FILE - US Chuck Schumer, Amy Klobuchar 3-24-2021

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., (left) confers with Senate Rules Committee Chair Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., at a hearing on the "For the People Act," at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 24, 2021. The bill has already passed in the House.

(The Center Square) – We live in the United States of America – not the United State of America.

Our Constitution was written to restrain the federal government by empowering the states. That’s one key element that separates our country from virtually every other country in the world.

There is no more out-of-touch, wasteful or inefficient strata of our government than the federal level. Look no further than the ongoing, drunken-uncle spending of other people’s money – indeed, our money – in “stimulus” bills passed by the same politicians who keep our economy closed.

The federal government is the farthest removed authority from the day-to-day lives of Americans and – by its nature – can’t know the best way to do any kind of business in every state. Elections managed at the state level, for instance, preserve a check on the federal government and ensure that all voices are heard.

So when you see federal legislation such as H.R. 1, a 791-page election reform bill that would federalize our election processes, your instincts should tell you to sprint in the opposite direction. And if you cringe a little when you learn that such a bill is called the “For the People Act,” relax. You’re not alone.

And, yes, the federal government is here to fix something that isn’t broken, again.

H.R. 1 would implode the rights of states in administering their own elections. This is in response, of course, to the hundreds of election-related lawsuits filed in the wake of ballot irregularities and various kinds of legislation making their way through state capitols to push back against some uncertainty about the November 2020 elections.

You may have heard some folks cry voter suppression. We’ve heard that one before. But after the largest turnout in the history of a presidential election – one in which a three-time primary loser, 78-year-old Joe Biden, managed to get the highest vote total in U.S. election history – it rings hollow. Clearly, millions upon millions of Americans were able to get to the polls (or not get to the polls under the long, dark shadow of COVID-19) and vote.

There are three primary parts of H.R. 1’s attempt to forever change elections:

• Federalization of the voting process. One set of voting rules by which all states would have to comply, as written by one political party in the House of Representatives.

• The forfeiture of freedom in states to run their own elections. Sorry, states.

• And a single set of security protocols that would allow for questionable practices such as voting without identification, ballot harvesting (the collection of completed ballots by someone who is affiliated with a particular party who then drops off the collected ballots in the polling station), and the expansion of no-excuse absentee voting.

But there is also an aspect of H.R. 1 that has not been much discussed, and that’s the silencing of speech. Even the American Civil Liberties Union, itself a long-established organization that is normally aligned with the authors of H.R. 1, has said that language contained the bill assaults the First Amendment.

“If organizations do choose to speak, they may find themselves subject to onerous and intrusive disclosure requirements, including publishing the names and addresses of donors regardless of whether that donor supported or even knew about the communications that triggered the publication of their name,” the ACLU wrote on its blog in 2019 when the bill was first introduced. “This could be especially burdensome for small organizations that cannot afford the compliance costs. Other organizations may simply refuse to breach the trust that donors expecting anonymity have placed in them. Under either of these results, our public discourse is less vibrant, less diverse, and less informed. In short, the First Amendment loses.”

If H.R. 1 stays in the House, free elections and free speech could have a resurrection of their own.

* * * *

Elsewhere in America …

ILLINOIS

The Illinois Department of Public Health announced that Gov. J.B. Pritzker's bridge reopening plan is on hold with more people going to the hospital for COVID-19 treatment. The department said increasing case counts and hospital admissions are likely to keep the state’s existing COVID-19 restrictions in place.

“The number of people being admitted to the hospital in Illinois due to COVID-19 continues to increase,” state officials said. “As long as new hospital admissions continue to increase, the state will not advance to the Bridge Phase and on to Phase 5 of the Restore Illinois Plan.”

On March 18, Pritzker said the state would move forward with easing back restrictions once 70% of the state’s elderly population is vaccinated, though he did warn that a sudden increase in infections could change things.

Early estimates from state officials show tens of thousands of Illinois students didn’t attend school in 2020. The Illinois State Board of Education recently revealed preliminary attendance figures that showed as of Oct. 1 a startling number of students simply didn’t show up for class. The presentation from ISBE Chief Research and Evaluation Officer Brenda Dixon showed an estimated loss of 35,822 public school students. That’s the equivalent of nearly 2% of the prior year’s enrollment.

