Georgia lawmakers vote to limit judicial deference

The Georgia House of Representatives voted 158-8 on Tuesday to approve legislation that would end the practice of judicial deference to tax regulations in the state. House Bill 538—sponsored by state Representatives Todd Jones (R), Mitchell Scoggins (R), and Brett Harrell (R)—would require the Georgia Tax Tribunal to decide all questions of law without deference to the regulations or policy interpretations of the state’s Department of Revenue.

Judicial deference is a principle of administrative law that instructs federal courts to defer to administrative agencies’ interpretations of ambiguous statutes or regulations. State-level approaches to judicial deference vary significantly, and state courts are not obliged to defer to state-level administrative agencies or adopt federal deference doctrines. Thirty-six states, however, have implemented forms of judicial deference to state administrative agencies similar to the federal deference doctrines.

If the legislation becomes law, Georgia would join a group of other states that have addressed judicial deference practices in recent years. Since 2008, Wisconsin, Florida, Mississippi, Arizona, and Michigan have taken executive, judicial, or legislative action to prohibit judicial deference to state agencies.

Ballotpedia tracks state responses to judicial deference as part of The Administrative State Project.

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Vermont state representative resigns

On February 14, 2020, Vermont State Representative Matt Trieber (D) resigned from the state House after representing the Windham-3 District for nine years. Trieber stepped down to focus on his job as a youth student counselor.

In Vermont, state employees elected to serve in the legislature must take an unpaid leave of absence from their employment during legislative sessions. Trieber recently became a full-time employee for the state of Vermont and would have been required to take a leave of absence during Vermont’s five-month-long legislative session.

Vacancies in the Vermont state legislature are filled by the governor. The person appointed serves the remainder of the resigning officeholder’s term. Local Democratic Party leaders will forward suggested appointees to Gov. Phil Scott (R). There are no deadlines set by statute on when this vacancy has to be filled.

Trieber previously served as a selectboard member in Rockingham, Vermont. Before becoming an elected official, Trieber was an environmental consultant with Atkinson Street Environmental in Bellows Falls, Vermont.

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Utah initiative signature deadline passed on February 18

The deadline for submitting signatures for a direct initiative to qualify for the 2020 ballot in Utah passed on February 18, 2020. The deadline for indirect initiatives was November 15, 2019.

Proponents of a carbon tax measure and a term limits measure had been circulating petitions. Neither group reached the signature requirement to qualify for the 2020 ballot. To qualify for the ballot, 115,869 valid signatures were required. Before 2020, the deadline for direct citizen initiative signatures was April 15 instead of February 15. Since February 15 was a Saturday in 2020, signatures were due on the next business day (February 18).

Clean the Darn Air, sponsors of the carbon tax initiative, announced in November 2019 that they would target a future ballot instead of the 2020 ballot after they had “not been able to get a major donation or other game-changing development” to help them reach the 2020 ballot. They had collected 27,651 valid signatures. The measure would have established a carbon tax and eliminated the state sales tax on food and residential and commercial fuel.

Unite for Term Limits, sponsors of the term limits initiative, had collected 858 valid signatures. The measure would have established term limits of 12 consecutive years for state legislators and eight consecutive years for executive officers (governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, state auditor, and state treasurer).

A veto referendum filed against Utah Senate Bill 2001 qualified for the ballot but will not appear on the ballot since the state legislature repealed the targeted bill. The state legislature may refer constitutional amendments to the 2020 ballot during its legislative session, which is set to run until March 12, 2020.

From 1995 to 2018, an average of four measures appeared on the ballot for even-year elections in Utah, of which 86.5% were approved by voters. In 2018, there were three citizen initiatives on the ballot. Before 2018, Utah voters last decided a veto referendum in 2007 and last decided a ballot initiative in 2004.

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North Carolina Representative Johnson dies

North Carolina Rep. Linda Johnson (R) died on February 18, 2020, according to a statement released by North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore (R). Johnson, who served as Chairwoman of the Senior House Appropriations Committee, represented District 82.

Johnson was most recently re-elected to the House in 2018. She previously represented District 83, which became District 82 in the 2018 election due to redistricting. Johnson was first elected to the North Carolina House in 2000.

This is the second vacancy in the General Assembly of North Carolina this year and the first in the state House. The current partisan composition of the North Carolina House of Representatives is 64 Republicans, 55 Democrats, and one vacancy. Vacancies in the North Carolina legislature are filled by gubernatorial appointment.

