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Two more votes for Alaska House speaker fall one vote short; deadlock continues

Record-setting deadlock in the Alaska House of Representatives continues as speaker bids by Republican leader David Talerico and Rep. Gary Knopp (R) failed on Tuesday. Twenty-one votes are needed to select a speaker of the house, and both votes were 20-20.

Republicans won 23 of 40 seats in the 2018 elections, but Knopp, Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux (R), and Rep. Louise Stutes (R) have not joined other GOP members in a coalition led by Talerico.

The vote for Talerico as speaker ended in a similar way as three previous votes for him did: 20 Republicans voted yes, and Knopp, LeDoux, and Stutes joined all 16 Democrats and independent Daniel Ortiz voting no.

Knopp had said Monday that he was ready to “be the 21st vote to support a Republican-led coalition or caucus” after his attempts to form a bipartisan coalition with power-sharing between the parties stalled.

Knopp said he had originally intended to vote for Talerico before Stutes suggested that he be nominated as speaker instead. Knopp also said he was bothered by a Facebook comment from Rep. David Eastman (R) on an article about Knopp. In the comment, Eastman discussed the procedures for recalling a state representative from office.

The vote for Knopp as speaker also ended in a 20-20 tie with the 16 Democrats, Stutes, LeDoux, and Ortiz supporting him.

Tuesday was the 28th day of the 90-day legislative session. It is the longest period the chamber has ever gone without a speaker, who is needed to conduct legislative business and appoint standing committees. Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) was expected to release a budget Wednesday. On Tuesday night, he called for a Republican-led majority to take control of the House.



Seattle Public Schools voters pass two funding measures on February 12

Voters in the Seattle Public Schools district approved two property tax measures on February 12, 2019. Proposition 1 was designed to fund educational programs with a tax levy at the rates of $1.05 per $1,000 in assessed property value in 2020; $0.96 per $1,000 in 2021; and $0.87 per $1,000 in 2022. The district proposed these rates over the legal maximum amount that the state legislature determined school districts could collect through local property taxes in 2017. District officials noted that state lawmakers would need to adjust the existing limits in order to allow the proposed rates. Otherwise, the tax rate under Proposition 1 would default to $0.53 per $1,000 in 2020, according to The Seattle Times. Proposition 1 received 66 percent approval on election night, requiring a simple majority to pass.
 
Proposition 2 was designed to fund capital improvements with a six-year property tax levy. The tax rate would range from $0.90 per $1,000 in value in 2020 down to $0.56 per $1,000 in 2025. The text of the measure listed capital improvements such as earthquake safety projects, building construction, infrastructure updates, and technology updates in the district as purposes for the revenue. Proposition 2 received 68 percent approval on election night, also requiring a simple majority.
 
The King County elections office reported that 40,500 ballots remained to be counted as of 8:05 pm on February 12, with about 99,385 ballots already counted. Voter turnout for the countywide election was 17.74 percent.


North Carolina governor appoints next state supreme court chief justice

Gov. Roy Cooper (D) appointed Justice Cheri Beasley to succeed Mark Martin as the chief justice of the state supreme court. Martin is retiring from the court on February 28, 2019. Beasley will assume the position on March 1, 2019.

To remain in this position, Beasley must run for election in 2020. Voters elect the chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court to serve in that capacity for a full eight-year term. North Carolina is one of only seven states in which the chief justice is elected by voters.

Gov. Bev Perdue (D) appointed Beasley to the North Carolina Supreme Court as an associate justice in 2012. In 2014, Beasley was elected to serve a full eight-year term. Beasley was previously a judge on the North Carolina Court of Appeals from 2008 to 2012 and a judge for the North Carolina 12th Judicial District from 1999 to 2008. She earned her B.A. in political science and economics from Rutgers University/Douglass College in 1988. She obtained her J.D. from the University of Tennessee College of Law in 1991.

Gov. Cooper must now appoint an associate justice to serve on the seven-member state supreme court. Martin’s replacement will be Cooper’s first associate justice nominee to the court. Like Beasley, the associate justice appointee will also have to run for election in November 2020 to remain on the court.



New Mexico Legislature forms a Women’s Caucus

A bipartisan Women’s Caucus has been established in the New Mexico State Legislature after historic gains in the 2018 election. Currently, one-third of the state legislature is made up of women. Rep. Kelly Fajardo (R) and Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez (D) were nominated to lead the 39-member caucus. The group will focus on helping women, children, and families.

In the 2018 elections, 31 women were elected to the 70-seat state House of Representatives. Women currently hold eight out of 42 seats in the state Senate. The 39 women in the 2019 legislative session is a 31 percent increase from 2016 and 7 percent higher than the national average. This is the highest number of female legislators in New Mexico since 1967, which is the earliest year that records are available.

