Tabitha Jackson

Mississippi Takes Strides Towards Criminal Justice Reform

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Posted by Tabitha Jackson on Thursday, June 25th, 2020, 4:23 PM PERMALINK

Efforts to improve the criminal justice system continue in a number of states that are in session. Mississippi is one of the most active, as both the House and Senate have passed different versions of a number of smart bills, sending them to conference committee.

A few of the bills being discussed are designed to give former offenders a second chance, and better opportunity to reintegrate with society, and contribute.

House Bill 658 will allow individuals who have been arrested for drug offenses to apply for expungement, which offers a chance for them to seal records if they have not reoffended. Expungement is a very basic pillar of a justice system that offers incentive for good behavior, and learning from one’s mistakes.

Something as ordinary as having identification can be a challenge for people who have served their time and are being released. HB 838 permits ex-offenders to use Department of Corrections documents as qualifying papers to obtain a driver’s license.

SB 2759 will update the state’s “Fresh Start Act,” which bars occupational licensing boards from using broad “moral character” provisions that blanket ban people with a criminal record from work. Similarly, SB 2112 will prohibit public employers from using criminal history as a preliminary bar for employment. If someone’s crime is directly related to a profession, that is reason to restrict them from working in that profession, but open-ended bans do not serve public safety.

Other bills being discussed are aimed at making more inmates eligible for parole after having served a certain amount of time. SB 2123 will allow individuals to be considered for parole after serving 25 percent of their sentence for a nonviolent offense and 50 percent for a violent offense. HB 1476 will make inmates with certain medical conditions eligible for parole.

House and Senate conference committees will have to agree on the final bills.

With smart criminal justice reform bills, Mississippi has the opportunity to improve public safety by better reintegrating former offenders, safely reduce the state’s prison population, and save taxpayer dollars.

Photo Credit: Jim Bowen


Protect App-Based Drivers and Services Act to Appear on California Ballot

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Posted by Tabitha Jackson on Friday, April 10th, 2020, 5:19 PM PERMALINK

In September of last year, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 5 (AB5) into law. Newsom also designated $20 million of the state budget to enforce the bill. What was claimed to be an attempt to help freelance workers, ended up hurting millions of hard-working Californians.

Assembly Bill 5 requires companies that hire independent contractors to reclassify them as employees, unless the employer can prove that the worker meets strict criteria.

Since the enactment of this legislation, some businesses have reclassified all or some of their independent contractors as employees, and in turn had to transfer the costs to their customers or cut employee pay, others have cut ties with California-based freelancers to avoid the extra costs and complications.

Vox Media terminated hundreds of freelance writers in California in order to comply with the bill. Some Californians have even left the state in order to continue driving for Uber or Lyft as independent contractors.

In response to the job-killing new law, DoorDash, Uber, Lyft, and other companies have taken a stand, supporting a ballot initiative campaign known as the “Protect App-Based Drivers and Services Act.” The measure would allow them to keep their workers as independent contractors, while adding more worker protections.

The initiative surpassed the required 623,000 signature mark, hitting 1 million signatures and will be on the ballot in November.

“Gig” employment has flourished in recent years and is expected to double within the next 4 years.

Incredibly, AB5’s damage would be even worse, if not for a number of industries getting exemptions, or restraining orders so they do not have to comply with the new rules.

California has also been sued over AB5 by the American Society for Journalists and Authors (ASJA) for attacking freedom of the press.   

California voters will have the opportunity in November to take a stand against AB5. Ultimately, full repeal is required to end government interfering with independent contractors and forcing a traditional work model for companies that were not intended to operate that way. Unfortunately, Rep. Kevin Kiley’s repeal bill stalled this session.

