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Illinois Senate passes constitutional amendment allowing for graduated income tax

On May 1, 2019, the Illinois State Senate approved a constitutional amendment that would repeal the state’s constitutional requirement that the state personal income tax be a flat rate across income. Instead, the amendment would allow the state to enact legislation for a graduated income tax. Voters would address the constitutional amendment at the general election in 2020 if it is approved in the House.
In Illinois, a 60 percent vote is needed in each chamber of the Illinois General Assembly to refer a constitutional amendment to the ballot for voter consideration. In the state Senate, the amendment passed along partisan lines. Democrats supported the amendment, and Republicans opposed the amendment. Democrats have supermajorities in both legislative houses and can pass amendments without support from Republicans. In the state House, 71 votes will be needed to pass the amendment. Democrats control 74 seats in the state House, and Republicans control 44 seats.
Sen. Don Harmon (D-39), who voted for the amendment, stated, “If you’re saying the flat tax is a good idea, you are protecting the uber-rich, not the middle class. Because we can’t raise taxes on anyone without raising taxes on everyone, and that’s a protection for the richest among us.” Sen. Dale Righter (R-55), who voted against the amendment, said, “There are a handful who believe that the answer to government’s problems is simply to raise taxes. This will make it easier for those who believe that to reach into your constituents’ pockets and get more money.”
Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) supports the constitutional amendment and campaigned on a graduated income tax during his gubernatorial campaign in 2018. Pritzker defeated incumbent Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
In addition to the constitutional amendment, the state Senate approved a bill changing the state’s income tax from a flat rate to graduated brackets beginning on January 1, 2021, if voters approve the constitutional amendment in 2020. For income earned in 2018, the personal income tax in Illinois was a flat rate of 4.95 percent. Under the bill, the income single filers who earned $750,000 or less would be marginal rates between 4.75 percent and 7.85 percent. The income of single filers who earned $750,001 or more would be 7.99 percent on their total net income.

Second federal judge blocks Trump administration restrictions on abortion access

U.S. District Judge Michael McShane issued a nationwide preliminary injunction to block a rule issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) aimed at keeping Title X fund recipients from engaging in abortion-related activities. McShane’s ruling follows a similar decision made by Judge Stanley Bastian in the Eastern District of Washington, who granted an injunction on April 25, 2019. Preliminary injunctions keep new rules from going into effect while courts decide how to resolve legal challenges brought against them. In this case, HHS issued a final rule prohibiting the use of Title X funds to perform, promote, or refer to abortion as a family planning method. The rule also requires clear financial and physical separation for clinics conducting Title X and non-Title X activities.
McShane’s order, issued on April 29, 2019, came down four days before the HHS rule was supposed to go into effect. He argued that the rule is “a solution in search of a problem” and that “[a]t worst, it is a ham-fisted approach to health policy that recklessly disregards the health outcomes of women, families, and communities.” He also held that the people challenging the rule raised serious claims that the rule was arbitrary and capricious. The arbitrary-or-capricious test comes from Administrative Procedure Act (APA), which requires courts reviewing agency decisions to rule against actions found to be arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.
Judge McShane said that a previous version of the HHS rule survived a challenge at the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1991 case Rust v. Sullivan. There, the court applied the Chevron doctrine and held that the HHS interpretation of Title X reflected a plausible reading of the law and must be upheld. Under the Chevron doctrine, federal courts defer to agency interpretations of ambiguous laws that Congress empowers the agency to implement.
However, McShane held that post-Rust actions by Congress and HHS changed the way courts should approach the issue. He ruled that “HHS must do more than merely dust off the 30-year old regulations and point to Rust.” He said, “That HHS appears to have failed to seriously consider persuasive evidence that the Final Rule would force providers to violate their ethical obligations suggests that the rule is arbitrary and capricious.”
You can read more about Chevron deference here:

Five of nation’s 100 largest cities, all in Texas, holding mayoral elections Saturday

Voters in five of the nation’s 100 largest cities will head to the polls Saturday to vote for mayors. The cities of Arlington, Dallas, Fort Worth, Garland, and San Antonio—all in Texas— are holding mayoral elections. Thirty-one of the nation’s 100 largest cities have mayoral elections in 2019.
Incumbents in Arlington, Fort Worth, and San Antonio face challengers, while races in Dallas and Garland are open. Each election is nonpartisan, but partisan information for each incumbent is provided below where known.
  • Arlington: Incumbent Jeff Williams (R) faces three challengers.
  • Dallas: Nine candidates seek the open seat. Mayor Mike Rawlings (D) is prevented by term limits from seeking re-election.
  • Fort Worth: Incumbent Betsy Price (R) faces three challengers.
  • Garland: Scott LeMay (affiliation unknown) is the only candidate running for the open seat. The incumbent, Lori Barnett Dodson (affiliation unknown), did not file for re-election.
  • San Antonio: Incumbent Ron Nirenberg (Independent) faces eight challengers.
Runoff elections are possible in all but the Garland race. If no candidate receives at least 50 percent of the vote in the other four races on Saturday, runoff elections will be held June 8.
Use the links below to see coverage of each race, including candidate lists, past election results, and, once they are available, Saturday’s election results:

