Legal Speaks Home Debbie Hines Bio Blog TV Clips Practice Areas Res Ipsa Loquitur Links Contact
Blog Home

Archive for January, 2013

The GOP’s Latest Bills to Win the Next Election

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

Photo Courtesy of Color Lines

Photo Courtesy of Color Lines
Early Voters in Miami

Republicans in key swing states are considering bills or ways to change how a state’s electoral votes are allocated. For the GOP who lost the presidential race with people of color, women and young adults, one might think they would re-think their strategy. And they have re-thought the strategy—just not in the way I was thinking. The states of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia considered bills to restructure the electoral votes from their states, in favor of Republican candidates. Sometimes non-fiction is stranger than fiction. Some Republicans particularly from swing states have introduced or are considering bills to change the winner take all electoral votes to a proportionate system. This would mean that a state’s voters could cast more votes for one candidate but another candidate could receive more electoral votes. Under the present system, a winner of a state takes all of the electoral votes of the state.

The GOP, who attempted to disenfranchise millions of black and Hispanic voters from voting and win the election with voter ID laws, have now come up with another strategy. It’s a new twist on “if at first you don’t succeed, try again”. At first, they tried to steal the election with voter ID laws for bogus voter in person fraud. But that only backfired and caused people of color and women to come out in overwhelming numbers in support of Pres. Obama.

Now Republicans, in states with Republican leadership that voted Democratic in the presidential election, want to change the way the electoral college votes are distributed in key swing states.. In Virginia, the proposed bill was so ultra conservative that even conservative Governor Bob McConnell did not support it. And it died in a Virginia Senate committee. But Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker who tried to break unions, says let’s take a look at it. To him, it probably sounds like a tantalizing idea to outsmart and beat Democrats.

Governors in Michigan and Ohio have denounced the idea which is commonly known as gerrymandering. That leaves Wisconsin and Pennsylvania as the next-most-likely places to consider similar moves. Due to Virginia declaring death to its bill and other prominent Republicans, like Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, speaking publicly against these types of bills, the electoral college is probably safe for now.

Republicans do not want to do the hard work of attracting new members to its party. Instead they want to choose the easier path for them by attempts to change the way the game is played. It’s really the same strategy that caused them to lose the election in November. Instead of focusing on outreach to other groups, they chose the easy path of changing the rules to how the election game is played—passing voter ID laws in over half the states and now this newest attempt to defraud voters.

Just as Republicans are thinking of ways to rig the next Presidential election, Democrats are re-introducing bills such as the Voter Empowerment Act to protect the vote and restore rights to disenfranchised voters. Democratic bills are an attempt to make elections more inclusive for Americans.

Stay tuned for the latest bills having an impact on voting and voters’ rights.

Four Year Anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Act

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

BarbaraMikulsiPaycheckFairnessOn January 29, 2009, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act became the first bill signed into law by President Barack Obama. The Lilly Ledbetter Act extended the statute of limitations for women and men to file claims of employment discrimination—even years later. But in order to bridge the gender pay gap—where women on average in this country earn 77 cents for every dollar that a man earns with the same education and for doing the same job, we must go beyond Lilly Ledbetter. African American women earn 64 cents for every dollar a man earns. Latino women earn 56 cents to the dollar a man earns. These figures are for women in all jobs and educational levels. The disparity in pay begins for college educated women immediately after graduation. Post graduate women fare no better than their less educated counter parts.

“The Paycheck Fairness Act would help erase this harmful wage gap by ensuring that employers provide equal pay for those doing the same work,” said American Association of University Women (“AAUW”) Executive Director Linda D. Hallman. If we equalize pay, a woman could earn by the time she reaches age 65, hundreds of thousands of dollars more. Lilly Ledbetter, for whom the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was named, lost approximately $224,000 in salary due to gender based discrimination over the course of her working years. That is money the employer saved on her. It is also money that the state government lost in taxable income.

The issue of discriminatory gender wage differential is not just about women earning less than men but millions of dollars that are not invested in our economy. The tax base for our communities and spending power is diminished by lost income due to discrimination against women. By stripping women of their full paycheck earnings, states lose tax revenues. If a woman earns less, she pays less in taxes. In a time when state and cities’ finances are suffering and drastic cuts to necessary services are being made, the lost taxes on lost wages from women could help make up some of the shortfall. Undoubtedly, the lost wages for women would help increase revenue to state finance coffers through extra sales taxes from items purchased with the additional income.

And another piece of critical needed legislation to compliment the Lilly Ledbetter fair Pay Act is the Fair Pay Act. It differs from the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Lilly Ledbetter law. This bill, sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), addresses another piece of the equal pay puzzle by addressing the historic pattern of underpaying so-called “women’s work” that is equivalent in skills, effort, responsibility, and working conditions to male-dominated jobs. “It makes no sense, for example, for a janitor to be paid more than a housekeeper if their working conditions and job descriptions are similar,” says AAUW’s Hallman.

