Friday, August 21, 2015

Legislators With Attitude edition

While many folks are taking advantage of the final weeks of August to escape, vacation, and relax, lawmakers in places like VirginiaFlorida, Missouri, and Wisconsin are doing nothing of the sort. Some legislators may even have an appetite for destruction these days. Or maybe they're just trying to express themselves

  • It was a good day*On Monday, Virginia lawmakers convened for a special legislative session to redraw the state's congressional maps as ordered by a federal court. The session only ended up lasting one day, but the drama began weeks before and seems likely to continue for many weeks more. For those who've been off the grid, a timeline:
    • June 5: U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia reaffirms its decision from the previous year finding U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott's 3rd Congressional District lumps minority populations together in an unconstitutional manner. The judges give the General Assembly a September 1 deadline to draw new maps. 
    • July 14: Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe calls for a special redistricting session to convene on August 17 to meet the court's September 1 deadline. Republican legislators want a deadline extension to November 16 and stomp around a lot, claiming that the session is too soon to accommodate "necessary deliberation," and oh yeah, maybe our appeal will be heard and we'll pull this thing out after all!
    • July 28: Gov. McAuliffe reaches out to Republican leadership in the House and Senate to meet and discuss a path forward on redistricting. Sen. Tommy Norment and Speaker Bill Howell immediately shut him down.  
    • August 3: In a last-ditch gamble (and general jerkface move) to get Gov. McAuliffe to call off the special session, the Republican leadership in the General Assembly declare that they will ignore 100 years of decorum and precedent and oust the governor's totally legit, done-a-bajillion-times-before-without-drama, out-of-session appointment to fill a vacancy on the state Supreme Court. 
      • The special session gives the legislature the opportunity to confirm (or, here, reject) the governor's appointment, and it starts a clock on the length of the governor's interim appointment (30 days). If the governor had cancelled the special session, the General Assembly wouldn't have been able to reject the appointment. 
    • August 5: The General Assembly Republicans' jerk trick turns out to be for naught, as their appeal is rejected two days later. 
    • August 17: Special redistricting session convenes in Mr. Jefferson's Capitol. 
      • Republican lawmakers refuse to even interview Gov. McAuliffe's Supreme Court appointee as they prepare to replace her. 
      • While a House committee meets to discuss redistricting, across the building, retiring Republican state Sen. John Watkins expresses his disgust with his party's treatment of the judicial selection process and votes with Senate Democrats to kill the nomination of the GOP's preferred candidate. 
      • Sen. Watkins then proceeds to vote with the Senate Democrats to adjourn the session Sine Die
      • General Assembly Republicans were caught completely off guard. They rail that the Senate's adjournment without the permission of the House violates the state Constitution. 
    • Their point is arguable at best, and in a practical sense it's just them yelling at clouds, because they can't force the Senate to return, and without the Senate, further action on either redistricting or the Supreme Court vacancy is impossible.
    • Now the court will almost certainly take the burden of redrawing Virginia's congressional map upon itself. The process will most certainly be less dramatic. 

    • Today was the last day of the special session called to comply with the state Supreme Court's order to redraw congressional district lines in a way that complies with the state Constitution's Fair Districts Amendments.
    • The Republican leadership in the state Senate began the day by rejecting the House's congressional map and insisting that they accept the Senate's map instead. 
    • GOP envoys from each chamber convened to hammer things out, but that meeting quickly turned acrimonious. 
    • Realizing that nothing would be accomplished without a formal conference committee, the Senate voted to extend the special session through August 25 -- the court-imposed deadline for the new map -- to accommodate negotiations. 
    • The House, however, had other plans. 
      • Instead of choosing one of the options before it -- extending the session or adopting the Senate map -- the state House went with option C: not extending the session and sending its own congressional map back to the Senate. 
      • Then the Senate voted again to extend session but sent a new map back to the House. 
      • The House rejected both proposals again, and a noon deadline ended the session. 
        • This isn't the first time Florida House Republicans have bailed on session before finishing their work. In April, the state House adjourned early to avoid voting on a Senate proposal to expand Medicaid -- leaving the state without a budget, too.
    • The Florida Supreme Court now is likely to draw new congressional maps itself, rather then send them back to the kiddie table to be scribbled on in crayon, effectively.
  • Straight outta Jefferson City: People who make laws would like harlot interns to stop making themselves so harassable, please. In recent months, Missouri legislators on both sides of the aisle have been involved in one or more in a series of sexual harassment scandals involving interns in the state Capitol. (The House Speaker himself was forced to resign over one such scandal in May.)
    • Consequently, a Republican state representative launched an effort to "improve the Missouri House intern policy" and recently solicited input from his colleagues.
    • GOP state Reps. Bill Kidd and Nick King quickly responded with their own suggestion: A "modest, conservative dress code" for interns. Because everyone knows those slutty interns were asking to be harassed. How could these legislators be expected to restrain themselves?
      • As Rep. King put it, "Removing one more distraction will help everyone keep their focus on legislative matters." HOW DARE THOSE YOUNG INTERN LADIES DISTRACT MEN FOLK FROM MAKING LAWS?!!1! 
    • Intern harassment may be a problem for irresponsible elected officials of both parties, but this victim-blaming "solution" is distinctly Republican.

