Latest stories

Vermont governor announces supreme court nomination

Vermont Governor Phil Scott (R) nominated Judge William “Bill” Cohen to succeed Marilyn Skoglund as a justice on the Vermont Supreme Court. Skoglund retired on September 1, 2019. Cohen was Gov. Phil Scott’s (R) second nominee to the five-member supreme court.
At the time of his state supreme court appointment, Cohen was a superior court judge in Rutland County, Vermont. Governor Howard Dean appointed Cohen to the bench in 1999. Cohen was an attorney in private practice from 1986 to 1999. He was a deputy state’s attorney in Rutland County from 1984 to 1986. Cohen earned a B.A. in environmental science from George Washington University in 1980 and a J.D. from Vermont Law School in 1984.
Selection of state supreme court justices in Vermont occurs through gubernatorial appointment with state Senate confirmation. A judicial nominating commission submits a list of names to the governor, who then selects an appointee. The Vermont State Senate must also confirm the appointment. Approved nominees serve for six years, at which point they face retention by a vote of the Vermont General Assembly.
Founded in 1777, the Vermont Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort and has five judgeships. As of December 2019, two of the court’s justices were appointed by Republican governors and two were appointed by a Democratic governor.
In 2019, there have been 22 supreme court vacancies across 14 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. Retirements caused 14 of the vacancies. Two former justices took jobs in the private sector. One vacancy occurred when a justice was elevated to chief justice of the court, one occurred when a chief justice died, and four others occurred when the justices were elevated to federal judicial positions.
Click here to learn more.
Additional reading:

State signature deadline for Massachusetts 2020 initiatives was Wednesday

The Massachusetts secretary of state reported receiving signatures from eight initiative campaigns on Wednesday, December 4. Wednesday was the deadline for 2020 ballot measure sponsors to submit signatures to state officials. November 20 was the preliminary deadline to submit signatures for verification to local registrars before submitting them to the secretary of state.
The number of verified signatures needed to qualify for the ballot is 80,239, which equals 3% of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. Four campaigns reported submitting more than the required amount:
  • Massachusetts Right to Repair Coalition reported submitting 102,000 signatures in support of an initiative that would broaden access to mechanical data in a vehicle’s on-board diagnostics or telematics system.
  • Massachusetts Senior Coalition reported submitting 87,000 signatures in support of an initiative that would change the formula for Medicaid ratemaking for nursing homes.
  • Voters Choice for Massachusetts, which is sponsoring a ranked-choice voting measure, reported submitting 110,584 signatures.
  • The sponsors of an initiative backed by Cumberland Farms that would allow food stores to sell beer and wine reported submitting 130,000 signatures.
The sponsors of two initiatives regarding the treatment of the disabled reported submitting signatures to the secretary of state, but it was not clear as of December 5 if they submitted at least the minimum required number of signatures.
Proponents of two initiated constitutional amendments reported submitting an insufficient number of signatures. These initiatives were the Massachusetts No Right to Public Funding for Abortion Initiative and the Massachusetts Voting Rights Restoration for Incarcerated Felons Initiative.
If enough signatures are submitted in this first round, the legislature must act on a successful petition by May 6, 2020. If the legislature fails to adopt the proposed law, petitioners then have until July 1, to request additional petition forms and submit the second round of 13,374 signatures. If successful in that second round, the initiative will be placed on the 2020 ballot.
Click here to learn more.

