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Trump’s pick for EPA administrator testifies before Senate committee

Andrew Wheeler, President Donald Trump’s nominee for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator, appeared before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on Wednesday.
 
After the committee votes on Wheeler’s nomination, the full Senate will have to vote to confirm him. He needs a simple majority for confirmation. Republicans currently hold the majority with 53 seats.
 
Wheeler currently serves as the acting administrator of the EPA. Trump announced his intent to nominate Wheeler as EPA administrator on November 16, 2018. Trump formally nominated Wheeler on January 9, 2019.
 
If confirmed, Wheeler will replace former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who resigned on July 6, 2018. The Senate confirmed Pruitt by a vote of 52-46 on February 17, 2017. Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) were the only Democrats to vote for Pruitt’s confirmation. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) was the only Republican to vote against his confirmation.


Trump’s pick for attorney general appears before Senate Judiciary Committee committee

The Senate Judiciary Committee held a confirmation hearing on January 15 and 16 for William Barr’s nomination to be United States Attorney General.
 
In his opening statement, Barr said that, if confirmed, he would “enforce the law evenhandedly and with integrity,” as he said during his confirmation hearing for attorney general in the George H.W. Bush administration. He added, “We live in time when the country is deeply divided. In the current environment, the American people have to know that there are places in the government where the rule of law – not politics – holds sway, and where they will be treated fairly based solely on the facts and an even-handed application of the law. The Department of Justice must be such a place.”
 
Barr also told senators that he that he would allow special counsel Robert Mueller to finish his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and let the public and Congress learn about the conclusions. He did not promise to release the full contents of the final report.
 
As attorney general, Barr said that his priorities would be combating violent crime and predatory violence, enforcing and improving immigration laws, and protecting the integrity of elections.
 
President Donald Trump announced his intent to nominate Barr to the position on December 7, 2018, and formally sent his nomination to the Senate on January 3, 2019. Barr will have to be confirmed by the Senate with a simple majority vote. Republicans currently hold the majority with 53 seats.
 
Barr served as the 77th United States Attorney General under former President George H.W. Bush (R) from 1991 to 1993. He was confirmed by a unanimous voice vote in November 1991. The previous attorney general under Trump, Jeff Sessions, was confirmed 52-47 in November 2017.


Signatures verified for Washington Initiative 976 to limit vehicle license fees

On January 15, 2019, Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman declared that enough valid signatures were submitted and that Washington Initiative 976, to limit vehicle license fees, was certified to the legislature. The initiative will be on the 2019 ballot unless the legislature approves it.
 
Initiative 976 sponsor Tim Eyman reported submitting 352,111 signatures on January 3, 2019, surpassing the required 259,622 valid signatures by over 92,000. 
 
Eyman’s I-976 would cap annual state and local vehicle license fees for vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds at $30.00. As of 2019, the state annual fee is $30.00 plus an amount based on a vehicle’s type and weight. In addition, certain local governments, including cities and regional transit authorities, add an additional fee. Initiative 976 would also repeal Sound Transit’s power to impose voter-approved motor vehicle taxes. Voters in the greater Seattle, Washington, region approved tax and fee increases proposed by Sound Transit for transportation infrastructure projects in 2016.
 
Proponents of one other Initiative to the Legislature in Washington, Initiative 1000, submitted signatures that are awaiting certification by the secretary of state. I-1000 would explicitly allow the state of Washington to implement affirmative action laws and policies while continuing to ban discrimination and preferential treatment. It would also define preferential treatment and affirmative action so that banning one and allowing the other would be compatible.
 
Initiative to the Legislature is the name for indirect initiated state statutes in the state of Washington. Upon signature verification, these initiatives go before the Washington Legislature at its next regular legislative session in January. The legislature must take one of three actions:
  1. The legislature can adopt the initiative as proposed, in which case it becomes law without a vote of the people.
  2. The legislature can reject or refuse to act on the proposed initiative, in which case the initiative must be placed on the ballot at the next state general election.
  3. The legislature can approve an alternative to the proposed initiative, in which case both the original proposal and the legislature’s alternative must be placed on the ballot at the next state general election.
Over the past decade, an average of 33 statewide measures have appeared before voters in odd years (nationwide). In Washington, an average of five statewide measures have appeared on odd-numbered election ballots from 1995 through 2017.


Tom Marino (R) to resign from U.S. House next week, special election to be called in PA-12

Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.), who has served in the U.S. House since 2011, announced Thursday that he will resign from Congress on January 23, 2019, to pursue a job in the private sector.
 
Marino served as the state co-chair for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016 and was briefly a nominee to head the Office of National Drug Control Policy in 2017.
 
Gov. Tom Wolf (D) will schedule a special election to fill Marino’s vacancy. This will be the second congressional special election called for this session. The other will be held in November 2020 to fill the remainder of John McCain’s (R) term in the U.S. Senate representing Arizona.
 
