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House Democrats from Florida have sent a letter to House leaders requesting hearings on the new state voting laws. The recent bill signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott imposes new restrictions on groups that register voters, requires voters to cast provisional ballots if they move to another county, and shortens the validity of voter signatures on citizen initiatives from four years to two. Opponents say that the stricter laws will disproportionately affect college students, military personnel, and low-income people.
Florida Reps. Alcee hastings, Corrine Brown, Ted Deutch, Frederica Wilson, and Kathy Castor have joined 34 other U.S. Representatives signing the letter sent to the House Committee on the Judicary. The letter reads:
"Congress has the Constitutional authority to act to protect the rights of all voters. In the face of voter suppression laws being enacted across the nation, Congress must determine the extent of the problem and provide appropriate remedies. Despite years of progress, inequities and obstacles still remain. We must work together to strengthen our nation's democracy and ensure that the voting rights of all Americans are protected. Again, we respectfully request that Committees hold a hearing to address this extremely important matter."
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) also recently requested that the Senate conduct "investigative field hearings" to see if the new laws are "an orchestrated effort to disenfranchise voters" in a manner that may be illegal.
Ohio voters repealed a measure that curbed collective bargaining for public employees. It failed by a larger-than-expected margin of 39 percent to 61 percent, according to The Associated Press, with 99 percent of precincts reporting. Ohio's Issue 3, a constitutional amendment barring an individual mandate to buy health insurance, easily passed. Though symbolic, as the state can't opt out of the federal law, the vote was widely seen as a state-wide referendum on the mandate of the federal health care law.
In Maine, voters restored Election Day registration after Republicans passed a bill ending the long-standing tradition.
Iowa voters elected Elizabeth Mathis in a special state Senate election. The election of Mathis, a Democrat, maintained the Democrat majority in the chamber.
The "personhood" amendment in Mississippi was soundly defeated. The proposed constitutional amendment would have expanded the definition of the word "person" to the moment of fertilization, banning abortions and some forms of birth control and IVF. The measure was originally intended to pass by a wide margin in the deeply conservative state, but opponents gained ground before the election, making the case that the broad wording of the measure could have consequences that went beyond abortion.
Also in Mississippi, Republican Phil Bryant, the state's lieutenant governor, easily won the race to succeed outgoing Gov. Haley Barbour, topping Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree, according to The Associated Press. Bryant had 61 percent of the vote with 97 percent of precincts reporting. Earlier this year, DuPree became the first black gubernatorial candidate nominated by a major party in Mississippi since Reconstruction.
In Virginia, where the state Senate was at risk of flipping to Republican control, the GOP picked up one seat and But Democrats still have a chance of maintain the majority in the chamber, depending on the outcome of one very close race. If however, the Republican (who leads) holds on there, the state Senate would be deadlocked at 20-20, meaning Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling would give the GOP an edge in a power sharing agreement. The district that is too close to call has the Republican candidate leading by .02 percentage points, or 86 votes, with all precincts reporting, according to the AP. Republican Bryce Reeves is leading Democratic incumbent Edd Houck, 50.1 percent to 49.9 percent.
In Kentucky, Gov. Steve Beshear cruised to a second term in a gubernatorial race in the red state; Democrats also did well down-ballot in the Bluegrass State, winning four of five races.
Arizona Republican Senate President Russell Pearce lost a recall election to moderate Republican challenger Jerry Lewis by 1128 votes. Pearce was a key architect of SB 1070, the state's controversial immigration measure signed into law last year that angered many Democrats. A group that helped to organize the recall effort was co-founded by a former Democratic Senate candidate.
The only federal races held Tuesday were taking place in Oregon, where party primaries determined the nominees to fill the 1st Congressional District seat vacated by Rep. David Wu, who resigned in August after being accused of having an unwanted sexual encounter with a teenager. Republican businessman Rob Cornilles and Democrat state Sen. Suzanne Bonamici both won their parties' nominations, according to The Associated Press. With 86 percent of precincts reporting, Cornilles had 73 percent of the vote and Bonamici had 66 percent, according to the AP. The general election is slated for Jan. 31.