Photo Credit: OZinOH


West Virginia Passes Legislation to Protect Citizen Privacy

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Posted by Tabitha Jackson on Monday, March 23rd, 2020, 5:12 PM PERMALINK

In a win for citizens’ ability to advocate on issues they care about, West Virginia legislators recently passed Senate Bill 16, also known as the “Protect Our Right to Unite Act”. With bipartisan support, the bill passed unanimously, 34-0, and was signed into law by Governor Jim Justice.

Senate Bill 16 is intended to prevent the state government from releasing personal information for people who contribute to a wide variety of nonprofit organizations – a principle that has long been upheld by a Supreme Court decision.

Personal privacy is critical for protecting individuals from retribution, whether by government officials or groups like labor unions or Antifa, that can have a chilling effect on free speech and undermine the ability of citizens to hold government accountable.

The bill provides necessary protection for citizens by protecting the security of their personal information from public disclosure by government agencies. A similar bill, Senate Bill 414, passed the Senate but died in the chamber’s Judiciary Committee in 2019.

This legislation reaffirms West Virginians’ fundamental right of freedom of association. Following Mississippi and Arizona, West Virginia is the third state to sign vital citizen privacy legislation into law. Other states would be smart to follow suit and show they value their citizens’ privacy by passing similar legislation.

Photo Credit: Sky Noir


States Taking Action to Improve Criminal Justice this Session

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Posted by Tabitha Jackson on Tuesday, March 3rd, 2020, 11:40 AM PERMALINK

Federal and state prisons in the U.S. have seen a drastic increase in population over the last 40 years, with 1.5 million people incarcerated. That is just one sign of a criminal justice system that is wasting taxpayer resources, and needs attention.

State legislators across the country are working to improve public safety by pursuing reforms that are tough on crime and smart on criminal justice.

Florida

Florida lawmakers are among those trying to pass criminal justice reform bills in their state –with a focus on reducing excessive sentences for nonviolent drug offenders who are addicts, not dangerous criminals.

Senate Bill 346, sponsored by Senator Rob Bradley, allows for a judge to impose less than the mandatory minimum sentence for non-violent offenders caught with illegal drugs. The bill passed unanimously through three committee hearings and was adopted last Wednesday without debate in a 39-1 floor vote.

This legislation is not only beneficial to those incarcerated, but also to taxpayers. The measure is expected to reduce the state’s 96,000 prison population by 4,800 for a potential savings of $50 million.

Similar to this legislation is House Bill 339 from Representative Alex Andrade and 27 co-sponsors. This bill holds that non-violent offenders convicted of possessing or selling less than 2 grams of a controlled substance, other than fentanyl, may not be imprisoned longer than 12 months if it is their first drug-possession conviction. The bill has not been heard in committee yet.

Oregon

Currently in Oregon, unpaid fines could result in a suspended driver’s license, harming those who cannot afford to pay over offenses that don’t demonstrate a risk to safety on the roads. This creates a loop where people who cannot pay a fine lose their license and have trouble getting to work, then drive without a license and incur a more serious charge.

Oregon legislators hope to put an end to this by advancing House Bill 4065, which seeks to stop courts from suspending licenses over unpaid traffic tickets. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Chris Gorsek, Rep. Jeff Barker, Sen. James Manning Jr., Rep. Janelle Bynum, Rep. Ronald Noble, and Rep. Carla Piluso, passed the House with bipartisan support 42-16.

The bill has moved to the Senate and has received a do pass recommendation from committee.

Virginia

Virginia joins Oregon with its fight to end the suspension of drivers licenses due to nonpayment of fines or costs by passing Senate Bill 1, sponsored by Senator William Stanley. The bill passed the General Assembly last week and is headed to the governor's desk to be signed into law.

Utah

Add Utah to the list of license suspension reformers thanks to House Bill 146, sponsored by Representative Cory Maloy. This bill ensures that the state no longer suspends an individual’s driver license for failure to pay fines or failure to appear in court for many offenses. The bill is awaiting action in the House.

Connecticut

Connecticut may pass a “Clean Slate Initiative” bill, following the lead of Utah and Pennsylvania.

