Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Over 20 States Sue to Stop FCC Net Neutrality Repeal

The Attorneys General of more than 20 States filed a Lawsuit on Tuesday to Stop the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) decision to Repeal Obama-era Net Neutrality Protections. "The repeal of net neutrality would turn internet service providers into gatekeepers -- allowing them to put profits over consumers while controlling what we see, what we do, and what we say online," New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a Statement announcing the Lawsuit.

First Approved by the FCC in 2015, the Net Neutrality Rules require Internet Service Providers (ISP) like Comcast and Verizon to treat all Online Content the same. Providers are barred from deliberately Speeding Up or Slowing Down Traffic from specific websites, and from putting their Own Content at an Advantage over Rivals.

The Republican-led FCC voted to Overturn the Rules last month. Ajit Pai, the FCC Chairman appointed by President Trump, pitched the Repeal as a way stop the Federal Government from "micromanaging the internet."

The FCC's Decision to Overturn these Protections has been Championed by the Telecom Industry, but widely criticized by Technology Companies and Consumer Advocacy Groups.

In a sign that criticism of the Rules goes beyond Party Lines, the Coalition of Attorneys General joining Tuesday's Lawsuit represent both Red and Blue States. The list includes: California, Mississippi, Kentucky, Maine, and North Carolina, among others.

The potential for a Legal showdown comes as Federal and State Lawmakers are looking for Legislative Solutions.

Sen. Ed Markey, a Democrat representing Massachusetts, announced Tuesday that 50 Senators have now Signed on to a Resolution that would Overrule the FCC decision and Restore the Net Neutrality Rules. It would only need one more Senator to Pass.

The Resolution would then need to be Approved by the House of Representatives, which could be more of an uphill battle. Rep. Mike Doyle, a Democrat representing Pennsylvania, said Tuesday he has 81 Members of Congress willing to Cosponsor Legislation to Protect Net Neutrality. Traditionally, a Bill needs 218 votes to pass in the House.

Even if Congress Approves it, Trump would need to Sign Off. But the White House has repeatedly Supported the FCC's Net Neutrality Repeal.

Lawmakers in States like New York, Washington, and Massachusetts have also proposed State Bills in recent weeks to enforce the Principles of Net Neutrality within their Borders.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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NY Gov. Cuomo Seeks Tax Revisions to Thwart Federal Changes

New York State would End Income Taxes on Wage Earners and make up the Revenue with an Employer Payroll Tax that’s Federally Deductible as part of a Restructuring Plan that Gov. Andrew Cuomo is recommending to Mitigate harmful effects of the New U.S. Tax Code.

The New Federal Law limits Deductions for Individuals’ State and Local Taxes, raising Levies 25% on all New Yorkers, no matter where they Live, Cuomo said Tuesday. The Federal Changes could push Residents and Businesses out of State, the Democratic Governor said as he presented a Budget for the next Fiscal year.

“We’re doing everything we can to thwart the effects of the federal plan,” Cuomo said. “This is going to be the most difficult challenge that we’ve had to take on because it’s the most complicated, but I have no doubt that this is the fight of New York’s future.”

Earlier this month, Cuomo said his Administration would File a Lawsuit seeking to Repeal the New Federal Tax Law, arguing that it Discriminates against States with High Local and State Taxes. In his Budget speech, Cuomo for the first time fleshed out his Plan to further Reduce the Impact of the Federal Law by changing the way the State Taxes Wage Earners’ Income.

In the Tax-Overhaul Legislation that President Trump signed last month, the Republican-controlled Congress Limited the Deductions that Individuals can take for State and Local Taxes, including Income and Property Levies to $10,000. That so-called SALT provision is widely viewed as an Attack on Democratic-leaning States, which tend to have Higher Taxes. On Tuesday, Cuomo called the SALT Cap “an economic missile” aimed at New York, which he said pays $48 Billion more to the Federal Government than it gets back each year. The Changes will add $14 Billion more to that tally this year, Cuomo said. “It targets New York with a penalty,” He said. Overall, He said 12 States would be targeted by Limiting the SALT Deductions to help Pay for other Cuts. “Coincidentally, they all happen to be Democratic.”

