Capitol Comments

In Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission v. American Humanist Association the Supreme Court will decide whether a local government has violated the First Amendment by displaying and maintaining a 93-year-old, 40-foot tall Latin cross memorializing soldiers who died in World War I.  

Prince George’s County citizens and an American Legion Post raised money to build the monument. In 1925 it was dedicated at a Christian prayer service. Over the years Christian religious services have been held at the cross.

In 1961 the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission took title of the land and the cross because it is located in the middle of a busy traffic median. The cross is part of a park honoring veterans. Other monuments are located anywhere from 200 feet to a half-a-mile from the cross. None are taller than 10 feet.

In an amicus brief in Gamble v. United States, the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) asks the Supreme Court not to overrule the “separate sovereigns” exception to the Double Jeopardy Clause. This exception allows states and the federal government to convict and sentence a person for the same conduct.

Gamble was prosecuted for and convicted of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon under both Alabama and United States law. His challenge to the “separate sovereigns” exception is unsurprising given that Justice Thomas joined Justice Ginsburg’s concurring opinion in Puerto Rico v. Sanchez-Valle (2016), which suggested the Court do a “fresh examination” of the “separate sovereigns” exception. These Justices are on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum and typically don’t vote together in close cases. 

In Sanchez-Valle the Court held that the Double Jeopardy Clause bars both Puerto Rico and the United States from prosecuting a person for the same conduct under equivalent criminal laws. Puerto Rico isn’t a sovereign distinct from the United States because it derived its authority from the U.S. Congress.

As we enter election season, it's critical for voters to know the key issues of the day and where their representatives stand on them. That civic duty can be inhibited when the language of a legislative text becomes lengthy, ambiguous or just plain bad.
The complexity of the legal jargon found on voter ballots isn’t a new issue. Just last year, both Ballotpedia and political scientists from Georgia State University (GSU) conducted assessments to analyze just how complicated the average ballot reads. Both parties used the Flesch-Kincaid readability test, which measures how many words are in a sentence and how many syllables are in those words. Both studies found that the average ballot question requires at least some college-level education. Ballotpedia found that the average question required a graduate-level education.

State elections officials around the country are expressing confidence that they’re ready to protect the November 2018 vote from potential cyber threats and, if necessary, deploy new tools and communications protocols put in place since the 2016 election, which saw 21 states targeted by Russian hackers.

“Yes, we feel confident that we’re in good shape,” said Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos. “But I will also say that cybersecurity … is like the race without a finish line. It’s a never-ending proposition. This is the new normal. We will always be focused on cybersecurity.”

From a gas tax repeal in California to a proposed gas tax increase in Missouri and from a lockbox amendment in Connecticut to dueling bonding proposals in Colorado, state ballots this November will include a variety of measures that could have a profound impact on the future of transportation around the country. Transportation is also being raised as an issue in many of the nation’s gubernatorial contests this year. Here’s a roundup of some of the transportation policy-related choices voters will face on Election Day and links to where you can read more.

On Oct. 22, the federal government issued new draft regulations concerning 1332 waivers. In a call to CSG from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), officials explained the new regulations would provide more flexibility to states, revising the “guardrails” set in the 2012 regulations. Plans previously considered non-ACA compliant could be sold on the marketplaces and could qualify for federal subsidies. 

The issue in Timbs v. Indiana is whether the Eighth Amendment Excessive Fines Clause applies to the states. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) Supreme Court amicus brief rejects the argument that the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates all rights included in the first eight Amendments. It also argues that the forfeiture in this case isn’t unconstitutionally excessive.

The repeal of net neutrality rules under the Obama administration has now been in effect for four months. During this time, states have re-enacted the rules at the state level, urged the federal government to reinstate the rules, and appealed the decision to a D.C. federal court. Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers—including Verizon, AT&T, Spectrum, and others—should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites.

The consortium of states participating in the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Licensing: Assessing State Policy and Practice project recently began their second round of project meetings to discuss occupational license reform. The 11 states--Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Nevada, Utah and Wisconsin--are individually meeting to further review their licensure process, engage with policy experts and develop action plans. The state team meetings will culminate this year in the project’s second multistate learning consortium summit to be held Nov. 28-30 in Clearwater, Florida.

CSG Midwest

In September, South Dakota lawmakers met in special session to finalize a policy change that Gov. Dennis Daugaard said was “50 years in the making.” He signed two bills that allow the state to act on its new legal authority to collect taxes from remote and online sales.

Under SB 1, which takes effect on Nov. 1, South Dakota will enforce sales tax collections from online retailers who have at least $100,000 in sales or 200 transactions a year. A second bill approved in the recent special session (SB 2) requires online marketplace providers such as Amazon to attain a sales tax license and remit sales taxes on behalf of sellers that use their services.

Pages