Jan 152015
 

Three Strikes laws are statutes enacted by our state and federal governments which require courts to impose harsher sentences on habitual offenders who are convicted of three or more serious crimes. However, there have been many different interpretations as to what is considered a serious crime. As a result, defendants with previous convictions have been given sentences of 25 years to life for such crimes as shoplifting golf clubs or stealing a slice of pizza from a child. At least 26 states now have some form of these habitual offender laws on their books. The first Three Strikes law was passed in 1993 by voters in Washington State. The following year California and the federal government passed Three Strikes laws in which a third felony conviction carried a sentence of life in prison without parole for 25 years. Advocates say that after the hype leading to the passage of these laws died down, it was soon apparent they were not bringing the results the public expected. Data shows Three Strikes laws didn’t necessarily reduce violent crime but instead put away more “criminals” for nonviolent and petty crimes. This dramatically increased our prison population. These studies show that higher incarceration rates do not necessarily lead to less crime. Researchers have found that all 19 states which reduced the number of people in prison over the past decade have also seen their crime rates decline. A 2010 report by California’s State Auditor concluded that “those now in prison under California’s Three Strikes law will cost the state $19.2 billion and that 53% of these inmates are serving a sentence for non-serious and nonviolent crimes.” Some states have ruled that Three Strikes laws are unconstitutional on the grounds they violate our 6th Amendment guarantee of trial by jury.

Pending Legislation: None

I oppose reforming current Three Strikes policy

I support identifying a legislator who will sponsor a bill prohibiting Three Strike laws

 Posted by at 12:00 am
Jan 152015
 

America’s War on Drugs was first declared in 1971 by President Nixon in response to the high rates of heroin addiction among soldiers returning from Viet Nam. It is estimated that the total cost of this war, including the investigation, prosecution and incarceration of drug users and dealers is at least $50 billion each year, or about a trillion dollars since Nixon’s declaration. Critics claim all this money has not changed our addiction rate but it has given us the world’s highest rate of incarceration. In 2010, more than half of all federal prisoners were in jail for drug offenses. Advocates claim this punishment falls disproportionately on people of color. African-Americans make up nearly 50% of the state and local prisoners incarcerated for drug crimes, even though the rates of drug usage in black and white populations are about equal. Critics claim the unjust rates of incarceration among blacks, Hispanics and the poor show why this war we have been fighting for decades should itself be considered illegal. They say that since incarceration does little to cure addiction, we need to address this problem as a health issue, not a criminal one. They say the toll that incarceration exacts on these mostly non-violent offenders, as well as the financial costs to society, are counterproductive to solving our drug addiction problem. It is estimated that nearly one third of all black men are ineligible to vote because of felony convictions for non-violent drug-related offenses. Critics say this unnoticed and unfair effect of the War on Drugs denies many citizens representation and prevents them from participating in the governing process.

Pending Legislation: None

I oppose reforming current War on Drugs policy

I support identifying a legislator who will sponsor a bill to end the War on Drugs and increase funding for substance abuse treatment programs and facilities

I support identifying a legislator who will sponsor a bill to restore the right to vote for felons who have been convicted of non-violent drug-related offenses

 Posted by at 12:00 am
Jan 152015
 

Our 1990 Congress reclassified beer as a “luxury” item and doubled the excise tax on this popular beverage. Taxes are now the single most expensive ingredient in beer, making up more than half its cost. Critics say middle and lower-income Americans, who comprise the vast majority of our nation’s 90 million beer drinkers, cannot afford this tax on one of their few “luxuries.” They claim these Americans are already amongst our most heavily taxed. Studies have found that households with annual incomes of less than $50,000 pay more than half of all beer taxes. Some advocates are against reducing beer taxes or the cost of beer. They claim studies have shown that when beer prices increase by 1%, traffic fatalities drop by 1%. Industry advocates claim other studies show little correlation between the cost of alcoholic beverages and the rate of traffic accidents. In 2005, total taxes levied on the production, distribution and sale of beer amounted to $32 billion.

