Category Archives: Laws/Legislation

Freedom of Information Act Legislation in the 114th Congress: Issue Summary and Side-by-Side Analysis

Source: Wendy Ginsberg, Congressional Research Service, CRS Report, R43924, April 21, 2016

Congress is currently considering legislation that would make substantive changes to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). FOIA was originally enacted in 1966 and has been amended numerous times since —most recently in 2009. FOIA provides the public with a presumptive right to access agency records, limited by nine exemptions that allow agencies to withhold certain types or categories of records.

The legislation under consideration in the 114th Congress, S. 337 and H.R. 653, is largely based on bills from the 113th Congress, S. 2520 and H.R. 1211. Both of the bills in the current Congress seek to amend a number of provisions of FOIA for the purpose of increasing public access —including improving electronic accessibility of agency records, clarifying the right to request information related to intra- and inter-agency memoranda or letters, standardizing the use of search and duplication fees by agencies, and requiring agencies to notify requestors of the status of their requests and of the availability of dispute resolution processes for requests that they believe have been inappropriately denied. Both bills would also create a Chief FOIA Officers Council, responsible for informing government-wide FOIA administrators of best practices, and would establish new FOIA-related oversight responsibilities and reporting requirements. ….

…..This report provides a side-by-side comparison of the bills, using the versions that have passed each of their originating congressional chambers. The report also provides context related to bill amendments and language additions that occurred between bill versions, when applicable. Finally, the report provides analysis of certain provisions of the bills. …..

The Child Support Enforcement Program: A Legislative History

Source: Carmen Solomon-Fears, Congressional Research Service, CRS Report, R44423, March 21, 2016

The Child Support Enforcement (CSE) program was enacted in 1975 as a federal-state program (Title IV-D of the Social Security Act, P.L. 93-647). It is intended to help strengthen families by securing financial support for children from their noncustodial parent on a consistent and continuing basis and by helping some of these families to remain self-sufficient and off public assistance. Child support payments enable parents who do not live with their children to fulfill their financial responsibility to them by contributing to the payment of childrearing costs. …..

Essay — Softening Voter ID Laws Through Litigation: Is it Enough?

Source: Richard L. Hasen, University of California – Irvine School of Law, Research Paper No. 2016-07, March 7, 2016

From the abstract:
Headlines about voter identification laws often place court rulings in a simple win or loss frame. For example, the New York Times headline describing the result in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, a 2008 case involving the constitutionality of Indiana’s strict voter identification law, read: In a 6-3 Vote, Justices Uphold a Voter ID Law. Similarly, in reporting on the 2015 decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit involving Texas’ voter identification law, the Associated Press article was headlined Federal Court Strikes Down Tough Texas Voter ID Law.

In fact, the results in both cases were more nuanced. As reporter Linda Greenhouse explained in that New York Times article, the Supreme Court decision in Crawford was fractured. Although a majority of the Court rejected a full facial challenge to Indiana’s law on equal protection grounds, a plurality of the Court, as well as the dissenters, left open the possibility that Indiana’s law could be unconstitutional “as applied” to certain voters who faced special burdens in getting a voter identification law. Further, although the Fifth Circuit did hold in Veasey v. Abbott that Texas’s voter identification law violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, the Court held that the appropriate remedy would not be a wholesale abandonment of the law; instead the appeals court directed the lower federal district court to allow Texas to use its law in most instances, but to craft a remedy which would allow those facing special burdens additional ways to prove identity and cast a ballot.

In theory, softening of voter identification laws through litigation is a positive development aimed at avoiding disenfranchisement of both voters who face special burdens obtaining an acceptable government-issued identification necessary to vote and of those voters who face confusion or administrative error. In practice, however, softening may do less to alleviate the actual burdens of voter identification laws than to make judges feel better about their Solomonic rulings. In fact, softening devices still leave an uncertain number voters disenfranchised. These burdens might be justified if there were evidence that state voter identification laws solve a serious problem, but there is no such evidence.

