April 1, 2019
Red Flag Laws: Examining Guidelines for State Action
The Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing, March 26, 2019
On March 26, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing entitled “Red Flag Laws: Examining Guidelines for State Action.” Witnesses included representatives from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Brady (formerly Brady Campaign), and the Independence Institute. Additionally, the committee heard testimony from a Palm Beach County sheriff and a Seattle prosecuting attorney. Their full titles and testimonies can be found at this link:
The purpose of the hearing was to discuss gun violence and the need for extreme risk laws (previously called “red flag” laws). The laws provide an additional tool to prevent gun violence, and Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham said that he thought that there could be bipartisan support for these laws.
State extreme risk laws typically include extreme risk protection orders (ERPOs), which allow family members, law enforcement, or others to petition a court to temporarily block the purchase of, or remove firearms from, those identified as posing imminent danger to themselves or to others. Current state extreme risk laws differ in terms of requirements and procedures and there have been discussions about developing a national model for state extreme risk laws. However, no such model currently exists.
Those who testified expressed a need for extreme risk laws to address areas including:
Impressive data exist on how effective these laws have been in the states where they exist, especially in preventing suicides. Nearly half of all suicide deaths in the US are committed with firearms, and states that have enacted extreme risk laws have successfully reduced their suicide rates. Also, it is thought that if extreme risk laws had been in effect in some states where mass shootings occurred, a number of the shootings could have been prevented.
Chairman Graham expressed the view that federal involvement in extreme risk laws should consist of incentives for states to enact these laws. There are currently 14 states and the District of Columbia that have passed these laws. In alphabetical order, the states are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. Both Senator Marco Rubio (S. 7) and Senator Dianne Feinstein (S. 506) have introduced legislation in support of extreme risk protection orders. See the links below for the texts of these bills.
Beth Merricks, Member, PPC Task Force to Prevent Gun Violence
February 25, 2019
We know how to make voting fair and accessible! Just look at Oregon
In a February session of the Center for American Progress, Oregon governor Kate Brown described her state’s modern, effective procedures for both voter registration and voting.
First she described how Oregon now automatically registers people to vote when they get their drivers’ licenses. Citizens can opt out of this registration, but need to make the choice of doing so. As the Department of Motor Vehicles examines license applicants’ citizenship, fraudulent registration is not an issue.
The result of this automatic voter registration is a huge increase in registered voters. This, in turn, frees up time and resources for voter turnout. Voter turnout does indeed go up. Recent OR elections showed a strong increase in numbers of actual voters, even though the number of registered voters remained the same. The model is so successful that New York is considering its adoption.
Governor Brown also described Oregon’s “vote at home” program — their term for “vote by mail.” This program has mixed results for increasing turnout in general elections, but is clearly positive in local elections. However, she advises shifting to this system only gradually. It does represent culture change and should be done slowly to gain familiarity and trust in the method. For example, in Oregon, they initially used the program only on ballot initiatives and a special election, but these small steps were so positively evaluated that even the Republican state legislature wished to expand the initiative.
Voting at home saves 20-30% of the costs of an election, she notes, and is particularly helpful with the problem of college voters needing to register in their new location. Early opponents of the program argued that it undermined the civic culture of public polling places. However, families and communities now are having “ballot parties” to discuss the ballot, which actually energizes citizens even more. Brown is so committed to the program that she has added free ballot postage to the new state budget. She believes this will be particularly helpful for rural voters with less access to ballot drop boxes, and young voters who tend not to have stamps handy.
Clearly we have the models and the technology to make voting much more accessible. However, we need strong Secretaries of State, combined with dedication of adequate resources, to make this happen.
–Melinda Burrell, Chair, PPC GOTV/Elections Task Force
February 18, 2019
IN BRIEF: TRUMP DECLARES NATIONAL EMERGENCY
On February 15, President Trump declared a national emergency to fund the border wall and deliver on one of his key campaign promises. Just one day prior he signed a bipartisan bill that includes $1.375 billion for 55 miles of border barriers in the Rio Grande Valley.
