Friday, October 30, 2015

The Statehouse Horror Picture Show edition

Halloween is almost upon us, but state legislators are bringing the real chills and thrills this week.

  • The Last Statehouse On The LeftVirginia's state House and Senate elections are going down on Tuesday, November 3, and things are getting pretty crazy in the Commonwealth.
    • Last week, I laid out some of the outside spending happening on the Democratic side. Last-minute cash for the GOP is pouring in, too, and it's helping fund a flood of disingenuous ads making false claims (according to the Washington Post, no less) about possible tolls on Interstate 66 in key Northern Virginia races.
    • Shenanigans abound in these waning days of the campaign.
      • Rosemary's Baby doctor: The FBI has just launched an investigation into the GOP candidate in SD 12 (western Richmond suburbs), an OB/GYN who allegedly used her private patient list and information to solicit contributions and participation for her campaign -- a clear violation of federal HIPAA medical privacy laws.
      • The Grudge: GOP state Sen. Bill Stanley claimed he felt threatened by Facebook messages from Andy Parker, the grieving father of one of the Roanoke journalists gunned down on live TV (who is featured in Everytown for Gun Safety's massive TV buys in two top target Senate districts). 
        • When Gov. Terry McAuliffe called out Stanley's "ridiculous" "political stunt," Stanley positively swooned at the Governor's "appalling and quite stunning" comments. 
        • But then an enterprising reporter remembered this little gem from Stanley's last campaign:
In 2011 there was some question as to whether Stanley actually lived in his newly drawn Senate district. The Roanoke Times asked him whether anyone from his opponent's campaign had stopped by to verify residency.

"Not that I know of, unless they want to get a face full of my Glock," he replied.
Now that, Sen. Stanley, is a threat. 
        • Also, grieving father Andy Parker apologized
    • Insidious: The GOP is targeting incumbent Democratic Sen. John Edwards (NO NOT THAT ONE) in SD 21 (Roanoke), and they're resorting to some damn dirty tricks to do it. Tea party-tastic Middle Resolution PAC has dumped $13,000 into Republican Nancy Dye's campaign, but the group is helping out via a slimy head-fake: a mailer that urges Democrats to vote for the Don Caldwell, the independent candidate in the race, because he's "the authentic progressive Democrat."
        • Even Caldwell is upset about Middle Resolution PAC's "support." 
      • Sen. Edwards is also a lucky target of the Koch brothers. Americans for Prosperity has attacked him via direct mail and TV for supporting "reckless new energy mandates."

  • The New Jersey Devil's AdvocateNew Jersey voters will elect the 80 members of the state Assembly next Tuesday, too. With Chris Christie increasingly unpopular at home (well, everywhere, really), the pro-Christie dynamic, which gave state Republicans renewed vigor and support in a traditionally Democratic state just two years ago, has vanished
    • In 2013, Democrats avoided clashing with the governor; in 2015, Christie is a recurring element of Democrats' attacks on GOP candidates. 
    • Democrats are in no danger of losing their Assembly majority (48 D/32 R), but if we pick up seats, that's just extra egg on Chris Christie's face. 
Eggs, yum!

  • 19 Days Later: The Florida legislature is scheduled to wrap up its state Senate redistricting special session on Friday, November 6. 
    • On Wednesday, the Senate approved a map on a 22-18 vote; four Republicans voted with all 14 Democrats in opposition amid fears that the court would reject the proposed map for failing to meet the criteria that led to the re-redistricting in the first place. 
    • After the vote, drama ensued as former state Senate President Don Gaetz spent 17 minutes excoriating one of his GOP colleagues on the floor.  
      • Sen. Gaetz's diatribe was the outgrowth of a long-running feud over the Senate presidency and is only the latest evidence of the GOP-controlled chamber's extreme dysfunction as it nears "rock bottom." 
So when the state House returns a different map to the Senate for approval next week, we can expect that to go well, I'm sure. 