Signatures submitted for Colorado gray wolf initiative

The Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund (RMWAF) reported submitting over 210,000 signatures on Tuesday, December 10, to qualify their initiative for the 2020 ballot. The measure would require the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to create a plan to reintroduce and manage gray wolves on designated lands in the western part of the state by the end of 2023.
The gray wolf, Canis lupus, was classified as a federally endangered species in 1978 (except in Minnesota, where it was classified as threatened). The gray wolf was removed from the endangered lists in Idaho and Montana in 2011. Idaho and Montana began wolf reintroduction programs in 1995.
To qualify for the 2020 ballot, 124,632 valid signatures are required. The submission deadline for this initiative is December 13, 2019. The average signature validity rate for ballot initiative petitions is 75.33%, according to a study based on 143 ballot initiatives from 2006 through 2018.
Proponents of ballot initiatives in Colorado have a six-month window to collect the required number of signatures, which establishes a specific signature submission deadline for each measure. The overall deadline for all 2020 initiatives in Colorado is August 3, 2020. As of December 2019, one other Colorado measure has been cleared to collect signatures— Initiative #120— which would restrict abortions after a fetus reaches 22 weeks gestational age.
According to campaign finance reports which covered through September 30, RMWAF had raised about $797,000 in cash and $100,000 in in-kind contributions. Speaking about why they believe gray wolves should be reintroduced in Colorado, RMWAF wrote, “Since the 1940s, when Colorado’s last wolf was killed, our ecosystem has suffered. A lack of natural balance means that too many elk and deer eat away the vegetation that holds streams and rivers back, leading to erosion and the disruption of even more habitats, like those for native beavers and songbirds. Wolves also naturally limit the spread of disease, such as Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), by taking vulnerable animals out of the population.”
Colorado Stop the Wolf Coalition is leading the campaign against the measure. The group has not yet reported campaign finance activity. The Colorado Farm Bureau is also opposed to the measure. CFB Vice President of Advocacy Shawn Martini said, “We remain skeptical that you can introduce wolves into Colorado and not create significant problems. Not only to our way of life here in the state which is based on outdoor recreations but also on livestock production in the western part of the state and to the ecosystem. Colorado is home to a number of endangered species that could be potentially be preyed upon by an apex predatory like the Canadian gray wolf. So we’re skeptical that these kinds of decisions should be put in the hands of voters through a ballot initiative.”
Two measures are currently certified for the 2020 ballot in Colorado: a citizen-initiated veto referendum over Colorado joining the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact and a transportation bond issue referred to the ballot by the state legislature.
Click here to learn more.
Additional reading:

Rep. George Holding (R-N.C.) announces 2020 retirement

Rep. George Holding (R-N.C.) announced that he would not seek re-election to the U.S. House in 2020. In a statement, Holding said that “the newly redrawn Congressional Districts were part of the reason I have decided not to seek reelection. But, in addition, this is also a good time for me to step back and reflect on all that I have learned.” Holding also said he hopes to return to public office someday.
On December 2, 2019, a three-judge panel of North Carolina’s superior court ruled that U.S. House elections in 2020 will take place under a remedial district map approved by state legislators in November. The court previously ruled that the original map constituted a partisan gerrymander. Following the December ruling, The Cook Political Report changed its 2020 race rating for North Carolina’s 2nd Congressional District from “Lean R” to “Likely D.”
Holding was first elected to the U.S. House representing the 2nd District in 2012. He was the 22nd Republican member of the U.S. House to announce he would not seek re-election in 2020. Nine Democratic representatives had announced they would not seek re-election. In the 2018 election cycle, 52 members of the U.S. House—18 Democrats and 34 Republicans—did not seek re-election.
Currently, Democrats hold a 233-197 majority in the U.S. House with one independent member of the chamber. In November 2020, all 435 seats will be up for election.
Click here to learn more.
Additional reading:

Signatures filed for ballot initiative to expand local governments’ rent control powers in California

