State and Local Government Speak Outs

State Government

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Who should regulate guns – the federal government or the states? Posted on 10/17/2011 6:43:38 AM
Last week, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed two pieces of legislation that gun rights advocates see as a blow to their Second Amendment freedoms. One law outlaws “open carry” of firearms. That means carrying a gun in a way that other people can see it. The second law requires the state to keep records of rifle sales – effectively treating rifles and handguns in the same fashion. Gov. Brown signed this legislation at a point when national trends favor looser gun laws. Forty-two states allow open carry, and a law being debated in Congress could make stricter state gun laws obsolete.

Illegal immigration: Is it a state or federal issue? Posted on 10/14/2011 7:00:00 AM
Still going strong after nearly four weeks, the Occupy movement has spread across the United States, and even around the world. What started as Occupy Wall Street, a grassroots protest meant to draw attention to corporate greed and unequal distribution of wealth in the United States, has grown, with mirror protests popping up in Denver, Boston, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. To some, this proliferation makes the effort appear a bit more legit. Critics scoffed as they watched demonstrators gather in New York City’s Zuccotti Park with homemade signs opposing a broad range of issues – from tax breaks for the wealthy, to student loan debt, to nonspecific concerns like “unemployment.” To them, Occupy was a bunch of noise with no focus, accomplishing nothing – hubbub without substance. But as the protests have stuck around, and spread, the collective anger of those taking part has become more tangible.

Should state lawmakers restrict your 26th Amendment right? Posted on 3/8/2011 10:12:00 AM
In the late ’60s and early ’70s, young people like yourself campaigned for the right to vote. They argued that if the government could call on them at age 18 to serve in the military – to fight and possibly die for their country – then they had the maturity to participate in their government’s democratic process. Now, lawmakers in some states are arguing the exact opposite: Young people are too immature and should have their voting rights restricted.

States’ Rights: Does the federal government exceed its authority? Posted on 2/28/2011 10:12:00 AM
The wave of Tea Party-backed representatives and senators voted into office last election had a central, common goal: a hands-off federal government. On the state level, this is playing out across the country with proposed laws that attempt to dismantle Washington’s authority to regulate a range of things, from business to food. These legislators are exercising what is known as states’ rights, a guarantee in the Bill of Rights that any powers not given to the federal government by the U.S. Constitution are given to the states.

How should states deal with illegal immigrants? Posted on 2/23/2011 10:12:00 AM
With a lot of talk but little action on the federal level on how to handle illegal immigration, state legislatures continue to take matters into their own hands. Since 2001, eleven states, including New York, Oklahoma, Texas, California and Washington, had granted in-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants. But in recent years, five states stopped the tuition benefit. Lawmakers in Georgia and Virginia are considering measures to ban illegal immigrants from all public colleges. How should states deal with illegal immigrants? Should children be penalized for their parents' actions? Are the proposed measures too tough or are they necessary? Join the discussion!

What do you think about voter ID laws? Posted on 1/24/2011 10:12:00 AM
In the 1950s and ’60s, groups of students like you were the driving force behind the push to outlaw discrimination at the voting booth The resulting law, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, did away with practices, like poll taxes and literacy tests, meant to “deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.” Flash forward 40 years and the landscape is vastly different. Fears of terrorism after Sept. 11, combined with a get-tough approach to curbing illegal immigration (specifically in states on the Mexico border), resulted in a swath of new bills requiring voters to show identification at the polls.

Honoring fallen troopers or endorsing religion? Highway crosses in Utah Posted on 1/6/2011 10:12:00 AM
Crosses are once again in the courts as the state of Utah fights for its right to memorialize fallen state troopers through white crosses on highways. In August 2010, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the 14 white crosses violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits government endorsement of a religion. But it has since placed a stay on the order, which would remove the crosses, paving the way for the case to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

What should be the government’s role in vaccinations? Posted on 11/29/2010 10:12:00 AM
If you spent Thanksgiving dinner trying to avoid your coughing, sniffling, contagious younger cousins, you’re probably thinking about staying one step ahead of sickness this week. But would you take it as far as getting a flu shot? The government recommends that virtually the entire population get vaccinated to prevent the spread of disease. But vaccinations are a personal choice: You notice that the government is only recommending them. It doesn’t mandate shots on a national level, though some state governments have tried to step up their role by requiring vaccinations for health care workers. And in California, where a whooping cough outbreak caused the death of 10 infants this fall, a law goes into effect in January requiring students to be vaccinated for the disease.

