Laurel Duggan

Frivolous Arrests Undermine COVID Prison Policy

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Posted by Laurel Duggan on Thursday, June 18th, 2020, 2:53 PM PERMALINK

American jails and prisons have become coronavirus hotbeds. In response to this crisis, states and localities are releasing prisoners to reduce overcrowding. Their efforts are being undermined by the continued arrest of low-level offenders.

The five largest known clusters of coronavirus in the U.S. are in correctional institutions. At Marion Correctional Institution in Ohio, more than 80% of the population is infected. Five staff members and eighty-four prisoners have died.

This poses an obvious risk to incarcerated populations, as jails and prisons are ill-equipped to deal with such a widespread outbreak. But the problem goes far beyond prison walls. Guards and other staff at correctional institutions risk contracting coronavirus and spreading the illness to their families and communities.

In light of this crisis, prisons and jails across the country are cutting populations through early release. Prison populations nationwide have fallen 20% in recent months, with Oregon cutting its prison population by nearly 50%.

For elderly and immunocompromised individuals, incarceration at Marion or a comparable institution comes dangerously close to a death sentence. Yet the health of the incarcerated must be balanced with public safety concerns; eligibility for early release must take into account the severity of the crime and the risk an offender poses to the public.

As law enforcement decides which individuals are eligible for early release, their efforts are negated by the arrest of low-level offenders who do not pose a serious risk to public safety. 

Shelley Luther, the Texas salon owner who was famously arrested for keeping her business open in violation of stay-at-home orders, spent two days in jail. Trivial arrests of this nature contribute to overcrowding and increase the risk of major outbreaks in jails. They also pose an unnecessary risk to the police officers carrying out arrests during a pandemic.

The same is true for arrests related to technical violations. Parolees who are unable to pay fines and fees—particularly during a nationwide economic shutdown which has left millions unemployed—should not be sent back to jail.

The limited resources of law enforcement must be reserved for those who pose a legitimate risk to public safety.

Photo Credit: Nenad Stojkovic

Illinois Lawmakers Hit Taxpayers Hard with Tax Hikes this Summer

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Posted by Laurel Duggan on Wednesday, August 7th, 2019, 3:13 PM PERMALINK

Families road tripping through the Midwest this summer are hitting an unpleasant surprise once they cross Prairie State lines— a whopping 38 cents-per-gallon gas tax.  

Illinois lawmakers kicked off summer break by doubling the state gas tax from 19 to 38 cents-a-gallon under Senate Bill 1939. To make matters worse, this dramatic tax hike went into effect on July 1st just as drivers sat in record-breaking holiday traffic.

The gas tax revenue will be used to pay for a massive infrastructure project—one that could arguably be funded without a significant tax increase. But raising taxes is what lawmakers do, rather than reforming government. Illinois is now home to the second highest state and local gas tax burden in the country, as noted by Illinois Policy.

Fortunately for those who have flexibility in their travel plans/routes, the state’s border with Indiana is lined with gas stations. Many Illinoisans already travel to Northwest Indiana on regular basis to fill up their gas tank due to the lower tax rates. This trend is likely to grow in popularity—resulting in revenue loss for the state and Illinois businesses who rely heavily on convenience store sales.

William Fleischli, Vice President of the Illinois Petroleum Marketers Association/ Illinois Association of Convenience Stores, expects that the state’s motor fuel volume sales will go down by 2-3% and convenience store sales by 10-12% due to the gas tax increase.

"Borders will become wider and our customers will cross them to buy motor fuel, cigarettes, and other ancillary items, costing the state tax dollars and companies profits," said Fleischli.

While families traversing across the Midwest may only fuel their car once or twice in the state, many Illinoisans don’t have that luxury. And unfortunately for Prairie State residents, Illinois lawmakers have no intention of letting up in their effort to raise taxes.  

Just last month, lawmakers raised the cigarette tax from $1.98 to $2.98-per-pack under Senate Bill 690. Illinois already had the thirteenth highest cigarette tax in the country before this tax went into effect—making it a popular destination for smugglers to import cigarettes across state lines. Now that Illinois dons the ninth highest cigarette tax in the nation, illicit cigarette activity is likely to get much worse.

Further, lawmakers are laying the groundwork for a progressive income tax code in the state. The Illinois House recently amended the state constitution’s longstanding ban on graduated income tax rates. From here, the issue will be placed on the ballot in 2020, where voters will decide whether or not they want to replace the flat 4.95% income tax rate with a bracketed income tax code.