Californians could vote on a ballot initiative to expand the power of local governments to enact rent control in 2020. The campaign behind the ballot initiative filed around 1 million signatures on December 5, 2019. At least 623,212 signatures need to be valid for the measure to appear on the ballot.
Counties will first conduct a random sample of signatures to determine whether enough valid signatures were filed. If the random sample projects that more than 685,534 signatures, which is 110 percent of the required minimum, are valid, then the measure qualifies for the ballot. If the projection is between 95 percent and 110 percent of the requirement, a check of each signature will be conducted. If the projection is less than 95 percent of the requirement, the initiative fails to make the ballot.
In 2018, 59 percent of voters rejected Proposition 10, which would have allowed local governments to adopt rent control on any type of rental housing. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), which is headed by Michael Weinstein, co-sponsored Proposition 10 and an AHF division called Housing Is A Human Right is sponsoring the campaign in support of the 2020 ballot initiative. Rand Martin, a lobbyist for AHF, said, “The one lesson we learned from Proposition 10 is that the voters were not interested in a wholesale repeal of Costa Hawkins. But the other message we got in polling and focus groups is that people believe there are excesses to Costa Hawkins and there needs to be reforms.” Tom Bannon, CEO of the California Apartment Association, opposed Proposition 10 in 2018. He said, “Voters overwhelming rejected the measure the last time it was on the ballot. Once we educate voters about Weinstein’s latest housing-freeze measure, it’s bound to fail just as miserably as Prop. 10.”
Unlike Proposition 10, the new proposal was designed to exempt some units from rent control. Exemptions would be made for (a) units first occupied within the last 15 years and (b) residential units owned by landlords who own no more than two properties. The new initiative would also require that local governments allow landlords to increase rental rates by 15 percent during the first three years following a vacancy.
The campaigns surrounding Proposition 10 raised a combined $96.66 million. Opponents of Proposition 10 raised $71.37 million, with the largest contribution ($8 million) coming from the California Association of Realtors. Supporters raised $25.30 million. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation provided 89.0 percent of the campaign’s funds. As of the most recent deadline on September 30, 2019, the campaign behind the new initiative has raised $2.26 million, which all came from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
If the ballot initiative qualifies for the 2020 ballot, it will be the fourth citizen-initiated measure to do so. The deadline for signatures to be verified for ballot initiatives is June 25, 2020. A total of 44 initiatives have been proposed for the California ballot this election cycle.
Click here to learn more.
Additional reading:

California statewide filing deadline is December 6

The filing deadline to run for elected office in California is on December 6, 2019. In California, prospective candidates may file for the following offices:
? U.S. House
? State Senate
? State Assembly
? Ballotpedia is also covering local elections in the following areas:
  • 12 counties
  • 17 cities
  • 94 school districts
The California Secretary of State will release the official candidate list on December 26. The primary is scheduled for March 3, and the general election is scheduled for November 3, 2020.
California’s statewide filing deadline is the fourth to take place in the 2020 election cycle. The next statewide filing deadline is on December 9 in Texas.
California has a Democratic state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.

Texas statewide filing deadline passes on December 9

The major-party filing deadline to run for elected office in Texas is on December 9, 2019. Independent candidates must submit their declaration of intent to run on the same date, but the final filing deadline for independent candidates is June 25, 2020. In Texas, prospective candidates may file for the following offices:
  • U.S. Senate
  • U.S. House
  • Texas Railroad Commissioner
  • Texas State Board of Education
  • Texas State Senate
  • Texas House of Representatives
  • Texas Supreme Court
  • Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
  • Texas Court of Appeals
  • Ballotpedia is also covering multiple municipal and school board elections in Texas in 2020.
The primary is scheduled for March 3, and the general election is scheduled for November 3, 2020.
Texas’s statewide filing deadline is the fifth to take place in the 2020 election cycle. The next statewide filing deadline is on December 18 in Ohio.
Texas 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.

Special election runoff held in Georgia House district

A special general election runoff was held for District 152 of the Georgia House of Representatives on December 3, 2019. Bill Yearta (R) won the special election with 3,419 votes and defeated Jim Quinn (R).
The general election was held on November 5, 2019. The filing deadline passed on September 18, 2019.
The special election was called after Ed Rynders (R) resigned his seat on September 5, 2019, citing health concerns. Rynders served from 2003 to 2019.
Republicans now have a 104-75 majority in the Georgia House of Representatives with one vacancy. Georgia 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, 77 state legislative special elections have been scheduled or held in 24 states this year. Eleven special elections have been scheduled for 2020 in five states. Between 2011 and 2018, an average of 77 special elections took place each year.

