some recent
stories of movements to protect undocumented immigrants:

  • Tennessee: A
    group of University of Tennessee students and leaders of the Tuition Equality
    Now campaign assembled at 6 a.m. on March 11 to paint their campus's
    iconic rock, pushing lawmakers to approve legislation admitting undocumented
    students to Tennessee's public universities and be charged in-state tuition. The
    proposal states that if someone is not a legal U.S. citizen but has graduated
    from high school, has an ACT score of 21 or higher and a 3.0 GPA, they would be
    eligible for in-state tuition. As of now, schools in the University of
    Tennessee system do not knowingly accept undocumented students, and Tennessee
    law does not speak to the issue.
  • Oregon: Oregon Rep. Mark Johnson supports
    granting driver cards to Oregonians who
    can't prove they're here legally. Johnson says that
    lawmakers could pass the same bill next session if voters reject the measure in
    November.
  • New Jersey: A
    new effort is underway in the
    New Jersey state legislature to
    allow undocumented immigrants to legally drive in New Jersey. Individuals would
    have to prove that they lived in New Jersey to apply.

 

 

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Marriage Equality and the Arc of the Moral Universe

Marriage equality has been called the landmark civil rights issue of our time. Here is a roundup of some of the latest roadblocks in states.

Marriage equality has been called the landmark civil rights issue of our time. At its core, the debate is about the basic human right of two consenting adult individuals to publicly declare their love for one another in a state-recognized relationship. Over the years, it has been shifted and contorted into a religious freedom argument and an argument over states' rights, but as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King once said "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."

All over the nation, lawmakers are working to enact policy to reflect the ideals of their constituents and anticipate the dynamic nature of society, but even with the changing attitudes and positive steps being taken on the whole, obstacles remain. Here is a roundup of some of the latest roadblocks in states: 

Arizona: We all celebrated last week when Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed SB-1062, stating that it didn't "address a specific or present concern related to religious liberty in Arizona." Even State Senator Bob Worsely, who had supported the bill, called it a "mistake." But these victories are only a part of the incremental gains the movement must make to achieve real equality.

Michigan: In Michigan, a recent story found Attorney General Bill Schuette ordered court clerks not to allow same sex marriages back in October, when he thought federal Judge Bernard Friedman would rule on the case granting marriage equality. 

Kentucky: After Kentucky AG Jack Conway declared that the state wouldn't appeal the court decision to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, Gov. Steve Beshear said he would hire outside counsel to seek a stay on the decision and keep it from being enacted on March 20.

Texas: Similarly, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas has vowed to appeal the recent decision of Judge Orlando Garcia, which found the state's ban on marriage equality unconstitutional. 

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In Colorado, The Fight For Better Election Systems Continues

GOP lawmakers in Colorado are trying to put a two year hold on HB-1303, placing a yet another obstacle between voters and the polls. 

 

Remember how awesome it was when Gov. Hickenlooper signed the historic Colorado Voter Access and Modernization Election bill into law (HB 1303), which set the pace for modernizing the election systems in the state and make voting easier for Colorado citizens?

Well today, there's a hearing on SB 14-141, a GOP sponsored bill that would put an unnecessary hold on the law for two years and essentially put Colorado's election process back in the dark ages. The hearing in the Senate State Affairs Committee starts at 1:30pm MT.

2013 was a watershed year in Colorado electoral history with the passage of HB-1303, which provided a wide range of positive and comprehensive changes to the election process in the state. For example, voters now receive ballots in the mail and have the choice to vote by mail or in person, which aided a large influx in voter participation, with almost 400,000 more voters than 2011, according to the Colorado County Clerks Association. The law also made it easier for voters to change their addresses and adjust their registrations, which is an issue that impacts tens of thousands of people. Between October 15, 2013 and November 6, there were 29,155 voter registrations changes made, including 23,509 individuals who moved their addresses within their county.

HB 1303 received praise on the national level, including from conservative former commissioner and chairman of the Federal Election Commission, Trevor Potter. And based on the recent Presidential Commission on Election Administration, Colorado has already satisfied almost all of the listed "best practices": online registration, early voting, vote centers, choice of mail ballots or in-person voting, live e-poll books and others. Public policy think tank Demos made similar recommendations in their report, entitled “Millions to the Polls”, and also recommended allowing voters to vote or change their registration information through Election Day.

