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Texas governor appoints former court of appeals judge to state supreme court

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) nominated Brett Busby on Friday to replace retired Justice Phil Johnson (R) on the Texas Supreme Court. Busby is Abbott’s second nominee to the nine-member court. His nomination is subject to confirmation by the Texas State Senate.
 
If confirmed, Busby will serve until 2020. He must run for election that year to remain on the bench. The nine justices of the Texas Supreme Court are selected in statewide partisan elections. They serve six-year terms. All of the court’s current justices are Republicans.
 
Busby was a Republican judge on the Texas Fourteenth District Court of Appeals from June 2012 to December 2018. He ran for re-election in 2018 but was defeated in the general election on November 6.
 
Busby previously was a partner at Bracewell & Giuliani LLP, an adjunct professor at The University of Texas School of Law, and a law clerk at the Supreme Court of the United States. He graduated with high honors from Duke University and received his J.D. from Columbia Law School.


U.S. Virgin Islands voters to decide ballot initiative to reapportion the territory’s legislature

On March 30, 2019, voters in the U.S. Virgin Islands will decide a ballot initiative to reapportion the territory’s 15-member unicameral legislature.
 
The USVI territorial legislature is unlike state legislatures, which divide districts between areas based on population. The USVI territorial legislature divides districts based on island area with no reference to population. As of 2019, the 15-member legislature consisted of two seven-member districts and one at-large member. Voters select their preferred candidate from a list, and the top seven vote-getters in the multi-member districts are elected. One of the seven-member districts represented the island of St. Croix, and the other seven-member district represented the islands of St. Thomas and St. John. An additional legislator was elected at-large, meaning voters from across USVI voted on candidates for the seat, but the legislator had to be a resident of St. John.
 
The ballot initiative would replace the territory’s two seven-member legislative districts and one at-large member with four two-member districts, one one-member district, and six at-large members. The legislature would continue to have 15 members. The four two-member districts would represent eastern St. Croix, western St. Croix, eastern St. Thomas, and western St. Thomas. The one single-member district would represent St. John. An additional six legislators would be elected at-large, but three would have to be residents of St. Croix, and three would have to be residents of St. Thomas.
 
In 1986, the U.S. Congress passed legislation to provide the USVI with a ballot initiative process. The number of signatures required to get an initiated state statute placed on the ballot is equal to 10 percent of the registered voters of each legislative district or 41 percent of all registered voters of the Virgin Islands. Proponents of the initiative filed 4,896 valid signatures from the two districts, which was 68 signatures above the requirement.
 
The U.S. Virgin Islands, abbreviated as USVI, is located in the Caribbean, east of Puerto Rico. USVI is one of the United States’ five inhabited unincorporated territories. The United States purchased the islands from Denmark in 1917, and Congress granted citizenship to U.S. Virgin Islanders in 1927. Like neighboring Puerto Rico, residents of USVI cannot vote for president and do not have a floor-voting representative in Congress. However, USVI does elect a congressional delegate, who can introduce legislation and vote in committees. Stacey Plaskett (D) is the territory’s delegate. USVI’s governor is Albert Bryan (D). Democrats control the legislature.


Three races advance to general election, no seats flipped in Louisiana state legislative specials

Seven seats in the Louisiana House of Representatives were up for special election on February 23, 2019. In Louisiana, all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, face off in the same primary election. If one candidate receives a simple majority of the vote (more than 50 percent) in the primary election, he or she wins outright. Three of the seven races had more than two candidates on the ballot, meaning they could—and did—advance to a general election. The remaining four races were decided in the primary. A total of 14 Democratic candidates, seven Republican candidates, and one independent candidate competed for the seats.
 
Six of the seven previous incumbents had vacated their seats after winning election to another office, and the seventh resigned to take a job with the state. Three seats were previously held by Democrats, and four were held by Republicans. The races in Districts 12, 17, 26, and 47 had no chance of resulting in flipped seats since only members of the previous officeholders’ party filed for election.
 
The remaining three races could have resulted in a flipped seat. District 18—previously held by a Democrat—and Districts 27 and 62—previously held by Republicans—all had candidates from multiple parties on the ballot. The races in Districts 18 and 62 advanced to a runoff and could still result in a party change, but the District 27 election was decided outright in the primary and will remain in Republican hands.
  • In District 12, Christopher Turner (R) won the primary outright.
  • In District 17, Rodney McFarland Sr. (D) and Pat Moore (D) advanced to the general election.
  • In District 18, Jeremy LaCombe (D) and Tammi Fabre (R) advanced to the general election.
  • In District 26, Ed Larvadain III (D) won the primary outright.
  • In District 27, Mike Johnson (R) won the primary outright.
  • In District 47, Ryan Bourriaque (R) won the primary outright.
  • In District 62, Dennis Aucoin (R) and Roy Adams (independent) advanced to the general election.
As of February, 42 state legislative special elections have been scheduled or held in 16 states. Between 2011 and 2018, an average of 77 special elections took place each year. Before the February special elections, the Louisiana House of Representatives had 36 Democrats, 59 Republicans, three independents, and seven vacancies. All 105 seats are up for election in 2019. A majority in the chamber requires 53 seats. Louisiana has a divided government with a Democratic governor but Republican majorities in both state legislative chambers.


