California secretary of state announces gubernatorial recall candidates must release tax records

On June 15, California Secretary of State Shirley Weber (D) announced that candidates in an election to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) would be required to release five years’ worth of tax records to run. The California Supreme Court previously struck down portions of a 2019 law that pertained to presidential candidates but left the sections related to gubernatorial candidates.

The law specifies that it applies to candidates “on a direct primary election ballot.” Weber’s office ruled that it applied to the potential recall election, while Politico noted that several legal experts disagreed with Weber’s ruling and that candidates could file lawsuits in response.

Representatives for the campaigns of former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer (R) and former Rep. Doug Ose (R) said the campaigns would comply with the ruling. A spokesperson for Newsom said that the governor would also release his records, even though the governor would not technically be a candidate on the recall ballot.

The state legislature approved and Newsom signed the Presidential Tax Transparency and Accountability Act in July 2019. It required candidates for president or governor to file copies of their IRS returns for the five most recent years at least 98 days before a primary election. In a November 2019 decision in Patterson v. Padilla, California Supreme CourtChief Justice Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye wrote for a unanimous court that the law was “in conflict with the Constitution’s specification of an inclusive open presidential primary ballot.”

Organizers of a campaign to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) turned in 1,719,943 valid signatures, exceeding the 1,495,709 required to trigger a recall election. Organizers turned in more than 2.1 million signatures by the March 17 filing deadline. Voters who signed the petition had until June 8 to request removal from the petition. The California secretary of state has until June 22 to verify that enough signatures remain to move the recall forward.

State, local governments in conflict over police budget reduction preemption laws

Various state and local governments have come into conflict over laws preempting municipalities from reducing their police department budgets. Preemption occurs when a law at a higher level of government is used to overrule authority at a lower level. In this case, several states have implemented legislation either prohibiting local governments from reducing their police budgets, or instituting penalties on local governments that do so.

Conflict around this issue emerged in 2020 as some municipalities considered reducing their police department budgets, often as part of a policy response to the May 2020 killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

Florida was the first of the states to recently pass a police department budget reduction preemption law Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed HB1 in April 2021. Under the law, a citizen or government official can challenge a police department budget reduction with the Administration Commission. The governor chairs the commission, whose other members are cabinet officials. The Administration Commission would then hold a hearing on the proposed budget change and has the power to approve the budget or amend it. The Commission’s approval or modification of the budget would be final.

In May 2021, Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed HB286 into law, which prohibits municipalities from reducing police department budgets more than 5% in a year, or cumulatively over five years, with an exception for budget reductions caused by financial hardship. Police department budget reductions had been proposed in Atlanta and Athens-Clarke County in 2020, but neither municipality reduced their policing budgets.

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed Texas’ police department budget reduction preemption bill (HB1900) into law on June 1, 2021. The law imposes penalties on populous municipalities that reduce police department budgets, preventing them from collecting several types of tax revenue and requiring they allow recently annexed areas of the city to vote to void their annexation. HB1900 may apply to the city of Austin, which approved a budget in 2020 that planned to reallocate around $150 million from the police department budget to hiring other public safety responders, beginning new public safety programs, and moving certain departments under police department authority to other state agencies. There is uncertainty surrounding the application of the law to Austin, due to questions regarding the state constitutionality of HB1900 and whether all of Austin’s budget reallocation would qualify as a police department budget reduction.

To read more about police department budget reduction preemption laws as they develop, click here. Ballotpedia currently covers twelve policy areas of preemption conflicts, including coronavirus, energy infrastructure, and firearms. To view all of Ballotpedia’s areas of preemption conflict coverage, click here.

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U.S. Supreme Court issues three rulings on June 17

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued rulings in three cases on June 17. Two of the cases, Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and California v. Texas, were argued during the court’s November 2020 sitting. The third case, Nestlé USA v. Doe I, was argued during the court’s December 2020 sitting.

Fulton v. City of Philadelphia concerned the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. In a unanimous ruling, the court reversed the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit’s decision and remanded the case for further proceedings, holding that the City of Philadelphia violated Catholic Social Service’s (CSS) right to free exercise under the First Amendment by excluding CSS from the foster care program due to CSS’s refusal to certify same-sex couples. Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the court’s majority opinion.

With a 7-2 opinion in the case California v. Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit’s ruling and remanded the case for further proceedings, holding that the plaintiffs did not have standing to challenge the ACA’s minimum essential coverage provision because they had not shown past or future injury fairly traceable to the defendants’ conduct enforcing the provision. Justice Stephen Breyer delivered the majority opinion. Justice Clarence Thomas filed a concurring opinion. Justice Samuel Alito filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Neil Gorsuch.