A two-year hold on HB-1303 would serve as a unnecessary step back and roadblock between voters and the polls. We urge the Senate State Affairs committee members to kill SB 14-141. 

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How Access Turns to Accident: America’s Struggle with Gun Control

The United States has a gun problem. Consistently a leader among in guns per capita and gun-related deaths, the crisis seems to have reached a fever pitch of late.

 

The United States has a gun problem. Consistently a leader among in guns per capita and gun-related deaths, the crisis seems to have reached a fever pitch of late. 

In Florida, Stand Your Ground policies-which essentially give gun owners free rein to use their weapons if they feel threatened-came to the forefront of the national consciousness through the Trayvon Martin case. As it turns out, the Martin case was only the beginning. According to ThinkProgress, as of February 5, 2014, at least 108 adults and 26 children and teens have died due to the vigilantism encouraged by Stand Your Ground. These destructive and negligent laws are rooted in the Castle Doctrine, which dictates that a person can defend his or her home (and sometimes their vehicle or workplace), using deadly force if threatened. More than 20 states have some form of Stand Your Ground law. These laws are made that much more impactful by the easy access so many people have to firearms.

In the wake of the devastating Newtown shootings in December 2012, President Obama assembled a task force and later introduced an ambitious set of proposals designed to stem gun violence. But it quickly became evident that despite the sympathy expressed by many on the right, they remained unwilling to change their stance on gun control. 

The NRA and the powerful gun lobby has stood in the way of progress, and thus placing Americans-often children-in harm's way. Over the course of the year following the Newtown attack, at least 194 children died in gun-related incidents. Sixty-five percent of these children were shot in their own homes. This would seem to be a clear indicator that our nation is struggling with too many guns and too much easy access to guns, but anti-gun safety Republicans in office have still chosen not to see it that way. These incidents are continually explained away and called accidents without any real plans to prevent them from happening in the future. 

Lawmakers who are beholden to the gun lobby continue to turn a blind eye to the vicious cycle they are helping to perpetuate, but a group of citizens united for gun safety has already begun to make a difference nationwide. For information on how you can help improve national gun safety, visit Americans for Responsible Solutions.

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Kicking Off Another America Votes State Summit

The 2014 America Votes State Summit, our fifth annual, kicks off tomorrow afternoon.  For more info about the Summit, the agenda and featured speakers, visit our Summit page here

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Announcing Our New President, Greg Speed

We are excited to annouce our new president, Greg Speed.  Greg will take over as president later this month following the retirement of Joan Fitz-Gerald, America Votes' president since 2009. You can read about Greg and the strength of the America Votes coalition in The Huffington Post today: Leading Progressive Group Gets a New President. Here's What It Means.

Joan has expressed her complete confidence in Greg and his ability to lead the progressive movement forward into 2014 and beyond. "I'm ecstatic that Greg Speed has been chosen to be the new president of America Votes. Our partners know and trust Greg, having worked with him for years as the executive director. He has the knowledge and the vision to take this valuable partnership to the next level. In this challenging environment for voting rights and progressive governance, I have no doubt that Greg will have great success."

Greg has worked as AV's executive director for the last six years, overseeing three election cycles. In that time, Greg has played a key part in taking AV and its partners to the next level of coordination and efficiency.

Before joing the AV team, he served as communication director for the DCCC in the 2004 election cycle and worked as press secretary for then-Democratic Caucus Chair Congressman Martin Frost. These are just a few of the progressives he has worked with since the beginning of his career. Greg also serves on the boards of Priorities USA, ProgressNow, and the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center.

He is very enthusiastic about his new role as the head of AV.

"America Votes is a vital piece of the permanent progressive infrasture and will continue its long-term emphasis on supporting issue-based organizations and election reform in the states. This is a crucial time to focus on state elections for governor and key legislatures next year, and I look forward to building even stronger working relationships with our partners and increasing the types of efficiencies that deliver progressive victories," said Greg.