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Cisneros and Cuellar receive endorsements in TX-28 primary

Over the past week, both candidates in the Democratic primary for Texas’ 28th U.S. House district received new endorsements. Jessica Cisneros announced support from former presidential candidate Julián Castro, the AFSCME, SEIU Texas, and the Texas AFT. Rep. Henry Cuellar was endorsed by LIBRE Initiative Action and the Texas Municipal Police Association.

Both have also received competing endorsements from sitting Democratic members of Congress. Cisneros has the endorsements of Reps. Pramila Jayapal (Wash.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), and Ayanna Pressley (Mass.). Cuellar has been backed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Rep. Cheri Bustos (Ill.), who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The Democratic primary takes place on March 3, 2020. The winner will face Sandra Whitten (R) and Bekah Congdon (L) in the general election.

The 28th District has a Cook 2017 Partisan Voter Index score of D+9, meaning this district’s results were 9 percentage points more Democratic than the national average in the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections. All three major race rating outlets rate the race as solid Democratic.

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Illinois Supreme Court justice Robert Thomas to retire

On February 10, 2020, Chief Justice Robert Thomas (R) announced that he will retire from the Illinois Supreme Court on February 29. In the event of a midterm vacancy, the Illinois Supreme Court appoints an interim judge. The interim judge serves until the next general election occurring at least 60 days after his appointment. The judge must then run in a partisan election to remain on the court. The Illinois Supreme Court has decided that following Chief Justice Thomas’ retirement, Appellate Justice Michael Burke will assume his seat as an interim judge.

Alongside Thomas’ seat (to be held by Burke), there will be three other seats on the ballot in November. Lloyd Karmeier (R) announced his retirement on December 6, 2019, and his seat will be up for partisan election on November 3, 2020. P. Scott Neville (D) was chosen to fill a vacancy on the court in 2018 and his seat will also be up for regular election on November 3, 2020. Thomas Kilbride (D) will also face retention election on November 3, 2020.

The retirement of Thomas and Karmeier leaves Justice Rita Garman the lone Republican on the seven-member Court.

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Karofsky and Kelly advance in Wisconsin Supreme Court primary; Fallone eliminated

Incumbent Daniel Kelly and Jill Karofsky were the top-two finishers in Tuesday’s nonpartisan Wisconsin Supreme Court primary and will advance to the April 7 general election. As of 9:10 p.m. CT, Kelly had received 48.8% of the vote to Karofsky’s 38.0% and Fallone’s 13.3% with 57.3% of precincts reporting.

Although the race is officially nonpartisan, Kelly is a member of the court’s conservative majority and received support from conservative groups. Karofsky and Fallone indicated they would join the liberal minority and received support from liberal groups.

Recent election history suggested that either Karofsky or Fallone was likely to be eliminated in Tuesday’s primary. Between 2005 and 2019, every contested Wisconsin Supreme Court election resulted in a conservative-backed candidate and a liberal-backed candidate advancing from the primary rather than two justices of the same ideological leaning.

The April 7 general election will determine if and when ideological control of the court could change in the future. A Kelly win would preserve the current 5-2 conservative majority. Assuming that no justices leave the bench early, this would prevent liberals from winning a majority on the court any earlier than 2026. A Karofsky win would narrow the conservative majority to 4-3 and mean that the 2023 election would decide control of the court.

Recent Wisconsin Supreme Court general elections have been decided by narrow margins. In 2019, Brian Hagedorn defeated Lisa Neubauer by a 50.2% to 49.7% margin. The widest margin of victory in a contested Wisconsin Supreme Court election in the past decade was Ann Walsh Bradley’s 58.1% to 41.9% win over James Daley in 2015.

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Florida Supreme Court has one seat up for retention and two vacant

Two of the seven seats on the Florida Supreme Court are currently vacant. The seats were held by Robert Luck and Barbara Lagoa and will be filled by the current governor, Ron DeSantis (R), through assisted gubernatorial appointment.

Under the assisted gubernatorial appointment method, the Governor of Florida chooses from a list of three to six candidates recommended by a commission on judicial appointments. The appointment of a justice must be confirmed by a retention vote in the next general election at least one year after taking office.