With an 8-1 opinion in the case Nestlé USA v. Doe I, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit’s ruling and remanded the case for further proceedings, holding that to plead facts sufficient to support a domestic application of the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), plaintiffs must allege more domestic conduct than general corporate activity common to most corporations. Justice Clarence Thomas announced the judgment of the court and delivered the opinion of the court with respect to Parts I and II, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett, and an opinion with respect to Part III, in which Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh joined. Justice Gorsuch filed a concurring opinion, in which Justice Alito joined as to Part I, and in which Justice Kavanaugh joined as to Part II. Justice Sotomayor filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which Justices Breyer and Kagan joined. Justice Samuel Alito filed a dissenting opinion.

The court has issued 49 opinions this term. Two cases were decided in one consolidated opinion. Seven cases were decided without argument. Of the cases argued this term, 18 remain to be decided.

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Voters in California Assembly District 18 to decide special election primary on June 29

A special election primary is being held on June 29 for District 18 of the California State Assembly. Victor Aguilar (D), James Aguilar (D), Mia Bonta (D), Eugene Canson (D), Janani Ramachandran (D), Malia Vella (D), Stephen Slauson (R), and Joel Britton (I) are on the primary ballot. Nelsy Batista (D) filed as a write-in candidate for the primary. If a candidate receives more than 50% of the vote in the primary, he or she will win the election outright. If no candidate receives a majority of the votes, the top two candidates will advance to a special general election on August 31. The winner will serve until December 2022.

The seat became vacant after Rob Bonta (D) was appointed attorney general of California. Bonta was confirmed by the state legislature on April 22. He had represented District 18 since 2012.

Heading into the special election, Democrats have a 59-19 majority in the California Assembly with one independent member and one vacancy. 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.

As of June, 40 state legislative special elections have been scheduled for 2021 in 17 states. Between 2011 and 2020, an average of 75 special elections took place each year. California held 28 state legislative special elections from 2011 to 2020.

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Colorado governor signs transportation bill removing 2021 bond issue from ballot

On June 17, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed Senate Bill 260, thereby removing a bond issue that was set to appear on the state’s 2021 general election ballot.

The Colorado State Legislature passed Senate Bill 260 on June 2, 2021. It included a provision to remove the bond issue that was set to appear on the 2021 ballot. The bill was passed largely along party lines with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed.

The bond measure was designed to issue $1.337 billion in bonds to fund statewide transportation projects with a maximum repayment cost of $1.865 billion over 20 years. The measure was originally passed in the state legislature as Senate Bill 1 in 2018. It was placed on the 2019 ballot after two 2018 citizen initiatives designed to authorize bonds for transportation projects—Proposition 109 (“Fix Our Damn Roads”) and Proposition 110 (“Let’s Go Colorado”)—were defeated.

In 2019, the measure was delayed to the 2020 ballot. Legislators had concerns that the bond issue appearing on the 2019 ballot alongside Proposition CC, which was designed to allow the state to retain revenue for transportation purposes, could cause both measures to fail. In 2020, the measure was delayed again to the 2021 ballot due to the economic concerns surrounding the Coronavirus pandemic.

The new transportation bill provides for $5.4 billion in transportation spending over 10 years. About $3.8 billion of the funds will come from new fees set to take effect in July 2022, including fees on gasoline and diesel purchases, retail deliveries, Uber and Lyft rides, electric vehicle registrations, and car rentals.

The bill was also designed to create four new state enterprises: the Nonattainment Area Air Pollution Mitigation Enterprise, the Clean Transit Enterprise, the Clean Fleet Enterprise, and the Community Access Enterprise.

Enterprises were established through the Colorado Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) amendment of 1992. Enterprises are government-owned businesses that provide goods or services for a fee or surcharge that is paid for by the individuals or entities that are purchasing the goods or services. This is in contrast to government agencies or programs that provide goods or services that are paid for by tax revenue. Enterprise revenue does not count toward the TABOR limit. TABOR limits the amount of money the state of Colorado can take in and spend. Any money collected above the TABOR limit is refunded to taxpayers unless the voters allow the state to spend it.

Proposition 117 of 2020, which was approved by voters, was designed to require statewide voter approval of new state enterprises if the enterprises’ projected or actual revenue from fees and surcharges is greater than $100 million within their first five years. Under Proposition 117, revenue collected for enterprises that were created at the same time or that serve substantially the same purpose is aggregated when calculating the application of this restriction. The four enterprises are expected to collect below the $100 million five-year limit.

Ballotpedia publishes June’s edition of State Ballot Measure Monthly

This edition of the State Ballot Measure Monthly report covers certifications and a selection of notable ballot measure news from May 17 through June 17.

Here are the highlights:

• 10 statewide measures were certified for the 2021 ballot in Louisiana, Maine, New York, and Texas.