America Votes would not be where it is today without our partners; we are thrilled at the unanimous support that their leaders have shown Greg and the absolute confidence in him, they have going into our next election cycle:

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, co-founder and first president of America Votes: "Since 2003, America Votes has been the most important national organization to bring together groups, including Planned Parenthood Action Fund, to encourage people to vote and make sure everyone has an opportunity to participate in our democracy. Greg Speed is by far the best person to build upon AV's success in the coming years."

Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY's List: "EMILY's List is excited to move into the 2014 election cycle working with America Votes under Greg Speed's strategic leadership. Greg is veteran coalition builder whose energy, skill and inclusive vision for America Votes will help lead our table of partners to more progressive victories in 2014 and beyond."

Navin Nayak, senior VP for campaigns of League of Conservation Voters: "As we saw in the Virginia governor's race last week, winning depends on close coordination and using issues effectively. That's why the League of Conservation Voters has a strong partnership with America Votes, which will continue to thrive under Greg Speed's leadership."

Karen White, national political director of the NEA: "America Votes has been a crucial part of the progressive movement for the last ten years. The National Education Association is thrilled that America Votes will move forward under the leadership of Greg Speed, who has played a central role in the organization's success since 2008."

Brandon Davis, national political director of SEIU: "Working together is at the heart of what SEIU and labor unions stand for, which is why we are glad to be partners with America Votes. Greg Speed is a smart and well respected leader who will be an excellent head of America Votes as the labor and progressive movement moves ahead in the coming years."

Anne Bartley, America Votes board member and treasurer: "Our partners strongly believe that America Votes has played a fundamental role in progressive victories in our 20-state network, and building on the success of our organization is essential. Greg's strategic vision for our coalition and trusted reputation among our national and state partners will be an enormous benefit to the future of America Votes."

Denise Cardinal, executive director of ProgressNow: "We are seeing a lot more emphasis and interest from all groups in what is happening in state legislatures around the country, even in city council races. AV has been great in stepping into that space. Greg understands that there is sometimes a tension but that we also need to have a connection point between larger national entities and state based entities. He has lived it on both sides and seen it himself."

(You can read more in our press release here.)

We would like to thank all of our partners for their continued commitment and confidence in America Votes as we go forward. Joan has been an inspiration to all of us and we will miss her dearly. Though we are sad to see her go, we wish her the best as she begins this new chapter of her life.

Greg put it best when he said, "Joan will be greatly missed after an outstanding tenure at America Votes developing a strong, trusting relationship with the organization's table of progressive partners and donors. She took our organization to the next level, we will continue to strengthen and amplify our successes in the coming years."

Congratulations on your new position, Greg! We look forward to your leadership!

 

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The Monster Laws: Suppressing the Vote in Texas and North Carolina

The right to vote is supposed to be guaranteed to Americans. But since the Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act in June, that has not been the case for many voters in Texas and North Carolina.

As Americans, we are guaranteed certain rights. Freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly, petition. Right to a speedy trial. Right to bear arms. And one of those rights, perhaps the most important right of all, the one that allows us to determine the people who make laws, declare war or peace, and represent our country to the rest of the world, is the right to vote. American men and women of all races and walks of life are supposed to be able to cast their vote. But since the nearly complete destruction of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court earlier this year, that right has been increasingly infringed upon across the country.

In North Carolina, the number of days allotted for early voting has been cut down and voters cannot cast their ballots without showing an ID.

In Texas, biased redistricting has disenfranchised minority voters and voter ID has hurt both minorities and women.

The Department of Justice is suing both of these states but even if the laws can be overturned without the backing of the majority of the Voting Rights Act, in the meantime they will continue to suppress voters.

On Monday, with the beginning of early voting for Texas's November 5 election, the Voter ID law officially went into effect. Already reports of problems at the polls are streaming in.

On Tuesday, a state judge was almost stopped from casting a ballot because her middle name on her photo ID was her maiden name instead of her actual middle name. It was the first time she'd had trouble voting in 49 years. Eighty four-year-old Dorothy Card has been voting for 60 years but may have trouble this year because she was denied a voter ID despite having ample identification. They are just two of the 34 percent of Texas women who are likely to be affected by the new law.