  • Courser and Gamrat vs. Evil: Two special election primaries are being held in Michigan next Tuesday, too. Both are in districts designed to elect Republicans, but they remain noteworthy to your humble author because of... certain candidates. 
    • The 82nd and 80th House Districts are the ones Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat resigned and got expelled from, respectively, when an investigation revealed they had used taxpayer money to accommodate and conceal their affair. 
    • Both ex-lawmakers are running in the special elections to replace themselves. 
      • The heavily-GOP districts attracted a slew of primary contenders -- most of whom are outraising the erstwhile lovebirds. 
        • Todd Courser has raised a whopping $1,030. 
        • Cindy Gamrat has fared slightly better, raising a grand total of $1,962.
      • Gamrat says she feels she has an "excellent chance" of winning Tuesday's primary. Good luck with that!
      • Courser recently proudly announced that his wife had endorsed him. Yes, his own, actual, got-cheated-on wife endorsed him and he was proud enough to Facebook and tweet about it. It's good to find joy in the things you have!

The following 9 state legislatures are meeting actively this week: ALASKA, FLORIDA, ILLINOIS, MASSACHUSETTS, MICHIGAN, NEW JERSEY, OHIO, PENNSYLVANIA and WISCONSIN.



The National Association of Attorneys General will hold its Eastern Region Meeting October 29-30 in New York City, New York. 

The American Public Health Association will hold its Annual Meeting and Exposition October 31 - November 4 in Chicago, Illinois. 


The Study Committee on Health, Education and School-Based Health Centers met October 27 to discuss the sustainability of school-based health centers. 


The Sales Tax Streamlining and Modernization Commission met October 28 to discuss current congressional proposals relating to sales tax for remote internet purchases. 


The Joint Committee on Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure met October 27 to discuss H.B. 273, which prohibits robocalls to all mobile telephone devices. 


The House Appropriations Committee met jointly with the Medicaid Subcommittee of the House Health and Human Services Committee October 27 to receive a presentation by the House Fiscal Agency on the Medicaid Program. 


The Minnesota Legislative Energy Commission met October 28 to discuss the environmental and economic impacts of fracking. The Department of Transportation, University of Minnesota and the Department of Employment and Economic Development will deliver presentations. 


The Department of Environmental Protection and the Public Utility Commission held public hearings October 28-30 to discuss the next steps in the United States EPA's Clean Power Plan. 

The Joint Legislative Air and Water Pollution Control and Conservation Committee met October 29 to discuss the environmental benefits of natural gas vehicles. 


The Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee met October 26 to discuss funding of basic education.

Friday, October 23, 2015

In A Capitol Far, Far Away edition

It is a period of electoral war. Democratic candidates, striking from campaign HQs, look for victory against the Republican Party. 
Pursued by the Republicans' sinister agents, Democrats race to Election Day, custodian of the hopes and plans that can save their people and restore freedom to the country... [[camera tilt]]

  • This isn't the election day you're looking for... But you're getting it anyway! Saturday, October 24, is primary day in Louisiana for state legislative races (and the gubernatorial, and other constitutional offices, if you're into that), and because of the state's wacky primary system, a few contests will actually be decided by the end of the night (polls close at 8 p.m.), but most won't. 
    • The final episode of the Louisiana statehouse election saga falls on November 21.

  • Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good super PAC at your side, kid: November 3 is coming up awfully fast, too, and that's when MississippiNew Jersey, and Virginia will all elect state legislators (just the Assembly in New Jersey; both chambers in the rest). 
    • The Virginia Senate is the hottest chamber of these, where Republicans are clinging to a one-seat majority (19 D/21 R), and the final weeks of the race have seen a glut of fresh funds.
      • Stay on target: On Wednesday, Everytown announced a $700,000 buy for Democrat Dan Gecker in SD 10, a targeted open seat in suburban Richmond. 
      • STAY ON TARGET: On Thursday, Everytown for Gun Safety announced a $1.5 million TV and online ad buy to support Democrat Jeremy McPike in SD 29, an open Northern Virginia seat and a top target for both parties this cycle.
        • Andy Parker, the father of one of the Roanoke reporters shot on live TV in August, appears in both ads. 
      • They came from behind! Earlier this month, Gabby Giffords' Americans for Responsible Solutions announced a donation of $600,000, divided among three Senate districts: the aforementioned SDs 10 and 29, as well as SD 13, which is represented by the infamous Dick Black (R-Plastic Fetus). 

