SJR 39 fails the constitutional test of balance

he debate over Senate Joint Resolution 39 in the Missouri Legislature has been emblematic of the state of political discussion in America today.

Supporters of the proposal, which would make it legal for certain businesses to discriminate against gay people if they had a religious opposition to same-sex marriage, say they are standing up for religious freedom. If you’re against the bill, they say, you are attacking Christians.

Opponents of the resolution (and I am one) point out that same-sex marriage is the law of the land and that allowing discrimination by certain businesses opens a constitutional Pandora’s box. We sometimes use words like “hateful” to describe the motivations of those on the other side.

There is very little middle ground.

But a group of law professors may have cut through the noise.

Thirteen law professors with expertise in constitutional law, religious freedom and civil rights sent a 10-page memo to Missouri House Democrats that carefully, and with nuanced language, explains how SJR 39 tilts the existing balance between constitutional rights too far in one direction. The Democrats, including the House’s only openly gay member, St. Louis attorney Mike Colona, shared the legal analysis with their Republican colleagues. Enough of them on the House committee considering SJR 39 were influenced by the arguments that a vote on the resolution was delayed.

The memo doesn’t question the motivations of the Republicans who are pushing SJR 39; it doesn’t talk about potential devastating economic consequences as a result of business boycotts. Instead, it asks them to consider the Constitution that so many members of the GOP suggest is their guiding document.

“In the name of promoting religious diversity and freedom of conscience, SJR 39 disrupts the careful balance set forth in the U.S. Constitution, a balance between private religious practice, nonendorsement of religion by the state, and other fundamental rights such as rights to equality and liberty,” wrote the professors, who hail from Washington University, St. Louis University, the University of Missouri-Kansas City and Columbia University.

“It substantially oversteps the limitations on state action set out by the Establishment Clause by privileging religious believers and immunizing them from compliance with laws generally applicable to all other citizens of the state.”

SJR 39, the professors said, “essentially creates an immunity from liability and a license to discriminate in the name of religion.”

Missouri clergy already have rock-solid First Amendment protections in place, the law professors argue. But extending such protections to certain private businesses using overly broad language disrespects the intent of the balance struck by the Founding Fathers.

“By exempting certain religious entities and believers from an obligation to treat all Missourians equally, SJR 39 sacrifices the equality rights of many in order to accommodate the religious preferences of a few,” the professors write.

 (Excerpted from St. Louis Post Dispatch 4/25/16)

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State pays millions to bar Medicaid from Planned Parenthood

Missouri lawmakers passed a budget last week that spends millions in state money to block Planned Parenthood from accessing federal funding.

The plan puts Missouri alongside at least a dozen other states in a national effort to strip public money from the country’s largest abortion provider. The federal government says states don’t have the authority to steer Medicaid funding away from Planned Parenthood, and courts have blocked some of those efforts. But Missouri’s budget writers say eliminating federal dollars from women’s health programs means federal restrictions no longer apply.

The Legislature rejected more than $8.3 million in federal Medicaid funding the state was slated to receive for family planning, sexually transmitted disease testing and pelvic exams at county health departments, other clinics and Planned Parenthood. They replaced it with money from Missouri’s general revenues, leaving the total unchanged at $10.8 million, and stipulated that none of it could go to organizations that provide abortions, as Planned Parenthood does.

Government money cannot fund non-emergency abortions, but states are prohibited from otherwise blocking Medicaid dollars from abortion providers for services such as vaccinations and cancer screenings — a rule the federal government reiterated Tuesday in a letter to state Medicaid directors.

When lawmakers initially proposed blocking Medicaid payments from Planned Parenthood in March, budget staffers estimated less than $400,000 in Medicaid payments go to Missouri’s 13 Planned Parenthood clinics for procedures and drugs.

Planned Parenthood serves more than 50,000 patients per year in Missouri, and about 7,000 of them are on Medicaid, said Sarah Felts, a spokeswoman for the organization. Planned Parenthood will continue accepting Medicaid patients “no matter what,” she said.

Rep. Stacey Newman, a St. Louis Democrat, said it was reckless for the Legislature to refuse more than $8 million from the federal government “just because we feel like it.”

(Excerpted from St. Louis Post Dispatch 4/25/16)

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Republicans finish discrediting their Planned Parenthood investigation

Marsha Blackburn isn’t one to worry about appearances.

The Tennessee Republican didn’t make any pretense this week of being impartial with the committee she chairs, the House Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives, commonly known as the Planned Parenthood committee.