Women’s groups such as AAUW are urging President Obama to also issue an executive order forbidding federal contractors from retaliating against employees who ask questions about compensation or share the amount of their own salaries. If these laws had been in effect, Ledbetter may have discovered the discrimination against her decades earlier,” says AAUW’s Lisa Maatz. “Instead, Goodyear policy legally stopped its employees from sharing salary information under the threat of dismissal if they did so.” This executive order would address, in part, one section of the Paycheck Fairness Act, protecting nearly a quarter of the federal civilian workforce despite congressional gridlock.

Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) in honoring the four-year anniversary of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act will also push for its necessary companion legislation, the Paycheck Fairness Act.
—Congress must pass the Paycheck Fairness Act.

Gun Control Debate Heats Up This Week

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

GunOn Saturday, January 26, marchers in support of gun control came from across the country, including first responders and grieving parents from Newtown, Connecticut, to march quietly from the U.S. Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial to protest gun violence. On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will begin hearings on the proposed gun bills. The title of the hearing is “What Should America Do About Guns?” Among those expected to testify are Mark Kelly, husband of former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords supporting gun control and in the opposing corner, National Rifle Association Chief Executive, Wayne LaPierre. Among other witnesses at the hearing will be James Johnson, chief of police for Baltimore County, Md., and chairman of the National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence. The march and the hearing on Wednesday are among the first of many events on the gun issue plaguing our country.

As of January 25, there are now over 25 proposed gun bills in the House and Senate. Below are some of the gun bills:
Senator Diane Feinstein (D. CA) introduced The Assault Weapons ban, Senate bill 150 which is supported by Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and:
• Children’s Defense Fund
• Coalition to Stop Gun Violence
• Friends Committee on National Legislation
• International Association of Chiefs of Police
• Violence Policy Center

Other bills recently introduced are:

• HR141 Closing the ‘gun show loophole.’ To require criminal background checks on all firearms transactions occurring at gun shows. And corresponding Senate bill S 22.

• HR 137 The Fix Gun Checks Act: To ensure that all individuals who should be prohibited from buying a firearm are listed in the national instant criminal background check system and require a background check for every firearm sale.

• HR 138 The High Capacity Ammunition Feeding Device Act: To prohibit the transfer or possession of large capacity ammunition feeding devices.

• S 35 The Stop Online Ammunition Sales Act: A bill to require face to face purchases of ammunition, to require licensing of ammunition dealers, and to require reporting regarding bulk purchases of ammunition.

• HR 227 The Buyback our Safety Act: To establish a gun buyback grant program.

And then there’s bills like HR 410 To provide that any executive action infringing on the Second Amendment has no force or effect, and to prohibit the use of funds for certain purposes.

On both sides of the aisle is fear. Many gun owners, including women purchasers are afraid that their right to own a gun will be taken away. No proposal intends to strip completely away the 2nd amendment rights to bear arms. And for those grieving the loss of a loved one and those in support of some form of gun control, there is fear of more violence will occur, like the one in Newtown, before Congress acts.

I fear that we have not reached the saturation point to pass any meaningful legislation, despite 300 child deaths last year in Chicago; 20 child deaths on December 14, 2012 at Newtown; the Aurora, Colorado movie shooting that injured 58 persons and killed 12; the Virginia Tech massacre injuring 17 and killing 32; the Tucson shopping center with 18 persons shot, including Congresswoman Gabby Giffords; the Wisconsin Sikh church killing 6 persons; and gun killings and shootings everyday across the country. Most of the gun violence occurs in places where we have the right to assembly peacefully such as schools, churches, shopping centers and movie theaters. The 2nd amendment without any gun or ammunition limitations has stripped that right away in many instances.

The hearings on Wednesday will be a preview of things to come. No action is expected anytime soon. Stay tuned here for the latest developments.

Happy 40th Birthday Roe v. Wade

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

supcourt_buildingEach January marks the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, giving women the right to choose an abortion. Every year, both Pro Choice and Pro Life groups gather to support their respective views. This year is no different. The 40th annual Pro-Life March for Life is scheduled for January 25. A majority of Americans support a woman’s right to an abortion. 70% of Americans now say they support a woman’s right to an abortion in a poll taken this month.

On January 22, 1973, the Supreme Court held in a 7-2 decision that a right of privacy existed under the due process clause of the 14th amendment of the Constitution to a woman’s right to an abortion. Forty years later, Pro-life forces are still arguing that the Supreme Court got it wrong and want to reverse it. In recent years, it is clear that many GOP controlled state legislatures want to limit access to an abortion and thereby dilute a woman’s right to choose.

The Republican controlled Congress and many state legislators have focused on an extreme anti-choice agenda. They have gone from trying to re-define rape to allowing hospitals to refuse abortion care to women who will die without an abortion.
Organizations like NARAL Pro-Choice America continue to protect the future of reproductive rights for the next generation. Instead of Republicans dampening the resolve of NARAL Pro-Choice America and other pro-choice organizations, it has deepened their resolve to protect reproductive freedoms. NARAL Pro Choice America President Nancy Keenan once remarked that the strongest steel is made in the hottest fire. And Keenan states in relationship to Roe v. Wade, “we are putting out fires every day…and we are stronger for it.”