  • The lines are what give a politician his power. They surround us and bind the states together: Elections aren't the only thing happening in Virginia at the moment. The Commonwealth's redistricting drama lurches onward with some recent developments. 
    • On Thursday, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia dismissed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of 12 House of Delegates districts. 
Fun fact! This same court found Virginia's 3rd Congressional District unconstitutional last summer using the same criteria
      • The current gerrymander gives House Republicans a 2-to-1 edge in a state where all five statewide officeholders are Democrats. 
      • The case will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. 
So either everyone's Thanksgiving is ruined or maybe we'll be trying to analyze new maps through the haze of our New Year's Day hangovers. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    • Never tell me the odds: Redistricting turmoil reigns in Florida, too, as state lawmakers struggle to not poke out their own eyes with their map-drawing pens, basically, and not repeat their August congressional redistricting fiasco as they try to redraw state Senate district lines. 
      • The Senate Reapportionment Committee approved a map Friday morning, but the GOP majority is already at war with itself over it. 
      • The Republicans' rebellion extends beyond the physical placement of district lines and into the actual numbers of those districts. 
        • At least half of the state Senate will be up for reelection in 2016; those with luckier district numbers could have an additional two years to get to know their new constituents. 
And we get two more weeks of this! (The special session ends on November 6.)
      • Oh, and about that that failed Florida congressional redistricting -- the state Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments on the proposed map on November 10.

  • I felt a great disturbance in the law, as if millions of dollars suddenly got spent and were suddenly untraceableWisconsin Republicans are still going full tilt on their schemes to rid the state of any semblance of campaign accountability or integrity. 
    • On Friday, Gov. Scott Walker signed legislation that will prevent district attorneys from using the state's "John Doe" law to investigate political corruption and misconduct, signaling Walker's re-commitment to screwing up his state now that he's no longer distracted by a presidential campaign.
      • If Wisconsin's "John Doe" law rings a bell, it may be because a John Doe investigation resulted in six convictions of Walker's campaign aides and associates over the past few years. 
      • Now the John Doe law is totally defanged, so Republicans won't have to fret about that any more. 
I mean, who needs all that pesky investigation of corruption, anyway? 
    • The measure gutting John Doe is part of the larger package of election "reform" bills state Republicans are ramming through the legislature. 
    • The other pieces passed the state Assembly on Wednesday night with Republican votes only.
      • Every Democrat in the chamber recused him/herself, arguing that this loosening of campaign finance rules was so generous that the bills actually create "a substantial financial interest" for lawmakers, a conflict that must be resolved by recusal, according to state statute 19.46.
    • Posturing? Sure, but these bills seriously amp up the political cash flow in the state:
      • Limits on individual donations -- which are already above the national average, according to NCSL --  would be doubled (to $60,000 for gubernatorial candidates, $6,000 and $3,000 for Senate and Assembly candidates, respectively), and limits would be adjusted for inflation every five years.
      • Donations from PACs to campaigns would be unlimited.
      • Donors could give unlimited amounts of money to campaign committees (except PACs, which would be limited to donating a mere $12,000 per year), and those committees can then pass the money along to candidates, making those individual donation limits pretty pointless, anyway. 
      • Also, candidates would be allowed to coordinate with interest groups that don't disclose their donors.
    • Coupled with the proposed gutting of the state's campaign oversight apparatus, Democrats understandably feel the need to go to extremes to slow down and call attention to current events in Madison. 
    • These measures are generally expected to pass the state Senate next week. If they do, you'll be hard-pressed to find a more wretched hive of campaign finance scum and villainy.  

The following 9 state legislatures are meeting actively this week: ALASKA, FLORIDA, ILLINOIS, MASSACHUSETTS, MICHIGAN, NEW JERSEY, OHIO, PENNSYLVANIA and WISCONSIN.



The Legislature will convene for a special session October 24 to consider funding a liquified natural gas project. 


The Public Utilities Commission held a public hearing October 19 to discuss proposed amendments to electric and renewable energy standard rules. 