On the eve of her panel’s Wednesday’s hearing, Blackburn went over to Georgetown University to participate in a protest against Planned Parenthood, the very entity she is supposed to be investigating. According to the Right to Life organization, she gave a speech at a gathering called “Life-Affirming Alternatives to Planned Parenthood,” part of a series of events in opposition to Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards’s speech at Georgetown on Wednesday.

Then Blackburn showed up at her committee hearing the next morning and proclaimed, “My hope is that both parties can work together.”

That was probably never going to happen — and it certainly isn’t now that the secret videos that justified the panel’s creation have been discredited as doctored.

House GOP leaders created the panel last year in response to the Planned Parenthood videos that suggested the organization was illegally selling tissue from aborted fetuses to researchers for a profit. But investigations in a dozen states looking into the allegations came up empty. In Houston, a grand jury convened by the county attorney, a Republican, not only cleared Planned Parenthood but indicted the video makers on charges of tampering with a government record.

GOP leaders, in naming Blackburn to lead the Planned Parenthood panel, had hopes of defusing the Democrats’ complaint that the probe was another offensive in the Republicans’ “war on women.” That charge has been easier to make with Donald Trump leading the Republican presidential race — and with several House Republicans on Monday making the extraordinary gesture of voting against a ceremonial bill honoring the first woman to be elected to Congress.

But whatever legitimacy the select panel had left after the videos were discredited has been undermined by Blackburn.

She scheduled the committee’s first hearing for the very day the Supreme Court was holding arguments on the most important abortion case in 24 years. At that hearing, one of Blackburn’s witnesses likened fetal tissue research — a legal practice in the United States — to the experiments of Nazi scientist Josef Mengele, saying the two are “maybe” equivalent. Blackburn, in her opening statement, drew the same comparison and invoked the Nuremberg Code.

Then came Wednesday’s hearing, the panel’s second. Blackburn gave an opening statement mentioning the buying and selling of “baby body parts” no fewer than seven times.

And the evidence that abortion clinics profit from the sale of these body parts? That would be in “Exhibit G,” handed out by Blackburn’s staff. “The AC [abortion clinic] has no costs so the payments from the PB [procurement business] to the AC are pure profit,” it said.

But this incendiary “exhibit” — asserting that any abortion clinic that receives any payment for fetal tissue is breaking the law — turned out to be not evidence but an undocumented claim by the Republican staff.

“I think that these exhibits were created from whole cloth,” said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) a member of the panel. She objected to the use of the exhibits, claiming they violated House rules. Republicans moved to table her objection and prevailed on a party-line vote.

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) tried again. He raised a parliamentary inquiry about how the “pure profit” conclusion was reached — particularly because it was contradicted by three other exhibits that appeared to document activities performed by abortion clinics in the tissue sales that have associated costs.

Blackburn declared that there was “no discrepancy” and that the documents “come from the investigative work” of staffers.

The doubts about the videos and the unsupported “exhibit” did not stop the majority on the panel and their witnesses from relying on both. “Gruesome revelations came from a series of videos,” declared Michael Norton, one of the witnesses. “It was clear from the videos that Planned Parenthood had been actively engaged in harvesting and trafficking, for profit, body parts of babies whose lives Planned Parenthood had ended.”

Another majority witness, Catherine Glenn Foster, cited the “undercover videos” and the “evidence presented by this panel.”

Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) spoke about how the “select panel investigation reveals” that “abortion clinics are incurring no costs” — and therefore reaping profits from fetal tissue.

And Kenneth Sukhia, yet another witness for the majority, said the discredited videos provide “corroborative evidence” that Planned Parenthood broke the law, saying “it doesn’t matter” that statements in the video were selectively edited.

It doesn’t matter?

After doctored videos, unsubstantiated “exhibits” and political moonlighting by Blackburn, those assessing the panel’s relevance will conclude just that.

(Excerpted from Washington Post 4/21/16)

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Debunking Republican Health Care Myths

Disaster.” “Incredible economic burden.” “The biggest job-killer in this country.”

Central to the presidential campaigns of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz has been the claim that the Affordable Care Act has been a complete failure, and that the only way to save the country from this scourge is to replace it with something they design.

It’s worth examining the big myths they are peddling about the Affordable Care Act and also their ill-conceived plans of what might replace it.

Millions of people have lost their insurance: In January, Mr. Cruz claimed that “millions of Americans” had lost their health insurance because of the health reform law. He even claimed to be one of them, saying “our health care got canceled” because Blue Cross Blue Shield left the individual market in Texas.

Insurers did stop offering some plans after the law took effect, including those that didn’t provide required benefits like maternity care or that charged higher premiums to older or sicker people. But people with those plans had the opportunity to sign up for others. And over all, the law has drastically reduced the number of Americans who lack health insurance. According to the Census Bureau, the number of uninsured Americans dropped by 10 million between 2010, when the law passed, and 2014. While critics said employers might stop offering health insurance because of the law, three million people actually gained coverage through their employers between 2010 and 2014.