NC judge strikes down voter ID and income tax cap amendments based on gerrymandered legislature

On February 22, 2019, Judge Bryan Collins of the Wake County Superior Court in North Carolina ruled that two constitutional amendments—Voter ID Amendment and Income Tax Cap Amendment—passed on November 6, 2018, were invalid. The ruling resulted from a lawsuit launched by the NC NAACP and Clean Air Carolina, which argued that since some lawmakers were elected from districts that a federal court ruled were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders, the existing legislature was a usurper legislature and could not refer constitutional amendments to the ballot.
 
Judge Collins, agreeing with plaintiffs, said, “… the unconstitutional racial gerrymander tainted the three-fifths majorities required by the state Constitution before an amendment proposal can be submitted to the people for a vote, breaking the requisite chain of popular sovereignty between North Carolina citizens and their representatives. … Accordingly, the constitutional amendments placed on the ballot on November 6, 2018 were approved by a General Assembly that did not represent the people of North Carolina.”
 
Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, president of the NC NAACP, responded to the ruling, stating, “We are delighted that the acts of the previous majority, which came to power through the use of racially discriminatory maps, have been checked. The prior General Assembly’s attempt to use its ill-gotten power to enshrine a racist photo voter ID requirement in the state constitution was particularly egregious, and we applaud the court for invalidating these attempts at unconstitutional overreach.” Senate President Berger (R-30) also responded, saying, “We are duty-bound to appeal this absurd decision. The prospect of invalidating 18 months of laws is the definition of chaos and confusion. Based on tonight’s opinion and others over the past several years, it appears the idea of judicial restraint has completely left the state of North Carolina.”
 
The Voter ID Amendment received 55 percent of the vote in November. The ballot measure was designed to require that voters present a photo ID to vote in person. In the General Assembly, the amendment was referred along party lines; Republicans voted for the amendment and Democrats voted against it.
 
The Income Tax Cap Amendment received 57 percent of the vote. The ballot measure was written to lower the maximum allowable state income tax rate from 10 percent to 7 percent. The amendment was referred mostly along party lines; three Senate Democrats joined Republicans in supporting the amendment and one House Republican and two Senate Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the amendment.
 
Voters approved two other constitutional amendments: (1) a right to hunt and fish amendment and (2) a Marsy’s Law crime victims rights amendment. These were referred to the ballot by the same general assembly but were not directly affected by the ruling since they were not targeted by the lawsuit.


Michigan legislators reject executive order for first time in 42 years; governor issues revised order

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) issued a revised executive order on February 20, 2019, that restructures the state’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). The Republican-majority Michigan State Legislature voted to reject Whitmer’s original version of the executive order on February 14—the first time state legislators had rejected a governor’s executive order in 42 years.
 
Whitmer’s executive order aims to create “a principal department focused on improving the quality of Michigan’s air, land, and water, protecting public health, and encouraging the use of clean energy.” The order renames and restructures the DEQ into the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy. The order also establishes an Interagency Environmental Justice Response Team, an Office of Climate and Energy and Office, and a Clean Water Public Advocate, among other organization modifications.
 
Michigan legislators rejected the original version of the executive order because it eliminated three environmental oversight commissions that legislators had established in 2018. Legislators claimed that the commissions serve to guard citizens against potentially harmful environmental regulations. Whitmer argued that the commissions are dominated by industry leaders and slow down the regulatory process. The new version of the executive order only eliminates one of the three commissions.
 
The executive order will take effect on April 22 if no action is taken by the state legislature.


Twenty-one state executive officials left office early in 2018

Twenty-one state executive officials left office early in 2018, the third-highest number since Ballotpedia began tracking the figure in 2012.
 
They included one Democrat, 13 Republicans, and seven nonpartisan officials.
 
Nine resignations occurred for personal reasons, seven for political reasons, and two for professional reasons. Three officials did not specify their reasons for leaving office.
 
Nine resignations were from the top-level offices of governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and secretary of state.
  • Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) resigned to accept his appointment as U.S. Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom, while Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer (R) left office to serve as his successor.
  • Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) resigned amid allegations of sexual misconduct and was replaced by Lt. Gov. Mike Parson (R).
  • Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Murray (R), Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler (R), and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) each resigned following allegations of sexual misconduct.
  • Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos (R) resigned for unspecified reasons.
  • Nonpartisan Oklahoma Secretary of State Mike Lopez resigned for personal reasons and was succeeded by James Williamson (R), the only office change in 2018 which also resulted in a change in partisan control.
The months with the most officials leaving office were May and December with four resignations each. No state executive officials left office between August and November.
 
