Category Archives: Laws/Legislation

Shrinking local autonomy: corporate coalitions and the subnational state

Source: Yunji Kim, Mildred E Warner, Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, Volume 11, Issue 3, October 2018
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From the abstract:
Using focus groups and government finance data, we explore three areas of US state rescaling at the subnational level: revenue tools, expenditure responsibilities and policy authority. Expenditure responsibilities, especially social welfare, have been devolved to the subnational level, while local revenue tools and policy authority are preempted. This decoupling of responsibility and power is cracking the foundations of fiscal federalism. At the behest of corporate-legislative coalitions, subnational state governments are shrinking local capacity and authority to govern. This is not state shrinkage; it is a fundamental reshaping of the subnational state to the detriment of democracy and the social contract.

Alexander’s Loan-Repayment Overhaul

Source: Andrew Kreighbaum, Inside Higher Ed, February 19, 2019

Proposal to automatically deduct loan payments as a share of borrowers’ paychecks promises big improvements but raises questions over some new complications, too.

Student advocates have for years complained about the complex set of options borrowers must navigate to repay their student loans. Student loan borrowers are faced with a dizzying nine repayment plans based on their income, in addition to a standard 10-year loan-repayment plan.

There’s a growing consensus that Congress should reduce those options to one income-based option on top of the standard plan.

Senator Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the Senate education committee, would go one step further, calling for loan payments to be automatically deducted from borrowers’ paychecks. ….

…. While the proposal to reduce the myriad repayment options for borrowers already has broad support among higher ed interest groups, getting buy-in for making student loan payments work more like payroll taxes is more uncertain.

Jessica Thompson, director of policy and planning at the Institute for College Access and Success, said streamlining the repayment plans available to borrowers is “an overdue change.” But she said paycheck withholding for loan payments is “in reality a lot more complicated than it sounds.” ….

Emerging Iterations on State Free College Policy in the 2019 Legislative Sessions

Source: Sarah Pingel, Education Commission of the States, January 31, 2019

State legislatures are officially in full swing, with 44 states plus the District of Columbia in session. At Education Commission of the States, we’re cleaning our glasses and diving into the thousands of pieces of education-related legislation spilling into our inboxes. Not surprisingly, free college maintains its position on state legislators’ minds. We are already tracking 45 pieces of legislation in 19 states plus the District of Columbia…..

Bribery, Kickbacks, and Self-Dealing: An Overview of Honest Services Fraud and Issues for Congress

Source: Michael A. Foster, Congressional Research Service, CRS Report, R45479, January 30, 2019

As the trials of Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos illustrate, corruption among high-profile public officials continues to be a concern in the United States. Likewise, recent examples abound of powerful executives in the private sector abusing positions of trust for personal gain. Faced with this reality, Congress has shown consistent interest in policing public-and private-sector corruption, enacting a number of criminal provisions aimed at holding corrupt officials accountable for their actions under federal law. However, one of federal prosecutors’ most potent existing tools for combating such corruption— 18 U.S.C. §1346, which defines the crimes of mail and wire fraud as including so-called “honest services” fraud—has been a source of contention between the courts and Congress for years ….. Should Congress seek to alter the scope of honest services fraud, it will likely need to be attuned to the concerns that federal courts interpreting 18 U.S.C. § 1346 have voiced over the years. Chief among these have been the concerns that—as written—the statute has the potential to sweep too broadly and regulate ethically dubious conduct of state and local officials in a way that conflicts with the Constitution. ….

Executive Branch Ethics and Financial Conflicts of Interest: Disqualification

Source: Cynthia Brown, Congressional Research Service, CRS Legal Sidebar, LSB10250, January 31, 2019

Newly proposed legislation in the 116thCongress concerns government ethics reform, including conflicts of interest among executive branch officials.Federal officials have a basic duty not to allow private gain to influence their government service, which includes “not hold[ing] financial interests that conflict with the conscientious performance of duty.” Federal statutes, as well as a code of conduct for executive branch employees, make this principle part of a federal regulatory scheme intended to prevent officials from benefiting personally from their offices. The current federal statutory scheme regulating conflicts between an official’s personal financial interests and his or her official duties has three prongs: disclosure, disqualification, and divestiture (i.e., a 3-D system). This discussion of the disqualification requirement, also known as recusal,is the second in a three-part series examining conflicts of interest in the executive branch…..

Three Unions Show There’s Life Beyond Dues Checkoff

Source: Chris Brooks, Labor Notes, January 7, 2019

Employers are always looking for sources of leverage. One way they may hit a union in the wallet is by targeting dues checkoff—an agreement that requires the employer to deduct dues from union members’ paychecks.

Anti-union politicians have already banned dues checkoff for public sector union members in Wisconsin and for teachers in Alabama and Michigan—and have threatened to do so in many more states, including Indiana, Tennessee, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania. Their goal is to make the administration of the union as cumbersome as possible, sapping time and energy.

Rather than let employers and politicians dangle this sword over them indefinitely, a few unions have chosen to take the matter into their own hands, ditching checkoff in favor of collecting dues themselves. The most common method is to have members voluntarily agree to allow the union to transfer funds from their bank accounts.

Other unions, such as Tennessee’s United Campus Workers, never had checkoff as an option to begin with. Here are some lessons from three unions that don’t rely on the boss to collect their dues…..

Conquerors of the Courts

Source: David Montgomery, Washington Post Magazine, January 2, 2019

Forget Trump’s Supreme Court picks. The Federalist Society’s impact on the law goes much deeper.

…. The conservative and libertarian society for law and public policy studies has reached an unprecedented peak of power and influence. Brett Kavanaugh, whose membership in the society dates to his Yale Law School days, has just been elevated to the Supreme Court; he is the second of President Trump’s appointees, following Neil Gorsuch, another justice closely associated with the society. They join Justice Clarence Thomas (who said last spring he’s “been a part of the Federalist Society now since meeting with them … in the 1980s”), Chief Justice John Roberts (listed as a member in 1997-98) and Justice Samuel Alito (a periodic speaker at society events). The newly solidified conservative majority on the court will inevitably decide more cases in line with the society’s ideals — which include checking federal power, protecting individual liberty and interpreting the Constitution according to its original meaning. In practice, this could mean fewer regulations of the environment and health care, more businesses allowed to refuse service to customers on religious grounds, and denial of protections claimed by newly vocal classes of minorities, such as transgender people.

But having allies on the highest court of the land is just the top layer of the Federalist Society’s expanding sway. For one thing, there is the judicial nomination process itself. When Trump was campaigning in 2016, he made the shrewd and un­or­tho­dox move of publicizing a list of 11 conservative legal stars that he promised to draw from if he got a chance to pick a Supreme Court justice. Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society, played a key role in suggesting the names, along with Trump’s future White House counsel, Don McGahn (also a society member), and the conservative Heritage Foundation. The list was expanded twice to include Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and others. Leo took a leave from his job at the Federalist Society to advise the White House on the confirmation process for Gorsuch and Kavanaugh — reprising a role he played for the George W. Bush White House in putting Roberts and Alito on the court.

The next most important segment of the judiciary — the federal appeals courts — is also filling up with Federalist Society members: Twenty-five of the 30 appeals court judges Trump has appointed are or were members of the society ….