Incidentally, Mr. Cruz never lost his health insurance. Blue Cross Blue Shield did cancel his particular plan, but it automatically moved him and his family to a new one. A Cruz spokeswoman said the senator had been misinformed by his insurance broker.

Millions of people have lost their jobs: Mr. Cruz has called the Affordable Care Act “the biggest job-killer in this country” and said “millions of Americans have lost their jobs, have been forced into part-time work” because of it. This is false. The unemployment rate has fallen since the law took effect, PolitiFact notes, as has the number of people working part time when they would rather work full time. A 2015 study using data from the Current Population Survey found that the law “had virtually no adverse effect on labor force participation, employment or usual hours worked per week through 2014.”

Reduce costs by weakening state regulations: Mr. Trump frequently talks about his plan to “get rid of the lines around the states” to foster competition among insurance companies. Customers in states where insurance is heavily regulated, the thinking goes, would be able to save money if they could purchase coverage from insurers based in states with fewer rules. Mr. Cruz, too, supports allowing people to buy insurance across state borders — it’s one of the few proposals he’s offered for replacing the health law if it is repealed.

But the biggest obstacle stopping insurers from setting up in more states is not regulation; it’s the difficulty of establishing a network of providers in a new market. And such a structure would destroy the longstanding ability of states to regulate health insurance for their populations. Some states, for instance, require coverage for infertility treatment and others have chosen not to. Allowing cross-border plans would encourage insurers to base themselves in low-regulation states, and the result might be a proliferation of poor-quality plans.

The law has helped millions of Americans, especially low-wage workers like cashiers, cooks and waiters who previously struggled to pay for coverage. In inventing problems that don’t exist and proposing solutions that won’t help, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz show that they don’t care about helping Americans get health care, which has never been their interest. They want to trash the Affordable Care Act, and they’re willing to mislead the public any way they can.

(Excerpted from New York Times 4/19/16)

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Obamacare Seems to Be Reducing People’s Medical Debt

Even if you lack health insurance, you’ll probably be able to get treatment at a hospital in the event of a catastrophe — you’re struck by a car, say. But having insurance can mean the difference between financial security and financial ruin.

A new study is showing that, by giving health insurance to low-income people, Obamacare seems to have cut down on their debt substantially. It estimates that medical debt held by people newly covered by Medicaid since 2014 has been reduced by about $600 to $1,000 each year.

The study, published Monday as a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research, builds on earlier evidence from Oregon and Massachusetts that offering health insurance to low-income Americans can help them avoid debt and financial shocks.

Robert Kaestner, one of the authors of the new study, said he and his co-authors think the financial impacts of Medicaid could have cascading effects for the program’s beneficiaries. Previous research has linked hospitalizations among the uninsured to higher risk of bankruptcy, unpaid bills and a lowered credit score.

“Financial distress has many subsequent consequences,” said Mr. Kaestner, a professor of health economics at the University of Illinois. “If people are skipping bills and going into debt, then it can have other repercussions — for example you lose your car, you fall behind on rent.”

The authors pointed out that the lower debt burden for the newly insured indirectly helps other people. The credit reports also track debt and unpaid bills outside of health care. The insurance coverage means more bills are paid to doctors and hospitals — but also to banks, utility companies and landlords.

Those financial ripples often receive less attention than the health law’s more obvious effects on people’s access to health care. But they are also an important effect of the law.

(Excerpted from New York Times 4/21/16)

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Legislation by Stealth, Republican Style

This is a story about how certain business interests and the Republican Party are using these stealth tactics to steer legislation they want through the legislative process, both at the state and at the federal level.

Let’s start with a notorious recent example of this strategy.

Under intense pressure from conservative and Christian rights groups angered by a Charlotte city ordinance that barred discrimination against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender men and women, the Republican-dominated North Carolina General Assembly set a special March 23 session to enact a so-called bathroom bill aimed at transgender men and women specifically. The measure requires people to use public bathrooms, as well as locker rooms, based on the gender listed on their birth certificate.

Throughout the day, legislators, lobbyists and reporters scrambled to figure out what was actually in the 2,835 word measure.

As it turned out, there was a lot more in the bill than the nullification of the Charlotte ordinance. In fact, it took days of research by reporters and local groups in North Carolina to confirm, for example, that workers who claimed that they had been fired because of race or gender discrimination had lost their right of redress in state courts. Instead, they would have to take their claims to federal courts and agencies where, as ProPublica wrote on April 5, “access is more difficult, the rules are much more complicated, and businesses often have significant advantages.”