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh (D) resigns

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh (D) resigned from her office Thursday. Her resignation came the week after federal investigators raided Pugh’s home and city office as part of an investigation into sales of her “Healthy Holly” children’s’ book series. In a statement read by her attorney, she said, “I am sorry for the harm that I have caused to the image of the city of Baltimore and the credibility of the office of the mayor.”
Pugh had taken a leave of absence from office effective April 2, saying that she was suffering from pneumonia. City Council President Bernard “Jack” Young (D), who has been acting mayor since Pugh’s leave began, succeeded her.
Pugh was first elected mayor in 2016. A state and federal investigation into the sales of her children’s’ book series is ongoing. Pugh had been a member of the board of the University of Maryland Medical System while it ordered her books, while Kaiser Permanente purchased a run as it was bidding for a $48 million city contract. Pugh is estimated to have made over $800,000 from sales of the books.
Young, who has served on the city council since 1996 and as its president since 2010, said that he would not seek election to a full term in 2020, setting up an open-seat race for mayor.

Five running in California school board special election next week

The Trustee Area 5 seat on the Moreno Valley Unified School District Board of Education in California is up for special election on May 7. Five candidates are running for the seat. The filing deadline was February 8. None of the other four seats on the board are scheduled to hold an election in 2019.
The Trustee Area 5 seat was originally vacated in August 2018 when Evan Morgan resigned his position following criminal charges that Morgan said he feared would distract from his work on the board. The Board of Education appointed Darrell Peeden to the seat in October 2018, but the community had 30 days following Peeden’s appointment to gather 231 signatures from Trustee Area 5 voters for a special election to be held in lieu of the appointment. A total of 318 valid signatures were turned in, and the appointment was overturned in December 2018. Peeden filed to run for the seat in the special election.
This is the second such special election to be called in Moreno Valley USD this decade. In May 2013, the school district appointed Gary Baugh to a vacant at-large seat on the board. Following a similar petition drive, Baugh vacated the seat in June of that year and stood for election in November. He won the special election and served until 2018.
The Moreno Valley Unified School District served 33,408 students during the 2016-2017 school year.

April 2019 OIRA review count; highest monthly review count of Trump administration to-date

In April 2019, the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) reviewed 44 significant regulatory actions issued by federal agencies—the highest monthly review count of the Trump administration to-date. The agency approved one rule without changes and approved the intent of 39 rules while recommending changes to their content. Agencies withdrew four rules from the review process.
OIRA reviewed 32 significant regulatory actions in April 2018—12 fewer rules than the 44 significant regulatory actions reviewed by the agency in April 2019. During the Obama administration from 2009-2016, OIRA reviewed an average of 47 significant regulatory actions each April.
OIRA has reviewed a total of 111 rules so far in 2019. The agency reviewed a total of 355 significant rules in 2018 and 237 significant rules in 2017.
As of May 1, 2019, OIRA’s website listed 101 regulatory actions under review.
OIRA is responsible for reviewing and coordinating what it deems to be all significant regulatory actions made by federal agencies, with the exception of independent federal agencies. Significant regulatory actions include agency rules that have had or may have a large impact on the economy, environment, public health, or state and local governments and communities. These regulatory actions may also conflict with other regulations or with the priorities of the president.

Noteworthy election recounts in the United States

An election recount is a process by which votes cast in an election are re-tabulated to verify the accuracy of the original results. Recounts typically occur in the event of a close margin of victory, accusations of election fraud, or the possibility of administrative errors. Recounts can either occur automatically or be requested by a candidate or voters. Twenty states have statutory provisions providing for automatic recalls, and 43 have a provision allowing for recounts to be requested.
According to a report published by the organization FairVote, 27 recounts occurred in statewide elections between 2000 and 2015. Of those, 15 were held when the original margin of victory was of 0.15 percent or less. Three of the 27 recounts resulted in a reversal of the original election result.
Since 2017, five noteworthy recounts have taken place at the state legislative level. Those five recounts resulted in two reversals of the initial election result, one of which became a tie. There were also three noteworthy recounts in statewide races in 2018, though none resulted in a change of the initial result.
Click below to learn how recounts can occur in your state.

