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Three states enact indoor mask requirements

Our weekly summary of state & local news highlights new indoor mask requirements in three states and five constitutional amendments passed in the Pennsylvania House. Read all about it in this week’s edition of the State & Local Tap.

Note: We will not be publishing The State & Local Tap on Dec. 25 or Jan. 2. We’ll return to your inboxes on Jan. 8. Happy Holidays to you and your loved ones from all of us at Ballotpedia!

Ballot Measures Update

2021 review

Voters in nine states decided 39 statewide ballot measures on four different election dates in 2021. Twenty-six were approved and 13 were defeated. Four of the measures were citizen initiatives, three were advisory questions about taxes in Washington, eight were bond issues, one was a legislatively referred statute, and the remaining 23 were legislatively referred constitutional amendments.

2022 ballot measures

Sixty-three statewide measures have been certified for the 2022 ballot in 30 states so far. No new measures were certified for the ballot last week.

Proponents of three additional citizen initiatives in South Dakota and Massachusetts have submitted signatures:

Three candidates file for South Carolina Senate special election

Three candidates have filed to run in the special election for District 31 in the South Carolina State Senate. State Rep. Jay Jordan (R), Mike Reichenbach (R), and Suzanne La Rochelle (D) all filed before the Dec. 11 filing deadline. Jordan and Reichenbach will face off in the Republican primary on Jan. 25. The winner of the Republican primary will face La Rochelle in the special election on March 29.

The seat became vacant after the death of Hugh Leatherman (R) on Nov. 12. He had served in the state Senate since 1981. He was unopposed in his re-election bid in 2020.

Heading into the special election, Republicans have a 29-16 majority in the state Senate with one vacancy. South Carolina has a Republican state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.

As of December, 15 state legislative special elections have been scheduled to take place in 2022. Between 2011 and 2020, an average of 75 special elections took place each year. South Carolina held 33 state legislative special elections from 2010 to 2020.

States in session

Seven state legislatures—Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—are in regular session.

Local Ballot Measures: The Week in Review

In 2021, Ballotpedia is providing comprehensive coverage of elections in America’s 100 largest cities by population and all state capitals. This encompasses every office on the ballot in these cities, including their municipal elections, trial court elections, school board elections, and local ballot measures. Ballotpedia also covers all local recall elections, as well as all local ballot measures in California and a selection of notable local ballot measures about elections and police-related policies. Recent and upcoming local ballot measure elections are listed below:

  • Dec. 11 – Louisiana: Voters in New Orleans decided two property tax measures to fund housing and libraries, respectively. The libraries tax measure was approved, and the housing tax measure was defeated.
  • Nov. 13 – Louisiana: Voters in Baton Rouge approved a property tax measure to fund public transportation.
  • Nov. 9 – Arkansas: Voters in Little Rock approved a property tax increase for libraries.
  • Nov. 2 – Ballotpedia covered 156 local ballot measures on the Nov. 2 ballot in 18 states.  The outcome of the final measure was called on Dec. 6 after a recount was finalized in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Voters approved 109 measures and defeated 47.

Special Elections

Sixty-six state legislative special elections took place in 21 states this year. Heading into those races, Democrats had previously controlled 33 of the seats, and Republicans previously controlled 33. Three seats flipped from Democratic control to Republican control, and three seats flipped from Republican control to Democratic control.

Another 15 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2022 in nine states.

  • In special elections between 2011 and 2021, one party (either Republicans or Democrats) saw an average net gain of four seats nationally each year.
  • An average of 57 seats were filled through special elections in each of the past six even years (2010: 30, 2012: 46, 2014: 40, 2016: 65, 2018: 99, 2020: 59).
  • An average of 85 seats were filled through special elections in each of the past five odd years (2011: 95, 2013: 84, 2015: 89, 2017: 98, 2019: 77, 2021: 66).

Upcoming special elections include:

Jan. 11

Jan. 25

Voters recall Nebraska county supervisor

A recall election against Doris Karloff (R), District 2 representative of the seven-member Saunders County Board of Supervisors in Nebraska, was held on Dec. 14. A majority of voters cast ballots in favor of the recall to remove Karloff from office.

The recall effort was started by Rhonda Carritt, a resident of Wahoo, Nebraska, which is represented by Karloff on the county board of supervisors. Carritt said Karloff was not representing “the best interests of the district.” Carritt confirmed with the Wahoo Newspaper that the recall was related to a solar farm project in the county among other things.

Karloff’s son went into contract with the company starting the solar farm. Because of that connection, Karloff said she abstained from all discussions on the permit and did not vote on any actions related to the solar farm. “I have tried to do my best to make sure that I was doing everything legally correct,” Karloff said.

In the first half of 2021, Ballotpedia tracked 165 recall efforts against 263 officials. This was the most recall efforts for this point in the year since the first half of 2016, when we tracked 189 recall efforts against 265 officials. In comparison, we tracked between 72 and 155 efforts by the midpoints of 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020.

Ballotpedia’s The Heart of the Primaries delivered weekly starting Jan. 6

Texas will hold the first primary elections of the 2022 midterms on March 1. North Carolina was scheduled to hold the second statewide primary on March 8, but a recent state supreme court decision postponed those primaries until May. 

What do these primaries—and the hundreds of others approaching—mean for the direction of the major parties and the nation?

We have stories on these primaries and more in our third issue of The Heart of the Primaries, which went out Dec. 16. Starting in January, we’ll send out one Democratic version and one Republican version of The Heart of the Primaries each week, allowing you to follow stories happening within the party you care most about (or both!).

Click here to subscribe and to read previous issues.

Kshama Sawant defeats recall effort

District 3 City Councilmember Kshama Sawant defeated a recall effort in Seattle, Washington. The election was held Dec. 7. As of Dec. 16, there were 306 more votes opposed to the recall than supporting it. Results will be certified Dec. 17. 

The Seattle Times reported, “Any challenged ballots resolved between the time votes were counted on Thursday afternoon and the 4:30 p.m. deadline — about a two-hour window — were to be added to the count before certification, according to King County Elections Chief of Staff Kendall Hodson. That number is unlikely to change the results.”

Recall organizers alleged that Sawant misused city funds in support of a ballot initiative, disregarded regulations related to COVID-19 by admitting people into City Hall for a rally, and misused her official position by disclosing Mayor Jenny Durkan’s residents to protesters. Sawant referred to the effort as a “right-wing recall” and called the charges dishonest. See our coverage below to read the full sample ballot and court filings from both parties.

Sawant is a member of the Socialist Alternative Party. The city council office is officially nonpartisan.

Three states enact indoor mask requirements

Since Dec. 10, three states have announced new indoor mask requirements

  • New York: A new mask requirement took effect Dec. 13. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) made the announcement Dec. 10. Under the order, masks are required regardless of vaccination status at indoor public settings, unless the business or venue mandates proof of vaccination.
  • California: The California Department of Health issued an order requiring indoor mask requirements for vaccinated and unvaccinated people in some parts of the state. The requirement, which went into effect Dec. 15, only applies to local health jurisdictions that did not previously have a universal indoor mask requirement, meaning the order does not affect localities with pre-existing universal mask requirements.
  • Rhode Island: On Dec. 15, Gov. Dan McKee (D) announced a new statewide mask requirement would go into effect on Dec. 20. Under the order, masks will be required regardless of vaccination status at indoor venues with a capacity of 250 or more. For smaller indoor venues and businesses with indoor operations, establishments will have to either require masks for all individuals, require vaccines for all individuals, or allow individuals to either wear a mask or show proof of vaccination.

As of Dec. 17, masks were required in ten states with Democratic governors. Thirteen states with Democratic governors and all 27 states with Republican governors had no state-level mask requirements in effect.

Redistricting updates in Alaska, South Carolina, and Virginia

Alaska

The cities of Skagway and Valdez, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, and three Anchorage residents filed four lawsuits challenging Alaska’s legislative redistricting plan. The deadline to file challenges was Dec. 10 All four lawsuits request the Alaska Redistricting Board revise its Nov. 10 map.  

Three of the challenges allege the redistricting plan does not adhere to the state’s requirement that each district contains an “integrated socio-economic area.” The Matanuska-Susitna Borough lawsuit contends that each of the borough’s state House districts is overpopulated and dilutes the borough’s votes.

Alaska has had a five-member independent redistricting commission since 1998. Two commissioners are appointed by the governor, one by the state Senate majority leader, one by the state House majority leader, and one by the chief justice of the Alaska Supreme Court. The commission voted 3-2 to approve the maps. The three Republican-appointed members voted in favor of the maps, while the two members without a party affiliation voted against.