In addition, the anti-L.G.B.T. bathroom legislation bars cities and counties from enacting minimum wage, workplace discrimination and public accommodation laws that go farther than state law, which sets the minimum wage in North Carolina at $7.25 an hour.

From his statements and actions since the L.G.B.T. state bill was enacted, it is not clear whether Governor McCrory, the state’s chief executive, understood the full scope of the measure he signed.

Of course, legislative sleight-of-hand takes place at every level of government. Republicans in the House are using a variation on the stealth tactic, seeking to capitalize on strong, bipartisan support for the pending Sentencing Reform Act of 2015 to attach provisions long sought by business and conservative groups eager to limit prosecution of executives and corporations.

(Excerpted from New York Times 4/20/16)

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Missouri Sen. Kurt Schaefer’s bullying on abortion rights wears thin

Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer loves the limelight. That’s common among political candidates lusting for higher office; Schaefer wants to be the state’s next attorney general.

In recent months Schaefer has tried to get plenty of attention, polishing his ultra-conservative credentials with the Republican crowd in the Show-Me State.

His weapon: bullying attacks on abortion rights for women.

His targets: Planned Parenthood and the University of Missouri.

But a few funny things have happened in recent days to Schaefer. They offer up the hope that Missourians are wising up to the dangerous games he’s playing.

▪ Planned Parenthood officials have revealed how they are going to fight back against attempts by Schaefer and the committee he leads to hold a top official of the organization in contempt of the Senate.

Mary Kogut — the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri — wants to face potential witnesses against her in next Monday’s scheduled contempt hearing.

This is a trumped-up matter by Schaefer and other Republicans who are continuing years of attempts to end legal abortions in Missouri.

It would be the height of absurdity for the Senate to go through with this farce to find Kogut and a pathology lab owner, James Miller, in contempt for not releasing six years — that’s right, six years — worth of files to lawmakers.

If jail time is the result of this gamesmanship, Schaefer might look like a hero to a few people for political reasons. But Missouri would look like a backward state that can’t get its priorities straight.

And in the long run, trampling on the legal system in a trivial attack on Planned Parenthood could backfire on Schaefer and deep-six his attorney general campaign.

▪ Schaefer’s attack on the freedom of academic research in Missouri recently earned him “runner up” status in the 25th annual Jefferson Muzzles, a contest run by the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression.

The nonpartisan, nonprofit organization in Virginia hands out awards to “institutions and individuals responsible for committing some of the more egregious and ridiculous affronts to free speech in the prior year.” The finalists will be named Wednesday.

Late last year, Schaefer used his bully pulpit to threaten the University of Missouri by trying to get documents “related to a research project in which a doctoral student in the university’s School of Social Work is gauging the impact of Missouri’s new law requiring women to wait 72 hours before obtaining an abortion,” as The Star’s Barb Shelly wrote.

Schaefer thought he could bully the student and MU officials into stopping the research; Missouri law prohibits using tax revenues to do anything that could encourage women to have abortions.

As the Jefferson Center pointed out:

“The lawmaker’s assertion raises so many questions it is hard to know where to begin. One that comes to mind is how does he know the effect or impact of a dissertation that hasn’t even been written yet?….

“That Sen. Schaefer attempted to silence the expression of views he does not agree with is troubling, but to use his office to inject politics into academia is particularly disturbing. Academic inquiry requires the freedom to explore any theme, concept, or idea. Sen. Schaefer appears to believe academic freedom extends only to those studies that politicians believe will support their political views.”

Yes, that’s the Kurt Schaefer we’ve come to know. His bullying act is wearing thin.

(Excerpted from Kansas City Star 4/18/16)

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Don’t look now, but another state is trying to punish women for having abortions Missouri is adding its name to a growing list of red states advancing draconian anti-abortion measures

While Democrats are hectoring each other over the Bernie-versus-Hillary fracas, state-level Republicans are busily rolling back LGBT rights, voting right and, most obviously, reproductive rights. Choosing a president is serious work to be sure, but when 23 states are entirely controlled by Republicans, with an additional seven state legislatures controlled by the GOP but thwarted by Democratic governors, it seems as if a re-calibration of priorities is in order. This goes especially for anyone — Bernie supporters or Hillary supporters — who choose to stay home in November because their favorite presidential candidate didn’t secure the nomination. Such nearsighted foot-stomping entire ignores down-ballot races where all of these nightmarish bills are being easily passed into law.