New Jersey Democrats held on to majorities in both chambers, picking up a seat in the state Assembly. The election was held under a new district map approved earlier this year that was considered a blow to Republicans. Republican Gov. Chris Christie had set low expectations for his party, conceding that it was unlikely the GOP would be able to take control of either chamber and hoping only to hold on to their current seats.
In Michigan, Republican state Rep. Paul Scott of Grand Blanc, a close ally of Governor Rick Snyder, has been recalled. Angered by GOP actions to cut school funding, tax teachers' pensions, take away some of the security of seniority and require higher payments toward health care premiums, the Michigan Education Association took the lead in the recall effort. Though a recall is possible as the margin currently sits at only 232 votes, if the results hold, there will be a February 28th special election to fill the seat.
Republican State Senator Mary Lazich decided to cancel the committee on Transportation and Election meeting today. The committee was scheduled to vote on a controversial bill that would require petitions of recall to be notarized and would implement the newly drawn state senate districts. The bill would not affect the implementation of state assembly districts, which would go into effect for the November 2012 elections.
The bill received sharp criticism from Democrats who claimed that Republicans were trying to make the recall process harder by implementing the new district which are considered safer for Republican incumbents. Lazich decided to cancel the committee meeting after some Republicans announced that they would not support the bill, and the Assembly announced that they also did not have enough votes to pass the bill. With this lack of support Lazich determined that the bill would not leave committee and therefore will not appear on the senate floor until at least early next year.
Many also questioned the legality of adopting the new Senate districts now while keeping the current Assembly districts until November 2012. Others also cautioned that Wisconsin's redistricting plan still faces two court challenges that are not expected to go to trial until March 2012.
America Votes President Joan Fitz-Gerald writes in the Huffington Post that public investment, not just in infrastructure but in people, has resulted in many of the country's greatest assests and achievements.
This potential was realized by some of our greatest inventors and artists who were raised in poverty, were educated in public schools and went on to accomplish great things in the sciences and arts despite their humble roots.
In 1914, a son was born to two Russian immigrants -- neither had much formal education, but both valued the opportunities that America gave them. They lived in communities with other Russian immigrants in East Harlem, the Bronx and Queens. This young man was able to attend an extraordinary public high school with a rigorous three-year curriculum. This public high school produced great leaders, boasting alumnae like songwriter Ira Gershwin, U.S. senator Robert Wagner and Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter. Excelling at this public high school and completing his coursework at the age of 15 helped the young man get into the City College of New York, a highly competitive but tuition-free college. In the 1930's and 40's, CCNY produced eight Nobel Prize winners and the second highest number of PHDs in the country. This tuition-free public college was a place where many of these first-generation Americans were able to fulfill their great potential.
This particular young man pursued medicine. After graduation from CCNY, he applied and was accepted into NYU medical school. He continued to excel as a student and researcher.
It was a solid public education, along with investments in research for the common good that propelled the man who would end the scourge of polio. This man's name was Dr. Jonas Salk.
Dr. Salk refused the NYC tickertape parade just as he had refused to patent his vaccine. He also refused to patent the vaccine, which would have been a lucrative decision. Clearly he was not concerned about the accumulation of personal wealth; all he wanted to do was make the nation and the world a better place. He knew that he had benefited from a society that valued investing in those less fortunate, and he wanted to pay it forward. The public investment in Jonas Salk was paid back tenfold to future generations of children who would never know life in leg braces, a wheelchair or an iron lung.
So when we talk about budget cuts as a solution to our economic woes, let's remember who will get left behind -- the next Jonas Salk, the next child who might someday cure cancer, the next great mind to solve our energy needs or feed the world. History has shown us that greatness is not exclusive to Fifth Avenue or Beverly Hills -- it is not exclusive to expensive private prep schools or the well-connected. There is potential greatness in rural farms in the Midwest, in inter-city Los Angeles and Detroit, in small, run-down Southern towns, and in the poor neighborhoods in East Harlem, the Bronx and Queens that Jonas Salk once called home.