South Carolina

South Carolina enacted new state legislative district maps on Dec. 10 when Gov. Henry McMaster (R) signed a proposal approved by the South Carolina House and Senate into law. The South Carolina Senate approved House and Senate map proposals in a 43-1 vote on Dec. 7, and the House approved the new districts in a 75-27 vote on Dec. 9. Gov. McMaster signed the bill into law the next day. This map will take effect for South Carolina’s 2022 state legislative elections.

Rep. Wendy Brawley (D) said the proposal was “highly gerrymandered…to the disadvantage of most Democrats and to the disadvantage of many minorities — it protects Republicans.” Rep. Jay Jordan (R) said, “We worked very hard to make sure that was not the case, and I feel very comfortable in saying that was not the case.”

Virginia 

The Supreme Court of Virginia is expected to approve final congressional and legislative maps on Dec. 19. Two special masters that the court had selected on Nov. 19 released proposed district boundaries on Dec. 8. Virginia Mercury’s Peter Galuszka wrote that the maps “tend to favor Democrats more than Republicans because they are concentrated around natural social centers, such as cities.”

This was the first redistricting cycle after Virginia voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2020 establishing a commission-led redistricting process. However, that commission missed its deadlines, sending authority to the Supreme Court of Virginia, which, in turn, named the two special masters—one nominated by Democrats and one by Republicans. 

Pennsylvania House passes five constitutional amendments; bill heads back to state Senate

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives approved a bill that contains five constitutional amendments, which voters would decide as distinct ballot measures, on Dec. 15. In April, the state Senate approved the bill as a single constitutional amendment. Since the House changed the bill to include more constitutional amendments, the bill returns to the Senate for final first-session approval during the 2021-2022 legislative session. Topics include the lieutenant governor election, executive order time limits, legislative disapproval of regulations, election audits, and voter identification.

In Pennsylvania, constitutional amendments require legislative approval during two successive legislative sessions. The legislation would need to be approved again during the 2023-2024 legislative session before voters would decide the changes. The earliest possible date for the amendments is the spring municipal elections on May 16, 2023.

The original version of the bill was a constitutional amendment to allow a political party’s candidate for governor to choose their own candidate for lieutenant governor. Currently, a party’s nominees for governor and lieutenant governor run on a joint ticket during the general election but in separate primaries. On April 27, 2021, the Senate voted 43-4 to pass the bill. The four votes against the amendment were two Democrats and two Republicans.

On Dec. 14, the House voted to add the four additional constitutional amendments to the bill. The lieutenant governor amendment also received a grammatical change. Votes on two amendments were along party lines, with all 113 Republicans supporting and all 90 Democrats opposing. On the other two amendments, one Democrat joined Republicans in supporting the changes. Along with the lieutenant governor amendment, the amended bill includes:

  • a constitutional amendment to provide that executive orders and proclamations with the force and effect of law cannot last more than 21 days without legislative approval; 
  • a constitutional amendment to allow the legislature to pass a resolution, which the governor cannot veto, by a simple majority to disapprove regulations;
  • a constitutional amendment to require election audits, including elections administration, election machine certification, the list of registered voters, and election results; and
  • a constitutional amendment to require voter identification, regardless of the voting method.

In the 50-seat Senate, Democrats hold 21 seats, Republicans hold 28 seats, and an independent holds one seat.



ICYMI: Top stories of the week

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Democrats outraised Republicans by 125% in Virginia state legislative races

New campaign finance filings for Virginia’s House of Delegates races showed that Democrats led Republicans in fundraising throughout the 2021 election cycle. Between Jan. 1, 2020, and Nov. 25, 2021, Democratic candidates outraised Republican candidates by 125%.

Read more

A busy week for Biden’s judicial nominees

Within the last week, the U.S. Senate confirmed three of President Joe Biden’s (D) federal judicial nominees to lifetime Article III judgeships. As of Dec. 15, 31 of Biden’s appointees have been confirmed to federal judgeships.

Read more

Results to come in Ballotpedia’s Holiday Cookie election

Polls closed on Friday at 5pm Eastern Time in the election for 2021’s Official Holiday Cookie. We had a recall election on our hands this year after a petition was filed against our 2020 incumbent, the Sugar Cookie, due to an incident where salt was used instead of sugar! Votes are being tallied and we’ll announce the results on Monday.

Results here

Recall election held Dec. 16 against Wisconsin school board member

On Dec. 16, voters decided whether to recall Gary Mertig, one of the five members of the Butternut School District school board in Wisconsin. Nate Pritzl filed to run against Mertig in the election. Mertig won the election, defeating Pritzl and retaining his seat.

Read more

Ballotpedia’s The Heart of the Primaries delivered weekly starting Jan. 6

Texas will hold the first primary elections of the 2022 midterms on March 1. What do these primaries—and the hundreds of others approaching—mean for the direction of the major parties and the nation? Follow along to find out with our Heart of the Primaries newsletter.

Read more



Documenting America’s Path to Recovery #216: December 16, 2021

Welcome to Documenting America’s Path to Recovery. Today we look at statewide mask requirements in California, New York, and Rhode Island, an at-home rapid COVID-19 test initiative in Massachusetts, and other news since Dec. 9.

We’ll also give the latest tracking on:

  • Lawsuits about state actions and policies 
  • Vaccine distribution
  • State-level mask requirements
  • COVID-19 emergency health orders
  • School mask requirements
  • State proof-of-vaccination requirements and policies

Upcoming news

What is changing in the next week?

Rhode Island (Democratic trifecta): On Dec. 15, Gov. Dan McKee (D) announced a new statewide mask requirement would go into effect on Dec. 20. Masks will be required regardless of vaccination status at indoor venues with a capacity of 250 or more. For smaller indoor venues and businesses with indoor operations, establishments must either require masks for all individuals, require vaccines for all individuals, or allow individuals to either wear a mask or show proof of vaccination. 

Since our last edition

What rules and restrictions are changing in each state? For a continually updated article, click here.

Federal: 

  • On Dec. 9, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted Emergency Use Authorization to Pfizer’s booster vaccine for individuals aged 16 and 17. Shortly after the FDA’s announcement, the Centers for Disease Control updated its booster recommendations to include that age group.

California (Democratic trifecta): On Dec. 13, the California Department of Health announced a new statewide indoor mask requirement for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals would take effect on Dec. 15. The requirement only applies to local health jurisdictions that did not previously have a universal indoor mask requirement, meaning the order does not affect localities with pre-existing universal mask requirements. Previously, California had an indoor mask requirement in place for unvaccinated individuals.

Delaware (Democratic trifecta): On Dec. 13, Gov. John Carney (D) formally extended the state’s school mask requirement until Feb. 8, 2022. Carney announced the extension on Nov. 10.

Louisiana (divided government): On Dec. 14, Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) announced that the Louisiana Department of Health would add the coronavirus vaccine to the list of required vaccinations for students 16 and older, overriding the Louisiana House of Representatives Health and Welfare Committee’s Dec. 6 vote against the policy. He said parents could submit a written objection to opt-out. 

Maryland (divided government): On Dec. 15, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced a series of actions aimed at heading off a potential surge in COVID-19 cases. Hogan said the state was establishing a Surge Operation Center, which will help hospitals coordinate bed capacity. Hogan also said the state was working on a plan to make it easier for retired healthcare professionals and healthcare workers in other states to get temporary licenses in Maryland. 

Massachusetts (divided government): On Dec. 13, Gov. Charlie Baker (R) announced the state would send 2.1 million COVID-19 at-home rapid tests to 100 towns with the highest percentage of families below the poverty line. Municipal governments will have the final say over how the tests are distributed to individuals. 

Michigan (divided government): On Dec. 14, the Michigan Legislature passed an $841 million supplemental funding bill. The House passed the bill 94-9 and the Senate passed it 35-1. The bill, which is mostly made up of federal pandemic aid, includes $150 million to help schools test and screen for COVID-19 and $140 million for rent assistance. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) said she would sign the bill. 

New York (Democratic trifecta): On Dec. 10, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) announced a new statewide mask requirement would take effect starting Dec. 13. Masks will be required regardless of vaccination status at indoor public settings, unless the business or venue requires proof of vaccination. Previously, New York had an indoor mask requirement that only applied to unvaccinated individuals.

Pennsylvania (divided government): On Dec. 10, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down the statewide school mask requirement, upholding a lower court’s ruling that acting Health Secretary Alison Beam lacked the authority to require masks in schools.

Rhode Island (Democratic trifecta): On Dec. 13, Gov. Dan McKee (D) extended the state’s school mask requirement and coronavirus emergency order through Jan. 8, 2022.