The Legislature convened for a special session October 19 to redraw the state’s Senate districts. 

The House Committee on Children, Families and Seniors met October 20 to discuss H.B. 103, which allows authorized vendors to accept SNAP benefits at fresh produce markets. 

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services met October 20 to discuss Medicaid expenditure projections and the financial status of statewide Medicaid Managed Care. 


Louisiana will hold a primary election October 24 for the offices of the Governor and Attorney General as well as all House and Senate seats. 


The Department of Environmental Conservation held a public hearing October 19 to discuss proposed amendments to implement cap-and-trade programs that reduce NOx and SO2 emissions from electric generating units larger than 25 MWe. 


The Senate Health and Human Services Committee met October 21 to discuss H.B. 188, which revises the circumstances under which a pharmacist may dispense without a prescription. 


The Health and Human Services Interim Committee met October 21 to consider draft legislation permitting the use of marijuana products for medical purposes. 


The Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Interim Committee met October 22-23 to discuss proposed legislation on the Clean Power Plan, carbon sequestration permitting and other issues within the Committee’s charge.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Viva Las Vegas edition

While the Cirque du Debate was the main attraction this week, the never-ending variety show of statehouse politics went on in fabulous capitols across America.

  • Dirty, Dirty Feeling: Republicans in Wisconsin fast-tracking a proposal that would essentially deregulate the state's campaign finance oversight apparatus. 
    • The package of bills is intended to, ahem, "reform" the state's election system, which Pew recently ranked as the third best in the nation. The watchdog General Accountability Board, "a national model for ethics and elections," would be replaced by a partisan agency. 
    • The state's campaign finance system itself would be overhauled, too.
      • Limits on individual donations -- which are already above the national average, according to NCSL --  would be doubled (to $60,000 for gubernatorial candidates, $6,000 and $3,000 for Senate and Assembly candidates, respectively).
      • Donations from PACs to campaign would be unlimited.
      • Donors could give unlimited amounts of money to campaign committees, which can then pass it along to candidates, making those individual donation limits pretty pointless, anyway. 
      • Also, candidates would be allowed to coordinate with interest groups that don't disclose their donors. 
    • So, basically, Wisconsin is poised to become a national hub of dark money shenanigans. Thanks, Republicans!

  • Don't Be Cruel: Two GOP lawmakers in Wisconsin are desperately seeking cosigners for their unenlightened legislation that would ban transgender students from using school bathrooms for the gender with which they identify. 
    • This discriminatory bill opens schools up to lawsuits and undermines the 60 school districts across the state that have specifically adopted nondiscriminatory policies affecting LGBT students. Local control! 

      • A final note on Wisconsin: Bills aimed at defunding Planned Parenthood and banning donation or use of fetal tissue in medical research -- which sailed through the GOP-controlled state Assembly in recent weeks -- were approved this week by a GOP-controlled Senate committee. The measures are expected to pass the GOP-controlled upper chamber.  

  • It's Now or Never: We will have new Florida congressional maps soon, maybe, hopefully. On November 10, the state Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on the map recommended by a lower court judge. The map, which has U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson wicked mad, was drawn by voting rights groups (plaintiffs in the case) and was favored over plans submitted by the GOP-controlled state House and Senate.
    • Also coming soon to the Florida capitol: State Senate redistricting special session
      • When lawmakers convene on October 19 to redraw state Senate maps (which Republicans admitted they'd gerrymandered to favor incumbents and their own party), the GOP majorities will attempt to not repeat their epic congressional map fail
      • House and Senate leaders have already submitted six different staff-drawn maps to be considered as "starting points" for the three-week session. Five of the six favor Republicans -- the remaining map presents a 20-20 split, based on 2012 presidential results. 

