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Florida governor makes first state supreme court appointment

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) appointed Florida Third District Court of Appeal Judge Barbara Lagoa to succeed Fred Lewis on the Florida Supreme Court. Lewis retired from the court on January 7 after reaching the mandatory retirement age. Lagoa is DeSantis’ first appointment to the seven-member court. Her appointment is effective immediately.
 
Lagoa was a judge on the Florida Third District Court of Appeal from 2006 to 2019. She was appointed to the appellate court by Gov. Jeb Bush (R) in June 2006. She worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida from 2003 to 2006.
 
Lagoa graduated from Florida International University in 1989 and received her J.D. from Columbia University in 1992. During her legal studies, Lagoa served on the Columbia Law Review.
 
Retiring Justice Lewis was an associate justice of the Florida Supreme Court from 1998 to 2019. Gov. Lawton Chiles (D) appointed Lewis to the court. He served as chief justice of the court from 2006 to 2008.
 
Two supreme court seats remain vacant following the January 7 retirements of Justices Peggy Quince and Barbara Pariente.


U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear state-led lawsuits against California’s and Massachusetts’ meat and egg sale ballot initiatives

On January 8, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear cases regarding whether ballot initiatives and related legislation in California and Massachusetts designed to regulate the sale of animal products violate the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The court did not issue a reason for declining the cases, but Justice Clarence Thomas said he would have granted hearings.
 
The cases involved California AB 1435—which was designed to enforce provisions of Proposition 2 (2008)—and Massachusetts Question 3 (2016). The cases also had implications for California Proposition 12 (2018).
 
California Proposition 2 banned the confinement of pregnant pigs, calves raised for veal, and egg-laying hens in a manner that did not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs. The California State Legislature approved a law, AB 1435, that banned the sale of shelled eggs from hens confined to areas that did not meet Proposition 2’s standards. In 2014, 13 states sued California, saying that farmers located in their states needed to either increase production costs to meet the proposition’s requirements or forgo selling eggs on the market in California. AB 1435, according to plaintiffs, had a substantial burden on interstate commerce. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of California in 2016, with the court’s opinion saying that the plaintiff states failed to demonstrate that the law impacted them as states and their residents, rather than just egg producers.
 
Massachusetts Question 3 banned the confinement of pregnant pigs, calves raised for veal, and egg-laying hens based on movement requirements. Question 3 banned the sale of animal products from animals confined in spaces in violation of the ballot measure. In December 2017, 13 states asked the Supreme Court for permission to file a complaint against Massachusetts, saying Question 3 “dictate[d] how other states choose to regulate business operations and manufacturing processes within their own borders.”
 
The Supreme Court’s decision not to take up the cases is good news for California Proposition 12 (2018), according to the Humane Society, which sponsored the ballot initiative. Proposition 12, like AB 1435 and Question 3, prohibited the sale of veal from calves, pork from breeding pigs, and eggs from hens when the animals are confined to areas below certain minimum size requirements.
 


Florida Supreme Court dismisses a decade-old lawsuit claiming the state’s education system violated Amendment 6 of 1998

The Citizens for Strong Schools v. Board of Education lawsuit was filed on November 18, 2009, in the Leon County Circuit Court alleging the state failed to “make adequate provision for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high-quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high-quality education” as mandated by Amendment 6 of 1998.

On January 4, 2019, the Florida Supreme Court rejected the lawsuit, ruling that the judicial branch lacks the competence or authority to make funding and policy decisions.

Amendment 6 was on the ballot on November 3, 1998, when it was approved by a vote of 71 percent to 29 percent. The measure was referred to the ballot by the Florida Constitutional Revision Commission (CRC), which meets every 20 years on the following schedule: 1977, 1997, 2017, 2037, 2057, and so on. Amendment 6modified Article IX of the Florida Constitution to declare it “a paramount duty of the state” to provide for the education of children. Amendment 6 was one of nine ballot measures placed on the 1998 Florida ballot by the Florida Constitution Revision Commission.

Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady, Justice Alan Lawson and Associate Justice Edward LaRose said plaintiffs failed “to present any manageable standard by which to avoid judicial intrusion into the powers of the other branches of government.” Chief Justice Charles Canady said, “The judiciary is very good at making certain types of decisions — that is, judicial decisions— but it lacks the institutional competence — or the constitutional authority — to make the monumental funding and policy decisions that [the plaintiffs] seek to shift to the judicial branch.”

 

In the dissenting opinion, Justice Pariente wrote, “the majority of this Court fails to provide any judicial remedy for the students who are at the center of this lawsuit […] the citizens of this state intended for compliance — or noncompliance — with that provision to be adjudicated by the judiciary when properly brought to the court. Indeed, the task of construing the Constitution and determining whether the state is fulfilling its express obligations required by the Constitution — and the citizens of this state who approved the relevant constitutional language — is solely the judiciary’s task.”

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission convened in 2017 and referred eight constitutional amendments to the 2018 ballot. One was blocked from the ballot by a Florida Supreme Court ruling. The other seven were approved by voters.