Lawsuits about state actions and policies

To date, Ballotpedia has tracked 1,963 lawsuits in 50 states dealing in some way with the COVID-19 outbreak. Court orders have been issued, or settlements have been reached, in 609 of those lawsuits. 

Since Dec. 9, we have added two lawsuits to our database. We have also tracked one additional court order and/or settlement. 

  • We the Patriots USA v. Hochul: On Dec. 13, the U.S. Supreme Court declined a request to temporarily bar enforcement of New York state’s vaccine mandate for healthcare workers. Plaintiff healthcare workers, along with a group called We the Patriots USA, argued there should be religious exemptions to the New York mandate. New York’s mandate, which took effect in September, requires that workers in many different healthcare settings be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 
  • The Court’s decision came in the form of an unsigned order. Justice Neil Gorsuch (a Donald Trump (R) appointee), joined by Justice Samuel Alito (a George W. Bush (R) appointee), dissented, arguing that other vaccine mandates across the country have exemptions for individuals with religious objections to the COVID-19 vaccines. Gorsuch said that other jurisdictions have “found that [they] can satisfy [their] Covid-19 public health goals without coercing religious objectors to accept a vaccine.” Justice Clarence Thomas, a George H.W. Bush (R) appointee, indicated that he would also grant the application for relief, though he did not join in Gorsuch’s dissent.

Vaccine distribution

As of Dec. 15, the states with the highest vaccination rates as a percentage of total population (including children) were:

The states with the lowest rates were:

State mask requirements

Since Dec. 9, Rhode Island issued a new indoor mask requirement for vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. California and New York expanded their indoor mask requirements for unvaccinated individuals to now apply to vaccinated individuals as well. As of Dec. 16, masks were required in ten states with Democratic governors. Thirteen states with Democratic governors and all 27 states with Republican governors had no state-level mask requirements in effect.

COVID-19 emergency health orders

Governors and state agencies in all 50 states issued orders declaring active emergencies in response to the coronavirus pandemic. These orders allowed officials to access resources, like stockpiles of medical goods and equipment, unavailable to them during non-emergencies and temporarily waive or suspend certain rules and regulations. 

COVID-19 emergency orders have expired in 25 states. Emergency orders remain active in 25 states.

Since Dec. 9, no states have ended their statewide COVID-19 emergencies. Rhode Island extended its emergency order. 

School mask requirements

Since Dec. 9, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down the statewide school mask requirement.

State proof-of-vaccination requirements and policies

As COVID-19 vaccination rates have increased, state governments have enacted various rules around the use of proof-of-vaccination requirements in their states. In some cases, states have banned state or local governments from requiring that people show proof-of-vaccination. Other states have assisted in the creation of digital applications—sometimes known as vaccine passports—that allow people to prove their vaccination status and, in some cases, bypass COVID-19 restrictions.  

  • Twenty states have passed legislation or issued orders prohibiting proof-of-vaccination requirements at some or all levels of government. 
  • Five states have supported the creation of digital vaccination status applications.  

Since Dec. 9, no states have enacted policies related to proof-of-vaccination requirements or digital vaccination status applications.    

State employee and healthcare worker vaccine requirements

The Food and Drug Administration granted Emergency Use Authorization to several COVID-19 vaccines in late 2020 and early 2021. Since then, many states have required state employees and healthcare workers to get vaccinated. In some cases, states have allowed workers to opt for regular COVID-19 testing in lieu of getting a vaccine. 

  • Fifteen states have issued a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for healthcare workers. 
  • Twenty states have issued a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for state employees.

Since Dec. 9, no states have enacted policies related to state employee or healthcare worker vaccine requirements.



Economy and Society: WSJ names ESG critique among best books of 2021

Economy and Society is Ballotpedia’s weekly review of the developments in corporate activism; corporate political engagement; and the Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) trends and events that characterize the growing intersection between business and politics.

ESG Developments This Week

Lawsuit challenges California’s board diversity mandate  

On November 29, the Free Enterprise Project, a program of the National Center for Public Policy Research that aims to keep politics out of capital markets, announced that it had joined a federal lawsuit filed against the state of California over the state’s new business diversity rules. A 2020 California law requires corporate boards of publicly held companies based in the state to have a minimum number of members from what it calls underrepresented communities. The National Center, which is represented in this case by the Pacific Legal Foundation, is suing to have the law struck down as unconstitutional. According to a press release from FEP

“All racism is racism. All discrimination is discrimination. Each American should be judged according to his unique merits and the content of his character,” said Scott Shepard, director of the National Center’s Free Enterprise Project (FEP). “Doing anything else is unconstitutional, immoral and divisive. Californians deserve better than legally-mandated New Racism, especially if it is promoted under the Orwellian guise of ‘antiracism.’” 

The lawsuit, National Center for Public Policy Research v. Weber, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California on November 22. It seeks to overturn a state law passed in 2020 (AB 979) that amended California’s Corporations Code. The law requires that corporate boards of publicly held companies based in the state have a minimum number of members from “underrepresented communities,” defined as people of certain favored races or sexual orientations. It follows legislation passed in 2018 (SB 826) similarly requiring boards to have a minimum number of women.

“California’s quota doesn’t remedy discrimination, it perpetuates it,” said Anastasia Boden, senior attorney at Pacific Legal Foundation. “This law forces shareholders to cast votes based on immutable characteristics that people were born into and cannot change. The government should treat people as individuals, not based on immutable characteristics.”… 

“California’s political class has proven inept at running the state. Now they are heaping their unconstitutional ineptitude on the business community,” added National Center Executive Vice President Justin Danhof, Esq. “It may seem like a novel concept in 2021, but board members ought to be appointed for business purposes to help companies thrive. Selecting boards based on what someone looks like and who they prefer as sexual partners is not in the best interest of the shareholders of any company.” 

This suit follows a similar one brought recently against Nasdaq, which threatened corporations with de-listing from the exchange if they fail to meet certain board diversity demands. The National Center and its Free Enterprise Project are also involved in that effort, having filed suit against the SEC this past October: 

“In a similar ongoing case, FEP is seeking to strike down a quota rule recently implemented by the Nasdaq corporation and approved by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Nasdaq now requires companies listed on its stock exchange to either establish board quotas on the basis of race, sex and sexual orientation or explain why they have not done so. In the suit, FEP – represented by the New Civil Liberties Alliance – argues that the SEC lacks authority to approve the rule, and that Nasdaq lacks the authority to promulgate it.”

Congressman pushes for mandatory disclosures

On December 9, Congressman Juan Vargas (D-Calif.) participated in an online ESG forum hosted by The Hill. Among other things, Vargas reiterated his desire to see the passage of legislation designed to force companies to disclose ESG-related information as part of their annual disclosure process. While the SEC has signaled its interest in creating and implementing mandatory disclosure standards, opponents have questioned whether the agency has the authority to do so. Legislation such as that proposed by Vargas would remove one roadblock from the SEC’s plans: “Vargas said the SEC would determine the exact metrics to track under the bill.” The Hill has the full story:

“Vargas, speaking at The Hill’s The ESG Ecosystem event, said most large companies are reporting some of such metrics, but he expressed concern that the disclosures are selective without industry-wide reporting requirements.

“Let’s do it in an objective way, let’s look at everything,” Vargas told The Hill’s Steve Clemons. “The good, the bad, and the ugly.”

Vargas introduced the ESG Disclosure Simplification Act in February to mandate companies report ESG information to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The bill passed the House with razor-thin margins in June, with all Republicans and four Democrats voting against the measure. 

“There’s a lot of Senate allies looking at this, and ultimately, I don’t know,” Vargas said of the bill’s fate.”

Exxon-Mobil faces new wave of ESG activism 

Last spring, Engine No. 1, a small hedge fund, challenged the managers and directors of Exxon-Mobil claiming that the company’s leaders were not doing enough to battle climate change. The hedge fund sought to replace three of Exxon’s directors with its own, more environmentally friendly candidates. With the support of the Big Three passive asset management firmsBlackRock, Vanguard, and State StreetEngine No. 1’s challenge was successful, and all three of its candidates were elected to the Exxon board.

And yet, the company is still not environmentally friendly enough for green and ESG activists, at least according to David Blackmon, writing at Forbes:

“Providing further proof – as if any were needed – that ESG investor groups can never be satisfied, ExxonMobil finds itself under renewed attack from activists for not doing enough even though it is on target to meet the 2025 goals it was previously pressured by the same activists to adopt.