If enacted, the tax code would provide a modest 0.2% tax cut for those earning less than $10,000 annually while nearly doubling the tax burden of those earning over $250,000 annually (from 4.95% to 7.75-7.95%). This massive tax hike, on top of the cigarette and gas tax hikes, would further drive businesses and job opportunities out of the state; the meager tax breaks for the poor will not make up for the loss of jobs the tax hikes would likely cause.

Illinois is moving in the wrong direction and it’s clear that many voters want out, as residents are leaving in droves. Yet lawmakers continue to paper over the state’s $14 billion deficit with tax hikes while failing to address the root causes of debt. Rather than driving families and businesses out of the state via high taxes, lawmakers should address the bad policies fueling the deficit: government spending. Until then, lawmakers can expect more Illinois residents to leave.

Photo Credit: J. Crocker

Local Income Taxes Pile on Top of State & Federal Burdens

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Posted by Laurel Duggan on Tuesday, August 6th, 2019, 5:27 PM PERMALINK

Federal taxes are bad enough, but when states taxes are added, the pain gets worse. Then for some unlucky Americans, their local governments add income taxes on top of it all, creating the most brutal high-tax environments in the nation – the New York’s and San Francisco’s of the world.

Income taxes are now imposed at the local level in jurisdictions within 17 states, making up over 10% of tax revenue in six of those states, according to a study conducted by the Tax Foundation on local income taxes.

Income taxes took hold at the federal level in 1913 and expanded to the states in the following decades. Income taxes were part of the early progressive movement. They became considerably more common during the Great Depression, when traditional revenue sources were no longer sufficient for providing tax revenue. The income tax was gradually adopted by cities and counties in the mid-century and was eventually imposed on 4,964 taxing jurisdictions.

Local income tax rates are typically 1 to 3 percent, and exist in various forms including wage taxes, payroll taxes, local service taxes, and occupational privilege taxes. Maryland leads in local income taxes, which claim 2.28% of adjusted gross income on average in the state, accounting for one third of local tax collections.

The local income tax can be levied against all income, earned income, or interest and dividend income. The tax is levied by counties, municipalities, school districts, and special districts. The complexity of these tax systems can create a significant compliance cost for local businesses. Some cities charge businesses a weekly flat rate per employee. Sometimes commuters are charged local income taxes for their work district, and other times they are exempted because they do not receive the full benefit of the local tax. Yonkers, New York has a confounding policy in which residents pay 16.75% of their state tax as a “piggy-back” local tax.

The majority of local income taxes are imposed on cities and towns in the Rust Belt and the Northeast. Unsurprisingly, local taxes have been imposed in notoriously high-tax states like New Jersey, New York, and California.

Those paying high local income taxes were impacted by the implementation of the limit on State and Local Tax Deductions (SALT) in 2018.  The $10,000 cap meant residents of high tax states would not be able to pass on the burdens imposed by their local and state governments. It is impossible to ignore the cost of income tax stacked atop sales tax stacked atop property tax (and so forth).

Instead of complaining at the federal government, these taxpayers should focus on the state and county legislatures, and city councils who have created the tax burdens they are no longer getting a discount on. 

Local income taxes could be used to replace other local taxes, like property taxes, but instead more often get piled on top of already lengthy tax bills to make life a living tax hell for families and businesses.

Photo Credit: Marco Verch

Taxpayer Misery: NY Desperate to Trap Fleeing Tax Dollars

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Posted by Laurel Duggan on Monday, July 29th, 2019, 9:25 AM PERMALINK

When New Yorkers flee the state to avoid high taxes, they are voting with their feet. The state is not handling the rejection well, desperately grabbing for these taxpayers’ wallets through aggressive residency audits.

When New York’s Department of Taxation suspects that a person is falsely claiming to live in another state to dodge taxes, they are able to audit a person’s residency through shockingly invasive searches of an individual’s personal information and property.

Auditors have been known to enter homes, search refrigerators, comb through phone records, social media feeds, and even dental and veterinary records to find any shred of evidence that a person spends more time than they claim in New York. Those who lose their audits are forced to pay the state’s punishing income tax.

With the average audit raking in $144,270, auditors have every incentive to continue harassing former New Yorkers.