Lawsuit timeline

Following is a timeline of the lawsuit from its 2009 filing to the 2019 state supreme court ruling:

  • January 4, 2019: Florida Supreme Court rejected the lawsuit on the grounds that the judicial branch lacks the competence or authority to make funding and policy decisions
  • November 8, 2018: Florida Supreme Court agreed to hear the case after asked by attorneys for Citizens for Strong Schools
  • March 2016: Trial held at the Leon County circuit court, where presiding judge George S. Reynolds, III dismissed the case, ruling that plaintiffs failed to prove that the state failed to meet their obligations mandated by Amendment 6 under Article IX
  • September 11, 2012: The Florida Supreme Court declined to accept jurisdiction and sent the case back to the Leon County circuit court
  • November 2011: The First District Court of Appeals panel of 15 judges voted 8 to 7 to deny the Writ of Prohibition and certify the suit as a “question of public importance,” which sent the case to the Florida Supreme Court
  • June 30, 2011: Hearing took place after the state appealed the denied Motion to Dismiss by filing an Extraordinary Writ of Prohibition, arguing that the courts have no authority to rule on the actions of the legislature
  • August 27, 2010: Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford denied the State of Florida’s Motion to Dismiss and ruled that the plaintiffs in the case had standing
  • November 18, 2009: Lawsuit filed in Leon County circuit court


Previewing 2019’s state executive races

Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi are the only three states holding regularly-scheduled elections for state executive positions in 2019. All three states have governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, agriculture commissioner, and treasurer offices on the ballot. Other state executive positions up for election include auditor in Kentucky and Mississippi, insurance commissioner in Louisiana and Mississippi, and public service commissioner in Mississippi. In total, 23 executive positions are on the ballot. There were 303 state executive seats up for election across 43 states in 2018.
 
Two of the sitting governors, Matt Bevin (R) in Kentucky and John Bel Edwards (D) in Louisiana, are completing their first terms. Bevin announced in August 2018 that he plans to run for re-election but has not filed to do so yet. Edwards is also running for re-election to a second term. In Mississippi, Gov. Phil Bryant (R) was first elected in 2011 and re-elected in 2015. He is ineligible to run for re-election due to term limits, which leaves an open seat.
 
Following the 2018 election, there are 27 Republican governors and 23 Democratic governors across the United States. There were 36 governorships on the ballot in 2018, and there are another 11 up for election in 2020. Of the 14 governor’s offices up for election across 2019 and 2020, nine are currently held by Republicans. Only one of those 14 elections have received a toss-up rating from Sabato’s Crystal Ball, however, and that is the Montana seat currently held by term-limited Gov. Steve Bullock (D) and up for election in 2020. The Cook Political Report did not identify any of the races as a toss-up; they rated the Montana race as Leans Democratic as of January 9, 2019.
 
The 2019 state executive filing deadlines are January 29 in Kentucky, March 1 in Mississippi, and August 8 in Louisiana. The primaries are on May 21 in Kentucky, August 6 in Mississippi, and October 12 in Louisiana. Mississippi will hold primary runoffs on August 27 if no primary candidate receives a simple majority of the vote. General elections will occur on November 5 in Kentucky and Mississippi and November 16 in Louisiana.


Georgia House special election advances to February runoff between two Republicans

On January 8, Jesse Vaughn (R) and Matt Barton (R) defeated four other candidates in a special general election for the District 5 seat in the Georgia House of Representatives. Vaughn and Barton advanced to a special runoff election scheduled for February 5, 2019. According to the unofficial results, Barton surpassed the third-place finisher, J. Scott Tidwell (R), by a margin of 76 votes out of 3,520 total votes cast.
 
The seat was previously held by John D. Meadows III (R), who passed away on November 12, 2018. Meadows was first elected to the office in 2004. He won his last re-election bid on November 6, 2018, with more than 81 percent of the vote against challenger Brian Rosser (D). Rosser was also the only Democratic candidate to file in the special election to replace Meadows, and he finished in fifth place with less than 5 percent of the vote. Meadows ran unopposed in the 2018 Republican primary and won re-election unopposed in 2014 and 2016. He had served as the chair of the chamber’s Rules Committee.
 
Entering the special election, the Georgia House of Representatives had 64 Democrats, 112 Republicans, and four vacancies. Another special election is scheduled on February 12 for the District 176 seat, which was previously held by Jason Shaw (R). 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.


Long Beach City Council votes to change election dates to coincide with state election schedule

The Long Beach City Council in California unanimously voted on January 8 to change the city’s election schedule to coincide with the state’s. Rather than holding general elections in April and runoff elections in June, the city and the Long Beach Unified School District will hold general elections in March and runoff elections in November starting in 2020.
 
The need to change election dates came from Senate Bill 415, a 2015 law that required local elections to align with the state’s election schedule by 2020 if local election turnout was 25 percent less than the average turnout in previous statewide general elections. Long Beach’s voter turnout for the April 2018 general election was 13 percent, while the voter turnout for California’s statewide general election in November 2018 was 65 percent. Long Beach had an estimated population of 469,450 in 2017, according to the United States Census Bureau.
 