• One measure was removed from the 2021 ballot in Colorado.

• 12 statewide measures were certified for the 2022 ballot in six states.

• Texas’ 2021 constitutional amendments are finalized. Voters will decide eight measures, including two measures proposed in response to COVID-19 and related regulations.

• One amendment in Texas would prohibit the state or any political subdivision from limiting religious services or organizations. Another would provide residents of nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, or state-supported living centers with the right to designate an essential caregiver who may not be prohibited from visiting the resident.

• An initiative was certified for the 2022 ballot in California that would legalize sports betting at American Indian gaming casinos and licensed racetracks.

• Oregon voters will decide a measure in 2022 to make affordable healthcare a constitutional right.

• Connecticut voters will decide in 2022 on a constitutional amendment to allow early voting.

• The Massachusetts Legislature referred a measure to enact an additional tax on income above $1 million to fund education and transportation. The amendment is identical to a 2018 citizen initiative that initially qualified for the ballot but was later removed by the Massachusetts Supreme Court.

• A federal court judge blocked the enforcement of paid circulator registration requirements that the South Dakota Legislature passed in 2020.

Jennifer Konfrst elected as minority leader of Iowa House

Democrats in the Iowa House of Representatives selected Rep. Jennifer Konfrst (D-43) as the new House minority leader on June 14. Konfrst replaces Rep. Todd Prichard (D-52), who announced on June 2 that he would be stepping down as minority leader. Konfrst is the first woman to lead the Iowa House Democrats. 

“I’m honored to earn the trust of my colleagues to lead our fight to ensure Iowans’ voices are heard and truly represented in Des Moines,” Konfrst said in a statement following the vote.

Konfrst was first elected to the Iowa House in 2018 and was re-elected in 2020. She had been serving as House minority whip since the start of her second term in January 2021.

The minority leader of a state house is responsible for directing the minority party strategy, assembling party members for important votes, and acting as a spokesperson for the party’s policy positions.

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Reviewing government responses to the coronavirus pandemic from one year ago this week

Although the first case of COVID-19 in the U.S. was confirmed on Jan. 21, 2020, it wasn’t until March when the novel coronavirus upended life for most Americans. Throughout the year, states issued stay-at-home orders, closed schools, restricted travel, issued mask mandates, and changed election dates.

Here are the policy changes that happened June 22-26, 2020. This list is not comprehensive. To see a list of all policy changes in each category, click the links below.

Monday, June 22, 2020

  • Federal government responses:
    • President Donald Trump (R) signed a proclamation restricting the issuance of some visas that permit immigrants to work in the United States, citing economic disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Visas affected included L-1s, H-1Bs, H-4s, H-2Bs, and J-1s. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

  • Travel restrictions:
    • Govs. Ned Lamont (D-Conn.), Phil Murphy (D-N.J.), and Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) announced that travelers arriving in their states from states with a high infection rate must quarantine for 14 days. The infection rate was based on a seven-day rolling average of the number of infections per 100,000 residents. At the time, Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah met that threshold.
    • Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D) announced that beginning August 1, out-of-state travelers could avoid a 14-day quarantine requirement if they presented a recent negative COVID-19 test.
  • Election changes:
    • The Tennessee Supreme Court declined to stay a lower court order that had extended absentee voting eligibility to all voters during the pandemic.
  • Federal government responses:
    • The Department of Health and Human Services ended support for 13 federally-managed testing sites and encouraged states to take them over. The sites were spread across five states.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

  • Election changes:
    • Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) signed HF2486 into law, barring the secretary of state from mailing absentee ballot request forms to all voters without approval from the state legislature. The legislation also barred county officials from decreasing the number of polling places by more than 35 percent during an election.
    • A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit declined to stay a lower court order barring Alabama election officials from enforcing witness and photo ID requirements for select voters casting absentee ballots in the July 14 runoff elections.
  • Mask requirements:
    • A statewide mask mandate requiring individuals to wear face coverings in public took effect in Nevada. Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) issued the order June 24.

Friday, June 26, 2020 

  • Election changes:
    • The United States Supreme Court declined to reinstate a district court order that had expanded absentee voting eligibility in Texas. An appeals court stayed the district court’s order, a decision that was allowed to stand as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision not to intervene.
    • New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) signed SB4 into law, authorizing county clerks to mail absentee ballot applications automatically to registered, mailable voters in the Nov. 3 general election.
  • Mask requirements:
    • Gov. Jay Inslee (D) issued a mandate requiring people to wear a face covering in indoor and outdoor public spaces. The order did not require masks outdoors if six feet of space could be maintained between people. Children under two were exempt from the mandate. 

