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Political Research Wrap-Up: Spring 2016

27 April 2016

Trending Legislation:

Immigration: REAL ID Laws & Sanctuary Cities

  • Kentucky and New Mexico passed legislation this session to comply with federally mandated REAL ID standards. Proponents of the legislation support it, because complying with these measures ensures that states receive federal funding. Opponents argue that these bills would have negative implications for undocumented immigrants.
  • This spring, "sanctuary cities" have been a hot-button issue for several states. These cities have policies wherein they do not provide information concerning immigration status to the federal government.
  • Florida and Virginia legislatures passed bills to ensure their states follow federal immigration policies to prevent sanctuary policies. Other legislation in Virginia would make cities liable for damages caused by an undocumented immigrant. In Wisconsin, cities may face reduced funding every day they do not comply with federal immigration policy. The state government could also prohibit cities from issuing an ID to any resident, reserving the authority to state agencies.   


Minimum Wage

  • Several bills regulating minimum wage passed this legislative session. Both Idaho and Alabama legislators voted to prohibit cities from increasing or setting their own minimum wage.
  • Conversely, California increased the state’s minimum wage to $15 dollars an hour, the highest in the nation along with New York. Oregon will also increase their state’s minimum wage rate based on geographic location.   


Marijuana Legalization & Medical Marijuana

  • Florida and Pennsylvania have joined 23 states and the District of Columbia by authorizing the use of medical marijuana for patients with qualifying illnesses. Utah has received partial approval from its state legislature. While Colorado previously authorized the use of medical marijuana, SB 80 outlines cultivation and industry requirements.
  • Vermont could become the first state to legalize recreational marijuana without voter approval. The bill passed the Senate and is currently being debated in the House. New Mexico lawmakers failed to pass SJR 5 which would have authorized a ballot initiative to give voters the opportunity to legalize marijuana. Currently, four other states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use.

Renewable Energy

  • The recent trend in energy policy has been to move away from nonrenewable resources. Maryland and New Jersey may significantly increase their renewable portfolio standards with the passage of recent legislation, which would gradually increase reliance on renewable energy sources.
  • Oregon’s SB 1547 will phase out the production of coal energy in the state by 2030 and double state requirements for use of renewable power. Congress introduced the Energy Policy Modernization Act, which would have outlined and updated federal energy infrastructure. However, the Senate failed to invoke cloture to end a filibuster of the bill. 


Legislation Spotlight: North Carolina HB 2


North Carolina recently passed HB 2 in a day-long special session. The bill requires   individuals to use a bathroom that corresponds to their biological sex as indicated on their birth certificate. Introduced, voted on and signed all on the same day, HB 2 would also prohibit local governments from enacting any policy that would regulate wages or discriminatory practices. Following the bill’s passage, Governor Pat McCrory has been sued by multiple transgender individuals and LGBTQ organizations for the alleged violation of federal laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender.


Critics of HB 2 view the bill as a response to an ordinance passed by the City of Charlotte, which would have authorized individuals to use bathrooms associated with their self-identified gender. Supporters of HB 2 consider the use of bathrooms as a matter of public safety and regard the Charlotte ordinance as governmental overreach. The bill is one among many in a recent legislative trend across the nation.


Elections and Officials: 


  • All Republican presidential candidates aside from Donald Trump, John Kasich, and Ted Cruz have suspended their campaigns. Kasich can no longer mathematically secure the delegates needed for nomination, though if no candidate does, all have a chance in a brokered convention.


  • Eric Holcomb was sworn in as Lieutenant Governor of Indiana on March 3, 2016, after the resignation of Sue Ellspermann.



  • Rossana Rosado was nominated by Governor Andrew Cuomo to become the next Secretary of State of New York on February 3rd, 2016.







  • Americans for Legal Immigration has endorsed Donald Trump for President.



  • Our Secretary of State, John Kerry, has declared that ISIL is a “genocidal” organization. Classifying an organization as "genocidal" is an important distinction in terms of international law.
  • On March 21, 2016, President Obama became the first president to visit Cuba in 88 years. He gave a speech to the people of Cuba while he was there.
  • Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016. President Obama has nominated Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy. See his full biography on Vote Smart. 


Upcoming Elections:



For the first time, Vote Smart is proud to provide VoteEasy for all congressional primary candidates. Check to see if your state is up!



April 26 Primaries: Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island, and Maryland 


May 3 Primary: Indiana 


May 10 Primaries: Nebraska (R), West Virginia


May 17 Primaries: Kentucky (D), Oregon 


May 24 Primaries: Washington (R)


June 7 Primaries: California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota (D), South Dakota 



Learn how to register in your state!



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Vote Smart is an nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that provides accurate information about candidates, elected officials, and key pieces of legislation.  By providing information in an easy and accessible manner, Vote Smart believes that citizens can better defend themselves from the questionable rhetoric and misrepresentation that characterizes present-day political campaigns.


Related tags: blog, spring, wrap-up

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