The cities of Lawndale and Walnut, which both have populations of just over 30,000, also switched from holding elections in April to holding them in November. Other cities such as Norwalk and South Gate, which have populations of 106,084 and 95,430, respectively, switched from holding their elections in the spring of odd-numbered years to holding them in the spring of even-numbered years. Pasadena, which has a population of 142,647, also switched from holding its primary and general elections in odd-numbered years to even-numbered years.
 
Senate Bill 415 also affected school district election schedules. Over 80 percent of the state’s largest school districts that were scheduled to hold elections in 2017 switched to 2018.
 
Fifteen seats—four citywide offices, five city council seats, three school board seats, and three community college board seats—were on the ballot in Long Beach in 2018, and eight of those seats had unopposed races. The change in the city’s election schedule extended the terms of current officeholders by five months.

 



Wisconsin school board elections see more primaries, higher number of candidates compared to 2018

In Wisconsin, more candidates filed to run in six Madison-area school board elections this year compared to their last elections in 2018. A total of 30 candidates have filed to run for the 18 seats on the ballot, which is an average of 1.67 candidates per seat. Primaries for three of the seats will be held on February 19 to winnow the field down to two candidates per seat. The general election will be held on April 2.
 
In 2018, 19 candidates ran for 15 seats up for election in the same school districts, an average of 1.27 candidates per seat. No primaries were held since no seat had more than three candidates file to run.
 
The Milwaukee Board of School Directors also has more candidates running than it did last time elections were held in 2017. Eleven candidates filed to run for five seats in 2019, an average of 2.2 candidates per seat. In 2017, eight candidates ran for four seats, an average of two candidates per seat. A primary for one of the seats will be held on February 19. No primaries were held in 2017.


Pennsylvania’s governor cited the state’s 1971 Environmental Rights Amendment in an executive order. What is the amendment?

On January 8, 2019, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) cited the state’s Environmental Rights Amendment (ERA), passed in 1971, in an executive order establishing the GreenGov Council, which was designed to work with state agencies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The governor’s order wasn’t the first time that he cited the ERA when explaining a decision. In June 2017, he vetoed a bill to preempt the local regulation of plastic bags, saying the bill was inconsistent with the ERA.
 
Voters approved the ERA as a ballot measure on May 18, 1971. The ERA provided for state constitutional rights to clean air; clean water; and the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic, and aesthetic values of the environment. The constitutional amendment also declared the state’s natural resources as “common property of all the people, including generations yet to come” and declared the state government as the trustee of the state’s natural resources.
 
Courts interpreted the ERA through a three-part balancing test until 2017. The test asked whether the benefits of an action outweighed any harm to the environment. In 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected this test, with the court’s opinion saying the test stripped the ERA of its meaning. Justice Christine Donohue (D), who wrote the opinion, said the ERA established a public trust, with natural resources as the trust corpus, the state as the trustee, and the people as the beneficiaries. Justices Max Baer (D) and Thomas Saylor (R) dissented, saying the court interpreted the ERA’s description of the state as a public trust through the lens of private trust law.


Democrats hold on to Wexton’s seat in VA State Senate, setting up battle for control of state government in November

State Del. Jennifer Boysko (D) defeated former state Del. Joe T. May (R) in the special election for Virginia State Senate District 33 on Tuesday. Boysko received 69.8 percent of the vote to May’s 30.1 percent.
 
This was the highest margin of victory in the district since 2003, when William Mims (R) ran in an uncontested race.
 
Incumbent Jennifer Wexton (D) won election to Virginia’s 10th Congressional District in the 2018 midterm, leaving the seat vacant.
 
Republicans will continue to hold a 21-19 majority in the state Senate and all 40 seats are up for election on November 5, 2019. If Democrats flip the state Senate and the State House of Delegates, where Republicans hold a 51-49 majority, Virginia will become a Democratic state trifecta.
 
Democrats emerged from the 2018 elections with trifecta control of 14 states—a net gain of six states.


Seven states swear in legislators today

With a new year, comes a new batch of state legislators. Thousands of legislators will be sworn into office this month. In the November 2018 general elections, 322 incumbent legislators were defeated. Including the incumbents who retired or were defeated in primaries, the 2019 legislative sessions will see 1,599 new state legislators taking their oath of office. The new legislators reflect 21.7% of all state legislators nationwide.

Today, seven states are swearing in legislators:
Connecticut
Illinois
Maryland
Missouri
Nebraska
New York
Vermont
 
Three fun facts about state legislators being sworn in this term:
 
1) Fifteen states have term limits, accounting for 1,930 of all state legislative seats (26.1%).
 
2) Two legislators have been in office since the 1960s.
 
The longest-serving state representative, Republican Tom Craddick, began his tenure in 1969. This is his 50th year in the Texas State Legislature. He is one of two state legislators elected in the 1960s.
 
The other is Fred Risser, Democratic state senator from Wisconsin.
 
3) More than 15 percent of state legislators were elected before the year 2000:
1960s: 2 (<0.1%)
1970s: 41 (<0.1%)
1980s: 101 (1.3%)
1990s: 984 (13.3%)
 
The remaining 7,383 legislators (84.7%) were all elected in the 21st century.


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