For the most recent coronavirus news, including the latest on vaccines and mask mandates, subscribe to our daily newsletter, Documenting America’s Path to Recovery

Maine voters to decide ballot initiative on electric transmission corridor through state’s Upper Kennebec Region

On November 2, 2021, voters in Maine will decide a ballot initiative to prohibit the construction of electric transmission lines in the Upper Kennebec Region, including the New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC), which began construction in the region on May 13. The ballot initiative would also require a two-thirds vote of each state legislative chamber to approve electric transmission line projects defined as high-impact.

The NECEC is a 145-mile long, high-voltage transmission line project that would transmit around 1,200 megawatts from hydroelectric plants in Quebec to electric utilities in Massachusetts and Maine. Segment 1 of the NECEC is a new corridor from the border with Quebec through the Upper Kennebec Region. The remainder of the NECEC would utilize an existing transmission corridor. 

No CMP Corridor is leading the campaign in support of the ballot initiative. The PAC Mainers for Local Power is also registered to support the ballot initiative. Together, the PACs had raised $7.75 million, including

  • $4.98 million from NextEra Energy Resources, LLC, which owns a natural gas-fired plant in Cumberland, Maine, and six solar fields or projects in southern and central Maine;
  • $1.26 million from Vistra Energy Corp., which owns a natural gas-fired plant in Veazie, Maine; and
  • $1.22 million from Calpine Corp., which owns a natural gas-fired plant in Westbrook, Maine.

Clean Energy Matters is leading the campaign in opposition to the ballot initiative. The PAC Hydro-Québec Maine Partnership is also registered to oppose the ballot initiative. Together, the PACs had raised $31.56 million, including

  1. $22.14 million from Central Maine Power (CMP), NECEC Transmission LLC, and the companies’ parent firm Avangrid; and
  2. $8.28 million from H.Q. Energy Services (U.S.) Inc., which is a subsidiary of Hydro-Québec. 

Hydro-Québec is a state-owned corporation wholly owned by the Province of Quebec. In 2020, 25 current and former state legislators sent a letter to Quebec Premier François Legault and Hydro-Québec CEO Sophie Brochu, which said, “Hydro-Quebec provides billions of dollars annually to its sole shareholder, the Province of Quebec, which means that the residents of Quebec have a direct financial stake in the outcome of the CMP corridor referendum. … If the shoe were on the other foot and Maine voters were directly connected with a campaign to overturn public opinion on a construction project in Quebec, we would hear protests from the people of Quebec.”

Serge Abergel, the director of external relations for Hydro-Québec, responded to the letter, stating that Hydro-Québec should be allowed to provide information to voters after spending years to obtain permits. Abergel said, “So once you want to take that away, at least give us the right to give the facts when it comes to us. We don’t view this as a loophole at all. We’re compliant to the rules, and we’re just trying here to give a straight story, so people can understand and make their own choices.”

Proponents of the ballot initiative submitted 95,622 raw signatures on January 21, 2021. Former Sen. Thomas Saviello (R-17) filed the ballot initiative. On February 22, 2021, Secretary of State Shenna Bellows (D) announced that 80,506 signatures were valid. The minimum requirement was 63,067 valid signatures. 

The ballot initiative is the only initiated statute on the ballot for the election on November 2, 2021. The Maine State Legislature could still refer general obligation bonds to the ballot. It is also considering at least three constitutional amendments and a referred statute to create a consumer-owned electric transmission and distribution utility. The legislature adjourned its special session on June 17 but will reconvene on June 30.

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President Biden nominates six to Article III courts; two to D.C. local courts

President Joe Biden (D) nominated six individuals to Article III judgeships with lifetime terms on June 15:

• Myrna Pérez, to the United States Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit

• Jia Cobb, to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia

• Sarah A.L. Merriam, to the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut

• Sarala Nagala, to the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut

• Florence Pan, to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia

• Omar A. Williams, to the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut

To date, Biden has nominated 24 individuals to federal judgeships. Five of the nominees have been confirmed. There were 81 Article III vacancies in the federal judiciary as of June 1.

As of his inauguration in January 2021, Biden inherited 46 Article III vacancies: two vacancies in the U.S. courts of appeal, 43 vacancies in the U.S. district courts, and one vacancy on the U.S. Court of International Trade. Biden announced his first federal judicial nominees on March 30.

President Biden also nominated two individuals to Washington, D.C., local courts on June 15:

• Tovah Calderon, to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals

• Kenia Seoane Lopez, to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia

Washington, D.C., has two local courts: the superior court—a trial court of general jurisdiction—and a court of appeals. Justices on these courts are nominated by the U.S. president after recommendation from the District of Columbia Judicial Nomination Commission. They then face confirmation by the U.S. Senate. D.C. judges are appointed to 15-year renewable terms.

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