In response, Cuomo said his Proposal, the “New York State Taxpayer Protection Act,” would Eliminate the State Income Tax on Wage Earners. Instead, the State would Levy a Wage Tax on the Employer. By doing so, the Tax Burden would Shift from Workers, who face New Limits on their ability to Deduct State Income Taxes, to Employers, who could still take full Deductions for such Payroll Taxes. The Legislation would spell out which kinds of Companies would be Eligible for this Treatment. “It may actually reduce the liability because it may bring the worker down to a lower income bracket,” Cuomo said.

The Plan would apply only to Wage Earners. For other Sources of Income, including Investment Gains, the State would continue to Run its Personal Income Tax system, Cuomo said. The State Department of Taxation will spell out more Details Wednesday, he said. Cuomo also said he intends to create State Charitable Funds for Education and Health Care, which would allow Individuals to get State Tax Credits for their Donations. This would Mitigate the Impact of the Federal Tax Plan on High-Income Earners, he said. California and New Jersey Officials are considering similar Proposals.

The Governor also proposed Deferring Tax Credits for Companies that receive $2 Million or more in Credits for One year, which would raise $300 Million in State Revenue, He said. The Federal Tax Changes, which cut the Corporate Tax Rate to 21% from 35%, will more than make up for that change, He said. “They weren’t expecting the tax cut; they got the tax cut,” Cuomo said. “It’ll more than offset the deferral of our credits.”

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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New California Declares Independence from Rest of State

With the Reading of their own version of a Declaration of Independence, Founders of the State of New California took the first steps to what they hope will eventually lead to Statehood. They don't want to leave the United States, just California.

"Well, it's been ungovernable for a long time. High taxes, education, you name it, and we're rated around 48th or 50th from a business climate and standpoint in California," said Founder Robert Paul Preston.

The State of New California would Incorporate most of the State's Rural Counties, leaving the Urban Coastal Counties to the current State of California. "There's something wrong when you have a rural county such as this one, and you go down to Orange County which is mostly urban, and it has the same set of problems, and it happens because of how the state is being governed and taxed," Preston said.

But unlike other Separation movements in the past, the State of New California wants to do things by the Book, citing Article 4, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution and working with the State Legislature to get it done, similar to the way West Virginia was formed.

"Yes. We have to demonstrate that we can govern ourselves before we are allowed to govern," said Founder Tom Reed.

And despite Obstacles, Doubters, and obvious long odds, the group stands united in their Statehood dream. The group is organized with Committees and a Council of County Representatives, but say it will take 10 to 18 Months before they are ready to fully engage with the State Legislature.

This is not the first effort to Split up California. In 2014, Silicon Valley Venture Capitalist Tim Draper submitted Signatures to put a Measure that would Split California in Six separate States.

CLICK HERE for more information about The State of New California.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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Arizona Bill for Closed Primaries

Thanks to Richard Winger of Ballot Access News for this post.

Arizona currently has Semi-Closed Primaries, for offices other than President.

Thomas Ray "T. J." Shope Jr. (R-8th District), the Speaker Pro Tem, and Five other Republican Representatives have introduced HCR 2014.

It would alter the Arizona Constitution to say that Only Registered Members of a Party may Vote in that Party’s Primary, for all office.

If this Bill passes, then the Voters would vote on the idea, because it is a Constitutional Change.

As worded, the Bill violates the Associational Rights of Political Parties that want to let Independents Vote in their Primaries. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1986 that if a Party wants to let Independents vote in its Primary, then the Government cannot Block that Policy.

Ironically, if this Bill became Law, the current law making it extremely difficult for Libertarian Candidates to get on their Own Party’s Primary Ballot would be clearly Unconstitutional.

The Existing Law, which is already being Challenged by the Libertarian Party in the 9th Circuit, says that Libertarian Candidates must obtain Thousands of Signatures to place themselves on a Libertarian Primary Ballot, but that Independent Voters can Sign such Petitions.

If the Law forbade Independent Voters from Voting in a Party Primary, then it seems obvious that the Law could not continue to allow Independents to Sign Primary Petitions.

And if Independents couldn’t Sign Libertarian Primary Petitions, then the Law would make it literally impossible for Libertarians to get on Primary Ballots, because there aren’t enough Registered Libertarians, and the Law would be obviously Unconstitutional.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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NM Bill for Automatic Voter Registration

New Mexico State Senator Daniel Ivey-Soto (D-15th District) has introduced SJR 5. It provides that all Adult Citizens known to Exist would Automatically be Registered to Vote, unless they Decline.