Two Congressmen announce 2020 retirements

Reps. Denny Heck (D-Wash.) and Tom Graves (R-Ga.) announced this week that they will not run for re-election n 2020.
In a statement issued on Dec. 4, Heck did not give a reason for his retirement but said he planned on writing at least two books. He was first elected to the U.S. House in 2012 representing Washington’s 10th Congressional District. He won re-election in 2018 by 23 percentage points.
In a statement issued on Dec. 5, Graves cited his desire to spend more time with his family as a reason for his retirement. Graves was first elected to represent Georgia’s 14th Congressional District in June 2010. He won re-election in 2018 by 53 percentage points.
As of Graves’ announcement, these were the ninth Democratic and 21st Republican U.S. House retirements in the 2020 election cycle. In the 2018 election cycle, 52 members of the U.S. House—18 Democrats and 34 Republicans—did not seek re-election.
Democrats hold a 233-197 majority in the U.S. House with one independent member of the chamber. In November 2020, all 435 seats will be up for election.
Additional pages:

Federal judge dismisses two class-action lawsuits seeking repayment of agency fees

On Nov. 27, Judge Renee Bumb, of the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, dismissed two class-action lawsuits in which the plaintiffs sought repayment of agency fees paid to their unions before the Supreme Court issued its ruling in Janus v. AFSCME. In Janus, the high court held that unions cannot compel members or represented workers to pay union fees.

Who are the parties to the suit?

  • Smith v. New Jersey Education Association
    • Plaintiffs: Ann Smith, Leonardo Santiago, Michael C. Sandberg, Karl Hedenberg, Melissa H. Poulson, and Rachel Curcio, all current or former public school teachers in New Jersey.
    • Defendants: New Jersey Education Association, National Education Association, Clearview Education Association, Harrison Township Education Association, Clearview Regional High School District Board of Education, Gov. Phil Murphy (D), and the members of the New Jersey Public Employment Relations Commission (Joel M. Weisblatt, Paul Boudreau, Paula B. Voos, John Bonanni, and David Jones).
  • Fischer v. Murphy
    • Plaintiffs: Susan Fischer and Jeanette Speck, both current or former public school teachers.
    • Defendants: Gov. Phill Murphy (D), New Jersey Education Association, and Township of Ocean Education Association.

What is at issue? Plaintiffs Smith and Hedenberg were compelled to pay union fees prior to Janus. They sought repayment of those fees, which they argued were collected unconstitutionally without their affirmative consent. The other plaintiffs contested a provision of the Workplace Democracy Enhancement Act, a New Jersey law enacted in 2018. The plaintiffs argued that the law unconstitutionally restricts the time and circumstances under which employees can withdraw from their unions and revoke their dues deduction authorizations.

How did the court rule? Because the two cases dealt with similar issues, Bumb issued a joint ruling covering both. Regarding the claim for refunds of previously paid union fees, Bumb wrote, “While Plaintiffs’ arguments are well-taken, this Court finds that the Union Defendants would prevail based upon their good-faith belief that these agency fee deductions, which were sanctioned by the Supreme Court in Abood, complied with statutory and constitutional law.”

Regarding plaintiffs’ arguments against the Workplace Democracy Enhancement Act, Bumb wrote, “If Plaintiffs demonstrated that State Defendant or the Union Defendants were using the WDEA’s revocation language to override and narrow contractually agreed upon resignation rights, such enforcement would certainly have established injury. However, no such circumstances existed in these matters.”

What are the reactions?

  • Patrick Semmens, vice president of the National Right to Work Foundation, which represented the plaintiffs in Fischer v. Murphy, said his organization expected to appeal the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
  • As of Dec. 6, none of the defendants have made public statements about the ruling.

Case information: Bumb was appointed to the bench in 2006 by President George W. Bush. The case names and numbers are Smith v. New Jersey Education Association (18-10381) and Fischer v. Murphy (18-15628).

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state

We are currently tracking 106 pieces of legislation dealing with public-sector employee union policy. On the map below, a darker shade of green indicates a greater number of relevant bills. Click here for a complete list of all the bills we’re tracking.

Union Station map December 6, 2019.png

Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

Union Station status chart December 6, 2019.png

Number of relevant bills by partisan status of sponsor(s)

Union Station partisan chart December 6, 2019.png

Recent legislative actions

Below is a complete list of legislative actions taken since our last issue. Bills are listed in alphabetical order, first by state then by bill number.

  • Virginia HB67: This bill would limit an existing prohibition against government employee strikes to law-enforcement officers.
    • Introduced Dec. 5.