  • Straight outta Madison: Spurred by the fraudulent anti-Planned Parenthood videos being manufactured and circulated by anti-choice groups, GOP lawmakers in Wisconsin recently held a hearing on a bill that would make using fetal tissue in research a felony -- research like the kind the University of Wisconsin does to produce life-saving medical treatments
    • After stalling for a week, Republican leadership has finally scheduled a vote for the measure on September 9Mark your calendars! 

*I know damn well It Was A Good Day is a solo Ice Cube joint, so step off and Check Yo Self

The following 9 state legislatures are meeting actively this week: CALIFORNIA, FLORIDA, MASSACHUSETTS, MICHIGAN, NEW JERSEY, NORTH CAROLINA, VERMONT, VIRGINIA and WISCONSIN.



Just go ahead and take your vacation, already.

The Legislature returned from its Summer Recess August 17. 
The Legislature is set to adjourn August 21.
The Pollution Control Board held a public hearing August 19 to discuss amendments to the fluoride water quality standards. 
The Lexington Urban County Council met August 20 to discuss minimum wage. 
The House Appropriations Committee met August 19 to discuss S.B. 358, which removes the cap on fees for the basic skills, elementary certification and subject area examinations for the Michigan Test for Teacher Certification. 
The Environmental Quality Board met August 19 to discuss the United States Environmental Protection Agency Clean Power Plan. 
The Economic and Rural Development Committee met August 19 to discuss worker's compensation and the Court of Appeals' decision regarding farm and ranch worker exclusion. 
The Board of Pharmacy held a public hearing August 20 to discuss proposed amendments to the controlled substances list and non-sterile compounding. 
The Transportation Committee met August 20 to discuss the Truck Size and Weight Harmonization Study. 
The Bureau of Workers' Compensation will hold a public hearing August 21 to discuss proposed amendments to the immediate allowance and payment of medical bills. 
The State Water Development Commission met August 18 to discuss the United States Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Water Act Rule. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

From Georgia With Love edition

As the summer races by with only the occasional presidential debate or invented controversy to serve as speed bumps, you can at least take a quantum of solace in the fact that both diamonds and statehouse action are forever.
  • The Man with the Golden Arm: A Democrat (and former quarterback for Georgia Tech) has picked up a House seat in the Georgia legislature. Taylor Bennett scored a solid 54.5% of the vote last night over his Republican opponent to win the special election for HD80. 
    • Flipping a Republican seat in Georgia is noteworthy enough, but even more compelling is the reason behind the 29-year-old former football star's run. 
      • The Republican state representative Bennett will replace basically gutted one of those so-called "religious freedom" RFRA/anti-LGBT bills earlier this year. Other Republicans have pledged to revive the legislation in the next session -- a sentiment that troubles Bennett deeply, since his mother is gay. He cites the issue as the "hair-trigger" reason he got into the race. 
tl;dr: A Democrat won a Georgia state House seat 
(A little support from former Georgia Tech teammate Calvin Johnson didn't hurt, either.)

