This past week was saturated with crisis and tragedy following the events in Boston and Texas, but it also saw significant developments on two critical issues before the U.S. Senate that would likely have otherwise fully gripped the nation's attention. On guns, an already-weakened bipartisan compromise on universal background checks was blocked in the Senate by a minority of senators, ending for now the fight to pass any federal legislation in the wake of the Newtown tragedy. On immigration, the long-awaited full text of the so called "Gang of 8" immigration bill was released, drawing support from the White House, conditional praise from some advocates, and stoking opposition among anti-immigrant forces. With the ability of Congress to pass legislation on any major issue now perhaps even more in question, both issues also continued to play out on the state level this week as well:
From Missouri to Pennsylvania to D.C., anti-union "right-to-work" laws are still being proposed and debated. Michigan workers continue to fight their law in the courts weeks before it is set to take effect, while workers in nearby states remain prepared for similar legislation to emerge. Meanwhile, an "anti-right-to-work" bill moved forward in Vermont — legislation that would require all workers who receive benefits thanks to a union to pay their fair share.
With the long lines on Election Day still somewhat fresh in the minds of voters, and as the year kicks off with efforts to rig the electoral vote and lessen the impact of the votes of historically disenfranchised communities, lawmakers in some states are introducing proposals to expand and protect the vote:
A federal court case arising out of Vermont could have dramatic implications for state sovereignty and the ability of legislatures to regulate corporate activities within their borders. Nine states and the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) are standing in support of the State of Vermont in the U.S. Court of Appeals, 2nd Circuit. Vermont is appealing a controversial lower court ruling that, if upheld, would overturn decades of case law defining how courts determine legislatures’ “intent” and whether their actions are preempted by federal authority. Should Vermont lose, NCSL predicts a chilling effect in legislatures across the country and a move toward limiting public debate and open government.
This morning, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin signed into law a groundbreaking health care bill that puts his state on a path towards universal coverage for all residents. The legislation, H.202, sets Vermont on course to become the first state in the nation to implement a single-payer system, and had previously passed both the House and Senate chambers by significant margins.