A group calling itself the Coalition for a Responsible Exxon, or “CURE” (no idea where the “U” is derived) is angry that Exxon, while doing what it needs to do to meet its overall goals, including $15 billion in planned investments in green energy initiatives, failed this year to to set “segment-specific reduction targets for Exxon’s midstream and downstream businesses.” For that ostensible “failure,” CURE awards the company’s new board of directors – which includes activist members sponsored by fellow ESG activist group Engine No. 1 – a grade of D-minus for the year, and calls for the firing of CEO Darren Woods despite the company’s stellar financial performance in 2021….

CURE’s announcement came days after Exxon itself announced that its Esso Petroleum Company subsidiary had entered into a memo of understanding (MOU) with SGN and Macquarie’s Green Investment Group (GIG) to “to explore the use of hydrogen and carbon capture to help reduce emissions in the Southampton industrial cluster.” A release by the three prospective partners estimates that the potential annual demand for hydrogen from the cluster could be as much as 37 TWh by 2050, enough to meet the heating demand of 800,000 homes in Southern England. The Southampton cluster is home to Exxon’s Fawley Complex, the largest refining/petrochemical complex in the UK.

Joe Blommaert, president of ExxonMobil Low Carbon Solutions said: “Hydrogen has the potential to help provide customers with access to affordable, reliable energy while minimizing emissions. We are pleased to be part of this collaboration that includes a technical study to assess the potential for the Fawley facility to play a key role in both hydrogen production and carbon capture and storage solutions. With well-designed policy and regulations, hydrogen can help reduce the emissions of the Southampton industrial area that provides vital products for modern life.””

Blackmon continues, noting Exxon’s recent history of activism to fight climate change through various programsmostly carbon capture effortsbefore finally concluding that, in his view, it might never be enough for the activists:

“Exxon is already the largest capturer of carbon dioxide in earth, but the one thing we know beyond any doubt is that, no matter how many future projects it announces and executes, and no matter how many annual or decadal goals for emissions targets it meets, it will never be enough for activist groups like CURE. These announcements and achievements will always be met with new and expanded demands, bad grades for the board of directors and renewed calls for the firing of whomever happens to be serving as CEO at any given time.

It has all become so very tiresome and predictable.”

ESG: no better, but no worse?

A study recently conducted by researchers at Arizona State University purports to show that ESG investing doesn’t cost investors anythingor at least not very much. This marks a shift in the debate over ESG’s impact on investors. For years, ESG advocates have insisted that ESG can and will produce greater returns than other investment schemes. This report challenges that assumption and flips it on its head, making the case, instead, that ESG doesn’t cost investors very much. According to Institutional Investor magazine:

“Environmental, social, and governance investing poses little cost to investors, according to a study from researchers at Arizona State University.

In a paper titled “The Cost of ESG Investing,” ASU finance professors Laura Lindsey, Seth Pruitt, and Christoph Schiller found that even as interest in ESG mandates grows, ESG strategies have little to no impact on investment returns. 

In the paper’s main analysis, the trio constructed a portfolio that generated an annualized average return of 14.6 percent. When they implemented an ESG screen, meaning they removed stocks with “bad” (or lower than median) ESG scores and created an ESG-tilted portfolio, the annualized average rate of return fell to 12.5 percent. 

“It’s not statistically significant,” Pruitt told Institutional Investor. 

ESG screening also had little effect on the sample portfolio’s Sharpe ratio, a metric that helps investors understand an investment’s return relative to its risk. Before the ESG screening, the portfolio’s annualized Sharpe ratio was 1.46. After bad ESG stocks are removed in the screening process, the Sharpe ratio landed at 1.52. 

“The ESG-tilted portfolio is not doing significantly worse than the original portfolio, and that tells us that the cost of ESG investing is small,” Pruitt said. In this case, Pruitt said, cost means investors’ sacrifice of returns or Sharpe ratio in favor of ESG investing. 

“You don’t lose by implementing ESG,” he said.”

In the spotlight

Best Books of 2021

In its end-of-the-year roundup of the “Best Books of 2021,” The Wall Street Journal identified The Dictatorship of Woke Capital, an explicitly anti-ESG analysis by Stephen R. Soukup, as one of its Top-5 books in politics. In his summary of the book, the Journal’s Barton Swaim wrote the following:

“A great many Americans over the past several years have realized to their horror that American corporations are no longer, if they ever were, the broadly conservative and patriotic institutions of midcentury yore. Their managers are terrified of criticism by activist investors, and they often appear more solicitous of transnational NGOs than of their own investors. How did it happen? Stephen R. Soukup answers the question in “The Dictatorship of Woke Capital.” The book is a touch overwritten—Mr. Soukup makes no attempt to hide his dislike for the objects of his criticism—but it is an exceptionally useful presentation of the intellectual origins and present-day lunacies of woke capitalism. The most enlightening parts of the book deal with multibillion-dollar asset-management companies such as BlackRock and State Street. The leaders of these firms embrace a variety of radical ideologies—broadly known as “sustainability” and ESG (environmental, social, and corporate governance)—and routinely use their massive financial leverage to push publicly traded companies to alter their policies according to progressive political ideals. These same companies, meanwhile, are happy to invest in Chinese corporations under the control of a communist government that spurns all those progressive ideals. Which raises the question: Who’s dictating to whom?”



Department of Justice sues Texas over its congressional, state legislative maps

Our weekly summary of state & local news highlights redistricting updates in Texas and the Virginia House recounts. Read all about it in this week’s edition of the State & Local Tap.

Ballot Measures Update

2021 review

Voters in nine states decided 39 statewide ballot measures on four different election dates in 2021. Twenty-six were approved and 13 were defeated. Four of the measures were citizen initiatives, three were advisory questions about taxes in Washington, eight were bond issues, one was a legislatively referred statute, and the remaining 23 were legislatively referred constitutional amendments.

2022 ballot measures

Sixty-three statewide measures have been certified for the 2022 ballot in 30 states so far. No new measures were certified for the ballot last week.

States in session

Seven state legislatures—Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—are in regular session.

Local Ballot Measures: The Week in Review

In 2021, Ballotpedia is providing comprehensive coverage of elections in America’s 100 largest cities by population and all state capitals. This encompasses every office on the ballot in these cities, including their municipal elections, trial court elections, school board elections, and local ballot measures. Ballotpedia also covers all local recall elections, as well as all local ballot measures in California and a selection of notable local ballot measures about elections and police-related policies. Recent and upcoming local ballot measure elections are listed below:

  • Dec. 11 – Louisiana: Voters in New Orleans will decide two property tax measures to fund housing and libraries, respectively.
  • Nov. 13 – Louisiana: Voters in Baton Rouge approved a property tax measure to fund public transportation.
  • Nov. 9 – Arkansas: Voters in Little Rock approved a property tax increase for libraries.
  • Nov. 2 – Ballotpedia covered 156 local ballot measures on the Nov. 2 ballot in 18 states.  The outcome of the final measure was called on Dec. 6 after a recount was finalized in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Voters approved 109 measures and defeated 47.
  • On Dec. 17, Ballotpedia will publish its year-end analysis of all 2021 local ballot measures in the top 100 largest cities and state capitals. This includes local measures that were on the ballot for more than 20 pre-November election dates.

Special Elections

Sixty-six state legislative special elections have been scheduled in 21 states so far this year. Sixty-four specials have taken place already. Heading into those races, Democrats had previously controlled 32 of the seats and Republicans previously controlled 32. Three seats flipped from Democratic control to Republican control, and three seats flipped from Republican control to Democratic control.

  • In special elections between 2011 and 2020, one party (either Republicans or Democrats) saw an average net gain of four seats nationally each year.
  • An average of 57 seats were filled through special elections in each of the past six even years (2010: 30, 2012: 46, 2014: 40, 2016: 65, 2018: 99, 2020: 59).
  • An average of 88 seats were filled through special elections in each of the past five odd years (2011: 94, 2013: 84, 2015: 89, 2017: 98, 2019: 77).

Upcoming special elections include:

Dec. 14

Initial results in recall of Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant

Seattle held an election on Dec. 7 asking voters if District 3 City Councilmember Kshama Sawant should be recalled. Initial results published on election night showed 53% supporting the recall and 47% opposing it. Washington uses mail-in voting, and ballots needed to be postmarked by election day. King County Elections will continue counting mail ballots in the coming days and will certify election results on Dec. 17. 

According to The Seattle Times, this was the first city council recall to make the ballot in Seattle’s history.

Recall organizers alleged that Sawant misused city funds in support of a ballot initiative, disregarded regulations related to COVID-19 by admitting people into City Hall for a rally, and misused her official position by disclosing Mayor Jenny Durkan’s home address to protesters. Sawant referred to the effort as a “right-wing recall” and called the charges against her dishonest. See our coverage linked below to read the full sample ballot and court filings from both parties.