Governor Ned Lamont expressed support for a bill which would expunge certain criminal records. The purpose of the bill is to lower the barriers people with nonviolent criminal records face when applying to jobs or trying to obtain housing.

Lamont’s criminal justice agenda also includes a proposal that would erase the least serious of offenses, if individuals are not convicted of another crime within seven years from the date of their original conviction. Offenders who do not commit another crime within five years are very unlikely to do so.

Kentucky

Kentucky has two criminal justice reform bills at work.

Sponsored by Representative Kevin Bratcher, House Bill 327 would allow automatic expungement of a defendant’s criminal history 30 days after the defendant was found not guilty, or after the charges were dismissed or acquitted. Currently, these charges stay on a person’s criminal background check, even though there was never a conviction. The bill is awaiting action in the Senate after passing the House 91-0.

Also passed onto the Senate is House Bill 284, sponsored by Representative Derek Lewis. Under this bill, inmates who successfully complete an approved drug treatment program will be eligible for credits to reduce their time on probation.

Arizona

Arizona has several criminal justice reform bills making their way through the House and Senate.

Sponsored by Representative Walter Blackman, House Bill 2808 was unanimously passed in the House. It would increase the amount of earned release credits nonviolent offenders can get through participation in drug treatment or a “major self-improvement program” while incarcerated. Considering 90% of people in prison will be released some day, it is a good idea to get them prepared to contribute in society and not repeat the same behaviors.

Another criminal justice reform bill passing through the Arizona House is House Bill 2882, sponsored by Representative Russell Bowers. This bill allows those who have completed a sentence in the juvenile justice system, excluding violent crimes, sex crimes, and crimes against a child, to apply for expungement after 5 years as long as they aren’t currently charged with a crime and have not reoffended.

Senate Bill 1171, sponsored by Senator J.D. Mesnard, is intended to make the criminal justice system in Arizona more transparent.

Data released under this legislation will show people how prosecutors across the state are making choices to impact the lives of crime victims and communities. Arizonans will be able to see who is being arrested, tried, convicted, and how/ why they are being sentenced. The bill is currently pending in the Senate Rules Committee.

Also passing through the Senate is Senate Bill 1556, sponsored by Senator Eddie Farnsworth, Senator Warren Petersen, and Representative Travis Grantham.

This bill is intended to stop civil asset forfeiture abuse by requiring conviction for forfeiture in most cases, and also requiring the state to show the owner had knowledge their property was going to be involved in illegal activity.

Mississippi

Mississippi is another notable state working to push along criminal justice reform bills in their state.

Senate Bill 2123, sponsored by Senator Derrick Simmons, aims to safely and effectively reduce the prison population over the short and long term by restoring parole eligibility for ‘three strikes’ offenders, unless convicted of a violent crime. The bill is currently passing through the Senate.

House Bill 1024, sponsored by Representative Nick Bain, reduces the scope of the ‘three strikes' policy by requiring an inmate to be convicted of a third felony within 15 years in order to receive the automatic maximum penalty for the offense. This legislation has passed through the House and is being passed to the Senate.

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Thankfully, Right-to-Work Repeal Falters in Virginia House

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Posted by Tabitha Jackson on Thursday, February 27th, 2020, 5:13 PM PERMALINK

A bill that would have repealed Virginia’s right-to-work law has been killed by the Democrat-controlled House.

House Bill 153 was intended to repeal Virginia’s current right-to-work law, which provides that no individual will be forced to join a labor union or pay fees to a labor union to work in the place of his or her choice.

Right-to-work laws are favored across the board, with 71% of Americans saying they favor a right-to-work law, and only 22% saying they disapprove, according to a Gallup poll.

The same poll also found that 82% agree that “no American should be required to join any private organization, like a labor union, against his will.”