New Mexico is currently one of 14 Democratic trifectas. Democrats control the state Senate by a 26 to 16 margin and the state House by a 46 to 24 margin. The governor’s office is controlled by Michelle Lujan Grisham (D).

 



Former astronaut Mark Kelly will run in U.S. Senate special election in Arizona; Republicans hold 22 of 34 seats on 2020 Senate map

Former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly (D) announced Tuesday that he is running in the 2020 special election for U.S. Senate in Arizona to complete the term of the late John McCain (R). Kelly became active in politics and gun violence prevention after his wife, former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D), survived an assassination attempt in 2011.

The seat is currently held by Sen. Martha McSally (R), who was appointed in December 2018.

Thirty-three other Senate races will take place in 2020, including at least two for open seats in Tennessee and Kansas where Sen. Lamar Alexander (R) and Pat Roberts (R) announced they were not seeking re-election.

Republicans will be defending 22 seats up for election, compared to Democrats’ 12 seats. That is nearly the reverse of 2018, when Democrats held 26 of the 35 seats up for election.

Two Republicans face re-election in states that President Donald Trump (R) lost in 2018: Sen. Cory Gardner (R) in Colorado, where Trump lost in 2016 by 5 percentage points, and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).

Doug Jones, who won a 2017 special election to become the first Democratic senator elected in Alabama since 1992, is also expected to face a competitive race.

Republicans currently hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate.



Bill requiring congressional approval of major administrative agency action reintroduced

A bill requiring congressional approval of major agency regulations before they go into effect was reintroduced U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.). The Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act (REINS), a proposal designed to amend the Congressional Review Act (CRA) of 1996, defines major regulations as those that have financial impacts on the U.S. economy of $100 million or more, that increase consumer prices, or that have significant harmful effects on the economy. Under the existing CRA, Congress has the authority to issue resolutions of disapproval to nullify agency regulations.

As of February 8, 2019, the REINS Act had 37 cosponsors in the U.S. Senate and there was not a companion version in the U.S. House. Versions of the REINS Act have been introduced since the 112th Congress (2011-2013).



Friday deadline to file for Texas local elections in May

Each year, local elections in Texas are split between May and November, depending on the area. The filing deadline to run for office in the May elections will pass on February 15. Ballotpedia is covering elections in three counties (Collin, El Paso, Tarrant), seven cities (Arlington, Dallas, Fort Worth, Garland, Irving, Plano, San Antonio), and 58 school districts.

The mayor’s office is on the ballot in Arlington, Dallas, Fort Worth, Garland, and San Antonio. Dallas and San Antonio were among the 10 largest cities by population in the country as of the 2010 Census. The school board races include the Dallas ISD, which is the state’s second-largest school district. There will be no primary for these elections with the general election taking place on May 4. If no candidate receives a majority of the vote in the general election, a runoff is scheduled for June 8.

The February 15 filing deadline is one of the earliest major deadlines of the 2019 election season. Earlier deadlines included December 5, 2018, for Oklahoma local races, January 2 for Wisconsin state and local races, and January 29 for Kentucky state and local races. Next month will have four statewide filing deadlines: Mississippi on March 1, Pennsylvania on March 12, Virginia on March 21, and Idaho on March 22.

Ballotpedia is also covering November elections in two Texas counties (Bexar and Harris), the city of Houston, and six school districts. This includes the state’s largest district, the Houston ISD. In Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, the mayor’s office, controller position, and all 16 seats on the city council are on the ballot. The filing deadline has not been set yet for all November races. These elections also won’t have a primary; the general election is set for November 5 and runoffs, if required, are scheduled for December 14.



Utah governor signs law changing Proposition 3, the Medicaid expansion initiative approved in November 2018

Utah Proposition 3, the Medicaid Expansion Initiative, was on the ballot in Utah as an initiated state statute on November 6, 2018. It was approved by a vote of 53 percent to 47 percent. Proposition 3 expanded Medicaid coverage to include persons under the age of 65 and with incomes equal to or below 138 percent of the federal poverty line according to traditional Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. It also increased the state’s sales tax rate from 4.70 percent to 4.85 percent, with revenue allocated toward the state’s portion of the cost of Medicaid expansion.
 
On Monday, the legislature gave final approval to Senate Bill 96 to repeal and replace Proposition 3, and Governor Gary Herbert (R) signed it into law. Changes proposed by the bill include limits on eligibility for Medicaid coverage, such as a work requirement; restrictions on the total number of people who could enroll; and changes to the provisions concerning the sales tax increase, although the sales tax increase would be implemented under SB 96 as it was designed to under Proposition 3. It would require special approval of waivers from the Federal government and contains contingency provisions that take effect if the waivers aren’t approved.
 