Sawant was first elected in 2013. Though the office of city council is officially nonpartisan, Sawant is a member of the Socialist Alternative Party and was the first socialist elected to Seattle city government in 97 years.

Only voters within District 3 could vote in the recall election. If Sawant is recalled, council members will appoint a replacement and a special election will be held in 2022. The next regularly scheduled election for this seat is in 2023. Sawant would be eligible to run in those elections.

Voters recall Kansas county commissioner

A recall election against Brian Kinzie (R), District Two representative on the Labette County Commission in Kansas, was held on Dec. 7. A majority of voters—58.9%, according to unofficial election night results—cast ballots in favor of the recall, removing Kinzie from office.

The recall effort started after Kinzie voted in April 2021 in favor of a motion to enter into final negotiations to allow a wind energy company to place 50 to 70 wind turbines in the county. The motion passed with a vote of 2-1. Recall supporters said they were concerned that Kinzie or his family stood to financially benefit from the deal. Kinzie said, “I’ve given this community 45 years of my life and I’ll continue to do so until there’s no fight left.”

Before recall petitions can be circulated in Kansas, a district attorney or county attorney must certify that it meets specific legal grounds. The petition against Kinzie was allowed to circulate due to findings that Kinzie had committed misconduct. The Office of the Attorney General of Kansas found that Kinzie and fellow commissioner Cole Proehl violated the Kansas Open Meetings Act when they discussed county business on a phone call outside of a public commission meeting. The attorney general’s office did not file formal charges against Kinzie and Proehl. Instead, they were required to take a refresher course on public meeting compliance.

Kinzie filed a challenge to the sufficiency declaration in Labette County District Court. A senior judge denied his requests to stop the recall process.

Kinzie was serving his fourth term on the three-member commission.

In the first half of 2021, Ballotpedia tracked 165 recall efforts against 263 officials. This was the most recall efforts for this point in the year since the first half of 2016, when we tracked 189 recall efforts against 265 officials. In comparison, we tracked between 72 and 155 efforts by the midpoints of 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020.

U.S. Department of Justice sues Texas over its congressional, state legislative maps

The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Texas on Dec. 6, alleging that the state’s newly enacted congressional and legislative maps violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. As of Dec. 8, we’ve tracked 34 redistricting-related lawsuits in 16 states. Seven of those lawsuits concern Texas’ redistricting process.

The Department of Justice’s complaint stated, “The Legislature refused to recognize the state’s growing minority electorate. Although the Texas congressional delegation expanded from 36 to 38 seats, Texas designed the two new seats to have Anglo voting majorities.”

The lawsuit is the first legal action the department has taken against a state in the 2020 redistricting cycle. Ballotpedia tracked lawsuits in 37 states related to redistricting following the 2010 census. So far, 22 states have adopted legislative district maps and 18 states have adopted congressional district maps.

Also, oral arguments concluded before the Ohio Supreme Court on Dec. 8 in a case regarding the state’s legislative maps that the Ohio Redistricting Commission approved by a 5-2 vote on Sept. 16. The plaintiffs argued that the maps do not conform with the provisions of the state’s 2015 Bipartisan Redistricting Commission Amendment. The court did not provide details regarding its timeline for releasing a ruling, with Susan Tebben of the Ohio Capital Journal writing, “The state supreme court won’t issue its decision for a while.”

Cordoza declared winner in Virginia House recount, confirming 52-48 Republican majority

On Dec. 8, a three-judge circuit court panel ruled Aijalon Cordoza (R) the winner of the election in Virginia House of Delegates District 91. The decision confirmed that Republicans won a 52-48 majority in the chamber. Officials in District 85, the only other district where a candidate requested a recount, confirmed on Dec. 3 that Karen Greenhalgh’s (R) defeated Alex Askew (D).

Although certified results released on Nov. 15 showed Republicans winning 52 races and Democrats winning 48, the winning candidates’ margin of victory in District 85 and District 91 were within 1% of the total votes cast. Under Virginia law, the second-place finishers may request a recount within 10 days of results being certified. Askew and Mugler filed court petitions for recounts on Nov. 17.

Prior to the election, Democrats controlled the chamber with a 55-45 majority. Republicans needed to gain six seats to take control of the chamber in 2021, and Democrats needed to hold at least 51 seats to maintain their majority. Five of the ten preceding elections in the chamber saw net shifts of six seats or more: twice in Republicans’ favor and three times in Democrats’. On average, 6.6 seats shifted control per election cycle during that same time frame.

The outcome of the House elections, in addition to the state’s 2021 gubernatorial election, also determined Virginia’s trifecta status. Virginia became a Democratic trifecta in 2019 for the first time since 1994. Since Republicans won control of the House and the governorship in 2021, they have ended Democrats’ trifecta control of the state.

Nov. 2 local ballot measure results final with Dec. 6 recount results in Colorado Springs

On Dec. 6, the El Paso County, Colorado, Elections Department announced the conclusion of a recount on a Colorado Springs School District bond measure, Issue 4B.

Issue 4B failed by 11 votes with 27,476 votes against and 27,465 votes in favor. It would have authorized the district to issue $350 million in bonds for school facility construction and capital improvements.

Issue 4B was the last measure to be called out of the 156 local ballot measures Ballotpedia covered in 18 different states on Nov. 2. Voters approved 109 measures and defeated 47.



Republican Congressman Devin Nunes announces retirement

Our weekly summary of federal news highlights the latest congressional retirement and a federal judge blocking the Biden administration’s federal contractor vaccine requirement. Read all about it in this week’s edition of the Federal Tap.

Congress is out of session

Both the House and Senate are out of session next week. Click here to see the full calendar for the first session of the 117th Congress.

Members of Congress not seeking re-election in 2022

Thirty-seven members of Congress—six members of the U.S. Senate and 31 members of the U.S. House—have announced they will not seek re-election. Twenty-two members—six senators and 16 representatives—have announced their retirement. Five retiring Senate members are Republicans and one is a Democrat, and of the retiring House members, 11 are Democrats and five are Republicans.

SCOTUS is out of session

The Supreme Court will not hear oral arguments next week. To learn about the 2021-2022 term, click here.

Where was the president last week?

On Monday, Biden remained in Washington, D.C.

On Tuesday, Biden remained in Washington, D.C. and held a call with President of Russia Vladimir Putin.

On Wednesday, Biden delivered remarks on the bipartisan infrastructure law in Kansas City, Missouri.

On Thursday, Biden remained in Washington, D.C. 

On Friday, Biden departed Washington, D.C., for Wilmington, Delaware. 

Federal Judiciary

  • 79 federal judicial vacancies
  • 26 pending nominations
  • 37 future federal judicial vacancies

Upcoming Article III Judicial Vacancies

According to the latest vacancy data from the U.S. Courts, there were 38 total announced upcoming vacancies for Article III judgeships. The earliest vacancy announcement was on Jan. 21, 2021, when U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas Judge Vanessa Gilmore announced that she would retire on Jan. 2, 2022. The most recent was on Dec. 9, 2021, when U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit Judge Diane Wood announced she would assume senior status upon the confirmation of his successor. Twenty-one vacancy effective dates have not been determined because the judge has not announced the date they will leave the bench. 

The next upcoming vacancy will occur on Dec. 27, when U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon Judge Michael Mosman assumes senior status.

For historical comparison, the week of Dec. 6-12, 2020, there were 56 vacancies and five upcoming vacancies in the federal judiciary reported by the U.S. Courts.

Federal court blocks Biden administration’s federal contractor vaccine requirement

On Dec. 7, U.S. District Court Judge Stan Baker, who was appointed to the court by former President Donald Trump (R), suspended enforcement of the federal government’s vaccine requirement for federal contractors. The lawsuit was filed by several federal contractors and seven states, led by Georgia.

President Joe Biden (D) issued the requirement as an executive order on Sept. 9, requiring federal contractors to comply with certain safety guidelines issued by a federal taskforce. Those guidelines included a requirement that federal contractors’ employees be vaccinated against the coronavirus by Jan. 18, 2022.

A similar order was issued on Nov. 30 in a separate lawsuit challenging the requirement, but it only applied to three plaintiff states: Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee. The order in Georgia’s suit suspending the requirement applies nationally since one of the federal contractors party to the suit does business nationwide.

This is the third federal vaccine requirement to be suspended by the courts, along with Biden’s vaccine requirements for healthcare workers and large companies.

Republican Congressman Devin Nunes announces retirement

On Dec. 6, U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes (R) announced he would not seek reelection in 2022 and will instead become CEO of Trump Media & Technology Group, a social media company founded by former President Donald Trump (R).