First, it’s important to establish just how unhinged the Missouri Republicans are, and we need’nt look any further than the existence of the state Senate’s “Sanctity of Life” committee. Perhaps someone ought to inform the committee’s chairman, Republican Kurt Schaefer, that the state’s attorney general already investigated Planned Parenthood and found no evidence of any wrongdoing. Frankly, it doesn’t appear as if Chairman Schaefer really cares about whether his state previously cleared Planned Parenthood of any grisly illegalities, especially when there are charges to falsify and, yes, lists of names to compile.

It turns out Schaefer’s “Sanctity of Life” committee is forcing Planned Parenthood and other clinics to turn over lists of names of women who’ve had legal abortions in Missouri between 2010 and 2015. Various officials with clinics across Missouri are facing contempt charges if they don’t turn over the medical records — which, by the way, would violate the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

It gets worse.

Just last month, the Missouri House passed a bill requiring that underage girls receive parental consent from both parents before having an abortion. (Current law demands only one parent.) Furthermore, despite the state’s attorney general finding no evidence of illegal fetus tissue harvesting, the Missouri House voted last week to ban fetal tissue donation.

So, yes, let’s make sure we completely vet the two Democratic candidates for president, but it’s almost equally as important to keep tabs on what’s happening at the state level since stuff like Missouri is going on all the time, and it’s being done with little protest or national attention, be it from the traditional press or online activists ensconced in the political internet. And, in terms of Trump’s threat to punish women, it’s already happening in Missouri and elsewhere. The GOP’s chorus of mea culpas about punishment ought to ring hollow to anyone following state politics where women (as well as LGBT citizens and minority voters) are facing a worsening inquisition by overzealous Republicans.

(Excerpted from Salon 4/18/16 )
 

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An urgent case for civic engagement

I doubt many minds or many votes were changed at Wednesday night’s forum for legislative candidates.

For one thing, it was a small crowd. Only about 30 of us gathered at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Shepard Boulevard. For another, although all candidates were invited, only the Democrats showed up.

The real significance of the event, I thought, was simply that it happened. The sponsors were the local chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and the Minority Men’s Network.

When I chatted with Steve Calloway and Wiley Miller, two stalwarts of the network, before the questioning, they told me they had two goals, both long-term. The first was to educate candidates about the special needs of the African-American community. The second was to engage that community more deeply in the political process.

Both the facts presented by the questioners and the responses of the candidates demonstrated the urgent need for change and the depressingly long odds against it.

Stephen Webber, a veteran of both the United States Marine Corps and four terms in the state House of Representatives, pointed out that Democrats are in a “super minority” in the legislature, with too few votes even to uphold vetoes by Gov. Jay Nixon. He’s running to succeed Republican Kurt Schaefer as our state senator.

His opponent is current 44th District Rep. Caleb Rowden. Rep. Webber noted that Rep. Rowden chose the legislative softball game over the forum. He also noted several of the Republican policy stances that hit minority populations especially hard.

One is the recent tightening of eligibility standards for food stamps. Another is the persistent refusal to broaden Medicaid eligibility. A third, stressed by several candidates, is the ongoing failure to fully fund the formula that supports, or should support, the public schools.

Susan McClintic, another long-time teacher who is running against Rep. Chuck Basye in the 47th District, was eloquent on the importance of education for all, but especially minority, students.

Tom Pauley, running a second time in the 44th District, and Kip Kendrick, unopposed for re-election in the 45th District, both emphasized the disproportionate impact of the Republican push for a state-issued voter identification to replace the current array of acceptable forms of identification at the polls.

“There is no voter fraud,” Pauley insisted. “The whole idea is to keep minorities from voting.”

Both incumbents also urged the importance of campaign finance reform. As Rep. Webber said, “Elections are being stolen by billionaires with million-dollar campaign contributions; not by in-person voter fraud.”

(Excerpted from Missourian 4/16/16)

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Missouri Senate budget would strip Medicaid funding from Planned Parenthood

The state Senate has joined the House in proposing a budget that would defund organizations that provide abortions.  Planned Parenthood is the only one in Missouri.

Senator Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia) told Senator Jill Schupp (D-Creve Coeur) that the state’s not paying Planned Parenthood anymore. He said Missourians can go other places that provide the same services, except for abortions.

“That’s right. So we are not utilizing $8 million of the federal dollars for this. We’re instead using $8 million of our own general revenue for this in order to ensure that Planned Parenthood is not able to take Medicaid patients because they will not be reimbursed from these funds,” said Schupp.

“That’s exactly what we’re doing,” said Schaefer.

“You are going to keep women, particularly low-income women, from getting the service they need by putting this in the budget this way,” said Schupp.