If we follow the directives of the right wing and we do not push back, we will become a nation that ignores and wastes our human potential -- potential that blossoms with opportunities for learning and development. The Occupy Wall Street protesters are not just unhappy about corporate greed, they are unhappy that these same wealthy Americans are now benefiting from tax cuts at the expense of important programs at the state and federal levels. Cuts to education at all levels, including cuts that spike the cost of our community colleges and public universities are a recipe for a bleak future for this nation.
We need to think of the sacrifices of those who have come before us who gave so much when they had so little. They believed that the legacy of strong communities and opportunity was more compelling than the accumulation of personal wealth. And if you were lucky enough to be prosperous, they believed that personal wealth carried with it a responsibility to others.
Think of your parents or your grandparents. Think of what they sacrificed not just for their families but what they collectively took from their individual wealth and used for the common good -- for strangers and for generations to come
In the words of FDR: "In our personal ambitions we are individualists. But in our seeking for economic and political progress as a nation, we all go up or else we all go down as one people."
It is time we reevaluate our priorities as a nation.
Voting in Ohio began on October 4th, but this was the first weekend that voters were able to cast their vote in Issue 2; voting down Issue 2 would mean the repeal of SB5, a bill that severely limits collective bargaining rights for public employees in Ohio.
From the Columbus Dispatch story:
"With more than two weeks to Election Day, 65,046 Franklin County voters have requested absentee
ballots, and 2,057 have voted early in person, according to the board.
Those numbers already surpass early voting in the last two off-year elections. In 2009, more
than 47,000 people voted early, either in person or by absentee ballot, and nearly 29,000 did in
In last year’s gubernatorial election, nearly 170,000 voted early.
“This is more like a gubernatorial election,” said William A. Anthony Jr. director of the Board
“It’s clearly the issues. They’ve created a lot of excitement.”
Anthony said many Downtown workers have come to vote during their lunch hours. On Friday, 192
voted, slightly more than the same day in last year’s gubernatorial election and more than three
times as many as in the last off-year election in 2009.
“I tell people if they want to avoid lines, vote early,” Anthony said."
On Tuesday, the Topeka City Council voted 7 to 3 to repeal the local law against domestic violence. Different arms of government representing the same people are in disagreement over who should pay for prosecuting people accused of misdemeanor domestic violence. Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor has handed off many cases to the city, claiming that due to budget cuts, he needed to focus his resources on felonies. County leaders are accusing Taylor of using abused women as pawns to negotiate funds for his office.
The move by the City Council Tuesday night was intended to force Taylor to prosecute the cases because they would remain a crime under state law.
Eighteen people have been arrested on domestic violence charges and released without charges since September, because no agency is accepting new cases. Advocates for victims of domestic violence have expressed concern and alarm over the releases. Becky Dickinson, a program director with the Y.W.C.A., which is the primary provider of services for victims of domestic violence in the county, said that the lack of charges for those arrested for misdemeanor domestic violence would encourage retaliation. "Our biggest concern is the safety of the victims," she said. "We need to get this resolved as soon as possible."
Kansas has fared much better than much of the country in the economic crisis, but there are still fiscal strains. Shelly Buhler, chairwoman of the Shawnee County Commission, asked all departments to propose 10 percent cuts, and Taylor asked for an increase. "We had hoped that he would not put that group of victims at risk, that he would find some other way to absorb the cuts," she said.
Taylor's announcement that he would immediately stop prosecuting misdemeanors in Topeka (though the budget cuts do not go into effect until next year) came as a surprise, though Buhler has said that she does not expect him to follow through with his threat.
Critics have pointed out that even as local governments are cutting deeper into crucial services, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is preparing a sweeping tax cut plan.
According to a report released today by Public Campaign and National People's Action, the 12 members of the debt super committee have accepted a combined total of nearly $41 million from the financial and real estate sectors. The panel, formally known as the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, was created to find ways to reduce the deficit by $1.5 trillion over 10 years. Because of this control, its members have become prime targets of special interest lobbyists, such as hedge-fund managers opposing President Obama's plan that would tax their compensation packages as ordinary income.
Since 2000, the financial sector has spent more than $4 billion on lobbying. The Senate Finance Committee chairman, Sen Max Baucus, D-MT., was the biggest recipient, collecting $6.2 million since 1989. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-TX, was the top House recipient, collecting $3.9 million since 2002. The super committee members have received nearly $900,000 from JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo alone.