Every person who is a qualified elector pursuant to the constitution and laws of the United States and a citizen thereof shall be qualified to vote in all elections in New Mexico, subject to residency and registration requirements provided by law, except as restricted by statute either by reason of criminal conviction for a felony or by reason of mental incapacity, being limited only to those persons who are unable to mark their ballot and who are concurrently also unable to communicate their voting preference.

The amendment proposed by this resolution shall be submitted to the people for their approval or rejection at the next general election or at any special
election prior to that date that may be called for that purpose.

CLICK HERE to read the Bill.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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PA Supreme Court to Decide if State Congressional District Map is Partisan Gerrymander

Beth Lawn, a Chaplain at a Retirement Community who lives in Chester, PA, is one of 18 Democratic Petitioners challenging the Pennsylvania Congressional District Map. Pennsylvania’s Congressional District Map is often considered one of the most Gerrymandered in the United States, but is it Unconstitutional? And if so, how do you Fix it? This week, the State’s highest Court, made up of Seven Justices, Five Democrats and Two Republicans, will take into account Judge Brobson’s findings and question Attorneys representing both sides.

Those are the central questions the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will weigh when hearing Oral Arguments on Wednesday, Jan. 17th, in a Lawsuit that has the potential to change the State’s Political landscape. The Case was initiated by 18 Voters, all Democrats, and the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania. Plaintiffs claim Republican Lawmakers, who drew the Congressional Map, Violated their State Constitutional Rights, and are requesting the Court to Order the State Legislature to Draw a New Map before the Primary Elections in May. Each of Pennsylvania’s 18 Congressional Seats are up for grabs in the 2018 Midterm Elections.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, with a Majority of Justices Elected as Democrats, expedited Two Cases in November. This lifted a Stay from a Lower Court, and ordered a Fast-Tracked Trial in Commonwealth Court to be concluded before the end of 2017. After hearing a full week of testimony in December, Commonwealth Court Judge Kevin Brobson, Elected as a Republican, found that the Plaintiffs did not prove the Map is Unconstitutional.

In his fact-finding Report, Brobson said that the Plaintiffs showed evidence that Partisan considerations went into making a Map that favors Republican Candidates over Democrats. But he said that Political and Partisan considerations are Permissible when creating Congressional Districts, and that Plaintiffs Failed to prove their Constitutional Rights were Violated. “A lot can and has been said about the 2011 Plan, much of which is unflattering and yet justified,” stated Brobson. “Petitioners, however, have failed to meet their burden in proving that the 2011 Plan, as a piece of legislation, clearly, plainly, and palpably violates the Pennsylvania Constitution.”

At the time of the last Redistricting, Republicans Controlled the State Legislature, Governor’s Office, and Supreme Court. The Map became Law, though, with significant Support from Democrats in the State House, largely from Areas where Incumbent Democrats saw their Seats made safer. Since the 2011 Congressional District Map went into affect, Republicans have maintained a 13 to 5 Seat advantage in the U.S. House of Representatives through Three Election Cycles.

Statewide, Democrats hold a significant advantage in Voter Registration, yet the large Majority of County Governments are controlled by Republicans. In his recommendations and findings, the Judge also said that although the Voters claim the evidence of Partisanship to be “unfair,” they did not present a Manageable Standard for the Court to determine when Permissible Political considerations cross a line into Unconstitutional Partisan considerations.

Mimi McKenzie, Legal Director at the Public Interest Law Center and one of the Attorneys representing the Voters, is optimistic despite her disappointment in the Commonwealth Court Decision. “Even though the case, legally, didn’t come out as we thought it should, I think, factually, there were some really strong findings in our favor,” said McKenzie. “Most significantly is that the judge in the Commonwealth Court found that this map was drawn with intentional discrimination.” McKenzie says there’s no exact line in the sand that needs to be drawn to determine when a Congressional District becomes an Illegal Partisan Gerrymander. By looking at the whole body of evidence presented, She says the Court will be able to recognize that the Map goes too far and Violates the State Constitution. “Lawmakers should not be using partisan criteria like past elections results, period,” says McKenzie. “When the system is rigged against one group of voters vis-a-vie the other that flies in the face of a representative form of government.”