There is a tremendous imbalance of power between tax emigrants and state auditors. Domicile status is subjective, so it does not take much to “prove” that a person is still a New York resident; the state wins more than half of the audits it takes on. John Gaied experienced this firsthand.

A New Jersey resident with a business in New York, Gaied became the target of a domicile audit which eventually made it to the New York Court of Appeals. He owned an investment property in New York, which he let his elderly parents live in. Auditors searched their home and found that Gaied did not have his own bed or any other personal belongings in the home.

Nonetheless, the Administrative Law Judge ignored the exculpatory evidence and determined that Gaied was a New York resident, demanding $253,062 in state income taxes. This bad decision was only overturned after Gaied leapt through countless legal hoops. Most people are not this fortunate. In the face of life-disrupting audits—which can last up to five years and may be repeated on an annual basis—it’s easier to just give up the case.

New York has some of the highest tax rates in the country. The SALT cap, enacted in 2018, placed a $10,000 limit on a tax deduction popular among high-income earners in high-tax states, making toxic tax climates like the Empire State more visible than ever.

New York recently lead the country in population loss, losing 48,000 residents between 2017 and 2018. Meanwhile, Texas and Florida—neither of which have an individual state income tax—lead in population gains. More New Yorkers move to Florida than to any other state. Florida even beat out neighboring states like New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania, the historical havens for New York commuters seeking a lower cost of living (Census 2017). Even New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo admits that taxes are driving people out of the state.

According to Barry Horowitz, a partner at the WithumSmith+Brown accounting firm, high earners moving from New York to Florida have a 100% chance of being audited. This is unsurprising. New York’s wealthiest 1% pay nearly half of the state’s income taxes; as the wealthy flee an increasingly hostile tax system, authorities will do everything they can to maintain control over their money.

But New York cannot trap disgruntled taxpayers in the state forever. Residency audits are only a band-aid solution. The state is over $40 billion in debt, with state authorities incurring around $150 billion in debt, and faces $70 billion in unfunded liabilities (mostly in pensions and state employee health benefits). The only real long-term solution for New York is to curb excess spending and build a tax climate that welcomes businesses and residents.

Photo Credit: Matt Wade

Clean Slate Will Change Lives & Improve Pennsylvania Criminal Justice System

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Posted by Laurel Duggan on Monday, July 15th, 2019, 3:31 PM PERMALINK

Pennsylvania has begun automatically sealing the criminal records of individuals who were either never convicted, or have served time for lower-level misdemeanors and kept a good record. This Clean Slate legislation will be life-changing for those who struggle to find jobs and housing because of old criminal records.

House Bill 1419 calls for the state to automatically seal criminal records for cases in which a person was sentenced to less than one year, once they have gone ten years without any new convictions punishable by more than one year in prison. Those sentenced to less than two years for second- or third-degree misdemeanors may apply for record-sealing after the same ten-year interim.

Important exceptions apply to violent crimes including murder, child endangerment, kidnapping, and sexual offenses. Note that the average offender in Pennsylvania serves 3.8 years; this bill will only apply to the lowest-level offenders in the system.

The bill also ends the system in which individuals carry criminal records for life for crimes that they were never convicted of.

When a person is charged with a crime but not convicted, the accusation and its stigma can follow a person around for life. Khalia Robinson experienced this firsthand.

While six months pregnant, Ms. Robinson visited a crowded Chinese restaurant, where she accidentally knocked over a pile of CDs with her large stomach. Before she could finish picking them back up, she was arrested and charged with selling bootleg CDs. She was never convicted, but the charges remained on her record and haunted her for years.

“When you pull up my FBI record, it looks like I have a rap sheet as long as a thief,” she said.

Sealing criminal records for charges that never resulted in convictions is a commonsense measure to protect due process will prevent people from being discriminated against for crimes they did not commit.

For those who did commit crimes, these reforms are just as important.

A person who commits a low-level crime, serves their sentence, and goes ten years without any serious new convictions has clearly demonstrated that they are not a danger to society and are very unlikely to recidivate. However, such individuals can struggle to find jobs due to their criminal records. Job applicants with criminal histories receive sixty percent fewer callbacks from employers than their peers.

Jobs bring about stability and security; they allow individuals to provide for their families and weave themselves into their communities. These are keys to incentivizing long-term good behavior, and they are some of the most important elements of a satisfying life.

The same is true for housing. Eighty percent of landlords conduct background checks, so criminal records can hurt a person’s chances of finding a place to live even when charges are decades old.