(Excerpted from Missouri Net 4/8/16 )

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The passing of our friend and colleague, Peg Miller

It is with profound sadness that I must inform our Democratic community
of the passing of our friend and colleague, Peg Miller. Peg passed away
in her home yesterday. Peg was a devoted worker and a thoughtful and
loyal Democrat. We will miss her.

No further information is available at this time

Homer Page

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Supreme Court Affirms One Person, One Vote

A unanimous Supreme Court in Evenwel v. Abbott (with two Justices (Thomas and Alito) concurring in the judgment) has rejected the argument that states must draw district lines so as to equalize the total number of voters (as opposed to total population) in redistricting.

A contrary ruling would have shifted power to Republican, rural districts, and away from Democratic urban areas (because non-citizens and children, especially in Latino areas in states such as Texas would be in Democratic areas). Most importantly, in a big victory for the federal government’s position in the litigation, the Court did not say that a state can simply choose between doing total population or total voters in how district lines are drawn. Some expected that if the Court gave Texas the green light to choose, as Texas argued it had the right to do in this litigation, then in the next round of redistricting, it would have done so in order to increase the number of Republican districts in the state.

Justice Ginsburg wrote the opinion for the Court. Justice Ginsburg’s opinion holds that districting using total population was consistent with constitutional history, the Court’s own decisions, and longstanding practice. A long section of Justice Ginsburg’s opinion recounts constitutional history, and relies on the fact that for purposes of apportioning Congressional seats among states, total population, not total voters, must be used.

Finally, Justice Ginsburg gives a sound policy reason for a total population rule. In key language, she writes that “Nonvoters have an important stake in many policy debates—children,, their parents, even their grandparents, for example, have a stake in a strong public-education system—and in receiving constituent services, such as help navigating public-benefits bureaucracies. By ensuring that each representative is subject to requests and suggestions from the same number of constituents, total population apportionment promotes equitable and effective representation.” A footnote following this states that even though constituents “have no constitutional right to equal access to the their elected representatives,” a state “certainly has an interest in taking reasonable, nondiscriminatory steps to facilitate access for all its residents.”

(Excerpted from Election Law Blog 4/04/16)

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Religious liberty is no justification for anti-gay discrimination

In vetoing Georgia’s so-called religious liberty bill on Monday, Gov. Nathan Deal eloquently expressed compassion for those who would be targeted for discrimination if it became law. Georgia’s bill, similar to one progressing through Missouri’s Legislature, sought to allow faith-based organizations to deny service to same-sex couples based on religious belief.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, should be no less passionate in his condemnations as his Republican Baptist counterpart in Georgia if Senate Joint Resolution 39 wins passage in this state. Nixon has vetoed such legislation in the past, but if approved, SJR 39 would bypass his desk and go straight to Missouri voters for approval.

Lawmakers should let this measure die, as business leaders and human rights advocates across Missouri have urged.

The measure would enshrine discrimination in the Missouri constitution by giving businesses the right to refuse to serve same-sex couples. Individuals with a “sincere religious belief” would be exempt from providing “goods or services of expressional or artistic creation” to celebrations of same-sex weddings

Georgia’s Deal said earlier in the year that he would reject legislation that “allows discrimination in our state in order to protect people of faith.” He encouraged fellow Republicans to “recognize that the world is changing around us

“Our people work side by side without regard to the color of our skin, or the religion we adhere to,” he said in vetoing the bill. “We are working to make life better for our families and communities.”

The religious-faith exception is a slippery slope best left untested. It’s the same bogus argument that segregationists used to justify bans on mixed-race marriages in the 1960s.

Missouri lawmakers should heed the wise words of Georgia’s governor and make Missouri a welcoming place for all.

(Excerpted from St. Louis Today 4/02/16 )

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Trump, Cruz vow to undo Obama environmental work

GOP presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are pledging to undo several Obama administration climate efforts and block future work on global warming if elected this fall.

In responding to a survey from the American Energy Alliance, both candidates said they would undo major Obama-era Environmental Protection Agency rules on clean water and power plant carbon emissions, with Trump saying, “under my administration, all EPA rules will be reviewed.”

Both candidates said they oppose a carbon tax, a policy Obama has praised but not pushed while president.
“The observed temperature evidence does not support the claims that carbon dioxide is dangerous,” Cruz wrote in his questionnaire.

The two said they would also reassess the Obama administration’s finding that carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases are harmful to the public. That decision is the basis for EPA rule-making on greenhouse gas emissions.

Both candidates have previously said they doubt the science behind climate change and have promised to undo what Obama has done on the issue.

(Excerpted from The Hill 3/31/16)

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Expanding Medicaid can help Missouri treat mental illness and substance use disorders.

