Laurel Duggan

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

ATR Supports The Helping Gig Economy Workers Act of 2020

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Posted by Laurel Duggan on Wednesday, May 27th, 2020, 4:00 PM PERMALINK

Americans for Tax Reform endorses the Helping Gig Economy Workers Act of 2020 sponsored by congresswoman Carol Miller (R-W.Va.). and congressman Henry Cuellar (D-Texas).

The companion Senate bill is sponsored by Sens. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), and Bill Cassidy (R-La.).

“Every American should be free to work as an independent contractor. It is not just rideshare drivers but millions of Americans who work for themselves and choose that freedom and opportunity. Some politicians want everyone to have a boss, work 40 hours a week in the office and be easy to tax and unionize. Some Americans choose to be their own boss and work for themselves as independent contractors. They should have that right without asking anyone for permission,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.  

Katie McAuliffe, Executive Director of Digital Liberty, said:

"As unemployment claims soar and businesses close their doors permanently, it is vital to protect independent contractor opportunities. If backwards politicians are successful in forcing a widespread reclassification of contract workers, it will destroy thousands of jobs at a time when traditional employment is scarce. Contractors and the businesses they work with, unfortunately, need to be protected from certain politicians."

As noted by Miller’s office:

The Helping Gig Economy Workers Act permits digital market place companies to provide, through the duration of the COVID-19 crisis, payments, health benefits, trainings, and PPE to users of the digital marketplace without it being used as evidence in any federal, state, or local law, ordinance, or regulation for the purposes of determining whether a user is considered an employee or independent contractor or the company is considered a joint employer.

The last thing needed during COVID-19 is an assault on independent contractors and gig economy workers, but that is exactly what Democrats at the state and federal level are doing.

The gig economy is synonymous with innovation and opportunity. It created efficient restaurant delivery services to keep small businesses afloat when dining in was not an option. It provides grocery delivery services for vulnerable populations who cannot risk going to grocery stores. With schools and childcare centers closed, the gig economy creates flexible work for parents who no longer have access to childcare services. Protecting the gig economy is imperative for our national recovery.

The legislation, if passed, would be in place until June 30, 2021, or until the end of the current public health crisis. 

Sen. Braun said: “Bottom line: this commonsense bill will provide a safe harbor for businesses who want to help the temporary and service workers helping us during COVID-19.”

Photo Credit: Stock Catalog

A Second Chance for Licensing Reform in PA

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Posted by Laurel Duggan on Thursday, May 30th, 2019, 2:19 PM PERMALINK

For people leaving the criminal justice system, perhaps the most important step to becoming a contributing member of the community is finding a job. So it is a huge failure when government puts unnecessary barriers in the way of former offenders looking for work.

Yet that is exactly what happens with occupational licensing boards. Currently, the Pennsylvania licensing boards and state agencies can blindly ban former offenders from jobs, regardless of whether their offense is particularly relevant for the job.

Legislators are working to change this, led by Senator John DiSanto (R-15). DiSanto is sponsor of Senate Bill 637, whose companion is House Bill 1477. This legislation will remove arbitrary barriers to employment imposed by government on the formerly incarcerated.

Many licensing and certification boards uniformly reject the formerly incarcerated without consideration of individual circumstances. While violent offenses and those directly related to a profession absolutely should prevent someone from getting a license, broad “good character” provisions go too far.

Additionally, people in prison or leaving the system who are training for jobs should know up front if their conviction will bar them from getting a license. It is important they do not waste time and money pursuing training, only to be blocked from working.

Detractors worry that this legislation could damage public safety by allowing former convicts to work in esteemed positions. In reality, the legislation does not prevent licensing authorities from looking into the criminal backgrounds of applicants. In fact, it makes robust provisions for considering offenses relevant to the job or license at hand. The bills merely end the practice of automatically disqualifying candidates with criminal records.

This effort is especially important in Pennsylvania. Despite the state’s high corrections spending, its recidivism rate remains stubbornly high: 60 percent are rearrested or reenter prison within three years. Offenders leaving prison face a host of obstacles that make successful reentry nearly impossible. It is common for newly released men and women to end up on welfare or back in prison because they are unable to support themselves.

SB 673/HB 1477 would be an important step forward in lowering recidivism and getting reformed convicts back into the workforce.

By eliminating arbitrary discriminations against former offenders, they have a much better chance to live productive, law-abiding lives rather than falling back into crime and poverty. As President Trump stated, “America is a nation that believes in second chances.” Pennsylvania lawmakers have done good work that follows this spirit. They can continue that with occupational licensing reform.

Photo Credit: One Click Group UK