S4 Updates: News and Politics

After several divisive and highly publicized debates over cultural and civil rights issues brought about by amendments to spending bills, House Speaker Paul Ryan is changing the process. Cristina Marcos explains in The Hill, “House Republican leaders have been blindsided multiple times by Democrats offering politically volatile amendments to appropriations bills. Starting as soon as next month, Ryan is expected to make it harder for the minority party to attempt to embarrass the majority.” Plans include requiring amendments to be submitted and made public ahead of time, allowing all members- and the public- time to strategize before debating and voting. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi derided the the proposal and accused the Speaker of abandoning “regular order in the name of furthering LGBT discrimination,” which has been the subject of several recent amendments. Read more.



The State Department inspector general finally released its report on Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was Secretary of State. The report concludes that Clinton did not comply with the department’s policies by using her personal server, which was not approved by agency officials. The report contradicts Clinton’s claims that she did not violate any rules and had permission to use the private server. The report also discloses that several Secretaries of State had various email issues, and that the policies evolved over time, often lagging behind the changing risks and legal requirements. Nevertheless, Donald Trump’s campaign will certainly use this against his opponent over the next several months. Read more in Politico.



The House passed a bill to allow VA doctors to discuss medical marijuana with patients and to help them sign up for state medical marijuana programs. Although the bill would not permit the VA to supply medical marijuana, it shows a new willingness among legislators to give the drug a chance, especially as the dangers of opioid prescriptions become ever more apparent. A companion bill in the Senate passed a committee but has yet to be voted on by the full Senate.Read more from the Associated Press.



Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher made headlines this week when he disclosed that he recently used medical marijuana to treat his arthritis pain. Rep. Rohrabacher is a leading Republican voice in favor of reforming marijuana laws, but his admission is still noteworthy because he is the first sitting congressman in decades to admit using marijuana while in office. Read more in the Washington Post.



After much deliberation and lobbying on all sides, the House passed a bill to regulate thousands of toxic chemicals for the first time. The bill, which increases safety standards and regulations, passed with overwhelming support and is expected to pass the Senate and be signed by President Obama. Sen. Rand Paul, however, blocked its passage before the long weekend because he wants more time to read the bill. Read more.



11 states have already sued the Obama administration over its recent directive requiring public schools to allow students to use whichever bathrooms match their gender identities. Plaintiffs in the suit argued against the “havoc” the directive would wreak on schools, bemoaning the “seismic shift” it would force on schools and students. The Justice Department said this week, “While the department will review the complaint, the federal government has strong legal foundations to uphold the civil rights of transgender Americans.” Read more in the Washington Post.



As you may have noticed if you traveled by plane recently, airport security lines have been growing, and complaints against the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) even more so. In response to growing backlash, the agency replaced its top security official and added a new team of administrators at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, one of the centers of the discontent. Critics say the move is too little too late, and that it will have no meaningful impact on TSA operations. All the rest of us can do is wait and see. Read more in the New York Times.



Some Democratic legislators want to replace Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz as chair of the Democratic National Committee. Rep. Wasserman Schultz has been incredibly critical of Sen. Bernie Sanders, which many worry makes her too divisive a figure to lead the convention in July. She has no plans to step down, and many in the party still support her leadership, making this another wait and see situation.Read more on The Hill.


Reporter Natasha Korecki summed up the current status of the budget process as such: “While rank and file lawmakers seem willing to find some common ground, the governor and leaders are at odds over familiar issues.” And from Rich Miller: “The truth is, if something drastic doesn’t happen very soon, this state is heading for a full-blown, all-out political war come June 1st.”


Speaker Madigan and House Democrats passed a budget proposal that the governor’s budget office declared the “phoniest phony budget in recent Illinois history.” There was some confusion and discontent around how the vote was conducted, but the bill passed nonetheless. According to the budget office, the budget is up to $7 billion out of balance. Comptroller Leslie Munger said the proposed budget would raise the state’s unpaid bills to more than $15 billion and delay payments by “an unprecedented 8-9 months.” Paying for the $39 billion budget would require an income tax rate of 5.5%, according to the budget office.


One of the tactics used in this budget proposal is the elimination of expenses that are currently covered by consent decrees- like Medicaid payments. The idea is that since these payments will still be required even if appropriations are not made in a legislative budget, legislators can avoid including the expenses and/or making cuts to programs. The proposal also includes K-12 school funding instead of separating education from the rest of the budget, like legislators did last year. It is possible that schools will not open this fall if the budget is not enacted, but some say the bipartisan budget working groups are making progress. Read more about what Rich Miller calls “a very odd budget plan.”



Senate Democrats are not thrilled with the budget proposal, and Gov. Rauner would likely veto it anyway if passed as is. Legislators have only days to come up with a compromise before passing a budget becomes even more difficult.


Hoping to prevent another “Good Friday Massacre” (what critics called Gov. Rauner’s decision to cancel social service contracts to save money on Good Friday last year), House Democrats passed a bill requiring 30 days’ notice to providers before contracts can be canceled. Gov. Rauner restored the funding soon after cutting it, but providers are still concerned about losing their contracts without warning. Read more in the Chicago Tribune.



82 social service organizations, up from 64 earlier this month, are suing the governor and several state agency heads for emergency financial relief. The plaintiffs are seeking immediate payment from the state on contracts that are more than two months in arrears. Mrs. Rauner’s organization, Ounce of Protection, is one of the new plaintiffs in the suit.Read more on Capitol Fax.