The report also found that more than two dozen former aides to the super committee members now work as lobbyists for the financial sector.
In August, more than two dozen watchdog organizations signed a letter urging the super committee members to give up fundraising and provide complete transparency of their meetings with lobbyists, donors, and corporate CEOs. So far, five members of the committee, Sen. Max Baucus, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), and Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), have announced that they would slow or curtail fundraising.
Thursday, the major state employee unions in Wisconsin effectively lost their official status. Top leaders for the unions have said that the hurdle for keeping official status as laid out in Gov. Scott Walker's union bargaining law is too high. "We looked at the law and we find the law at best an exercise in wasted resources. We've chosen to use our resources to organize our members and advocate for our members," said Marty Bei, the executive director of the 23,000-member Wisconsin State Employees Union.
Under the new rules, unions would have to get 51% of all the members of the organization, not just 51% of those voting, in order to recertify. Even with certification, unions would have almost no bargaining rights. In March, Walker signed legislation ending all union bargaining for public employees except for limited negotiations over wages. Union employees can't bargain for raises larger than the rate of inflation unless approved by voters in a referendum.
"You go through all that and all you get to do is bargain (for limited raises)," said Bryan Kennedy, president of the American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin.
The legislation requires that unions go through yearly recertification votes to keep their official status. Unions can exist without the official status, but government employers don't have to recognize or bargain with them over anything.
Only four state unions have filed petitions for recertification elections, mostly extremely small unions like the 58-member Professional Employees in Research, Statistics and Analysis. The president of the union, Jeff Richter, acknowledged that the small size makes it possible to win a recertification election.
Governor Walker declined to comment on the decertification.
On Thursday September 15th, the Virginia Board of Health passed new regulations for the twenty-three abortion clinics within the state. The new measures impose regulations on the clinic itself, including rules about ceiling height, hallway width, size of operating tables, and number of parking spaces. Proponents of the plan deem it necessary for safety reasons, but the majority of abortions performed in Virginia clinics occur during the first trimester. First trimester abortions are extremely safe and rarely present complications.
These regulations are expensive and threaten to close many of the clinics. The Family Foundation, a group of anti-abortion advocates, celebrates these potential closures as a pro-life victory. The organization issued a public statement; “Virginia’s abortion centers now face the choice of either spending their profits on meetings standards or no longer doing abortions at their facilities”. Meanwhile, thousands of Virginia women, including many low-income women and minority women, confront the real threat of losing reliable providers.
The Virginia regulations are the newest anti-abortion laws in a string of state-level legislation passed since the 2010 elections. Earlier in the year, Kansas also began regulating abortion clinics, while Utah and Nebraska restricted the abilities of private insurers to cover abortions. South Dakota proposed some of the most radical legislation, introducing a bill that includes harm to a fetus under the umbrella of “justifiable homicide”, which opens the door to legally protected murder of abortion providers. The bill ultimately did not pass, but South Dakota did implement a law that requires women to undergo a three-day waiting period before receiving an abortion. Backed by the new Republican majorities in many state legislatures, restrictions on abortion are becoming increasing common.
Young adults, traditionally the group most unlikely to be insured, are gaining health coverage faster than predicted since the passage of the 2010 health care law, according to three new surveys, including two released Wednesday. The 2010 Affordable Care Act allowed most under age 26 to be listed as a dependent on parents' insurance.
One of these surveys, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, estimates that in the first quarter of 2011 there were 900,000 fewer uninsured adults aged 19-25 than in 2010. A separate survey by the CDC released this morning shows that the trend may have accelerated in the first quarter of 2011. The Census Bureau reported that the percentage of young adults aged 18-24 without health insurance dropped 2% in 2010, to 27.2%.
Last year, the Department of Health and Human Services projected that 650,000 uninsured young adults would gain coverage in 2011. According to the recent surveys, this underestimated the number by at least 250,000.
The gain in insurance coverage comes despite the harsh effects of the recession, which has left young adults unemployed at almost double the rate of older Americans and incomes sliding faster than the national average. Despite the new measures, young Americans remain uninsured at roughly double the national average.