This brief Essay first describes the theoretical softening which emerged in some voter identification litigation. It then explains that such softening offers less than meets the eye in helping voters facing difficulties voting in states with strict voter identification requirements. It concludes that courts should strike down fully strict voter identification laws, because the laws deprive at least some voters of the ability to cast a valid vote for no good reason, and the softening devices do not do enough.

The Scandal of Voter Suppression in America

Source: William John Cox, Global Research, February 29, 2016

Ostensibly, universal voting is the ideal of a free and democratic republic; however, barriers have been placed between many citizens and the ballot box ever since the creation of the United States. Many of these obstacles, such as property ownership and the racially-biased poll tax, have been removed. They are, however, being replaced by voter identification (ID) laws and other voter suppression schemes designed to discourage and prevent many, otherwise eligible voters from participating in elections. Voter suppression takes many forms and—in its aggregate—could allow the election of a president in the November 2016 election who is not the choice of the American People…. The most successful electoral subversion results from voter ID laws passed in many states in the past 15 years. These laws have been enacted—purportedly— to prevent voter fraud, in which an ineligible voter impersonates an eligible voter. Typically, these laws require the presentation of photographic identification, such as a driver’s license or passport in order to vote. In truth, these laws are a blatant stratagem to prevent the political opposition from voting….

Related:
UPDATE: Dems respond to US Rep. Grothman comment on voter ID law
Source: WMTV, April 6, 2016

Wisconsin Congressman Glenn Grothman was being interviewed in Milwaukee last night on how Republicans will fare in the November general election. His controversial remarks are what have people talking.
“You know that a lot of Republicans, since 1984 in the presidential races, have not been able to win in Wisconsin,” WTMJ Charles Benson said. “Why would it be any different for Ted Cruz, or a Donald Trump?”
“I think Hillary Clinton is the weakest candidate the Democrats have ever put up and now we have photo ID, and I think photo ID will make a little difference as well,” Congressman Grothman responded.
His comments have been resonating across the state today, causing a lot of back and forth between views.
It seems what both sides of the aisle were at odds about, while the voter ID law was passed almost 5 years ago, are resurfacing again….

If You Think Voter ID Is About Voter Fraud, This Republican Congressman Has News For You
by Aaron Rupar, Think Progress, April 6, 2016

Voter Identification Laws and the Suppression of Minority Votes
Source: Zoltan Hajnal, Nazita Lajevardi, Lindsay Nielson, University of California – San Diego, [2016]

The Most Brazen Attempt at Voter Suppression Yet
Source: Jamelle Bouie, Slate, October 29, 2014
New revelations show GOP officials in key battleground states are attempting to purge millions of minorities from the voter rolls.

Republicans Admit Voter-ID Laws Are Aimed at Democratic Voters
Source: Jamelle Bouie, Daily Beast, August 28, 2013

A Job Is Not a Hobby: The Judicial Revival of Corporate Paternalism and Its Problematic Implications

Source: Leo E. Strine Jr., Journal of Corporation Law, Vol. 41, 2015

From the abstract:
This article connects the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby to the history of “corporate paternalism.” It details the history of employer efforts to restrict the freedom of employees, and legislative attempts to ensure worker freedom. It also highlights the role of employment in healthcare coverage, and situates the Affordable Care Act’s “minimum essential guarantees” in a historical and global context. The article also discusses how Hobby Lobby combines with the Supreme Court’s earlier decisions in Citizens United and National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius to constrain the government’s ability to extend the social safety net, and shows how those decisions put pressure on corporate law itself.

Congress.gov

Source: Library of Congress, 2016

From about:
Congress.gov is the official website for U.S. federal legislative information. The site provides access to accurate, timely, and complete legislative information for Members of Congress, legislative agencies, and the public. It is presented by the Library of Congress (LOC) using data from the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Office of the Secretary of the Senate, the Government Publishing Office, Congressional Budget Office, and the LOC’s Congressional Research Service.