From 2003 to 2013, Nunes represented California’s 21st Congressional District. In 2012, he ran for election in California’s 22nd Congressional District, winning the general election and assuming office on Jan. 3, 2013.

Thirty-seven members of Congress—six members of the U.S. Senate and 31 members of the U.S. House—have announced they will not seek re-election. Twenty-two members—six senators and 16 representatives—have announced their retirement. Five retiring Senate members are Republicans and one is a Democrat. Of the retiring House members, 11 are Democrats and five are Republicans.

Fifteen U.S. House members are running for other offices. Four Republicans and four Democrats are seeking seats in the U.S. Senate, one Republican and two Democrats are running for governor, one Republican is running for secretary of state, one Democrat is running for mayor, and one Democrat and one Republican are running for attorney general. No U.S. Senate members are running for other offices.

Maryland enacts new congressional district maps after legislature overrides governor’s veto

Maryland enacted new congressional district maps on Dec. 9 after both chambers of the Democratic-controlled state legislature overrode Gov. Larry Hogan‘s (R) veto of the plan. The vote to override the veto was 96-41 in the House of Delegates and 32-14 in the state Senate. 

According to David Collins of WBAL-TV, “The map allows Democrats to hold seven of the state’s eight congressional seats and the First District on the Eastern Shore, held by Republican Rep. Andy Harris, becomes more competitive.” Legislators approved the congressional district plan developed by the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission and rejected a map proposal developed by the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission, a citizen commission formed by Gov. Hogan. 

Also, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Texas on Dec. 6, alleging the state’s newly enacted congressional and legislative maps violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act

“The Legislature refused to recognize the state’s growing minority electorate,” the Department of Justice’s complaint states. “Although the Texas congressional delegation expanded from 36 to 38 seats, Texas designed the two new seats to have Anglo voting majorities.”

The lawsuit is the first legal action the department has taken against a state in the 2020 redistricting cycle. We tracked lawsuits in 37 states related to redistricting following the 2010 census. So far, 22 states have adopted legislative district maps and 19 states have adopted congressional district maps.



ICYMI: Top stories of the week

‘Tis the season for Ballotpedia’s Holiday Cookie election!

It is once again time to elect this year’s official holiday cookie! A recall petition has been filed against our 2020 incumbent, the Sugar Cookie. Voters will decide two questions: whether Sugar Cookie should be recalled and, if so, which cookie should replace it. Cast your vote today!

Read more

An introduction to wave elections

According to our definition, a U.S. House election cycle qualifies as a wave election if the president’s party loses at least 48 seats. Based on this definition, between 1918 and 2016, 11 wave elections took place in the U.S. House. Brush up on your knowledge of wave elections ahead of the 2022 midterms.


Read more

In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that voters could use initiatives to create redistricting commissions

In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled independent redistricting commissions created by voter initiative were constitutional. The case was Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, challenging Arizona Proposition 106, which had created a commission to handle legislative and congressional redistricting.

Read more

Looking ahead to 2022 local elections

In Wednesday’s Brew, we took a look at next year’s local elections. Local election dates and deadlines are often unavailable until a few months until the election. Hence, we’re in the process of completing our 2022 local election research, but click below for a sneak peek at a few dates on the horizon.


Read more

Washington Supreme Court accepts redistricting commission’s maps, Oregon’s maps finalized

The Washington Supreme Court ruled on Dec. 3 that it would not exercise its authority to enact new congressional and legislative district boundaries, meaning the boundaries adopted by the redistricting commission will go into effect. The Oregon Supreme Court announced that no challenges were filed to the state’s congressional map by the Nov. 29 deadline, meaning that those district boundaries will stand as enacted by the legislature. 

Read more



Documenting America’s Path to Recovery #215: December 9, 2021

Welcome to Documenting America’s Path to Recovery. Today we look at the federal government’s contractor vaccine mandate, a Maryland Board of Education policy allowing school districts to end mask mandates in some circumstances, and other news since Dec. 2.

We’ll also give the latest tracking on:

  • Lawsuits about state actions and policies 
  • Vaccine distribution
  • State-level mask requirements
  • COVID-19 emergency health orders
  • School mask requirements
  • State proof-of-vaccination requirements and policies

A note to readers: We are retiring the Documenting America’s Path to Recovery newsletter. The Dec. 23 edition will be the last to reach your inbox. Our first edition went out on April 27, 2020, and we want to thank you for following along with us—whether you’ve been with us since the start or subscribed along the way. Although this newsletter will end, our coronavirus coverage will not. We’ll continue tracking state, local, and federal COVID-19 and vaccine policy changes at Ballotpedia.org.

Since our last edition

What rules and restrictions are changing in each state? For a continually updated article, click here.

Federal

  • On Dec. 7, ​​U.S. District Court Judge Stan Baker, who was appointed to the court by former President Donald Trump (R), suspended enforcement of the federal government’s vaccine requirement for federal contractors.
  • On Dec. 2, President Joe Biden (D) announced that insurance reimbursements for at-home coronavirus tests would be available to individuals with private insurance.

Louisiana (divided government): On Dec. 6, the Louisiana House of Representatives Health and Welfare Committee voted 13-2 to reject a Louisiana Department of Health proposal that would have added the coronavirus vaccine to the list of required vaccinations for some students.

New Mexico (Democratic trifecta): On Dec. 2, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) issued an amended emergency public health order requiring workers in higher-risk environments, like healthcare and congregate care workers, to be vaccinated and receive a booster vaccine by Jan. 17, 2022.

Maine (Democratic trifecta): On Dec. 8, Gov. Janet Mills (D) announced she would be activating additional members of the Maine National Guard to assist in the state’s hospitals and inpatient care facilities in response to the coronavirus.

Maryland (divided government): On Dec. 7, the Maryland State Board of Education voted 12-1 to allow local districts to end mask mandates if one of three conditions is met: 1) the county vaccination rate is 80% or higher, 2) 80% of school staff and students are vaccinated, or 3) COVID-19 transmission in the county is considered moderate or low for 14 straight days. 

Minnesota (divided government): On Dec. 8, Gov. Tim Walz (D) announced “Celebrate Safely, Minnesota,” a campaign to encourage residents to get a COVID-19 vaccine, wear masks indoors, and take other preventative steps to reduce the spread of COVID-19. 

New Hampshire (Republican trifecta): On Dec. 7, Gov. Chris Sununu (R) announced four walk-in COVID-19 vaccination sites. The sites are in Berlin, Plymouth, Claremont, and Rochester. 

Wisconsin (divided government): On Dec. 8, state Department of Health Services Secretary Karen Timberlake announced that 60 National Guard nurses would fill in as nursing assistants at state-run mental institutions to make up for staffing shortages amid a rise in COVID-19 cases. 

Lawsuits about state actions and policies

To date, Ballotpedia has tracked 1,961 lawsuits in 50 states dealing in some way with the COVID-19 outbreak. Court orders have been issued, or settlements have been reached, in 608 of those lawsuits. 

  • Georgia v. Biden: On Dec. 7, U.S. District Court Judge Stan Baker issued a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of President Joe Biden’s (D) executive order mandating that federal contractors be vaccinated against COVID-19 and adhere to other mitigation  measures. Baker’s order prohibits the Biden administration from enforcing the executive order in all states and territories while the legal challenge to the mandate is pending. Baker ruled the administration’s mandate likely exceeded the scope of its authority under the Procurement Act. Baker, a Donald Trump (R) appointee, said Biden’s order went “far beyond addressing administrative and management issues in order to promote efficiency and economy in procurement and contracting, and instead, in application, works as a regulation of public health, which is not clearly authorized under the Procurement Act.” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the U.S. Department of Justice would defend the executive order in court: “The reason that we proposed these requirements is that we know they work and we are confident in our ability legally to make these happen across the country.” 

Vaccine distribution

As of Dec. 8, the states with the highest vaccination rates as a percentage of total population (including children) were:

The states with the lowest rates were:

State mask requirements

Since Dec. 2, no states changed their statewide mask requirements. As of Dec. 9, masks were required in nine states with Democratic governors. Fourteen states with Democratic governors and all 27 states with Republican governors had no state-level mask requirements in effect.

COVID-19 emergency health orders

Governors and state agencies in all 50 states issued orders declaring active emergencies in response to the coronavirus pandemic. These orders allowed officials to access resources, like stockpiles of medical goods and equipment, unavailable to them during non-emergencies and temporarily waive or suspend certain rules and regulations. 

COVID-19 emergency orders have expired in 25 states. Emergency orders remain active in 25 states.

Since Dec. 2, no state has ended its statewide COVID-19 emergencies and no state has issued a new COVID-19 emergency.