Pending Legislation:

S.958 – BEER Act

I oppose reforming current beer tax policy and wish to defeat S.958

I support reducing from $18 to $9 (the pre-1991 level) the per-barrel tax on beer; and further reducing the rate of such tax on brewers who produce not more than 2 million barrels of beer during the calendar year, and wish to pass S.958

 Posted by at 12:00 am
Jan 152015
 

During the past few years, several states have passed laws restricting the registration of voters, the time available to cast a ballot, and the type of identification needed to do so. These laws have made it significantly more difficult for students, those with disabilities, minorities and elderly citizens to exercise their most basic constitutional right. The governors and legislators of these states claim these laws were passed to prevent voter fraud and protect election integrity. They also say that identification is required for many purposes other than voting, so it is logical to require voters to show a picture ID at the polls. Critics claim the purpose of these laws is to suppress and discourage certain groups of people from voting. They say extensive studies have proven that voter fraud does not exist. That is, unless one considers 31 fraudulent votes out of the one billion ballots cast since 2000 to be enough justification for voter suppression laws that deny many millions the vote. Studies show that about 11% of all Americans eligible to vote do not have the type of identification these states require. Until 2013, these new photo ID laws were prohibited until our Supreme Court invalidated Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, saying there is no longer a need for the protections of this section. Within days and weeks of its decision, several states passed restrictive voter laws that had been judged illegal before the Court’s ruling. Advocates say many people don’t drive cars or have a picture ID, and that poll-tax laws make it illegal to force them to get one in order to vote. They claim these undemocratic voter suppression laws are an anathema to our Forefather’s legacy, saying our efforts should be spent helping Americans vote, not obstructing those who are eligible from doing so.

Pending Legislations:

S.123 & H.R.12 – Voter Empowerment Act of 2013

I oppose reforming current election procedures policy and wish to defeat S.123 & H.R.12

I support requiring each state to make available official public websites for online voter registration; promoting voter registration, such as same day registration and voter registration of individuals under 18 years of age; prohibiting hindering, interfering with, or preventing voter registration; assisting voting for those with disabilities and making grants to eligible states to conduct pilot programs enabling individuals with disabilities to register to vote and vote privately and independently at their own residences including by telephone, and wish to pass S.123 & H.R.12

 Posted by at 12:00 am
Jan 152015
 

Gasoline taxes are our single most important source of transportation revenue and are used to fund the construction and maintenance of our highways and bridges. However, this indispensable revenue is falling behind what is needed to maintain this infrastructure. Since 1933, the federal tax on a gallon of gasoline has remained at 18.4 cents yet the cost of highway construction and repairs has increased 55% during that time. Advocates say we need to index gasoline taxes to the cost of inflation in order to keep up with construction costs, or our transportation infrastructure will continue to deteriorate. These advocates are joined by environmentalists who claim increasing the tax and price of gasoline will make alternative fuels more attractive. Some gas tax opponents claim the gasoline tax is becoming obsolete as vehicle gas-mileage efficiency increases and people drive less. Also, each day more and more electric and fuel cell vehicles replace those paying gas taxes. Gas tax opponents claim these types of vehicles are shifting the burden of highway maintenance onto those who buy gasoline. They say that instead of a tax on fuel consumption as a way of financing road infrastructure, a “vehicle miles traveled” (VMT) tax would charge motorists based on their road usage measured in mileage. A VMT tax would require vehicles to be fitted with GPS units that assign it to the appropriate taxing jurisdiction, record distance traveled, and calculate the amount of tax owed. Higher tax rates could be charged for heavy trucks that cause greater damage to roads. Those who drive in congested areas could also be charged higher rates as an incentive to reduce traffic. However, studies show this proposal would face substantial administration and privacy hurtles. Gas tax supporters say our present system is already progressive since people who drive more miles and those with heavier or fuel-inefficient vehicles tend to pay more taxes due to more frequent stops at the gas pump.