Previously, the two years with the most irregular office changes since 2012 have been those following a presidential election; Ballotpedia tracked 36 irregular office changes in 2013 and tracked 23 irregular office changes in 2017.
 
Click the link below for more information on early departures among state executive officials going back to 2012.


New rule blocks certain people from receiving benefits on others’ behalf

A new rule will use background checks to ensure that people convicted of certain crimes cannot receive benefits from Social Security on behalf of impaired beneficiaries. The final rule published on February 15, 2019, by the Social Security Administration (SSA) implements requirements outlined in a 2018 law.
 
Under the law, and the new rule, people convicted of crimes such as kidnapping, sexual assault, fraud, and forgery may not manage benefit payments for impaired recipients of certain federal benefits. SSA will conduct background checks at least once every five years on all such people who manage benefits. The final rule will go into effect on March 18, 2019.
 
A final rule, in the context of administrative rulemaking, is a federal administrative regulation that went through the proposed rule and public comment stages of the rulemaking process and is published in the Federal Register with a scheduled effective date. The published final rule marks the last stage in the rulemaking process and includes information about the rationale for the regulation as well as any necessary responses to public comments.


Federal Register weekly update; average 2019 weekly page total continues to climb

The Federal Register is a daily journal of federal government activity that includes presidential documents, proposed and final rules, and public notices. It is a common measure of an administration’s regulatory activity.
 
During the week of February 18 to February 22, the number of pages in the Federal Register increased by 1,274 pages, bringing the year-to-date total to 5,950 pages. A total of 540 documents were included in the week’s Federal Register, including 456 notices, three presidential documents, 31 proposed rules, and 50 final rules.
 
Three final rules were deemed significant under E.O. 12866—meaning that they may have large impacts on the economy, environment, public health, or state or local governments. Significant actions may also conflict with presidential priorities or other agency rules.
 
During the same week in 2018, the number of pages in the Federal Register increased by 1,058 pages. As of February 22, the 2019 total trailed the 2018 total by 2,214 pages.
 
The Trump administration has added an average of 744 pages to the Federal Register each week in 2019 as of February 22. In 2018, the Trump administration added an average of 1,301 pages to the Federal Register each week. Over the course of the Obama administration, the Federal Register increased by an average of 1,658 pages per week.
 
According to government data, the Federal Register hit an all-time high of 95,894 pages in 2016.
 
Ballotpedia maintains page counts and other information about the Federal Register as part of its Administrative State Project. The project is a neutral, nonpartisan encyclopedic resource that defines and analyzes the administrative state, including its philosophical origins, legal and judicial precedents, and scholarly examinations of its consequences. The project also monitors and reports on measures of federal government activity.


U.S. Supreme Court waits to act on DACA cases

The U.S. Supreme court has not acted on three cases challenging a decision made by the Trump administration to end an Obama-era program that postponed deportation for children who entered the United States unlawfully. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) acted to wind down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in 2017 and three separate cases have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in.
 
Each case asks the court to decide whether the DHS decision to end DACA is subject to judicial review and whether the decision was lawful. The court first considered whether to hear the cases during its January 11, 2019, conference but has not made a decision about whether to accept the cases since then. Four justices must agree to hear a case for it to move forward in the process.
 
Additional reading:


Mississippi Gov. Bryant endorses Lt. Gov. Reeves as his successor

On February 20, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) endorsed Lieutenant Gov. Tate Reeves (R) to replace him as the state’s top executive. “If a governor and a lieutenant governor cannot work closely together if I cannot be loyal to him as well as he has been loyal to me — then we’re on the wrong path,” Bryant said.
 
Reeves is running in the August 6 Republican gubernatorial primary against former Mississippi Supreme Court Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. and state Rep. Robert Foster. State Sen. Chris McDaniel might also enter the primary. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, the top-two finishers will face off in an August 27 runoff.
 
The only poll of the primary previewed a two-candidate matchup between Reeves and Foster, which Reeves led 62 percent to 9 percent. The margin of error was 5 percentage points. Reeves was the only candidate to report fundraising figures ahead of the January 1, 2019, filing deadline. He reported raising nearly $1.8 million and having more than $6.7 million in cash on hand. Waller did not enter the race until February 14.
 
Bryant, who is term-limited in 2019, was first elected in 2011 with 61 percent of the vote and was re-elected in 2015 with 66.4 percent of the vote. He won a five-candidate Republican primary in 2011 with 59.5 percent of the vote.