Do gay marriage bans violate the Constitution’s equal protection clause? Posted on 8/5/2010 10:12:00 AM
When the California Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that same-sex marriage was permitted under the state constitution, voters spoke out. Campaigns were waged, rallies were held, and Proposition 8 – a voter referendum amending the state Constitution, declaring that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California” – was passed by 52 percent of voters. Now a federal judge says that Prop 8 is unconstitutional. In his ruling in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker said the state’s marriage law “burdens the exercise of the fundamental right to marry and creates an irrational classification on the basis of sexual orientation.” The decision is expected to be appealed in what is shaping up to be a lengthy legal battle, possibly culminating at the Supreme Court.

How does the recession affect state and local governments? Posted on 1/9/2010 10:12:00 AM
The national recession is beginning to hit home, and it's very likely that you or someone you know has been affected by the economic downturn. Large retail stores and small boutique shops are going out of business. Across the state of Pennsylvania, major companies - such as the Pittsburgh-based Alcoa Aluminum - are instituting sweeping layoffs. And whether it's within the walls of the state capitol in Harrisburg, or in your own local municipal halls, governments are being hit just as hard.

Do local and state gun restrictions violate the Second Amendment? Posted on 3/25/2008 10:12:00 AM
In March 2008, the Supreme Court heard the initial arguments of District of Columbia v. Heller, which poses the question of whether local gun restrictions violate the Second Amendment to the Constitution. The court is weighing whether local governments should be able to establish their own gun laws in order to reduce crime and whether gun bans violate a person’s constitutional right to bear arms. This case has generated great interest all over the country, as cities like New York and Philadelphia and entire states have previously drafted laws that restrict gun ownership in the hopes of reducing crime rates.

What controls should your state impose on government’s power to take people’s property against their will? Posted on 1/11/2007 10:12:00 AM
The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution allows government to take people’s property against their will as long as they are paid fairly and it is for the public good. This is called the “power of eminent domain.” In recent years, local governments have used the power of eminent domain to amass large parcels of land that are then turned over to private developers to build projects that are expected to benefit their towns, such as conference centers, office buildings or homes. Opponents say what is really happening is private developers are growing rich while longtime residents are displaced.

Local Government

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Should a City Council ban applause? Posted on 9/30/2011 9:14:56 AM
When bodies of government meet, it’s not always quiet. If they’re talking about something citizens are passionate about, the chambers might be abuzz. If there’s a lot of controversy, there might even be yelling – from those in the crowd as well as elected officials. But gathering public feedback is a key part of running a democratic society. That’s why governments of all levels allow room for citizen participation. At the local level in particular, meetings are frequently attended by crowds of citizens, and most of these meetings have designated points on their agenda to allow for public comment. But that is not the case everywhere. In Peekskill, N.Y., the City Council voted in January to remove the regular public comment sessions from its meetings. In September, it took another vote – to ban clapping from public meetings. City officials told the local CBS News affiliate that the move was meant to make the meetings more calm and orderly.

Should cities prepare for climate change? Posted on 6/2/2011 10:12:00 AM
While Chicago may be known as the Windy City, its city planners and climate scientists are preparing to cope with a trend toward higher temperatures and more rain and snow. “Cities adapt or they go away,” Aaron N. Durnbaugh, deputy commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Environment, said regarding the city’s initiatives to adapt to the changing climate. Chicago is not alone in preparing for climate change. Bolstered by stimulus funding from the federal government, cities across the country are installing green roofs, updating drainage infrastructure, and installing bike lanes and new public transportation lines to adapt to climate change and reduce carbon emissions.

Legislating Morality: Should a town lift its video game ban? Posted on 6/2/2011 10:12:00 AM
It’s not uncommon for municipal governments to ban things from their town’s borders. It might be something to keep their citizens safe – you hear about “dry towns,” which have passed bans on alcohol sales to curb drunken driving. It might be to keep citizens healthy, perhaps a ban on public smoking. It might be to keep their citizens behaving within a certain moral code – bans on gambling or adult-oriented businesses. And sometimes, the bans might just be head-scratchers. Today, the coastal town of Marshfield, Mass., has a 29-year-old law on the books banning video games from local businesses that might set them up – grocery stores, restaurants and gas stations.

Public Shaming Laws: Calling out negligent property owners in Mass. Posted on 3/1/2011 10:12:00 AM
Towns of any size, big to small, have a problem with what officials like to call "nuisance properties." That’s a polite way to put it. What they mean are run-down buildings, abandoned rowhomes, things property owners don’t take care of that grow into bigger and bigger problems. The word for all of that is “blight” – and a town in New England has found a solution. When the Webster, Mass. board of health decides a property is a nuisance, or condemns the building, the town can now place a 4-by-8-foot sign on the building. These signs would explain the status of the building and carry the name of the property owner, address and phone number.The town hopes these signs will encourage property owners to keep their buildings up to code – and publicly shame those who do not.