Pending legislation: None

I oppose reforming current gasoline tax policy

I support identifying a legislator who will sponsor a bill to index gasoline taxes to inflation

I support identifying a legislator who will sponsor a bill to replace the current gasoline consumption tax with a vehicle miles traveled tax

 Posted by at 12:00 am
Jan 152015
 

Our nation’s roads, bridges, dams, schools, electrical grids and water treatment facilities are old and unable to meet the needs of our growing population. Many of the structures we depend upon for safety, travel and commerce are functioning at maximum capacity or beyond their expected lifetime. Our water treatment facilities need $200 billion for improvements if they are to continue delivering enough clean water to our population, and keep our waterways clean. Our schools need $300 billion for safe and modern classrooms in order to prepare our children for the global economy. Insuring the safety of all our nation’s bridges will cost over $300 billion during the next 10 years. Our electrical transmission system needs to be upgraded to a smart grid and buried underground for protection. Improvements to airports, ports and railways are also on the list. During the past 30 years, we have spent less than 3% of our GNP on infrastructure improvements. Many people say we should not just wait for power black-outs, bridges to fall and dams to burst. They believe now is the time to begin these improvements. Low borrowing rates mean the cost of funding the repair and renovation of our decaying infrastructure is as cheap as it has been in nearly 80 years. It is estimated that it will cost about $3.5 trillion or about $350 billion annually during the next 10 years to bring our infrastructure up to a state of good repair. Besides immediate and future benefits to society, these renovation projects will also create many jobs and significantly boost our economy. It is estimated that 13 million jobs will be created for each trillion dollars spent on infrastructure improvements.

Pending Legislation:

S.4 – Rebuild America Act

I oppose reforming current infrastructure policy and wish to defeat S.4

I support investments in transportation corridors that promote commerce and reduce congestion; updating and enhancing the U.S. network of rail, dams, and ports; investing in critical infrastructure to reduce energy waste and bolster investment in clean energy jobs and industries; investing in clean energy technologies that help free the United States from its dependence on oil; modernizing, renovating, and repairing elementary and secondary school buildings to support improved educational outcomes; investing in the nation’s crumbling water infrastructure to protect public health and reduce pollution; invest in U.S. infrastructure to address vulnerabilities to natural disasters and the impacts of extreme weather, and wish to pass S.4

 Posted by at 12:00 am
Jan 152015
 

We may vote for our President and Vice President every four years but the Electoral College decides who will win these elections. Electoral College members are independently selected by the state they represent. The number of electors in each state is equal to the number of its members of Congress. However, as we discovered several elections ago, winning the popular vote does not guarantee a candidate victory. It is estimated that at least 1 million more Americans voted for Al Gore than voted for George Bush in the 2000 presidential election. Electoral College supporters claim this system gives smaller states a bigger voice in federal elections. Opponents say the Electoral College was created to protect the country from an uninformed populace – which is certainly not the case in today’s Internet age. They claim the Electoral College is undemocratic, outdated and unnecessary.

Pending Legislation: None

I oppose reforming current Electoral College policy

I support identifying a legislator who will sponsor a bill to enact a long-term campaign to amend the U.S. Constitution to abolish the Electoral College

 Posted by at 12:00 am
Jan 152015
 

Corporate welfare is a nickname that compares government subsidies to corporations with welfare payments to the poor. It is used to describe government subsidies of money, tax breaks or other favorable treatment for selected corporations. Studies show that about $100 billion was allocated in the federal government’s budget for all types of corporate welfare in 2012, not including tax loopholes or trade barriers. Two of the largest recipients of this aid are oil and agricultural corporations. During a time of record oil prices and record profits among oil companies, Congress gave subsidies to oil companies worth $30 billion over the past five years. These companies receive subsidies for oil exploration as well as for the exhaustion of oil and gas wells. Critics say that besides wasting billions in revenue for our Treasury, these subsidies have led to a reckless search for oil in fragile environments like the deep floor of the Gulf of Mexico. They claim the 2010 catastrophe at the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig can be directly linked to oil-friendly legislation over the last 20 years.

For many decades, agribusiness corporations have also been receiving corporate welfare. Our government provides unlimited crop insurance subsidies to many large and small farms, guaranteeing payment for damaged crops and low crop prices. Taxpayers pay two thirds of these insurance premiums as well as most of the claims resulting from a disaster. As a result, crop insurance is the most costly and least equitable component of the farm safety net, costing twice as much as direct payments and other subsidies. Some policyholders annually receive more than $1 million in premium support. More than 10,000 policyholders receive more than $100,000 in subsidies each year. Because there are no limits on these subsidies, the largest 1% of policyholders receives about $227,000 while the bottom 80% receives about $5,000 each year.