  • Sine Die Another DayFlorida lawmakers are beginning to think they'll never wrap up their legislative session
      • First, legislators ended their normal 60-day session without finishing the state budget, which required three weeks of overtime. 
      • Then, lawmakers convened on Monday for another two weeks to fix eight of the state's congressional districts that the state Supreme Court ruled were in violation of the state Constitution. 
      • And finally, in October, the legislature will convene yet again for up to three additional weeks to redraw state Senate districts after Republican lawmakers conceded those also violated the state Constitution.
    • You Only Draw Twice: Before the congressional re-redistricting session even got underway, GOP lawmakers were already lamenting the burdens placed upon them by the Florida Supreme Court. Some Republicans bemoaned requirements that any and all non-public meetings pertaining to redistricting involving legislators be recorded in some way, because heaven forfend the map-drawing process be open to public scrutiny.  
    • The "base" map presented by lawmakers on Tuesday, which is based on the guidelines set forth by the state Supreme Court in its ruling earlier this summer, is already raising hackles. 
      • Republican U.S. Rep. Daniel Webster is upset that his Orlando-area district would become heavily Democratic, going so far as to claim that "this plan not only disfavors the incumbent, but appears to have the intent to eliminate the incumbent," which would violate Florida's Fair Districts standards. 
      • Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan and Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown are also upset by the drastic changes the Court's guidelines would make to their congressional districts. 
    • Reportedly, a lot of Tuesday's redistricting committee meeting was taken up by griping, mostly by GOP lawmakers chafing at the Court's exercise of its constitutional authority. Quelle horreur!
It's going to be a long two weeks. 

  • Dr. No: The redistricting special session in Virginia is less than a week away, and if their recent behavior is any indication, the Republicans in the General Assembly won't be playing nice with Gov. McAuliffe. 
    • First, the GOP leadership in the House and Senate publicly rebuffed Gov. McAuliffe's well-intentioned efforts to get the legislative ball rolling on a redistricting compromise in advance of the August 17 session. 
      • The Democrat's overture could have helped stave off partisan gridlock as the Republican-controlled legislature draws new congressional maps that McAuliffe have to sign into law... or veto.
    • Then GOP leaders declared their intention to unseat a Virginia Supreme Court Justice for the first time in over 100 years (the last time was in 1900), upending a long tradition of deference given to gubernatorial appointees and ignoring the recommendation of the Republicans' own Courts of Justice Committee chair. 
      • Gov. McAuliffe appointed widely-respected Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Jane Marum Roush to fill a vacancy on the Commonwealth's highest court, effective August 1. Late Sunday night, House and Senate Republicans announced their intent to take advantage of the special redistricting session to oust Justice Roush in favor of their own pick: Court of Appeals Judge Rossie Alston, a well-known long-time conservative
      • It's possible that General Assembly Republicans are just trying to punish and embarrass the Governor -- never mind the collateral damage of a respected jurist's career. But smart money was on the GOP using these judicial shenanigans to encourage Gov. McAuliffe to postpone next week's special redistricting session until after the court ruled on their appeal...
        • ...which a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia denied last Wednesday, leaving in place the September 1 deadline for new congressional maps.
    • The most recent development in the ongoing redistricting drama is the revelation that Republican House Speaker Bill Howell used taxpayer money to pay an attorney over $220,000 for legal work related to the congressional redistricting lawsuit. According to court records, the attorney was employed by the Republican House Campaign Committee, not the state, to protect the documents of a GOP consultant who helped state lawmakers draw congressional district lines in 2011.

  • OctoVaJayJay: Two of Nevada's GOP Assembly members are accusing fellow Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval of "treason" and of only supporting "people who write him the fat checks," which is why these lawmakers claim Republicans are "excommunicating him"...because this is what happens when Republicans run things in the Silver State, apparently.
    • Assemblywoman Michele Fiore also took advantage of a recent radio appearance to voice her disappointment with a failed bill that would have discriminated against transgender school kids by dictating which bathroom they're allowed to use:
    • "I don’t feel like looking at your penis! Nor do I want you looking at my Va Jay Jay. So I don’t care if you want to have a Va Jay Jay, until you have a Va Jay Jay stay out of my nakedness area!"  -- Michele Fiore, a person who makes laws.