If Plaintiffs are successful, they’re asking the Court to Order Lawmakers and the Governor’s Office to Draw a New Map within Two Weeks that uses Non-Partisan criteria, employing traditional methods of Redistricting such as Compactness, Contiguity, and keeping Communities of Interest together. If that Two-Week deadline isn’t met, Plaintiffs want the Court itself to spearhead the Creation of a New Map.

Before the Trial began, Drew Crompton, Chief of Staff for Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson County), boiled down the Case to it’s essential question: Are the Districts Constitutional? Crompton and Attorneys representing GOP Leaders have maintained the answer is “Yes.” They are calling on the Plaintiffs to Drop their Challenge, citing the $1 Million in Legal Fees they say Taxpayers have incurred thus far to Pay for the State’s Defense. “When they were drawn, they were drawn in accordance with a long legacy of cases decided by the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Crompton.

In the case, the Map, as a piece of Legislation is presumed Constitutional. The burden of proof is on the Attorneys representing the Voters to show otherwise. “We agree with Judge Brobson’s conclusion,” said Steve Miskin, Spokesman for House Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny). “The constitution, the Voting Rights Act was followed when these maps were put together. He questions whether any quantifiable harm has been done to the Voters in the Case. “We believe they have been represented by members of congress,” says Miskin. “They acknowledge that they have been able to vote. They have been able to donate campaign contributions.”

Christopher Borick, a Political Science Professor at Muhlenberg College, says there’s no doubt Partisan Politics went into making the Map, but he’s doubtful the High Court will find the Legal Logic to rule against it. “I think there is a strong, strong case to make that this system is not the best system that could be employed for the people of Pennsylvania. It’s a harder case to make that it is an unconstitutional system,” said Borick. He said the High-Profile Case could have Major implications for Pennsylvania Politics. “This is a big decision for the courts to make in the fact that they are throwing out a system or changing a system that has been in place for a very long time,” said Borick, “While that system is not very popular — to have that done through the judicial process rather than through a legislative process — is a bit risky.”

A Three-Panel Judge in Federal Court upheld Pennsylvania’s Congressional District Map in 2-1 split decision last week. The Judges ruled that the Challengers’ Claim is a Political question inappropriate for the Courts.

Borick sees the current wave of Court challenges as a backlash against the last round of Redistricting, which found Partisans embracing rapid advances in Computer Mapping Technology. “There’s reasonable questions right now, that given some of those technological advances combined with the ways we allow districts to be drawn in many states, that we are simply allowing competition to be pushed out of many districts that would otherwise have more competition,” says Borick.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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ME Referendum Petition for RCV has Three Weeks to Go

The Maine Referendum Petition to save Ranked-Choice Voting (RCV) now has 55,000 Signatures. It needs 61,123 Valid Signatures, which are due in Three weeks.

In November 2016, Maine Voters overwhelmingly voted to implement RCV. But in October 2017 the Legislature voted to Delay the Law until December 2021 and to Repeal it if the Maine Constitution isn’t Amended to deal with Legal concerns raised by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Those actions by Legislators led to a Citizen Petition drive, which if successful will get a People’s Veto to Restore RCV on the June Ballot. The Committee for Ranked Choice Voting has until Feb. 2nd to submit Signatures to the Maine Secretary of State’s Office.

“When people speak as loudly as they did during the election in 2016 about the importance of their democracy, we need to stand up, take notice and do something about it,” Jon Fishman, a drummer, lyricist, and vocalist for the band Phish said. “It is not OK to ignore the will of the people.”

“His presence speaks to the seriousness of all people wanting a democracy that works,” said Kyle Bailey, Campaign Manager for the Committee on Ranked Choice Voting.

Under RCV, Voters rank Candidates in order of preference. If no one had more than 50% of the vote after the first count, the Candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. The process continues until One Candidate achieves a clear Majority and is declared the winner.

Maine’s Constitution calls for Candidates to be Elected by a Plurality, in which the Candidate with the Most Votes Wins, even if it is less than a Majority.

Bailey and Cara Brown-McCormick, the Campaign Treasurer, said Fishman helped collect more than 250 Signatures at Bayside Bowl.

“He (Fishman) contacted us about a week ago and asked how he could help,” Brown-McCormick said. She said Phish recently performed three sold-out concerts at Madison Square Garden in New York. “This is really awesome that he came here to help us,” she said.

Fishman said investing his time and energy in a cause that will benefit his family was well worth the effort. He and his wife moved from Vermont to Lincolnville in 2006 and have five children.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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