Pending Legislations:

H.R.601 – Permanent Repeal of Oil Subsidies Act

S.446 & H.R.943 – Crop Insurance Subsidy Reduction Act

I oppose reforming corporate welfare policy and wish to defeat H.R.601 and S.446 & H.R.943

I support eliminating subsidies for oil companies and directing the Secretary of the Interior to issue regulations establishing a graduated annual production incentive fee governing federal onshore and offshore lands subject to an oil or natural gas production lease but for which such production is not occurring; prohibiting the Secretary from issuing new oil or natural gas production leases in the Gulf of Mexico under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to a person that does not renegotiate its existing leases in order to require royalty payments if oil and natural gas prices are greater than or equal to specified price thresholds; depositing the prescribed fee assessment into the general fund of the Treasury, and wish to pass H.R.601

I support amending the Federal Crop Insurance Act to immediately reduce crop insurance premium subsidy rates from the higher subsidies provided since the Agricultural Risk Protection Act of 2000, and wish to pass S.446 & H.R.943

 Posted by at 12:00 am
Jan 152015
 

The term pork barrel spending, also known as earmarked funds, refers to the practice of funding projects that only benefit the constituents of a single legislator. Normally, these projects are not competitively awarded or subject to congressional review. They are usually requested by a single member of Congress to benefit a single local interest. Funding for these pet projects is usually inserted in large omnibus appropriations bills at the last moment. Between 2000 and 2009, our Congress approved earmark spending projects worth about $208 billion. Critics say federal tax dollars should not be spent in a way that does not benefit most taxpayers. One reason these earmarks flourish is that they help create support for passing controversial bills. Lawmakers seldom vote against a measure that helps their own district. Pork barrel supporters claim earmarks are beneficial to many people and provide incentives to help advance important bills that otherwise might not advance. During the past few years, some members of Congress have agreed to not include “special project” funding in otherwise unrelated legislation, but these efforts have been only partially effective. Pork barrel spending attached to the $1 trillion omnibus spending bill which funded the government for most of 2014 included $80 million for Amtrack, a 5% overpayment on Defense Department contracts if the contractor is Hawaiian, Nearly $8 million for the volunteer Civil Air program, and $600k for Mississippi State University to research how to grow trees faster.

Pending Legislation: None

I oppose reforming current pork barrel spending policy

I support identifying a legislator who will sponsor a bill requiring earmarked funds to be competitively awarded and subject to congressional review

 Posted by at 12:00 am
Jan 152015
 

Many people say that most of the problems with our political system result from the large sums of money needed to finance election campaigns. It is estimated that about $6 billion was spent during the last presidential election. Some have proposed that the funding for these campaigns should be provided by taxpayers rather than special interest groups. Most campaign funds are spent on radio, television and Internet advertising. Critics claim the candidate who airs the most television commercials will win an election regardless of any other factor. Politicians often complain that fund-raising activities now take up more of their time than state business. Advocates claim the public funding of election campaigns would help rid our politics of undue influence, level the playing field between candidates and control the amount of money spent in these contests. Currently, there exists a system for the partial public funding of presidential elections. This system includes a program in which the government matches the first $250 a person contributes to an individual, a party convention and the general election campaign. To receive subsidies in the primary, candidates must qualify by privately raising $5,000 in at least 20 states and agree to limit their spending according to a preset formula. Candidates that refuse these matching funds are free to spend as much privately-raised money as they wish. Those who support public campaign funding say incentives need to be higher in order for more candidates to choose the public funding option.

Pending Legislation:

H.R.270 – Empowering Citizens Act

I oppose reforming current public funding of elections policy and wish to defeat H.R.270

I support establishing a system of public financing for Congressional elections; reforming the system of public financing for Presidential elections including increasing the amount of matching funds for presidential primaries from a one-to-one match to a five-to-one match for contributions of $250 or less from individuals; limiting the total amount of payments to a primary candidate to $100 million, and wish to pass H.R.270

 Posted by at 12:00 am