Congress.gov is usually updated the morning after a session adjourns. Consult Coverage Dates for Legislative Information for the specific update schedules and start date for each collection.

The scope of data collections and system functionality have continued to expand since THOMAS was launched in January 1995, when the 104th Congress convened. THOMAS was produced after Congressional leadership directed the Library of Congress to make federal legislative information freely available to the public.

Until all data sets from the legacy system are available from the new system, THOMAS will be accessible. THOMAS Retirement – Frequently Asked Questions provides additional information.

Congressional documents from the first 100 years of the U.S. Congress (1774-1875) can be accessed through A Century of Lawmaking.

Related:
Congress.gov Spring Cleaning: Expanded Quick Search
Source: Andrew Weber, Law Library of Congress, In Custodia Legis: Law Librarians of Congress blog, April 4, 2016

Over the last several months, we have added a variety of enhancements to Congress.gov.  It began with the Communications in October, the Congressional Record Index in December, and the XML Bulk Data via GPO in February.  Today’s update focuses on expanding Quick Search on Congress.gov.

Congress.gov Enhancements
Below is a timeline of releases that incorporated new content and improved features to Congress.gov.

Who’s Afraid of Collective Action?

Source: Kelsey Bleiweiss, OnLabor blog, April 1, 2016

The law of the workplace is in the midst of a critical debate about collectivity.

In case after case courts and the National Labor Relations Board have fought over the availability of collective action in two areas relevant to workers: class actions and class arbitration. (Union rights and collective bargaining represent a third area, but the debate over this kind of collective action is beyond the scope of this post.) These forms of collective legal action have been considered legitimate legal tools at one point, so why has recent law undercut workers who band together to use those tools?

Beyond North Carolina’s LGBT Battle: States’ War on Cities

Source: Alan Greenblatt, Governing, March 25, 2016

North Carolina’s fight over LGBT protections is part of a larger recent shift in political dynamics: States are thwarting local laws any chance they get — while simultaneously complaining about federal intrusion on their own. ….

….If a state official doesn’t like a city’s policy, there’s little penalty involved in trying to block it. A tax on earnings may be an essential source of revenue for St. Louis, but voting to kill it allows a legislator from outstate to take an anti-tax stand essentially for free. It won’t in any way affect revenues or programs back home. The same pattern of state legislative indifference to urban desires holds true for spending decisions. Consider infrastructure. The percentage of urban roads that have “poor pavement quality” has increased more than 50 percent over the past decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office. When it comes to public transit — and light rail in particular — state officials have been abandoning projects pretty decisively in recent months…..
Related:
Growing Southern cities are increasingly targets of state pre-emption
Source: Institute for Southern Studies, April 1, 2016

Access to Government Information In the United States: A Primer

Source: Wendy Ginsberg, Michael Greene, Congressional Research Service, CRS Report for Congress, 97-71, March 18, 2016

No provision in the U.S. Constitution expressly establishes a procedure for public access to government records or meetings. Congress, however, has legislated various public access laws.

Among these laws are two records access statutes,
• the Freedom of Information Act (FOI Act or FOIA; 5 U.S.C. §552), and
• the Privacy Act (5 U.S.C. §552a),
and two meetings access statutes,
• the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA; 5 U.S.C. App.), and
• the Government in the Sunshine Act (5 U.S.C. §552b).

These four laws provide the foundation for access to executive branch information in the American federal government. …. This report offers an introduction to the four access laws and provides citations to additional resources related to these statutes. This report includes statistics on the use of FOIA and FACA and on litigation related to FOIA. ….

Wisconsin’s Voter ID Law Requires an Education Campaign, Which the State Hasn’t Funded

Source: Sarah Smith, ProPublica, March 24, 2016

The controversial law is about to get its inaugural use in a major statewide vote, Wisconsin’s April 5th primary.
Related:
Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Voter ID Laws
More than 30 states have enacted some version of voter ID law in recent years. How much do these laws change voting rules and what impact could they have on the general election?