Utah Sen. Allen Christensen (R) introduced Senate Bill 96. The bill passed in the Senate on February 4, 2019. The bill passed with amendments in the House on February 8, 2019. The Senate concurred with the House’s amendments, and the governor signed the bill on February 11, 2019. All six Senate Democrats and all 16 House Democrats voted against the bill. One Republican Senator, Todd Weiler of District 23, and three House Republicans—Craig Hall (33), Eric Hutchings (38) and Steven Eliason (45)—also voted against the bill. The remaining legislative Republicans voted in favor of SB 96.
 
Utah has a Republican state government trifecta, meaning Republicans control both chambers of the state legislature and the governorship. Utah is one of three Republican trifecta states that approved Medicaid expansion initiatives in November 2018. The other two are Idaho and Nebraska.
 
Utah is one of 11 states that have no restrictions on legislative alterations, which means the legislature can amend or repeal initiated state statutes with a simple majority vote at any time.
 
Statement from Governor Gary Herbert:
 
Governor Herbert said, “SB96 balances Utah’s sense of compassion and frugality. It provides quality coverage to the same population covered by Proposition 3 in a meaningful, humane and sustainable way. It is now time to set aside differences and move forward to get those in greatest need enrolled on Medicaid and on the federal health care exchanges.”
 
Response from Proposition 3 supporters:
 
Utah Decides Healthcare, the Proposition 3 support campaign, “This is a dark day for democracy in Utah. State legislators turned their backs on voters and on families in need. This bill leaves billions of our tax dollars in Washington and cuts healthcare for tens-of-thousands of Utahns. While special interests and politicians celebrate the success of their backroom deal, Utah families will be up late tonight knowing they just lost the ability to afford lifesaving care.”
 
Proposition 3 supporter Matt Slonaker, executive director of the Utah Health Policy Project, stated, “This bill is not perfect, and there are significant parts of it that we don’t support and will work hard to fix. But Governor Hebert, President Adams, and Speaker Wilson have stated that we will have an April 1, 2019 roll out date of coverage. UHPP, and our partners in the community, should be ready. We will finally be able to get coverage for Utahns that need it badly.”
 
The Utah Legislature also amended Proposition 2, the Medical Marijuana Initiative, which was approved by voters in 2018.


Arizona Appeals Court rules that a bill preempting local benefits ordinances violated the Voter Protection Act

The Arizona Court of Appeals ruled that a state law, passed as HB 2579 in 2016, violated the Voter Protection Act, Arizona’s restriction on legislative alteration. The Voter Protection Act requires voter approval of substantive changes made by the legislature to ballot initiatives. HB 2579 was designed to preempt local governments from requiring nonwage benefits above the state requirement. The three-judge panel concluded that HB 2579 contradicted Proposition 202, which voters approved in 2006. Proposition 202 increased the minimum wage and provided that local governments can enact ordinances to regulate the minimum wage and benefits.

HB 2579 defined benefits to include fringe benefits, sick and vacation days, retirement plans, child or adult care plans, and welfare benefits. Proposition 202 did not define benefits.

The appeals court’s ruling said, “H.B. 2579 explicitly prohibits what the Minimum Wage Act permits, and thus, the two statutes cannot be harmonized. Because H.B. 2579 impliedly amends and repeals a portion of the Minimum Wage Act, it violates the VPA’s express limitations on legislative changes to voter-approved laws.”

The state government, represented by Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R), has the option of appealing the case to the Arizona Supreme Court, which would have final jurisdiction on the issue. If the state does not appeal the case, or the state Supreme Court sides with the appeals court, the Arizona State Legislature could pass the same bill to preempt local benefits ordinances; however, an additional provision referring the bill to the ballot for voter consideration would need to be added to meet the requirements of the Voter Protection Act.

Due to the Voter Protection Act, which was passed as a ballot initiative in 1998, Arizona is one of two states—the other is California—that requires voter approval to make substantive changes to voter-approved ballot initiatives.



Two Democrats and two Republicans competing in Georgia House special election

The special election for District 176 of the Georgia House of Representatives is on February 12. Barbara Griffin (D), Barbara Seidman (D), James Burchett (R), and Franklin Patten (R) are running in the election. A runoff between the top two candidates will take place on March 12 if no candidate receives a majority of the vote.

The seat became vacant after Jason Shaw (R) was appointed to serve the remainder of H. Doug Everett’s term on the Georgia Public Service Commission, beginning January 1, 2019.

Entering the special election, the Georgia House of Representatives has 75 Democrats, 103 Republicans, and two vacancies. A special election runoff was previously held on February 5 for the District 5 seat. A majority in the chamber requires 91 seats. Georgia has a Republican trifecta. A state government trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and both state legislative chambers.