First constitutional amendment certified for Texas’ 2019 ballot

The Texas State Legislature has referred its first constitutional amendment to the ballot for the election on November 5, 2019. The constitutional amendment, which received unanimous approval in the state legislature, would allow law enforcement agencies to transfer a dog, horse, or another animal to the animal’s handler if the transfer is in the animal’s best interest. State Sens. Brian Birdwell (R-22) and Jane Nelson (R-12) proposed the constitutional amendment.
Under the state’s Local Government Code, a retiring police dog or working animal is classified as salvage or surplus property and, according to code, surplus or salvage property can be auctioned, donated to a civic or charitable organization, or destroyed. According to the Texas Senate Research Center, the existing Local Government Code makes transferring a retiring animal to its handler difficult.
While the constitutional amendment is the first referred to the 2019 ballot, the Texas State Legislature generally refers multiple amendments to odd-year ballots. The average number of amendments on the ballot was 13, with a range of seven to 22, between 1995 and 2017.
The legislature is expected to adjourn on May 27, 2019, and additional amendments can be referred before adjournment. Legislators proposed 216 amendments in 2019. Between 2009 and 2017, an average of 187 constitutional amendments were filed during regular legislative sessions. The state legislature approved an average of nine constitutional amendments during regular legislative sessions. Therefore, the average rate of certification during regular legislative sessions was 4.7 percent.

Maryland House of Delegates selects Adrienne Jones (D) as speaker

The Maryland House of Delegates voted 139-1 to make Adrienne Jones (D) the speaker of the house in a special session on Wednesday. She replaces Michael Busch (D), who passed away on April 7 after developing pneumonia. Busch had served as speaker since 2003 and was the longest serving speaker in Maryland history.
Jones, who was first elected in 1996, is the state’s first woman speaker and first black speaker. She emerged as a compromise candidate Wednesday afternoon after the Democratic caucus split between Maggie McIntosh (D) and Dereck Davis (D). According to the Washington Post, McIntosh was the more liberal candidate for speaker, and Davis was the more centrist candidate. Moreover, a majority of the 45-member Legislative Black Caucus (LBC) endorsed Davis, who is black, in a non-binding vote.
A candidate needed 70 votes on the floor to be elected. McIntosh won a Democratic caucus vote Wednesday, 58-40, but Republicans pledged to give Davis all of their 42 votes on the floor. Davis could have been elected by a cross-party coalition with over 70 votes if at least 28 of the 40 Democrats who supported him in caucus voted for him on the floor.
After the caucus vote, Democrats reconvened and unanimously decided to elevate Jones to the speakership over both declared candidates. After she was elected, Jones said, “Discussion went back and forth within our caucus in terms of who could get the [votes], and because of these two individuals that put unity of this House before their own ambition … they both came and talked with me separately that they would want me to be that person.”
Jones had been formally running for speaker prior to April 26, but she dropped out of the race, endorsed Davis, and called for members of the LBC to form an alliance to elect the first black speaker in state history.
Democrats hold a 98-42 majority in the Maryland House with Busch’s seat still vacant. The state is under divided government with Larry Hogan (R) as governor and Democratic control of the legislature.
Additional reading:

Colorado voters will decide TABOR measure in 2019 to allow the state to keep revenue for transportation and education

On April 29, 2019, the state legislature gave final approval to House Bill 1257, sending it to voters at the election on November 5, 2019. HB 1257 would allow the state to retain excess revenue it is currently required to refund under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR). Retained funds would be used for education and transportation purposes. The measure would require the state auditor to hire a private entity to conduct an annual financial audit regarding use of funds as intended under the measure.
Representatives KC Becker (D-13) and Julie McCluskie (D-61) and Senators Lois Court (D-31) and Kevin Priola (R-25) sponsored this measure in the legislature. All Democratic members of the legislature approved the measure, while 35 of 37 Republicans voted against it.
Amendment sponsor KC Becker said, “Colorado’s had one of the strongest economies in the country and people think that the state itself can make more investments, more improvements, but we can’t because the state constitution prohibits the budget from growing with the economy. Is this the long-term fix to any of the state’s long-term issues? No, it’s not. I think it’s a necessary, important part of it.”
House Minority Leader Patrick Neville (R-45) said, “It’s outlandish because we haven’t even hit the TABOR caps, we haven’t even had TABOR refunds but they try to blame [spending limits] on TABOR.” Neville also said, “Democrats can’t pay for all of their empty promises made in the last election, so now they want to permanently eliminate your tax refunds to pay for their expensive programs. It is egregious that the Democrats want to forever take away your consent on what is done with your tax dollars.”
The Colorado Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights was adopted in 1992 under a citizen initiative sponsored by Douglas Bruce. TABOR limits the amount of revenue Colorado may retain and spend and requires statewide voter approval of tax revenue increases that exceed an index created by combining inflation and population increases.
So far, one other measure is certified for the 2019 ballot in Colorado—a legislatively referred bond issue that would authorize the state to issue transportation revenue anticipation notes (TRANs) in the amount of $2.337 billion with no increase to any taxes.
As of April 29, 2019, five statewide ballot measures were certified for the 2019 ballot in three states.