School mask requirements

Since Dec. 2, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that Texas’ school mask requirement ban could be enforced, and the Maryland State Board of Education voted to allow local school districts to end their mask requirements if certain coronavirus-related metrics were met.

State proof-of-vaccination requirements and policies

As COVID-19 vaccination rates have increased, state governments have enacted various rules around the use of proof-of-vaccination requirements in their states. In some cases, states have banned state or local governments from requiring that people show proof-of-vaccination. Other states have assisted in the creation of digital applications—sometimes known as vaccine passports—that allow people to prove their vaccination status and, in some cases, bypass COVID-19 restrictions.  

  • Twenty states have passed legislation or issued orders prohibiting proof-of-vaccination requirements at some or all levels of government. 
  • Five states have supported the creation of digital vaccination status applications.  

Since Dec. 2, no states have enacted policies related to proof-of-vaccination requirements or digital vaccination status applications.    

State employee and healthcare worker vaccine requirements

The Food and Drug Administration granted Emergency Use Authorization to several COVID-19 vaccines in late 2020 and early 2021. Since then, many states have required state employees and healthcare workers to get vaccinated. In some cases, states have allowed workers to opt for regular COVID-19 testing in lieu of getting a vaccine. 

  • Fifteen states have issued a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for healthcare workers. 
  • Twenty states have issued a COVID-19 vaccine requirement for state employees.

Since Dec. 2, no states have enacted policies related to state employee or healthcare worker vaccine requirements.



Economy and Society: SEC preps businesses for new ESG disclosure standards

Economy and Society is Ballotpedia’s weekly review of the developments in corporate activism; corporate political engagement; and the Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG) trends and events that characterize the growing intersection between business and politics.


ESG Developments This Week

In Washington, D.C., and around the world

SEC preps businesses for new ESG disclosure standards

In a speech last month, SEC Commissioner Caroline Crenshaw provided companies under the SEC’s jurisdiction with significant insight as to what they should expect from the SEC’s proposal for new disclosure standards and how they should start planning to meet those expectations. Among other things, Commissioner Crenshaw suggested that the SEC will tacitly, if not overtly change the definition of materiality:

“In March of this year, the Commission sought public comment on climate change disclosure. We received hundreds of responses; many of which also addressed disclosures concerning other ESG risks. An overwhelming number of comment letters state that investors view ESG information as material to financial performance and that investors need consistent and reliable disclosures of ESG information to inform their investment decisions. According to commenters, ESG related information helps investors assess the long-term sustainability or value of an investment. And this makes sense if you think about the position investors are in today.”

Commissioner Crenshaw also discussed the types of issues that might confront companies and how they should work to incorporate their ESG disclosures into their financial statements and internal accounting practices:

“With ESG now front and center, the reliability of corporate ESG risk disclosures, and their potential impact on and connectivity to financial statements, is critical. As you know, corporate internal controls play a crucial role in ensuring such risk disclosures are consistent and reliable. The term “internal accounting controls” refers to an organization’s plan, methods, and procedures related to safeguarding a company’s assets and ensuring the reliability of corporate financial records. These controls broadly include systems designed to ensure transactions are authorized and recorded in a way that maintains accountability for assets and allows for financial statement preparation in conformity with GAAP. They also include procedures that control access to assets and the systems designed to test the effectiveness of internal controls. The concept of accounting controls is intentionally broad, because a company’s system for tracking its assets and recording transactions – regardless of their form – is vital to accurate financial reporting. And it is vital to identifying risks to the financial statements so leadership can manage them and prepare GAAP-compliant financial statements and disclosures accordingly. At the end of the day, management is responsible for establishing and maintaining an effective system of internal controls that reasonably safeguards corporate assets from risk. So as you think about and discuss ESG risks during this conference, I encourage you to think about them in the context of your internal accounting controls and audit functions.”

Finally, Crenshaw addressed climate change and the related matters that should draw companies’ attention:

“I would like to hear how public companies are assessing whether and how climate change risk impacts revenues and expenses, both now and in the foreseeable future. In particular, I am interested in understanding how companies are evaluating whether climate risk impacts their business. Some issues that I would think companies are considering as part of this process include whether assets are at risk of depreciating more quickly or becoming “stranded” in response to climate change; whether supply chain or transportation networks are at greater risk of being impacted by extreme weather events; or whether existing revenue streams depend on the status quo, such that new regulations pertaining to deforestation or carbon emission could potentially reduce income. No matter where public companies come out on these topics – or how they assess climate risk – I would like to understand the underlying internal accounting controls that guide decision making. On a related note, if climate change presents risks to a company, or at least requires disclosure, I’m interested in understanding how that company evaluates climate change risk. For example, do companies rely on third party service providers, and if so, do they evaluate the controls that the service providers have in place over information and disclose to investors the identity of the service provider, in the same way you disclose your auditors and underwriters?” 

ESG in theory and practice

Several weeks after COP26 summit agreements to divest from fossil fuels and push toward a zero-carbon future, Japan appears to be backtracking:

“Government officials have been quietly urging trading houses, refiners and utilities to slow down their move away from fossil fuels, and even encouraging new investments in oil-and-gas projects, according to people within the Japanese government and industry, who requested anonymity as the talks are private.

The officials are concerned about the long-term supply of traditional fuels as the world doubles down on renewable energy, the people said. The import-dependent nation wants to avoid a potential shortage of fuel this winter, as well as during future cold spells, after a deficit last year sparked fears of nationwide blackouts.

Japan joined almost 200 countries last month in a pledge to step up the fight against climate change, including phasing down coal power and tackling emissions. However, the moves by the officials show the struggle to turn those pledges into reality, especially for countries like Japan which relies on imports for nearly 90% of its energy needs, with prices spiking partly because of the world’s shift away from fossil fuel investments….

To achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, the world needs to stop developing new gas, oil and coal fields, the International Energy Agency said in May. Japanese officials are echoing concerns highlighted by Australia last month, which said Europe’s gas supply squeeze is proof that nations need to continue to add more production.

Japan’s trading houses, including Sumitomo Corp. and Marubeni Corp., are aggressively divesting from fossil fuels amid an uncertain future for the energy sources and pressure from shareholders. These companies, formally known as “Sogo Shosha,” have traditionally been among the biggest investors in oil and natural gas assets in order to bring the fuel to resource-poor Japan.”

In the States

Report argues New York City’s ESG tax hits hardest upstate

As part of its push to move toward sustainability (and thus to meet municipal bond investors’ ESG demands), New York City has pledged to go green and recently signed two contracts to make that possible. According to a recent note from the Empire Center for Public Policy, most of the costs of the project, but none of the benefits, will hit upstate:

“A pair of recently inked contracts to fuel more than one-third of New York City’s electricity grid with renewable energy will raise monthly electricity bills for upstate ratepayers up to 9.9 percent once the projects are on-line. 

Both downstate (ConEdison) and upstate (National Grid) customers will bear the project costs equally based on load share, but upstate customers—who tend to have lower electricity bills—are expected to experience roughly double the percentage increase. 

That’s according to a petition just filed by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), which is now seeking to have the contracted projects approved by the Public Service Commission. 

The projects seem headed for approval, since Governor Hochul signed off on them and her office issued a press release Tuesday trumpeting their expected contribution….”

The Empire State note also discussed recent refusals by the New York State Climate Action Council to be more transparent about who would pay for further plans to meet sustainability goals and how those goals would be met:

“In related news Tuesday, the New York State Climate Action Council (Council) held a virtual public meeting at which it discussed a strategy to continue dodging — in its long-awaited “draft scoping plan” to be issued later this month—the question of who will pay the hundreds of billions of dollars required to achieve the CLCPA’s climate goals. 

A draft plan circulated in advance to the Council members (but not the public) prompted member concern regarding the need for an analysis of “energy affordability and impacts to consumer pricing.” But the “proposed resolution” to that concern was to point to the Council’s cost-benefit analysis. As we recently noted, however, that analysis makes no attempt to estimate ratepayer impact on the grounds that it’s currently unclear what specific policies will be adopted to achieve the law’s climate goals.”

In the spotlight

ESG and business schools, again

This week, The Financial Times has two stories about ESG at business schools and whether the latest increase is meeting current demand. One story deals with specifically with European Business Schools and the impressions they give with respect to ESG education:

“As environmental, social and governance standards become ever more important criteria by which business schools are judged, the Financial Times’s ranking team analysed how European institutions are faring compared with their global rivals, as well as assessing how students are funding their degrees, alumni seniority and favoured sectors of employment….

Executive MBA and MiM graduates who studied outside Europe rate their business schools’ delivery of environmental, social and governance topics more highly than those from European institutions. Only MBA graduates from European schools rate them higher on the subject than their peers elsewhere.