The Obama administration says there’s new evidence expanding Medicaid can help states treat mental illness and substance use disorders. The Health and Human Services Department says in 2014, there were 1.9 million people low income, uninsured people living with mental illness in states that haven’t expanded Medicaid.
The agency says there were 91,000 low-income people in Missouri in 2014 with mental illness or substance use disorders.

About a third of the people who would benefit from expanded coverage had one of these conditions.

Only 16 percent of uninsured Missourians were able to get treatment for these conditions in the time period the government studied.

HHS says people with serious mental illness are 30 percent more likely to receive treatment if covered by Medicaid, and the department estimates 17,000 fewer Missourians would struggle with the symptoms of depression if the state expanded coverage.

“Medicaid is coverage that’s there when you need it. And whether you’re someone who needs preventive care to prevent a behavioral health condition from worsening or who needs more acute services, medicaid coverage would be available in states that expand to help people meet those needs,” says the Vice President of Marketing at CoxHealth, Jim Anderson

Although several states with Republican governors and legislatures have expanded Medicaid, Missouri Republican lawmakers have held strong in their opposition.

(Excerpted from Ozark First 3/28/16)

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Moon pushes anti-abortion bill opponents call “extreme”

Rep. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, is pushing for a change to the state’s constitution that would give unborn children “the right to life.”

Opponents say Moon’s measure instead is aimed at making abortion illegal in Missouri. They say the proposal would the muddy the legal waters in such a way that it could block the use of some common contraceptives.

A House panel on Tuesday heard testimony on the joint resolution. If passed by the General Assembly — joint resolutions don’t require the governor’s signature — the resolution would be put on the November general election ballot.

Opponents who testified said similar resolutions proposed in other states have failed, either because they were blocked in the legislature, were rejected by voters at the ballot box or because they were challenged deemed unconstitutional by state courts.

Moon’s measure, too, is unconstitutional, said Sarah Rossi, director of advocacy and policy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri.

“At every stage of the process, at some point (such laws are) either considered by the state legislature or the voters or the courts as unconstitutional and in direct conflict with the U.S. Constitution and (U.S.) Supreme Court precedent,” Rossi said in testimony Tuesday.

Pamela Merritt, a member of the St. Louis Reproductive Justice Table, a pro-choice advocacy group, said it is unclear what would happen to women’s reproductive rights in Missouri if Moon’s measure does pass. But the “implications are clear” that it could make it harder for women to access abortions and some forms of birth control, she told the News-Leader after the hearing.

(Excerpted from Springfield News Leader 3/29/16)

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Democratic officials, unions speak against union-fees bill

Some of Missouri’s top Democrats slammed a vetoed bill that would require public employees to give annual written consent before union dues could be withheld from their paychecks, saying during a rally Wednesday at the Capitol that it would hurt unions and add unnecessary regulations.

Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the measure earlier this month, but the GOP-led Legislature could try to override him to enact the bill into law before the session ends on May 13.

“This is just another attempt to erode the hard-fought rights that form the foundation of the American middle class,” Nixon said to a crowd of hundreds gathered on the Capitol lawn. He was joined by Attorney General Chris Koster, who is running to replace term-limited Nixon, and U.S. Senate candidate and Secretary of State Jason Kander, both Democrats.

Nixon twice before vetoed legislation to change the rules for unions, which represent about 257,000 workers or nearly 10 percent of the state workforce, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That figure does not give a breakdown for how many workers are at private companies versus public entities.

(Excerpted from News Tribune 3/30/16)

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The Supreme Court Threat To Gut Public Sector Unions Is Dead

Today, the Supreme Court handed down a 4-4 split decision in the case Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, affirming a lower court ruling in support of workers who have joined together to work for better wages and benefits that help them sustain their families. The decision came in the form of a single-sentence order, which said the decision of a lower court rejecting this effort to defund public sector unions “is affirmed by an equally divided court.” Even as Republicans plan new attempts to undermine unions and American workers, today’s ruling provides some relief to the more than 7 million public sector workers that enjoy the many economic benefits associated with union membership.

Anti-union lawmakers and conservative organizations in states across the country have long been fighting to erode the power of unions by advancing so-called right-to-work laws that inhibit workers from collectively bargaining for better wages, benefits, and protections under the guise of ‘choice.’ Friedrichs was a partisan attempt to impose a right-to-work standard on all public sector employees, which could have dealt a harmful blow to already-struggling public-employee unions.