Without a job or a place to live, people with criminal records are likely to fall into government dependency, homelessness, or criminal activity.

Rep. Sheryl Delozier (R-88th District) and Rep. Jordan Harris (D-186th District) deserve recognition for their work on this legislation. An estimated one million people will have their records sealed now that the bill has gone into effect.  

Photo Credit: Harvey Barrison

Ohio Gov. DeWine Should Veto Vaping Tax Hike

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Posted by Laurel Duggan on Wednesday, July 3rd, 2019, 4:17 PM PERMALINK


Ohio's budget is finally through the legislature, but it still includes some costly tax policies that can be improved if Governor Mike DeWine uses his line-item veto power to take them out of the $142 billion plan. Make no mistake, the budget includes significant income tax relief, but there is a last chance to make it better for taxpayers.

One of those taxes is the ten cents per milliliter tax on the liquid contents of electronic cigarettes and vapor products. This tax hike would be bad for business, harmful to public health, and likely fail to bring in its anticipated tax revenue.

The state Senate originally proposed a 17% tax on vapor products, a rate equal to Ohio’s other tobacco products tax. Somehow, throughout the negotiation process, the proposal switched to a one cent per 0.1 mL of vape fluid, which can amount to much more than a 17% tax.

Ten cents per milliliter seems manageable at first glance, but some quick math reveals how damaging the tax would be for segments of the industry. A 120mL bottle of e-liquid, which retails at around $25, would be taxed at $12 under the most recent version of the budget. That’s a 48% tax, nearly triple the tax rate of most tobacco products and well over the $1.60 per pack cigarette tax rate (an effective rate of about 25%).

Brick and mortar vape shops that are already struggling may be unable to afford to stay in business.

The tax is by volume, so more expensive vaping products would taxed at a rate comparable to cigarettes (a pricier e-liquid sells at $26 for 60 ounces; the $6 tax would be 23%). Since vaping is far less harmful to adults than the use of cigarettes, it is in the best interest of public health to keep taxes lower for e-cigarettes than traditional cigarettes.

This tax hike ignores the growing scientific consensus that e-cigarettes are around 95% less harmful than traditional cigarettes. If the price of vaping rises compared to smoking, it will be harmful to public health because many low-income users will be priced out of less harmful alternatives.

Adults that currently vape may be forced to switch back to cigarettes if vaping gets too expensive. Traditional smokers face a similar problem: the last thing smokers need is another obstacle to using tobacco-free and reduced risk alternatives to cigarettes. Ohio’s tax policy should not discourage smokers from switching to e-cigarettes, nor should it manipulate its markets to make cigarettes and other tobacco products cheaper than vaping products.

Some voters support vape taxes because they are skeptical of the new and unknown. Their technophobia fails to take into account what we do know: that vaping is safer for adults than smoking, and that taxing vape products out of the market will push users to more harmful products.

The vapor product tax, along with other sin taxes, is prone to failure. Its two goals are to bring in revenue to the government and to control constituents’ behavior. If it works, adults will stop or reduce levels of vaping. As people stop buying taxable vapor products and their contents, or go out of state, the source of tax revenue is lost.

Governor DeWine can undo this mistake with a veto as he hurries to sign the budget.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

RI Union Bill Violates First Amendment

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Posted by Laurel Duggan on Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019, 7:21 PM PERMALINK

Coerced speech in the form of forced union dues was ruled unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in Janus v. AFSCME just over one year ago. Rhode Island lawmakers are now on the path to ignoring that ruling with House Bill 5259 and Senate Bill 712, proposed legislation that, if passed, would allow union bosses to once again take worker income without their consent in order to advance a political agenda that workers may or may not actually support.

If House Bill 5259 and Senate Bill 712 are enacted, government union officials will be able to force non-members to pay for collective bargaining and a host of other union fees. The new law would force employers to report new hires to unions within five days of hiring them. This represents a threat to employee privacy; it is likely that, in addition to sharing employment information, employers will divulge workers’ contact information to unions. This would pave the way for harassment and intimidation of nonmembers. Workers who abstain from joining the union could be bullied and strong-armed by union bosses and organizers, who have a long history of such behavior.