DeSantis initially appointed Luck to the Florida Supreme Court in 2019. He is now a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. He was nominated to the court by President Donald Trump (R) on October 15, 2019, and confirmed by the United States Senate on November 19, 2019, by a vote of 64-31.

DeSantis initially appointed Lagoa to the Florida Supreme Court on January 9, 2019. She is now a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. On October 15, 2019, President Donald Trump (R) nominated Lagoa to a seat on this court. The U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination on November 20, 2019, by an 80-15 vote.

There is a chance that a third seat on the Court will be filled by a new justice in 2020. The term of Justice Carlos Muñiz will expire on January 5, 2021. He is up for retention election on November 3, 2020.

All five sitting justices were appointed by Republican governors. Justices serve six-year terms.

Click here to learn more about Florida’s 2020 Supreme Court elections.

Additional reading:
Florida Supreme Court 
Carlos Muñiz
Robert J. Luck 
Barbara Lagoa 

Nine candidates to face off in California’s 50th District primary

Nine candidates are running in the primary election for California’s 50th Congressional District in the U.S. House on March 3, 2020. Duncan Hunter, who had represented the district since 2013, resigned Jan. 13, 2020, after pleading guilty to misusing campaign funds.

Media coverage and endorsements have focused on three Republicans and one Democrat: Ammar Campa-Najjar (D), Carl DeMaio (R), Darrell Issa (R), and Brian Jones (R). Only the top two finishers in the primary will advance to the November 3, 2020, general election.

DeMaio says he has “a three-part strategy to fix our broken political system,” arguing that Congress operates above America’s laws. Issa has highlighted his previous congressional experience and support for President Donald Trump and his policies. Jones says he has a history of representing communities in the 50th District and says neither Issa nor DeMaio are district residents.

San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond and Former San Diego Mayor Roger Hedgecock endorsed Demaio. U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R) and Rep. Steve Scalise (R) endorsed Issa. The California Republican Assembly, the San Diego Police Officers Association, and the Peace Officers Research Association of California endorsed Jones.

Campa-Najjar says he “has introduced sweeping bipartisan legislation to end government corruption and restore power to the American people.” He was endorsed by Reps. Susan Davis (D), Eric Swalwell (D), and Adam Schiff (D).

Also running in the primary are Jose Cortes (Peace and Freedom Party of California), Helen Horvath (I), Lucinda Jahn (I), Henry Ota (I), and Nathan Wilkins (R). Marisa Calderon (D) suspended her campaign on January 31, 2020, but her name will still appear on the ballot.

In the 2018 general election, Hunter (R) defeated Campa-Najjar (D) 52% to 48%. In 2016, Hunter defeated Patrick Malloy (D) 63.5% to 36.5%. The 2017 Cook Partisan Voter Index for this district was R+11, meaning that in the previous two presidential elections, this district’s results were 11 percentage points more Republican than the national average. Three major race rating outlets view the general as Safe/Solid Republican.

California’s 50th Congressional District is located in the southern portion of the state and includes much of San Diego County and portions of Riverside County.

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Two Kentucky House seats on the ballot in February 25 special election

A special general election is scheduled for February 25, 2020, for Districts 67 and 99 of the Kentucky House of Representatives.

Rachel Roberts (D) and Mary Jo Wedding (R) are competing for the District 67 seat. The seat was formerly occupied by Dennis Keene (D), who resigned on December 16, 2019, to become the commissioner of the Department for Local Government in Gov. Andy Beshear’s (D) administration. Keene represented District 67 from 2005 to 2019.

Bill Redwine (D) and Richard White (R) are competing to represent District 99. The seat became vacant after Rocky Adkins (D) resigned the position on December 10, 2019, to become a senior advisor to Gov. Beshear. Adkins represented District 99 from 1986 to 2019.

Kentucky has a divided government, and no political party holds a state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers. Republicans hold a majority in the state House by a 61-37 margin with two vacancies. They also hold a majority in the state Senate by a 29-9 margin with no vacancies. Andy Beshear (D) was elected governor on November 5, 2019.

As of February 2020, 32 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2020 in 14 states. Between 2011 and 2019, an average of 77 special elections took place each year.

Click here to learn more about the Kentucky 2020 state legislative special elections

Additional Reading:
Kentucky House of Representatives District 67 
Kentucky House of Representatives District 99
How vacancies are filled in state legislatures
State legislative special elections, 2020