One of the greatest strengths of pro-choice forces lies in the Millennials, those born after 1980, according to Keenan. Millennials are more pro-choice than the country as a whole. And by 2020, Millennials will make up 40 % of the eligible voters in the country. Nancy Keenan reminds us that America does not have a mandate to attack a woman’s rights. NARAL has played a pivotal role as a leader of the pro-choice movement for over 40 years.

While many conservative states aim to limit access to abortion, states like California have fought back against these limitations. California Attorney General Kamala Harris fought back California’s ballot measures requiring parent notification for minors and a waiting period of 48 hours. However, 43 states now require parental notification. California, the nation’s largest state of women and particularly young women, must have safe access to reproductive service, Harris argues.

A woman’s right to choose is a basic human right. And it continues to be under attack by politicians who want to make government smaller by making government ”just small enough to fit inside our bedrooms and our medicine cabinets” says NARAL President Keenan. The disrespect for women continues in many states. Cuts for family planning programs are underway in Wisconsin. Although Roe v. Wade prohibits a state from completely denying an abortion, many states have placed extreme restrictions on having an abortion. A few examples are Oklahoma and Nebraska. A law passed in Oklahoma requires a doctor to show the ultra sound of the baby to the mother, even if the pregnancy is a result of incest or rape. The Oklahoma law requiring public posting of women’s names who had an abortion was struck down as unconstitutional. Nebraska mandates a denial of an abortion if over 20 weeks. It faces a lengthy legal battle. According to Pro Choice America, “women facing the direst of circumstances are among those who receive the 1.5 percent of abortions that occur after 20 weeks.”

Reproductive freedom is a part of the promise of freedom of our forefathers of 1776. There is no freedom for women without reproductive freedom. The struggle for women’s rights and the right to choose is about the struggle for human justice. And the fight continues.

Happy Birthday Roe v. Wade.

A Second Act for the Voter Empowerment Act

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

Minority Assistant Leader James Clyburn (D.SC)

Minority Assistant Leader James Clyburn (D.SC)

On January 23, 2013, Rep. James Clyburn (D.SC) along with Representatives John Lewis (D.GA), Marcia Fudge (D.OH) and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D. MD) along with others re-introduced and consolidated several bills and named them the Voter Empowerment Act. The Voter Empowerment Act contains three main parts: improving access to the ballot, protecting integrity and ensuring accountability. More than a dozen states passed laws making it more difficult for citizens to exercise their constitutional right to vote, in the past several years. Rep. Clyburn says: “The right to vote should be the birthright of every American…. We urgently need to update our federal laws to safeguard the sacred right of American citizens to vote.”

Coincidently on the same day that the Voter Empowerment bill was introduced, the 24th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1964. The 24th amendment abolished the practice of poll taxes. On February 3, 1870 black men were given the right to vote, yet for almost 100 years afterwards, blacks were systematically denied the right to vote in many southern states, due to poll tax laws. It has only been 49 years since the poll tax was abolished by the ratification of the 24th amendment which states:

Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax.

In 1966, VA, Alabama, Texas, Arkansas and Mississippi still had poll tax laws. Eight states including Georgia and South Carolina refused to ratify the 24th amendment.

In all, 34 states in recent years passed some type of voter ID laws making it more difficult and costly for African Americans and other minorities to vote. Many of these laws amount to a modern day poll tax. Rep. Clyburn says that in introducing the Voter Empowerment Act, “will end recently enacted creative devices that constitute a modern version of the poll tax.”

There is an uncanny parallel with the new voter ID laws to the former poll tax laws. Just like the poll tax laws, there is a cost to vote where voter ID laws are strictly imposed. Although the government issued ID needed to vote is free, the certified birth certificate or passport needed to obtain one costs money. And there is additional cost to obtain even more documents, in those cases where a name change is involved due to marriage or divorce, as in the case of roughly 90 percent of marriages.

The only difference in the abolished poll tax and the new voter laws requiring ID that bears a cost is in the name. Yet, a poll tax by any other name is still the same. I applaud Rep. Clyburn, Steny Hoyer and the others for introducing the bill and recognizing the cost effects to many of the newly enacted state voter ID laws. It is now before the 113th Congress.

What Women Lawmakers Want in a 2nd Obama Term

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

Members of the MD Women's Caucus

Members of the MD Women’s Caucus

Women voted overwhelmingly in the 2012 election for President Obama—with 55 percent casting their vote for the president compared to men, who went for Mitt Romney by 52 percent.  As the second Obama term begins, many issues affecting women and their families must be addressed and some old battles must be fought again.

Women lawmakers across the country are meeting to discuss these issues and strategies to address them.  As varied as women are in this country, there is no one size fits all approach, but speaking to a diverse women’s caucus is one way to get an idea of what women lawmakers in his own party expect from President Obama and legislators in the U.S. House and Senate.  I had an opportunity to speak with members of the Maryland Women’s Caucus at the State House in Annapolis—a follow-up to my pre-election  discussion with some of their members at last year’s Democratic National Convention.

Please click here to read the full article from the Women’s Media Center on  what  Maryland women  lawmakers want in a 2nd Obama term on issues affecting women and their families.