The women are only a small portion of the voters being disenfranchised in Texas. Students and minorities especially Latinos are also being disproportionally hit. However, the Department of Justice has a stronger case against Texas than against North Carolina.

From the News & Observer:

The government's case in Texas potentially has been strengthened by an earlier federal court ruling that the state's redistricting plan wrongfully singles out Latinos and other minorities. The finding of "discriminatory intent" has also been bolstered by the discovery of anti-Latino emails sent by legislators while the district lines were being drawn.

The North Carolina voting regulations that have been passed are considered so awful by the opposition that the package is now regularly referred to as "The Monster Law." And election expert Rick Hasen said it was "the largest and most restrictive" set of voting regulations to be in place since the Voting Rights Act was passed.

The News & Observer detailed the ways the regulations are set to affect voting:

The changes include everything from requiring voters to present a government identification card, to cutting back the days - but not the hours - of early voting. They also eliminated same-day registration and put new restrictions on voters who turn up in the wrong precinct.

Some of the new laws will start next year. The voter ID takes effect in 2016, when the state helps elect a new president.

The changes follow general elections in 2008 and 2012 where, with Obama at the top of the Democratic ballot, the percentage turnout of the state's African-American voters exceeded that of whites.

A disproportionate number of black residents used early voting, which has been cut back by a week. Grass-roots efforts to get out the black vote relied on the state's annual voter drive and same-day registration, which allowed residents to register and vote early at the same time.  Both have been eliminated.

But North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory (R) and his supporters continue to claim they are fighting voter fraud. Voter fraud that is virtually nonexistant. McCrory says,"I firmly believe we've done the right thing. I believe this is good law. And I strongly disagree with the action the attorney general has taken." He went on to call the laws "common sense" and has even taken measures to officially request that the cases against the state be dropped.

As anyone with real common sense can tell you, these laws are not about voter fraud; they are about voter suppression. They are about preventing the people who would vote you out of office from casting their ballot; they are about cheating to get ahead. That is what lawmakers in Texas and North Carolina are trying to do.

In both of these states, changing demographics point to a move towards progressive values. More minorities and women are moving into positions of power and the older set of lawmakers, the conservative white males, are being pushed out. They are panicking.

What they don't see is that if they had listened and held themselves to a higher standard they wouldn't be on the verge of losing their place. If instead of kicking and screaming and throwing tantrums in the form of shutdowns, they'd stood up for the American people as a whole and not just their loudest constituents, maybe they wouldn't need to rig the system at all.

But they didn't do that. And they are rigging the system. They are suppressing voters. And until the DOJ cases are heard, the McCrorys and Perrys will be taking away one of the most basic, one of the most important rights in America, the right to vote.

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Are Women the Key to Ending the Shutdown?

Only two days away from a debt ceiling debacle, the level heads that seem to be prevailing in Washington? Women. 

As we enter week three of the government shutdown, with the debt ceiling looming over our heads, a "new" concept has been introduced into the debate. Instead of men calling the shots in Congress, what if there were more women making these decisions? Would the shutdown already be over? Could it end sooner if men just stayed out of the debate?

The most vocal and visible voices in this debate have been male - President Obama, John Boehner, Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell and Ted Cruz. But this morning on MSNBC's Morning Joe, Congresswoman and DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) proposed, "If we put all the women, Republican and Democrat in the House together, the consensus from all of us is that we would get this done in a few hours." (Video: here)

In response, fellow guest Peter King brought up Sarah Palin, Something Schultz disputed before being cut off by the New York represenatiave. While there are always Michelle Bachmans and Sarah Palins to consider, women representatives from both parties have largely been echoing Wasserman Schultz.

From an article by The Daily Rundown:

Last week half-a-dozen lawmakers milled about on the steps of the Capitol, discussing NASCAR and baseball at what Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul billed as a bipartisan "coffee break."

Then Sen. Susan Collins of Maine spoke up.

"Alright, enough of this baseball talk," Collins said, pulling the dozen or so senators-all men-into a huddle.

In a low voice, out of the earshot of reporters, she got down to business, pushing her fellow members of Congress to start deal-making.