Rebecca Friedrichs, a California public school teacher, experienced this bullying firsthand. She became critical of the union’s protectionism after watching them help an abusive teacher keep her job. She was forced to pay to advance union policy, despite her belief in merit-based hiring and vouchers. Her dissent was not welcome. When Friedrichs went to court over forced union dues, she became a target for harassment and slander by the union she had paid dues to throughout her entire teaching career. If Rhode Island passes this round of legislation, public workers will once again be forced to pay dues to unions like this, and unions will have no incentive to improve their behavior.

Some argue that unions are vital to the working class and could not exist without coercing money from laborers. This claim is demonstrably false. Even in the private sector, unions exist in every single state where payment of union dues is not coerced. In fact, union membership in Rhode Island increased in the year that Janus was decided. If unions are providing a valuable service to workers, they’ll have no problem convincing new members to join.

Rhode Island’s House passed HB 5259 and the measure now moves back to the Senate for final approval before heading to Governor Gina Raimondo’s (RI-D) desk. Unions have every reason to be optimistic.

The sovereignty of the individual is the central tenet of our constitution, and the Janus decision rightly reflects that. Workers deserve freedom of expression and should not have to kowtow to the purported needs of the collective. A person should never be forced to give their money to a political cause against their will. Whether a person chooses not to join a union for political, financial, or personal reasons, their right to control their money and political expression must be respected by employers and unions.

Photo Credit: Lokesh

Piling on Taxes to Attract Tourists, A Plan Only Government Could Love

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Posted by Laurel Duggan on Thursday, June 27th, 2019, 12:33 PM PERMALINK

Only government could pitch higher taxes as a way to attract business.

High tax rates have made Illinois second in the country for population loss, with over 100,000 residents fleeing the state since 2013. Meanwhile, the Convention and Visitors Bureau of DuPage County is leading the charge to hit local businesses with—you guessed it—a new tax.

The DuPage Coalition for Tourism, an arm of the DuPage Convention and Visitors Center, has proposed a 2.5% occupancy tax on hotels and motels on top of existing state and local taxes. The money, it claims, will be used for “tourism and economic development purposes.” Of course, “economic development” is often cover for giveaways on the taxpayer dime.

The Coalition says the funds will go towards advertising and recruiting sports events and conferences. It is unclear how effective the project will be at bringing in crowds, given manufactured tourism’s tendency to fail. What is clear is that occupancy taxes will artificially raise the price of accommodations in DuPage – dissuading potential visitors or driving them to stay in neighboring areas. Hotel owners, the tax’s supposed beneficiaries, are strongly opposed to the measure.

“The state is looking to increase taxes, there’s a $15 minimum wage coming and there was talk in Oak Brook of a new food and beverage tax,” said David Carlin, the president of the Oak Brook Chamber. “It’s taxes, non-stop, and I don’t think a tax is the answer here.”

Cities within the county already collect bed taxes and have their own funds for promoting tourism and other industries. Enacting a similar tax at the county level is redundant, not to mention expensive. It would be stacked on top of existing taxes which already hover over ten percent for local hotels.

Interestingly enough, the organization gunning for this tax, the DuPage Coalition for Tourism, is itself funded by local hotel taxes. So a bureaucracy wants to raise taxes to feed itself. That’s not surprising, but nobody else in the county should fall for their scheme. 

Occupancy taxes are often lauded as a way of bringing in revenue without taxing local residents, since tourists are the ones who pay taxes at hotels. In reality, such taxes force hotels to raise the price of rooms, which drives customers into nearby markets where rooms are cheaper. The subsequent decrease in visitors has a ripple effect. Visitors will choose to stay in hotels one or two counties away, causing local restaurants and shops to lose business.

The Coalition is misguided in its belief that tourism investment would draw crowds to DuPage. They state on their website that they strive to compete with Indianapolis and St. Louis for tourism, but these cities have professional sports teams and bustling urban landscapes. Competing with those towns is unrealistic. As local hotel owner Jim Nagle explained, “No one is coming to DuPage for vacations.” The county is headquarters to four Fortune 500 companies; the majority of its visitors come for business.

For vacationers visiting a theme park or a beach, minor differences in occupancy taxes may not be a deterrent for an especially attractive destination. For business trips, however, even minor differences in hotel prices will quickly push potential visitors to nearby towns with lower tax rates. Occupancy taxes make suburbs like DuPage less competitive in regional markets.

In order to draw in visitors and build up its economy, DuPage should focus on lowering costs to compete with neighboring areas rather than handing more money to government to spend in the name of attracting tourists.