  • The Lawmaker Who Loved Me: Late last week, an insane scheme one Michigan tea party lawmaker cooked up to conceal his affair with another Michigan tea party lawmaker came to light as a former aide blew the lid off the whole operation. 
    • Freshman GOP Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat -- self-described tea party "gladiators" -- had been using their official offices to maintain and conceal their extramarital affair. (Both legislators are married with children.)
    • Rep. Courser began to freak out in May, when an anonymous blackmailer allegedly claimed s/he knew about Courser's affair with Rep. Gamrat and instructed him to resign to avoid exposure.
    • Instead of resigning, Rep. Courser concocted an absurd scheme to have a staffer send a fake email claiming Courser had been caught having sex with a male prostitute. His reasoning? Such an obviously absurd and patently false claim would "inoculate the herd" if his affair with Rep. Gamrat came to light and undermine the credibility of any related revelations.
    • Rep. Gamrat remains silent since news of the affair broke Friday, but Rep. Courser responded by lashing out at the "Lansing mafia" and accusing "establishment" Republicans of conspiring to bug his office and blackmail him.
    • Now the Republican House Speaker has ordered an investigation into whether Reps. Courser and Gamrat used state-funded staff, equipment, or other resources to conceal the affair.
    • So far, both Courser and Gamrat are ignoring multiple calls for their resignation.
Stay tuned!

  • The Veto Is Not Enough: Last week, the Maine Supreme Court ruled that Gov. LePage had, in fact, screwed up his attempt to veto 65 bills by failing to return them to the legislature in time for override votes. 
    • Now he's penning hand-written notes to an activist for CREDO Action that reveal some confusion on his part as to whether he's suing the Obama administration over the president's executive orders on immigration. 
    • The note to Murshed Zaheed (Fun fact: Murshed is a former coworker of mine! Small world!) wasn't as rude as the one he wrote a few weeks ago that bashed half of his own state, but it's no less misguided. Gov. LePage seems to think he's suing "illegal immigrants," which... no. That just doesn't even make sense. 

  • Thunderball: Football is known as a hallowed institution in the South generally, and this is especially the case in Alabama, home to two high-caliber teams in the toughest division of the toughest conference in the nation (SEC West). Loyalties in the state are mostly divided between Alabama (Roll Tide!) and Auburn (War Eagle!). 
    • The GOP-controlled Alabama legislature has been in special session for the past month in a failed attempt to pass a state budget (the state's fiscal year ends September 30). 
    • But, with a clear sense of his priorities, one GOP state senator took the time to file a resolution urging Auburn to take credit for the seven football seasons in which the school fielded "the best team in the nation" but failed to technically secure national championship titles (1910, 1913, 1914, 1958, 1982, 1993, and 2004), thus increasing the team's championship claims from two (1957 and 2010) to nine. 
Governing < football.

*Bonus Thunderball because not even Solomon could make me choose between Tom Jones and Johnny Cash.

The following 7 state legislatures are meeting actively this week: ALABAMA, FLORIDA, ILLINOIS, MASSACHUSETTS, NEW JERSEY, NORTH CAROLINA and WISCONSIN.

Also meeting: GUAM.

The National Association of State Budget Officers will hold its Annual Meeting August 9-12 in Stowe, Vermont. 
The Association of Clean Water Administrators will hold its Annual Meeting August 10-12 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners will hold its Summer Meeting August 15-18 in Chicago, Illinois. 

The Council of State Governments Eastern Regional Conference will hold its 55th Annual Meeting and Regional Policy Forum August 16-19 in Wilmington, Delaware.


The Legislature convened August 10 for a special session to address congressional redistricting. 


The Johnson County Board of Supervisors will hold a public meeting August 12 to discuss the County's minimum wage. 


The Senate Appropriations/Base Budget Committee met August 10 to discuss H.B. 372, which reorganizes the state's Medicaid program. 


The Environmental Protection Agency held a public hearing August 11 to discuss proposed amendments to the requirements for general national pollutant discharge elimination system permits. 

The Environmental Protection Agency will hold a public hearing August 12 to discuss proposed amendments to rules governing public water system plan approval, backflow prevention and cross-contamination control, and consumer confidence reports. 


Special elections was held August 11 to fill three vacant seats in the House of Representatives. 


The San Antonio City Council will meet August 12 to discuss legal issues related to collective bargaining pursuant to Texas Government Code Section 551.071. 


The House Committee on Health Care will meet August 12 to discuss S.B. 139, regarding pharmacy benefit managers, medical malpractice, Green Mountain Care and employer financed health care purchased through the Vermont Health Benefit Exchange.