The additional funds Trump seeks in his declaration include $3.6 billion from the military construction budget, $2.5 billion from a defense department drug interdiction program, and $600 million from the Treasury Department’s forfeiture funds account.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer issued a joint statement strongly condemning the action, saying that “The President’s actions clearly violate the Congress’s exclusive power of the purse, which our Founders enshrined in the Constitution. The Congress will defend our constitutional authorities in the Congress, in the Courts, and in the public, using every remedy available.”
It is likely that the House will act swiftly to pass a resolution denouncing the emergency declaration. The Senate would have 18 days to vote on the resolution. The President could then veto the measure, which would require a two-thirds vote by the House and Senate to override. Pelosi and Schumer’s joint statement include a call to action for their “Republican colleagues to join us to defend the Constitution.”
Public Citizen has already filed a lawsuit against Trump and Patrick Shanahan, Acting Secretary of Defense, on behalf of affected Texas landowners and an environmental organization. The complaint states that “a disagreement between the President and Congress about how to spend money does not constitute an emergency authorizing unilateral executive action. The Declaration and the planned expenditure of Department of Defense funds for construction of the wall exceed President Trump’s authority under the National Emergencies Act, other statutes invoked by the President as authority to fund the wall, and the Constitution.”
Other complaints are certain to be filed, including from the ACLU and the state of California.
Trump anticipated this pushback in his announcement from the White House Rose Garden on Friday. The President’s remarks included, “… and we will then be sued, and they will sue us in the Ninth Circuit, even though it shouldn’t be there, and we will possibly get a bad ruling and then we will get another bad ruling, and then we will end up in the Supreme Court, and hopefully we will get a fair shake and win in the Supreme Court, just like the ban.”
Indeed, there can be no surety that the courts will rule that the declaration is unconstitutional. And, the President could veto a resolution passed by Congress, if the resolution would even pass in the Senate in the first place.
One thing is certain – that the public can voice its opposition through organizing demonstrations and calling on their representatives and senators in Congress to act.
–Kristina Groennings, Chair, PPC Task Force on Legal and Constitutional Issues
February 14, 2019
WE’LL NEVER FORGET PARKLAND FLORIDA:
IN REMEMBRANCE OF THE HORRIFIC SHOOTINGS AT MARJORY STONEMAN DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL ONE YEAR AGO TODAY
On February 14, 2018, 17 students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, were massacred at the hands of a young assailant who carried a deeply troubled past and a military-style assault weapon. As with the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School and so many other mass shootings at schools and other public places, the carnage abruptly terminated the promising futures of young victims and shattered the lives of those left behind. And yet, Congress has done nothing to prevent the next bloodbath – until now, and that is largely due to the vital role the student activists at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have played.
In the aftermath of the MSD mass shooting, students there began an effective activist movement. Due to their persistence, we have witnessed a cultural shift away from the NRA and toward gun reform as a top electable issue, as seen this past November when so many House candidates ran and won on the issue of gun safety. For the first time in almost a decade, the House held a hearing and markup on common-sense gun reform within the first 45 days of the new 116th Congress. This legislation, H.R. 8, requiring background checks on all gun sales, is expected to pass the House later this month.
The Woman’s National Democratic Club will never forget Parkland, and we applaud this long-awaited first step in the House of Representatives to close the glaring loopholes in our gun laws. While there was some cautious optimism from the Senate this week that passage there may be possible, we must work to ensure that pressure from the almost 97% of the American public who support universal background checks continues so that Senators know beyond a doubt that the price of thwarting progress on sensible gun reform is indeed a price too high to pay.