Advocates for the tax argue that DuPage is not competitive enough for its hotel industry to survive without an influx of public investment. The county’s economic records tell a different story; DuPage is thriving. In 2017 alone, DuPage generated 23,000 new jobs. State and local tax revenue increased by 8.7 and 3 percent respectively.

Even if the local economy was tanking, occupancy taxes would hurt the economy, but that’s not the case. Also, you’ll recall hotel owners oppose the tax, which suggests they will not die without it.

The DuPage Coalition for Tourism is paternalistically trying to force their “help” upon unwilling hotels that would rather be left alone. The Coalition should listen to Jim Nagle. “We’re already spending a lot to promote ourselves with people who know what they’re doing,” he said. “We don’t need government doing our job for us.”

In fact, there is a long list of businesses and cities that actively oppose the measure. The mayor of Naperville worries that his city “will be tapped for the benefit of businesses and residents outside of Naperville, which seems to be an endless tactic used against [their] community.” Five commerce and tourism organizations in the town have formally opposed the tax. The majority of DuPage County’s hotel rooms are in Naperville, which consequently would be burdened with the bulk of the taxes.

Even the Naperville City Council unanimously opposes the tax.

In order to pass the county-wide tax, legislators will have to change state law. So the path is steep. But that does not mean taxpayers should not make it steeper.

Concerned residents can fight this intrusive and harmful tax by expressing their concern to their Illinois state representatives as well as the County of DuPage, which oversees and funds the organization that is advocating for the tax increase.

Photo Credit: Lauren Bailey

The Price Ceiling: NY Govt. Could Decide Consumer Prices By Gender

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Posted by Laurel Duggan on Friday, June 14th, 2019, 11:47 AM PERMALINK

This week the New York Assembly passed a bill which would ban what they call the “pink tax,” which in fact is not a tax at all, but a price difference for goods marketed towards women. According to New York’s Department of Consumer Affairs, for similar products including clothing and personal care, the women’s versions are more expensive 42 percent of the time and the men’s versions are more expensive 18 percent of the time.

Senate Bill 2679 bans price differences on the basis of gender for similar (note: similar, not identical) products. It could be extra confusing for New York City, which recognizes over 30 genders with enforcement of massive fines.

By passing this bill, the New York Assembly has affirmed that it does not believe women are smart enough to decide for themselves whether a pink razor or vanilla-scented deodorant is worth an extra dollar. Rather than letting consumers choose between supposedly equal but inequitably priced goods, the bill would allow the state to enforce price controls, stripping consumers of their right to choose.

The state would mandate the price margins, and consumers would have to choose between the limited array of products that their favorite brands can legally sell. The idea that women cannot decide for themselves whether a product is worth the price is just a sexism-tinged version of the government-knows-best ideology behind socialism.

The New York legislature has made it obvious that some basic clarification on taxes is needed. A tax is collected coercively by the government and carries with it the threat of fines and imprisonment. The “pink tax,” on the other hand, is optional for both men and women. Brands do not have the power to force anyone to buy their pink products, and women are always free to simply buy the products marketed towards men.

In a free market, consumers have considerable power over prices. This is because they have the power of choice; if a store sells two different razors, pink and black but otherwise identical, consumers can simply pick the cheaper option. If a product offers women unique benefits at a higher price, customers can individually decide to pay extra for the superior product or buy a cheaper, gender-neutral alternative.  

Consider a luxury women’s shaving cream. The product is composed of ingredients similar to its masculine counterpart, but with a few key differences. It could contains shea butter to moisturize the skin. Or maybe the brand simply added perfume and glitter in an obvious attempt to market to women and increased the price accordingly. Brands have a right to charge extra for such products and should not be penalized if it is predominantly women who choose to buy them.

To the New York government, the price difference between these products may be arbitrary, even sexist. To some consumers, however, the added features are meaningful, and the aesthetic differences are worth the extra cost. It is the right of the consumer to decide what a product is worth. It is not up to the government to rob whimsical, feminine, sparkly pink products of their rightful place in the free market.

The bill now awaits approval in the Senate. Time will tell whether New York will stand up for consumer freedom. 

Photo Credit: L.D.

States Continue to Pursue Conservative Criminal Justice Reform

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Posted by Laurel Duggan on Wednesday, June 5th, 2019, 12:40 PM PERMALINK

With many state legislative sessions entering crunch time, the action on criminal justice reform has been picking up. Americans are changing the dialogue on second chances, addressing issues from sentencing and reentry to human dignity.