Marino’s district, Pennsylvania’s 12th, was created in 2018 after the state Supreme Court ruled the original map was an illegal partisan gerrymander. The district backed Marino by a margin of 32 percentage points in 2018.


In 2020, California voters will decide on bill to make their state the first to eliminate cash bail

In 2020, Californians will decide a veto referendum to repeal Senate Bill 10 (SB 10), which would make California the first state to end the use of cash bail for all detained suspects awaiting trials. Instead, SB 10 would institute a system of risk assessments to determine whether a detained suspect should be granted pretrial release and under what conditions.
 
California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed SB 10 on August 28, 2018, and the veto referendum to overturn the bill was filed on August 29. The American Bail Coalition, a nonprofit trade association, organized the political action committee Californians Against the Reckless Bail Scheme to advocate for the veto referendum. The PAC had raised $3.00 million as of September 30, 2018, with the next campaign finance report due on January 31, 2019. The top-ten donors to the committee were bail bond businesses, owners of bail bond businesses, or companies that provided services or insurance to bail bond businesses.
 
On November 20, 2018, proponents reported filing 576,745 signatures with election officials. At least 365,880 (63.44 percent) needed to be valid for the referendum to appear on the ballot. On January 16, 2019, the office of Secretary of State Alex Padilla reported that an estimated 80.69 percent of the signatures were valid, putting the targeted law, SB 10, on hold until voters decide the bill’s fate in 2020.
 
In the California State Legislature, one Republican supported SB 10, while most Democrats (67 of 81) voted to pass the bill. Some organizations, including the ACLU of California and Human Rights Watch, that oppose the existing structure of cash bail also testified against SB 10, taking issue with how risk assessments were going to be implemented and used. John Raphling, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, said, “We will not be joining the bail industry’s efforts, but we are not fighting for SB 10. We have a different vision of how to reform the pretrial detention system.”
 
Besides the Cash Bail Referendum, Californians will also decide a ballot initiative designed to amend or repeal several criminal sentencing and supervision laws passed during the second tenure of Gov. Brown (2011-2019). As of January 2019, three citizen-initiated measures had qualified for the ballot. The number of citizen-initiated measures on the 2020 California ballot will be set 131 days before the 2020 general election, which is June 25, 2020.


The State Ballot Measure Monthly: January 2019

The first 2019 edition of the State Ballot Measure Monthly covers all six of the 2019 and 2020 statewide ballot measures certified to appear on ballots so far.

Here are the highlights:

  • One 2019 statewide measure, a transportation bond issue, is certified for the ballot in Colorado.
  • Five measures in four states are certified to appear on the ballot in 2020; these measures concern renewable energy, property taxes and revenue allocation, criminal sentencing and parole, and a constitutional convention question.
  • Three of the measures certified for the 2020 election so far are citizen initiatives, two in California and one in Nevada.
  • Two measures, the Colorado 2019 bond issue and a 2020 renewable energy initiative in Nevada, were automatically put on the ballot due to outcomes of ballot measures in November 2018.
  • The most recent measure to be certified for the ballot was a 2020 constitutional amendment in Michigan concerning the use of state and local park funds.
  • Citizen initiative signature requirements increased in 13 states and decreased in five states based on 2018 elections.
  • In addition to signature requirements increasing by 35 percent in Michigan due to 2018 turnout, initiative signature petition efforts in Michigan will have to meet a new distribution requirement for signature collection approved by the legislature and signed into law on December 28, 2018.


23 candidates file for NYC Public Advocate special election

Twenty-three candidates filed to run for the February 26 nonpartisan special election for New York City Public Advocate, the city’s second-highest office. They include four members of the New York State Assembly and five former and current members of the City Council.
 
The previous public advocate, Letitia James, was elected attorney general of New York in 2018. Before James first took the office in 2013, it was held by current New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
 
Until the winner of the special election is sworn in, Corey Johnson is the acting public advocate. He took the position on January 1 when James was sworn in to her new position. Johnson, who also serves as the District 3 member of the New York City Council, did not file to run in the public advocate special election. 
 
The candidate list is not yet finalized. Candidates have the opportunity to file specific objections to their opponents’ petitions by January 23, 2019, with general objections due January 17, 2019. The petitions of four candidates have already been challenged. Hearings on any objections will be held on January 29.
 
The last time the office was up for election in 2017, James defeated four challengers to win re-election.


Jacksonville city council member announces mayoral challenge; other members respond

On January 11, 2019, Jacksonville City Councilwoman Anna Brosche (R) announced her campaign to challenge Mayor Lenny Curry (R) in the city’s 2019 mayoral election. She said the mayor did not do enough to address crime and that the city’s taxpayers were being hurt by what she called a lack of transparency in the mayor’s office.
 