MBA and executive MBA programmes taught in Europe dedicate a larger part of their courses to ESG compared with schools in the rest of the world. The average proportion of core MBA teaching hours dedicated to ESG in Europe is 75 per cent higher than the rest of the world, where only 12 per cent of the degree is related to ESG topics.”

The second piece made the case that in spite of European business schools’ dedication to ESG education, they are still failing the business community, which needs even more ESG capacity:

“Business is undergoing profound change. Urged on by regulatory reforms proposed by the European Commission, the continent’s executives are at the forefront of promoting purposeful, responsible and sustainable business. European business schools should be at the vanguard but risk being left behind.

Many schools have been slow to recognise the extent of reform required to their curricula. They have introduced electives on topics such as environmental, social and corporate governance and sustainable business but, for the most part, their core courses remain unchanged.

The recent final report from The British Academy Future of the Corporation programme highlights the extent to which business is embracing purposeful profit — making money by solving rather than exacerbating problems for people and planet. It argues that businesses should be supported and held to account, and sets out policies and practices.

Business school research and teaching should be the source of education for the coming generation of managers and entrepreneurs. But shareholder primacy remains at the heart of schools’ programmes, which are focused on economic theories, financial models and management studies. Courses start from the presumption that the purpose of a business is to maximise shareholder wealth and everything — accounting, finance, marketing, operations management, organisational behaviour and strategy — follows from that.”



The State and Local Tap: New York enacts new COVID-19 disaster emergency

Our weekly summary of state & local news highlights New York’s new COVID-19 disaster emergency and the Atlanta mayoral runoff results. Read all about it in this week’s edition of the State & Local Tap.

Ballot Measures Update

2021 review

Voters in nine states decided 39 statewide ballot measures on four different election dates in 2021. Twenty-six were approved and 13 were defeated. Four of the measures were citizen initiatives, three were advisory questions about taxes in Washington, eight were bond issues, one was a legislatively referred statute, and the remaining 23 were legislatively referred constitutional amendments.

2022 ballot measures

Sixty-three statewide measures have been certified for the 2022 ballot in 30 states so far. No new measures were certified for the ballot last week.

States in session

Seven state legislatures—Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—are in regular session.

Local Ballot Measures: The Week in Review

In 2021, Ballotpedia is providing comprehensive coverage of elections in America’s 100 largest cities by population and all state capitals. This encompasses every office on the ballot in these cities, including their municipal elections, trial court elections, school board elections, and local ballot measures. Ballotpedia also covers all local recall elections, as well as all local ballot measures in California and a selection of notable local ballot measures about elections and police-related policies. Recent and upcoming local ballot measure elections are listed below:

  • Dec. 11 – Louisiana: Voters in New Orleans will decide two property tax measures to fund housing and libraries, respectively.
  • Nov. 13 – Louisiana: Voters in Baton Rouge approved a property tax measure to fund public transportation.
  • Nov. 9 – Arkansas: Voters in Little Rock approved a property tax increase for libraries.
  • Nov. 2 – Ballotpedia covered 156 local ballot measures on the Nov. 2 ballot in 18 states. At least 108 were approved, at least 46 were defeated, and the remaining two were too close to call or were subject to a recount as of Dec. 3.

Special Elections

Sixty-six state legislative special elections have been scheduled in 21 states so far this year. Sixty-two specials have taken place already. Heading into those races, Democrats had previously controlled 32 of the seats and Republicans previously controlled 30. Three seats flipped from Democratic control to Republican control, and three seats flipped from Republican control to Democratic control.

  • In special elections between 2011 and 2020, one party (either Republicans or Democrats) saw an average net gain of four seats nationally each year.
  • An average of 57 seats were filled through special elections in each of the past six even years (2010: 30, 2012: 46, 2014: 40, 2016: 65, 2018: 99, 2020: 59).
  • An average of 88 seats were filled through special elections in each of the past five odd years (2011: 94, 2013: 84, 2015: 89, 2017: 98, 2019: 77).

Upcoming special elections include:

Dec. 7

Dec. 14

Special general election to be held Dec. 7 for New Hampshire House of Representatives Rockingham 6

The special general election for the Rockingham 6 District in the New Hampshire House of Representatives is on Dec. 7. Mary Eisner (D) and Jodi Nelson (R) are competing in the special election. 

Nelson advanced from the Republican primary on Oct. 19, earning 78% of the vote. Eisner was unopposed in the Democratic primary. The filing deadline to run passed Aug. 27.

The special election was called after Anne Copp (R) resigned on Aug. 5 in order to move out of the district. Copp represented Rockingham 6 in the state House from 2020 to 2021. She represented the Merrimack 1 District from 2016 to 2018.

As of December 2021, 66 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2021 in 21 states. Between 2011 and 2020, an average of 75 special elections took place each year. New Hampshire held 29 special elections from 2010 to 2020.

Andre Dickens defeats Felicia Moore in Atlanta mayoral runoff election

On Nov. 30, City Councilman Andre Dickens (D) defeated City Council President Felicia Moore (D) in the general runoff election for mayor of Atlanta, Georgia, receiving 64% of the vote to Moore’s 36%. 

Dickens and Moore advanced to a runoff after placing second and first, respectively, in the Nov. 2  general election. In that race, Moore received 41% of the vote followed by Dickens with 23%. This was the city’s seventh mayoral runoff since 1973.

Dickens was first elected to the Atlanta City Council in 2013 and won re-election in 2017. During the mayoral race, he promoted his SAFE Streets Atlanta plan, a series of public safety proposals in response to voter concerns regarding crime. He received endorsements from incumbent Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D), former Mayors Shirley Jackson (D) and Andrew Young (D), and U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams (D). 

The number of votes cast in the Nov. 30 runoff represented a decrease of 18.1% compared to the votes cast in the Nov. 2 general election, making this the largest such decrease since the 1993 mayoral contest between Bill Campbell and Michael Lomax. 2021 was also the second time since at least 1981 where the second-place finisher in the general election went on to win the runoff.

Redistricting update: Arkansas approves final legislative maps

The Arkansas Board of Apportionment voted 3-0 on Nov. 29 to accept final maps of the state’s House and Senate districts. The board, which is made up of Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R), Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (R), and Secretary of State John Thurston (R), previously accepted maps on Oct. 29, beginning a 30-day public comment period. Barring any legal challenges, these maps will go into effect on Dec. 30.

The Associated Press’ Andrew DeMillo wrote that the maps kept the number of majority-Black Senate districts the same, reduced the number of majority-Black House districts by one, and created the state’s first majority-Hispanic legislative district.

Also, three states—Maryland, New Mexico, and South Carolina—will hold special legislative sessions during the week of Dec. 6 to consider redistricting plans in each state. Maryland’s and New Mexico’s sessions will commence on Dec. 6. The South Carolina House began its special session on Dec. 1 while the state Senate will start work on Dec. 6.

New York enacts new COVID-19 disaster emergency 

On Nov. 26, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) declared a disaster emergency in response to the COVID-19 omicron variant, five months after New York ended its first COVID-19 emergency. Hochul’s order was scheduled to last through Jan. 15, 2022. 

In a tweet, Hochul said she was issuing the order to prepare for a possible spike in cases caused by the new variant. 

Governors across the country declared active emergencies at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, including former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who first declared a COVID-19 disaster emergency on March 7, 2020. He ended the emergency on June 24, 2021. State codes generally allow governors to declare a state of emergency in response to natural disasters, disease epidemics, and other dangers to public health. These emergency orders allowed officials to access resources unavailable to them during non-emergencies, like stockpiles of medical goods and equipment, and temporarily waive or suspend certain rules and regulations. They also formed the basis of lockdown and stay-at-home orders, mask mandates, and other restrictions on businesses and individuals.

Currently, COVID-19 emergencies are active in 25 states. Twenty-five states have ended their emergencies. 

Checking in on 2021 state legislative vacancies

With four weeks left in the calendar year, there have been 145 state legislative vacancies this year across 45 states.

Seventy-four (74) vacancies have occurred in seats held by Republicans, and 72 vacancies have occurred in seats held by Democrats. No vacancies have occurred in seats held by independents.

States with the highest number of vacancies include Arizona (11), New Hampshire (8), Oregon (8), Maryland (7), and Illinois (6).

One hundred and eight (108) of the vacancies have been filled so far. The process for filling state legislative vacancies varies from state to state. Twenty-five states require special elections, 10 states require the governor to appoint, seven states require the board of county commissioners to appoint, three states require the state’s political party to appoint, three states have a hybrid system, and one state requires the legislative chamber to vote on a replacement.