Nevada Hits Jackpot on Reform

Nevada just passed Assembly Bill 236, which addresses both sentencing and post-release issues.

This legislation establishes crisis intervention training and alternatives to jail for those with behavioral health needs. This will ensure that this population receives the help they need to no longer threaten public safety. The bill creates graduated sanctions for parolees, replacing the system in which technical violations result in reflexive imprisonment. It also adjusts penalties for drug and property crimes according to inflation. The resulting decrease in incarceration is projected to save taxpayers $543 million over ten years.

The Nevada legislature is considering reforms to their asset forfeiture programs. Criminal forfeiture is a tactic used by law enforcement to investigate criminal activity and promote public safety. Unfortunately, bad policy has allowed the practice to be abused. Due process is evaded, and innocent people have their property confiscated. Worse yet, the practice has generated a perverse incentive system that undermines the goals of law enforcement.

When forfeitures fund the departments that seize properties in the first place, two things result. Police confiscate property too zealously, to the detriment of civil liberties. They focus their limited resources on the low-level offenses associated with property seizures while neglecting more serious, violent crimes. Nevada’s Assembly Bill 420 proposes several reforms to solve these problems. First, the bill redirects the spoils of forfeiture to the state’s permanent education fund. Forfeitures can only be used by law enforcement to pay outstanding liens and reasonable enforcement expenses, not to include personnel costs. It also creates paths to mitigate forfeitures through petitions and pretrial hearings. The legislation also establishes requirements of clear and convincing evidence for property seizures while reaffirming the rights of law enforcement to conduct appropriate, legal criminal forfeiture.

Pennsylvania Sets the Table for More Wins

The Pennsylvania house has introduced legislation to reform parole and help former inmates successfully transition back into society. The litany of technical regulations one can unknowingly violate make it all too easy for those on parole to be sent back to prison. Under House Bill 1555, parolees would not be reincarcerated for technical violations such as traveling outside one’s jurisdiction or associating with another person with a criminal record. It would also end the practice of lengthening parole time for those who cannot afford to pay off their fines. This data-driven approach to reentry will reduce recidivism and help reformed convicts get back on their feet.

State Senator, and Taxpayer Protection Pledge Signer, John DiSanto is sponsoring legislation (SB 637) to enact occupational licensing reforms that will remove unnecessary barriers to employment for people leaving the criminal justice system.

Mississippi Making Rapid Progress

Meanwhile, Mississippi is making strides in alternative sentencing. Too many people are locked away in prison with no opportunity for genuine rehabilitation. Those with mental health and addiction problems may enter and leave prison without receiving the help that they need, their mental states further deteriorating in the process; these people are not evil, they are sick. This Wednesday, Gov. Phil Bryant signed into law House Bill 1352, which authorizes the creation of intervention courts, an alternative to prison time for certain nonviolent offenders. This includes drug courts, mental health courts, veteran courts, and juvenile justice pretrial intervention. These alternatives to prison are a cost-effective way of turning non-violent offenders into healthy, productive members of society. The bill also expands expungement possibilities and makes it less common to have a driver’s license revoked for low-level offenses, two important steps in facilitating successful reentry.

Flurry of Action in Colorado

A flurry of criminal justice bills have passed in Colorado. Former offenders will no longer have to check a box in the initial phase of job applications. Instead, employers will have to consider their criminal records on an individual basis. Several drug crimes will be changed from felonies to misdemeanors, correcting an overly aggressive tough-on-crime streak which did little to advance public safety. The state will also reclassify sexual assault and sexual misconduct by peace officers to reflect the seriousness of the crime.

Wisconsin to Finally Act?

Lastly, the expungement process is being reexamined in Wisconsin. Currently, the state only grants expungements at the time of sentencing. People who are truly rehabilitated while serving their time are automatically denied a chance at a clean slate.

Wisconsin’s Senate Bill 39, cosponsored by Representative Katrina Shankland (D-71) will allow people to file petitions for expungement after completion of a sentence. It also removes the requirement that only crimes commit under the age of 25 are eligible for expungement, an arbitrary regulation which did nothing to promote public safety or rehabilitation. This legislation will remove unnecessary obstacles to employment for reformed offenders. Paving the path to post-release success improves the lives of the formerly incarcerated, reduces recidivism, and saves Americans money on incarceration costs. 

Photo Credit: Adam Quirk