  • Hands Off: Speaking of Florida, some GOP lawmakers there are responding to recent gun violence tragedies by filing a bunch of legislation for next year that will enable more folks to have more guns in more places, because nothing ever goes wrong in FloridaNothingEver
    • Proposed legislation in the nation's most infamous "Stand Your Ground" state includes:

  • Suspicious Minds: For once, Colorado state Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt isn't making headlines because of his infamous alter ego. Dr. Chaps had nothing to do with Klingenschmitt's accusations against fellow GOP Rep. Larry Liston -- that we know of
    • Klingenschmitt filed a police report on Saturday accusing Liston of stealing a stack of political fliers from a Pikes Peak Firearms Coalition meeting. 
    • Liston said the fliers are "filled with half-truths, lies and innuendos," insisted he swiped only five fliers anyway, and called his colleague "paranoid and delusional." 
    • Klingenschmitt, in return, has branded Liston "a thief and a liar." 
      • Klingenschmitt is primarying GOP state Sen. (and Liston pal) Bob Gardner next year. So that should be fun.

  • The Impossible Dream: Five pastors and a deacon walk into a bar... wait, sorry, they walked into the Kentucky governor's office to ask him to pretty please call a special session to pass a bill exempting Kim Davis and her fellow anti-same-sex marriage county clerks from issuing marriage certificates to teh gays
Still funny, just pathetic-funny, not ha-ha funny.

  • A Little Less Conversation: In the most recent manifestation of state-level fallout from the manufactured anti-Planned Parenthood videos released over the summer, Republicans in the Missouri legislature held a "witch hunt" hearing on Wednesday to discuss measures aimed at curtailing Planned Parenthood's fetal tissue donation program. 
    • After Democrats had left the hearing, the remaining Republicans in the room began brainstorming neat ideas to push their radical agenda during the next legislative session. 
      • One especially inspired suggestion came from GOP Rep. Rick Brattin. He thinks it would be just super to force Planned Parenthood to pay for some sort of abortion memorial, "like a Vietnam Wall." Okay!

The following 6 state legislatures are meeting actively this week: ILLINOIS, MASSACHUSETTS, MICHIGAN, OHIO, PENNSYLVANIA and WISCONSIN.


The Southern Governors Association will hold its Annual Meeting October 15-16 in St. Louis, Missouri.

The National Association of State Treasurers will hold its Annual Conference October 18-21 in Nashville, Tennessee.

The last day for Governor Jerry Brown (D) to sign or veto bills passed by the Legislature was October 11. 

The Task Force Concerning the Treatment of Persons with Mental Illness in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Systems met October 15 to discuss the Affordable Care Act and juvenile competency evaluations. 

The House Study Committee on the Use of Drones met October 14 to discuss other states’ uses of drones, drone technology and the role of the United States Federal Aviation Administration. 

The Health Care Task Force met October 13 to review options limiting enrollment in the Individual High-Risk Insurance Pool and the impact of the Affordable Care Act on the Idaho Insurance Market.

The Senate Committee on Appropriations and Financial Affairs met October 13 to discuss L.D. 212, which restores the previous cost-of-living adjustment cap of 4% for benefits received by a retired state employee, teacher, judge and legislator whose spouse received social security benefits and passed away. 

The Joint Committee on Children, Families and Persons with Disabilities met October 13 to discuss S.B. 100, which aims to reduce EBT fraud. 

The Senate Legislative Commission on Pensions and Retirement met October 13 to discuss the actuarial review of Minnesota’s retirement systems.

The Environmental Commission held a public hearing October 14 to discuss proposed regulation governing the emission reduction credit program.

The Environmental Improvement Board held a public hearing October 15 to discuss proposed amendments to air quality control regulations. 

The Assembly Standing Committee on Education held a public hearing October 14 to discuss Chronically Struggling Schools and School Receivership. 

The Senate Government Accountability and Oversight Committee met October 14 to discuss reducing the minimum number of election officials in a precinct. 

The Board of Building Codes will meet October 16 to discuss proposed amendments to ambulatory surgical center rules.

The Adult Behavioral Task Force will meet October 16 to discuss challenges concerning jails, persons with behavioral health disorders and regional variations in behavioral health outcome data. 

The Senate Committee on Transportation and Veterans Affairs held an executive session October 13 to discuss S.B. 158, which prohibits a person from driving a commercial motor vehicle while using a cellular telephone or other wireless telephone, except to report an emergency. 

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee met October 13 to discuss S.B. 272, which concerns the prescribing of pain medication by a physician or health care provider.