Should towns ban plastic bags? Posted on 1/5/2011 10:12:00 AM
When shopping in Brownsville, Texas, you might be taken aback when you’re charged a buck to use plastic bags to take out your groceries. That’s because Brownsville is the first city in the state to enact a plastic bag ban. The city passed a law that gives shoppers several options when purchasing goods. They can walk out with the products in hand, put them in a bag, box or whatever they bring with them, buy reusable bags that cost from 25 cents to a $1 each, or cough up $1 for an “environmental fee” and take out their goods with plastic bags. Brownsville joins San Francisco, which was the first U.S. city to ban plastic bags.

Should city governments help pay for students’ higher education? Posted on 10/5/2010 10:12:00 AM
The City of San Francisco is taking a hands-on approach to helping families make higher education affordable for their children. The city has teamed up with EARN, a California-based nonprofit, to develop the Kindergarten to College program that will start college savings accounts for kindergartners. “I believe that every single child should be born not necessarily into wealth, but into opportunity,” San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom said. “Once a mind is stretched, it can never go back.” Not everyone is in favor of the program.

Would soda taxes improve public health? Posted on 4/12/2010 10:12:00 AM
You know it’s probably not the best choice to reach for that sugary soft drink instead of a water bottle or glass of skim milk. But it gives you a boost and is just so refreshing. What if your state or local government decided to try to add a tax to your favorite sweetened beverage to get you to cut down or even cut out your consumption in the name of better health? That is just what is happening around the country. At least 12 states, including New York, California and Kansas, and cities such as Philadelphia are considering a tax on sugared drinks; Colorado and Chicago have already enacted such a tax.

Government meetings: Getting your voice heard, without yelling Posted on 10/14/2009 10:12:00 AM
Why do people get emotional about the government? A major reason, simply put, is because the government is spending YOUR money. Its operations are paid for by tax dollars, and if the government is spending that money on something you are passionately opposed to, you might get upset.

How should local governments pay for police protection in a troubled economy? Posted on 2/26/2009 10:12:00 AM
As the national economy continues its downward slide, more local governments are disbanding their police forces and turning to the state for protection. This has lawmakers and local leaders worried that the Pennsylvania State Police could face a shortage in its ranks. In Harrisburg, a bill under consideration as part of the 2009 budget would have municipalities without local police pay a charge for state protection; currently, no extra funding is required of them. Community leaders, however, feel this is counterintuitive, stretching their already-stretched budgets further, and giving extra money to a police force they already fund through taxes.

How does local government affect you? Posted on 2/23/2009 10:12:00 AM
Did you know that the level of government that most affects you daily is much closer to home than the White House, the halls of Congress or even your state capitol building? Your local government - city council, county commissioners, etc. - is the level of governance responsible for establishing the speed limit on the streets in your town, setting rules for business, industrial and residential development, funding the public schools and ensuring that there are adequate numbers of police and firefighters on duty. These representatives live and work in your area and have a significant impact on your life every day.

How does national security affect you at the local level? Posted on 2/6/2009 10:12:00 AM
In his first weeks in office, President Barack Obama has begun to address national security issues here and abroad. In addition to signing executive orders closing the Guantanamo Bay detention center, pledging to end combat operations in Iraq in the next year, and increasing combat forces in Afghanistan, his Department of Homeland Security has shifted toward a renewed emphasis on local safety. Local law enforcement is being trained and used as the front line in national security; they will be responsible for handling security for the nation’s public transportation infrastructure and borders.

Do local gun bans violate the Second Amendment? Posted on 8/15/2008 10:12:00 AM
In late July, 2008, the Illinois village of Morton Grove repealed its 27-year-old handgun ban, one of the oldest handgun bans in the nation. The ban was repealed in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller, which declared that local laws prohibiting the possession of handguns are a violation of the Second Amendment. Reluctant to defend the ban in court and possibly cost the government millions in legal fees, the village’s board of directors voted 5 to 1 to repeal the ban. Gun rights advocates have hailed the Supreme Court’s decision, and are actively supporting the repealing of local handgun bans.

What do you think of local governments using the power of eminent domain to prevent development? Posted on 12/13/2008 10:12:00 AM
Open spaces and natural areas are becoming rare in urban townships throughout New Jersey. Being the most densely populated (people per square mile) state in the country, towns and the state government are trying to protect open spaces and undeveloped land. The township of Mount Laurel is no exception. When developers tried to build 23 homes on a tract of undeveloped land, the town government took action. First, it tried to buy the land from the developers, MiPro Homes L.L.C. When they refused, the town used its power of eminent domain, an authority by which a government can seize private property, and took control of the property. The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the township did, indeed, have the right to seize the property, and in the opinion of the court, “Mount Laurel Township sought to limit development, thereby to limit the overcrowded schools, traffic congestion and pollution that accompanies development.”

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