Specifically at issue in Friedrichs was whether non-members who receive the benefits of union representation should be required to pay their fair share of the costs of obtaining the benefits of being in a union. The Supreme Court’s split decision means an almost 40-year-old decision protecting public sector unions from Abood v. Detroit Board of Education remains standing.

the Supreme Court’s split decision is a fresh reminder of Senate Republicans obstruction around the Court vacancy. More split decisions like today’s could create chaos and confusion by leading to different laws impacting people in different parts of the country. At best, the Supreme Court will never actually be able to rule on key issues facing our country instead leaving lower court decisions standing. With more than 100 million Americans who will be affected by cases currently before the Court, the stakes are too high.

BOTTOM LINE: One of the best ways to raise wages for middle-class workers is through strong unions and today’s Supreme Court decision supports the millions of workers who have joined together to work for better wages and benefits. But the Court’s split decision shines a light on the high stakes of an eight member Supreme Court and the need for Senate Republicans to fulfill their constitutional duty of considering the president’s nominee.

(Excerpted from Think Progress 3/29/16)

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Missouri’s religious liberty bill could cost millions in economic activity

A proposed religious liberty bill in Missouri could end up costing the state more than $50 million annually in lost business and revenue, according to the Kansas City Sports Commission.

The bill — a proposed constitutional amendment that has already passed the state Senate — would protect religious organizations from penalties related to refusing to host or perform a same-sex marriage ceremony.

[Kansas City Sports Commission President and CEO Kathy Nelson said]”The proposed constitutional amendment will have a detrimental effect on our ability to attract future sports business to Missouri and terminate the millions of dollars of visitor spending our sports industry generates on a yearly basis,”

The Commission estimates that major national amateur and professional sporting events hosted in Missouri’s biggest city generates $51 million for Kansas City each year and $3 million in annual state tax revenue. Kansas City hosts an average of eight championships every year.

Some or all of that could disappear should lawmakers pass the bill, the Commission argues, as sports teams, college conferences and governing bodies choose to hold events in states whose laws are more reflective of their own inclusive corporate policies.

While they have not outright declined to hold events in Missouri, the leaders of several collegiate organizations have issued statements about the proposed bill, noting that local laws play a role in host site selection.

That list includes Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby:

The Big 12 Conference and its member institutions support the rights of all individuals regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation. It is acknowledged that elected officials enact laws they believe reflect the desires of their constituents, however, as a Conference we will consider the impact of the Missouri Legislature’s action on current and future Big 12 events within the state.

And Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey:

Our conference championship events are an extension of our universities which are places of diversity and opportunity. We are attentive to this legislative matter as we continue our policy of considering numerous factors in determining sites for our championship events.

It also includes the NCAA, which said in a statement reported by the Kansas City Star:

Our commitment to the fair treatment of all individuals, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, has not changed and is at the core of our NCAA values. It is our expectation that all people will be welcomed and treated with respect in cities that host our NCAA championships and events.

(Excerpted from Washington Post 3/29/16)

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The poisonous conservative thinking that caused the Flint crisis

In a hearing week about the poisonous water in Flint, Mich., Rep. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter (R-Ga.) tried to blame the lead-tainted water on the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy explained that, under the law Congress passed, states are in charge of enforcing drinking-water standards.

“The law?” Carter replied, contemptuously. “The law? I don’t think anybody here cares about the law.”

It was an awkward and inadvertent moment of truth. Congress has hamstrung the federal government, giving states the authority to enforce drinking-water standards and all but eliminating the EPA’s power to intervene. This is a pure expression of the conservative doctrine of federalism: States handle things better than the feds because they are closer to the people.

But then came the debacle in Flint, when Michigan authorities embraced cost-saving changes in the city’s water supply and caused mass lead poisoning. Now members of Congress are blaming the EPA for failing to stop the problem — oblivious to the irony that they and their predecessors were the ones who denied the federal government the ability to enforce drinking-water standards in the first place.

It’s a vicious cycle: Washington devolves power to the states. When states screw up, conservatives blame the federal government, worsening the public’s already shaky faith. Having tied the hands of the feds — in this case, the EPA — they use the failure as justification to restrict federal power further, thus giving more control to the states, which caused the problem in the first place.

Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the EPA takes a back seat to state regulators. Even if the EPA finds evidence that water is unsafe, it can’t take action until it can prove that a problem is widespread — and until it gives a state time to fix the problem.

In Flint’s case, an official appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder (R) decided in 2013 to save money by changing the water supply, with disastrous results. The EPA had no say. It got wind of the trouble early in 2015, but, by the time it could meet the law’s requirements to take action, Michigan had already switched Flint back to its original water supply.’

“Congress was very clear in the law and also in the congressional record that they wanted us to keep in our lane and they didn’t want us to step on states’ rights,” McCarthy testified.

(Excerpted from Washington Post 3/18/16)

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