February 4, 2019
ACTING ON GUN VIOLENCE: UPCOMING EVENTS
For the first time in eight years, the House will hold a hearing on gun violence prevention. Last week House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler announced that his committee will hold a hearing on H.R. 8, “The Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019.” This legislation would require background checks on ALL gun sales, including private sales at gun shows or over the internet. The Brady Law, enacted in 1993 and implemented in February 1994, has blocked more than three million unlawful purchases. That law requires licensed gun dealers to initiate background checks before selling a firearm. H.R. 8 and its companion bill in the Senate, S. 42, will expand the Brady Law to every sale. According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, “These unregulated sales can allow felons, domestic abusers, and other dangerous people to obtain guns without any oversight. It is past time to expand lifesaving Brady background checks to every gun sale, and the public agrees: a 2018 study found that 97 percent of Americans support expanding Brady background checks to all gun sales – including more than 80 percent of gun owners.” (NOTE: Last week WNDC sent letters of endorsement of H.R. 8 to Capitol Hill committee chairmen.)
WHAT: Hearing on H.R. 8, entitled “Preventing Gun Violence: A Call to Action.”
WHEN: Wednesday, February 6, 2019, 10:00 a.m.
WHERE: Room 2141 Rayburn House Office Building
Expert panelists from gun advocacy organizations will discuss pending national, state and local gun violence prevention legislation and other developments. Panelists also will discuss “a range of actions that can be taken to help in DC, MD, and VA neighborhoods that are disproportionately affected by gun violence.” Join WNDC Gun Violence Prevention Task Force Members to learn the different ways we can get involved.
WHAT: Forum: “Thoughts, Prayers and ACTION! A Forum to Reduce Gun Violence.”
WHEN: Sunday, February 10, 2019, 2-4:00 p.m.
WHERE: National Cathedral, Washington, DC.
For more information and to RSVP, click here
Shelly Livingston and Ellen McGovern, Acting co-chairs, PPC Task Force to Prevent Gun Violence
THE SHUTDOWN AND THE DRIVE TO PRIVATIZE GOVERNMENT
Although it was clear that the Trump Shutdown wasn’t working for him in besting Speaker Nancy Pelosi, he wasn’t losing his base Republicans. But when it was clear the shutdown was threatening the safety of air travelers, even the loyalists Republicans didn’t want airports to shut down (inconvenient for them!) for lack of necessary maintenance personnel. Not known for their imagination, they actually also may have worried about an airplane crash.
However, don’t overvalue being “reasonable” as a factor we can count on to avoid another shutdown. When you dig into what motivates Trump and Republicans, one could well ask why didn’t they use the shutdown opportunity to announce that the shutdown demonstrated that there was a need to sell off government assets to private business. Privatizing would be the way to do a better job of keeping our skies safe and running our airports more efficiently. Maybe they should have stuck it out to realize the dream of Tea Party/Freedom Caucus ideologues of privatizing the economy, and getting rid of government.
In evidence: On February 13 last year the Washington Post carried an article “Infrastructure Plan would sell National, Dulles airports.” The aim of the Administration’s plan was to cut infrastructure spending – the plan proposed a $168 billion cut over 10 years – while promising improvements. In addition to selling Dulles and National, massive cuts in federal dollars would hit major U.S. infrastructure such as the power transmission assets of the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Southwestern Power Administration.
The infrastructure plan was released one day before the Post story appeared. The Administration also reintroduced a separate plan, which proposed to take the air traffic control system out of government hands, a plan that had been blocked in Congress the year before.
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said of the plan, “It is like a Hollywood facade….the lack of direct investment would leave out large parts of America.”
Administration top officials are ideologically privatizers, their goal mostly to get out of paying higher taxes. To prove anything more for their ideology they would have to be capable of self-reflection. And they are not. They themselves are proof that a business background is no vote for the ability to get things done for Americans in the nation and in its communities, They don’t understand why they should even be concerned about a broader community or anything that can’t be put into a narrow objective of profit and self-interest, They are so habituated to denigrating actions that bring diverse communities closer together they may actually believe and assume that public servants are losers and that government does nothing but pass regulations big business doesn’t like. They may actually believe their scripts to the point that they don’t try to find out want government does. Theirs is an ideology based on ignorance.
—Elizabeth Clark, Vice President for Public Policy and Political Action