That same day, five members of the city council released a joint statement in support of Curry. Council President Aaron Bowman, Tommy Hazouri, Sam Newby, Bill Gulliford, and Lori N. Boyer criticized Brosche for “spending months sewing [sic] division and conflict in City Council” and offered an endorsement for Curry. Curry first won election in 2015, defeating then-Mayor Alvin Brown (D).

 
There are 19 members of the city council, with a current partisan balance of 12 Republicans and seven Democrats.
 
Curry and Brosche will compete along with Jimmy Hill (R), Omega Allen (Independent), and two write-in candidates in the general election on March 19. If no candidate wins a majority in that election, a runoff election will be held on May 14. Six Florida cities rank among the largest 100 by population in the United States, and all of them are holding elections this year.
 
Jacksonville is the largest city in Florida by population and the 13th-largest in the United States. It is the second-largest city in the United States to have a Republican mayor, behind San Diego.
 
Twenty-six of the 100 largest cities by population will be holding mayoral elections in 2019. Of those, five (Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, San Antonio, and Dallas) are among the 10 largest cities. Democrats currently hold the mayor’s office in 18 of the cities with elections this year, while Republicans and independents hold four each.


New York legislature, on first day of Democratic control since 2010, passes package to change election policies

On the first day of the 2019 legislative session, the New York State Legislature approved a seven-bill legislative package to change election policies.
 
The legislative package included two constitutional amendments. In New York, constitutional amendments require a simple majority vote of two successive state legislatures. The current 203rd New York State Legislature (2019-2020) passed the constitutional amendments, and the next 204th State Legislature (2021-2022) needs to approve them again to refer them to the ballot for voter consideration in 2021 or 2022. 

 
Together, the constitutional amendments would authorize the legislature to pass statutes for no-excuse absentee voting and same-day voter registration. The governor’s signature is not required for amendments.
 
The five statutory bills would enact the following changes:
  1. create a voter pre-registration process for 16- and 17-year olds,
  2. require the state Board of Elections to transfer a voter’s registration to wherever the voter moves within New York State,
  3. restrict campaign contributions from LLCs to $5,000 and require ownership of the LLC to be disclosed in campaign finance reports,
  4. combine the federal non-presidential primary and state primary elections to a single date in June, and
  5. establish a nine-day early-voting period, including two weekends, before general, primary, and special elections.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), following the votes, tweeted that he would “sign these reforms into law…” 
 

The legislative package comes after Democrats gained trifecta control of the state government at the 2018 general election. Except for a period of Democratic control in 2009 and 2010, New York had a divided government since 1975. Before the election on November 6, 2018, Democrats controlled the state Assembly, but not the state Senate due to a coalition between Republicans and the Independent Democratic Conference. In 2018, Democrats won 40 seats in the 63-seat Senate.



Federal judge blocks Trump contraception rules

On January 13, 2019, Federal Judge Haywood Gilliam blocked Trump administration contraception rules from going into effect in Washington, D.C., and thirteen states. The plaintiff states are challenging two final rules announced by the Departments of Health and Human Services, Treasury, and Labor in November 2018. According to the agencies, those rules provide flexibility to employers with moral or religious objections to health insurance plans that cover contraception and sterilization. Under the new rules, those employers would be able to offer alternative health insurance plans without such coverage.
 
The agencies issued the rules following a process called notice-and-comment rulemaking. That process allows agencies to amend, repeal, or create administrative regulations after considering public feedback on proposed rules.
 
Judge Gilliam agreed to issue an injunction against the new rules because he found that the suing states’ finances would suffer as a result of the new rules. First, the states claimed the rules would lead women to lose employer-sponsored contraceptive coverage and turn to the state for reimbursement after purchasing contraceptives. Next, the states argued that the rate of unintended pregnancies would rise following the implementation of the new rules. They claimed that the rise in unintended pregnancies would lead to higher expenses because states pay for child delivery and newborn care for mothers who have low incomes.
 
Judge Gilliam held that the states showed that the rules posed a reasonably probable threat to their economic interests because they would have to pay for contraceptives that had been guaranteed cost-free by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Gilliam held that granting an injunction against the rules was the only way to redress the potential harm to the states while their lawsuit makes its way through the court system. He limited the injunction to the plaintiff states and Washington, D.C., because the case involves difficult questions of law that might benefit from multiple decisions in various courts of appeals.
 
Judge Gilliam also defended his decision to issue a preliminary injunction against the contraception rules using the arbitrary-or-capricious test. That test comes from the part of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), that instructs courts reviewing agency actions to invalidate any that they find to be arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law. The plaintiff states argued that the new rules are not in accordance with the ACA, which is one of the relevant laws that determine what rules agencies may pass regarding contraception. The parties to the case will discuss the next phase of the lawsuit at a case management conference scheduled for January 23rd.