Our Newsbeats:

  • Trio of legislators in legal trouble

    January 26, 2015

    This week’s tracker includes a look at three legislators in legal trouble in Kentucky, New York and Virginia.

    • Kentucky: The Tracker previously reported on a Kentucky state senator arrested for driving under the influence shortly after the beginning of this year’s session; the case took an unusual turn last week after his attorney argued that constitutional privilege should have shielded him from arrest. Brandon Smith (R-30) was charged with speeding and DUI after allegedly having a 0.16 blood-alcohol level on the night of January 6. Bill Johnson, Smith’s attorney, filed a motion to dismiss his client’s charges at an arraignment proceeding last Wednesday, arguing that a constitutional provision dating back to 1891 should have prevented his arrest.[1] Section 43 of the Kentucky Constitution reads: “The members of the General Assembly shall, in all cases except treason, felony, breach or surety of the peace, be privileged from arrest during their attendance on the sessions of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same; and for any speech or debate in either House they shall not be questioned in any other place.” Johnson said that the language was added to “keep legislators
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  • The Federal Vacancy Count

    January 22, 2015

    This week’s Federal Vacancy Count includes nominations, confirmations and vacancies from January 12, 2014, to January 20, 2015. Nominations, confirmations and vacancies occurring on January 21st will be reflected in the January 28th report. The vacancy of Robert Miller was an error on the United States Court website. His actual transition to senior status will occur in 2016. The vacancy warning level remained at blue this week after no new vacancies, no new nominations and no new confirmations. The vacancy percentage remained at 5.0%, and the total number of nominees waiting for confirmation remained at 11. The number of vacancies of Article III judges remained at 44 out of 874. A breakdown of the vacancies on each level can be found in the table below. For a more detailed look at the vacancies on the federal courts, see our Federal Court Vacancy Warning System.

    Vacancies by court

    New vacancies

    There were no new vacancies this week.

    New confirmations

    There were no new confirmations in the past week.

    New nominations

    There were no new nominations in the past week.

    Current judicial nominee statuses

    The following chart shows the number of nominees in any given step in the nomination process.



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  • Pension Hotspots: 2014 Year in Review

    December 24, 2014
    The Pension Hotspots Report is a monthly publication about local pensions and pension reform efforts.

    Ten pension-related measures were proposed for 2014 elections. Five of these were approved and two were defeated. Court decisions removed the initiatives in Pacific Grove, California, and Ventura County, California, from the ballot. A measure in San Jose seeking to alter previously approved reform was also ultimately not put on the ballot.

    This edition of the report serves as a year-end review and summary of all 2014 pension related measures covered by Ballotpedia.

    2014 local pension measures

    All of the pension-related measures below were put on local ballots in 2014 and were approved by voters.

    a City of Yorba Linda Elimination of Pension and Health Care Benefits for City Council Members, Measure JJ (November 2014):

    Upon approval, Measure JJ eliminated the pension and healthcare benefits for city council members going forward.[1]

    a City of Oakland Municipal Retirement System Termination, Measure EE (November 2014):

    Measure EE authorized the city council to approve, given a 4/5 majority vote of council members, the elimination of the Oakland Municipal Employee’s Retirement System (OMERS). The city would, under these

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      Pension Hotspots Report
  • First statewide measure of 2015 to be voted on in Wisconsin

    January 27, 2015

    In Wisconsin, voters will see a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment addressing the state’s judiciary system on the April 7 ballot, bringing the total number of 2015 statewide measures to four. In the meantime, marijuana continues its reign as one of the most prevalent topics on state and local ballots. Most recently, local measures have materialized in Tennessee, Kansas and California.

    First statewide measure of 2015 to be voted on in Wisconsin:
    The first statewide measure to go before voters in 2015 will appear on the April 7 ballot for voters in the Badger State. The measure, if approved, would provide for the election of the Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice by a majority of the justices serving on the court. The justice would serve a two-year term.[1]

    Currently, the Wisconsin Constitution mandates that the Chief Justice be appointed based on seniority from the pool of justices sitting on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson has served as the court’s chief justice since 1996. She’s considered a “liberal,” but the court majority is considered “conservative,” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.[2] Opponents argue that the amendment is a political attack on …

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  • 2014 elections spur possible initiative law changes in 2015

    January 21, 2015

    Nebraska’s Sen. Paul Schumacher (NP-22) proposes electronic initiative signature petitions:

    After the recent court case overturning Nebraska’s distribution requirement, Sen. Paul Schumacher (NP-22) hopes to sustain the momentum towards a more accessible Nebraska initiative petition process by proposing LB 214, which would establish electronic signature collection for initiative and referendum petitions. Schumacher said, “Almost all functions of government can be conducted electronically,” insisting that the initiative power should be added to the list. He followed up, “Since the mid-1990s there have been a number of court rulings and a number of misunderstood amendments to the petition process that have resulted in the petition process not being accessible to the general population.” Although Schumacher failed to convince his fellow lawmakers to approve a similar bill in 2011, he looks to capitalize on last year’s popular Initiative 425, which raised the state’s minimum wage. Schumacher claimed the initiative was only made possible by a very wealthy benefactor and hopes to make money less of a roadblock for initiative petitions in the future.[1][2]

    San Francisco Supervisor proposes initiative law reform after soda tax defeat:

    After his soda tax measure was defeated at the polls, Supervisor Scott Wiener said …

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      Ballot Law Update

Press Release

State Legislative Incumbents Cruise Through Election Season With Little Competition
Madison, Wisconsin–August 4, 2014: This year’s lineup of state legislative elections features record low levels of competition, according to an analysis by Ballotpedia.org. Where competition exists, Republicans are feeling the heat more so than Democrats. In total, 56% of this … Read More