She kept up her low-profile politicking, and six days later she had something to show for it. Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Kelly Ayotte signed onto a six-month budget agreement that would reopen the government while giving agencies more flexibility on sequestration and repeal Obamacare's medical device tax. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said it was an idea worth considering. Even some Democrats were intrigued.

Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell told NBC, "If this were up to women, this would be over already. There's still a lot of testosterone going around."

ThinkProgress also reported, "It's possible that the gender imbalance is one of the factors that's preventing lawmakers from being able to strike a deal, as analyses have shown that men are more likely to take risks and less likely to concede in negotiations."

Perhaps one of the reasons many women in Washington are ready to put their egos aside and make a deal is because more women are hurting from the shutdown.

Although the shutdown has been hard for both men and women across the nation, women are disproportionately affected. Rape kits and sexual assualt cases are being delayed. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children hasn't received its federal funding. Head Start programs across the country have been forced to close. These are just a few of the ways women are hit head on by the government shutdown (read more here). 

If the nation sees women working to get the government up and running again, perhaps Americans will also see it as a reason to elect more women to office, taking us a step closer to equal representation in Washington. Or, at the very least, out of the grips of financial devastation.

 

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AV-PA Partner Penn Environment Puts Out New Report Card Giving Gov “F” for Environmental Record

For Immediate Release:  October 10, 2013
Contact: Adam Garber, (267) 515-1220, agarber@pennenvironment.org

New report card gives governor “F” for environmental record

[Philadelphia]- Gov. Corbett received an “F” on an environmental report card released today by the statewide environmental advocacy group PennEnvironment.

PennEnvironment’s report card includes some of the most hotly-debated environmental policies in Harrisburg—and Gov. Corbett’s position on those issues—sincebecoming governor in 2011. The full report card can be viewed at: http://www.PennEnvironment.org/GovReportCard.

 

"From the first bill he signed into law that gutted energy conservation for buildings across Pennsylvania, to rolling back protections to keep our parks safe from drilling and proposing to dismantle funding for farmland preservation, this report card makes it clear that our environment has taken a beating under Gov. Corbett," said Adam Garber, PennEnvironment field director. "Fortunately, broad bipartisan support in the Legislature was able to defend against many of the governor's shortsighted proposals."

PennEnvironment expects to distribute its environmental report card to more than 250,000 households across theCommonwealth as part of the group's campaigns to keep Pennsylvania safefrom fracking, to protect local parks, and to promote energy conservation.

Some of the proposals and laws highlighted in the report card include:

Gutting Green Building Standards (Act 1 of 2011): First legislation signed into law by the governor (Act 1 of 2011) to roll back the implementation of energy conservation standards for buildings constructed in PA.

Carte Blanche for Frackers (Act 13 of 2012): Signed far-reaching law (Act 13) that guts environmental and public health protections from gas drilling and fracking, and so far, it has been found unconstitutional by the state courts.

Eliminating Funding for our Parks and Open Spaces (2012 Budget Proposal):A 2012 budget proposal to dissolve funding for the Keystone Fund, the state's cornerstone program for protecting state parks and other recreational areas.

Promoting Drilling on College Campuses (SB 367): Legislation signed into law that allows fracking and gas drilling on our higher education campuses.

Permit Local Land Banks (HB 1682): Legislation signed into law that helps local communities turn vacant lots into parks, community gardens and green spaces.

"Some of the governor's anti-environmental proposals were so outrageous that they've been met with swift and vocal bipartisanopposition, including cuts to funding for our parks and farmland preservation," said Garber.

The report card was released as Gov. Corbett is facing decisions on a number of critical environmental issuesduring the last year of his term. Issues include the opening of Loyalsock State Forest to drilling, threats to our state's clean energy law, and an underfunded park system.

"We urge Gov. Corbett to usethe next eight months to push for environmental proposals to promote a clean energy future, to protect our threatened open spaces and family farms, and to begin tackling global warming," said Garber.

The environmental report card can be found at: http://www.PennEnvironment.org/GovReportCard

PennEnvironment is a state-based, citizen-funded, environmental advocacy organization working towards a cleaner, greener, healthier future. For more information, visit www.PennEnvironment.org.

 

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