With Chicago Public Schools (CPS) preparing to cut $700 million from school budgets, many charter schools face uncertain futures. Those that are not part of larger networks may not be able to open in the fall, and some charter networks may indefinitely postpone plans to open new campuses. “Closing charter schools would cause upheaval on several fronts: for families who would have to find new schools for their children, for district-run schools that would potentially have to take in thousands of students, and for larger charter networks that might also take in students because they are better positioned to absorb the cuts.” Read more.



A federal judge is insisting that Mayor Emanuel testify in a whistleblower case over the Chicago Police Department’s (CPD) “code of silence” to protect fellow officers accused of inappropriate behavior. Attorneys for the city have offered to admit in court that a code of silence exists in order to prevent Mayor Emanuel from needing to testify, but the judge still wants to hear from the Mayor. Read more.



Rep. Lou Lang’s HB 5594, which prohibits courts from denying defendants access to medication-assisted substance abuse treatment programs, passed both houses.



Rumors have been circulating about US Rep. Richard Durbin’s possible gubernatorial ambitions, but Rep. Durbin insists he is not looking for any other positions and “would beg the people who are doing all the speculation to cool it.”


New York
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer announced the city will face a considerably larger budget gap than Mayor de Blasio’s administration has predicted, largely due to increased aid for public hospitals, homeless shelters, and overtime pay. Stringer also pointed out that the mayor’s savings plan is mostly “dependent on savings that would have occurred regardless,” not from any new actions. Read more.



In an effort to keep his ethics reform agenda alive, Gov. Cuomo presented several bills targeting the LLC loophole this week. The loophole allows individuals to donate large amounts of money to political candidates without disclosing their identities by doing it through limited liability companies. Gov. Cuomo’s proposal would limit contributions from LLCs to $5,000, which could dramatically change thepolitical donation landscape in New York. Assembly Democrats have tried to change the LLC loophole in the past, but it usually stops with Senate Republicans. Read more in the NY Times.



Sen. Catharine Young’s S 4722, related to assisted outpatient treatment orders, passed the Senate and was sent to the Assembly. The bill would require that “prior to the expiration of assisted outpatient treatment orders, the clinical needs of assisted outpatients are adequately reviewed in determining the need to petition” for continued treatment, and other provisions. If the court did not review a petition for continuation before the expiration of an order, the expired order would remain in effect until a decision was made.



A 6932, the Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act,passed the Assembly. The bill would require a statewide electronic registry of vacant and abandoned property to be set up by the Attorney General, among other provisions. The bill would also establish the Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Fund, which would be funded by civil penalties collected for violations of foreclosure and abandoned property codes. The fund would be used for “providing abandoned property enforcement assistance grants” to localities.



Rep. Richard Gottfried’s A 9510, which would allow physician assistants and nurse practitioners to prescribe medical marijuana, passed the Assembly and was referred to the Senate Health Committee.


New Jersey
Finally- an Atlantic City rescue package that will actually be enacted! The state legislature passed two bills that would allow Atlantic City’s leaders 150 days to balance their budget and create a five-year plan, instead of imposing an immediate state takeover. Gov. Christie seems likely to sign the bills. The state will help keep the government running during those 150 days with a bridge loan and several grants.Read more in Politico New Jersey.



Gov. Christie conditionally vetoed the Democratic plan for Port Authority reform again, calling for the legislature to pass the same language already passed in New York. Proponents of the New Jersey Democrats’ language in both states argue that it would add necessary oversight to the Port Authority, while Gov. Christie and fellow Republicans say it would add unnecessary costs. It now seems that legislators may be amenable to passing the bill as Gov. Christie wants it.Read more in Politico New Jersey.



A state appeals court ruled yesterday that the Christie administration cannot give grants to religious schools, regardless of what the grant funds are intended for. Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood and Princeton Theological Seminary were to receive a total of $11 million for construction and renovation projects, but the ACLU challenged the award on the grounds that taxpayer funds were not to be used to “subsidize institutions that… exist to teach their particular religious doctrines.” Read more.


HB 523, regarding medical marijuana, passed both houses. The bill would authorize the use of medical marijuana and create a Medical Marijuana Control Program in the Department of Health. The Medical Marijuana Control Commission would determine the application and licensing procedures and just about every aspect of the program. This article answers the question, what next?



Attorney General Mike DeWine confirmed he will run for governor in 2018. He will most likely face Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor and Secretary of State Jon Husted in the Republican primary.Read more.



US Sen. Rob Portman is the subject of new attack ads from two national labor groups: the American Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Sen. Portman’s campaign spokesperson said, “These latest misleading ads from out-of-state liberal special interest groups are nothing more than desperate attempts to distract from Ted Strickland’s awful record.” So far, Sen. Portman and former Gov. Ted Strickland are polling very close. Read more.


John Gregg, who is running for governor on the Democratic ticket, announced state Rep. Christina Hale as his running mate. Gov. Pence welcomed her to the race and said he looks forward to debating the two Democrats with his Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb. Read more.


This Minnesota Public Radio article covers the major legislation that passed before Sunday’s deadline and the legislation that did not. Gov. Dayton may call for a special session to wrap up the unfinished issues, but in the meantime, funding for transportation projects and decisions on several non-budgetary issues remain undecided. Legislation that passed includes a package of tax cuts, funding for broadband Internet internet and preschool, regulations for police body cameras, and reduced drug crime sentencing. Gov Dayton also signed a bill to scrap the state’s presidential caucus system and change to a primary system.Read more.