Saving Virginia’s right-to-work law is a win for the state’s economy and workforce. Workers in the commonwealth deserve the freedom from being forced to pay union dues or fees just to get or keep a job.

Other states should note the example of Virginia’s failed attempt to repeal right-to-work, people do not support allowing union officials the power to force workers to pay to be part of a union or else lost out on opportunity. Smarter states can be proactive by passing legislation that requires workers to opt in to their unions on a regular basis, rather than signing up once and having to jump through hoops to ever get out.

Photo Credit: Flickr

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Repealing Right-to-Work Would Be Economy-crushing Mistake for Virginia

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Posted by Tabitha Jackson on Sunday, February 9th, 2020, 12:15 PM PERMALINK

Virginia has enjoyed great economic prosperity over the past decades and has been named the best state for business numerous times, but their economy may be in danger since the Democrat-controlled legislature has been pushing the idea of repealing the state’s right-to-work law. Legislation has advanced through the House Labor and Commerce Committee in Richmond.

Virginia’s current right-to-work law provides that no individual will be forced to join a labor union or pay fees to a labor union to work in the place of his or her choice.

According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2017 union members only accounted for 4.6 percent of wage and salary workers in Virginia.

The states that border Virginia including all have right-to-work laws. Repealing Virginia’s right-to-work law would put existing and future employees at a great disadvantage compared to Virginia’s neighboring states.

The National Institute for Labor Relations Research found in 2019 that the percentage growth in number of people employed in right-to-work states was 10.8%, compared to 5% in forced-unionism states. This same study also showed that the growth in number of residents aged 35-54 was 1.5% in right-to-work states, well forced-unionism states actually lost 7.9% of their residents in that age group.

Right-to-work laws are not anti-union. Rather, they are freedom of association, which is the foundation that a union’s right to organize is based.

Repealing this law would be a hit to Virginia’s economy and forcing workers to join or pay dues to a union just to get or keep a job is not logical.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

More from Americans for Tax Reform


PA Legislators Look to Protect Taxpayers from Reckless Spending

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Posted by Tabitha Jackson on Monday, January 20th, 2020, 2:40 PM PERMALINK

It’s not rocket science, spending drives demand for tax hikes, and the ability to raise taxes fuels spending.

Focusing on the spending side of the ledger, legislators in Pennsylvania have proposed the Taxpayer Protection Act (Senate Bill 116/ House Bill 1316). The bill, sponsored by Senator Camera Bartolotta and Representative Ryan Warner, would limit overall spending increases to the rate of inflation, plus population growth. A supermajority vote could override the limit.

Revenues that come in above the spending cap would first go into the state’s shallow rainy day fund. The state will also need to thoroughly review state programs to ensure spending growth is kept within the TPA index.

This is a great, pro-taxpayer measure for any state, but is especially necessary for Pennsylvania.

The Keystone State has seen its population stagnate, and even shrink in some recent years – losing 260,000 residents in 2016. The state and local tax burden costs residents $4,589 per year. While that is more competitive than some of its eastern neighbors, taxes are still driving people away.

This trend of leaving the state is especially prevalent amongst people aged 20-35. The Pennsylvania Independent Fiscal Office reported that 47,000 people in this age bracket with at least an associate’s degree left the state in 2015.

The good news is that from 2012 to 2017 Pennsylvania’s spending declined relative to state GDP, dropping nearly 20% by that metric, fifth most in the nation. Republican legislators having control of the state purse strings is largely why. Democrat Governor Tom Wolf has certainly pushed for his fair share of bad tax and fiscal policy since taking office in 2015.  

Passing the Taxpayer Protection Act now would go a long way to preserving this progress on spending restraint, limiting the ability of future legislatures to waste the public’s money.

Spending restraint is also broadly popular, Republicans, Democrats and independents each reported at least 67% support for the measure, according to Susquehanna Polling & Research.

Now is the perfect time to get the Taxpayer Protection Act done.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons


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