“That represents nearly twice what the decline was expected to be,” said Melissa Figueira, senior policy associate with Advance Illinois.

PENNSYLVANIA

President Joe Biden’s proposal to inject trillions of tax dollars into boosting the nation’s infrastructure could carry an unpleasant side effect – raising the cost of utility bills for Pennsylvania residents. According to Americans Tax Reform, eroding the decrease in the corporate income tax rate passed in 2017, as Biden proposes, would also undo some of the decreases in utility bills that were seen at the time. Following the passage of the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017, utility companies in Pennsylvania passed $320 million in savings on to their customers.

NEW YORK

Legislation proposed by New York Republicans that would exempt many state residents from paying income taxes on at least a portion of their unemployment benefits went nowhere in recent days as Democrats declined to consider it. Sen. Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, proposed to amend a bill on small business regulations to also exempt the first $10,200 in unemployment benefits from state income taxes. But the Democratic majority ruled that Tedisco’s motion was improper. Tedisco questioned why the majority party wouldn’t support a measure that would help the state’s poorest residents. “You taxed the rich by $7 billion, but these aren't the rich, these are the people who are most challenged economically, and you haven't done a thing yet,” he said.

NORTH CAROLINA

The North Carolina House approved a bill to limit the governor's power during an emergency by requiring the governor to seek the concurrence of the Council of State when issuing a statewide declaration of emergency for 67 or more North Carolina counties for more than 30 days. The Council of State consists of the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, state treasurer, state auditor, commissioner of labor, commissioner of agriculture, insurance commissioner and superintendent of public instruction. Under the bill, the governor would have to seek the Council of State's approval within seven days of issuing an emergency order. The governor must then seek concurrence every following 30 days. The measure must be considered in the Senate.

GEORGIA

The Georgia General Assembly passed a fiscal year 2022 state budget Wednesday on its last day of the spring legislative session. The $27.2 billion budget reflects a 2.5% increase in spending over the current fiscal year, gradually replacing more than $2 billion that was cut from the budget at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The budget now requires Gov. Brian Kemp's approval.

TENNESSEE

The Business Fairness Act cleared the Tennessee General Assembly and awaits Gov. Bill Lee's signature. The legislation allows a business, regardless of size, to remain open during health emergencies as long as it follows government-issued safety precautions and guidelines. “Government shouldn’t be in the business of picking winners and losers,” Republican state Rep. Dennis Powers said. “We’ve seen big-box retailers stay open while smaller businesses were operating at a 50% capacity or closed altogether."

LOUISIANA

Louisiana’s state economic development department estimated the tax incentives it oversees will cost almost $473 million in tax collections in the next fiscal year. The biggest line item is the motion picture tax credit, which allows up to $180 million in credits to be redeemed each fiscal year.

COLORADO

The Colorado state Senate gave final approval to legislation that will allow undocumented immigrants to have access to some public housing benefits. If signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis, the legislation would remove the requirement to verify a person’s lawful presence in the country before receiving public or assisted housing benefits. Republicans criticized the bill for not doing anything to combat homegrown homelessness. “Legislators in the General Assembly are here to represent citizens of this nation, not the citizens of other nations, a duty that Democrats view as racist,” a Senate GOP spokesman said.

OREGON

Two bills in the Oregon Legislature aim to tighten rules on how close the state's forest managers can come with the companies they regulate. Senate Bills 335 and 337 would reset limits on the amount of money Oregon's forest regulators are allowed to make off of the timber industry and expand the kinds of expertise expected of them. Both bills come months after an investigation by Oregon Public Broadcasting and ProPublica found state forest regulators' close ties to Oregon's timber industry undercut forest practices and cost taxpayers billions over the past 30 years.

OHIO

A little more than eight months after the billion-dollar government bailout of the state’s nuclear energy industry led the arrest of former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, Gov. Mike DeWine officially put it to rest. DeWine signed House Bill 128 into law last, repealing the nuclear provisions of the infamous House Bill 6. Gone is the bailout for the Perry and Davis-Besse nuclear power plants in northern Ohio. Also eliminated was the ability for FirstEnergy to have its revenue levels relatively the same even during years when energy consumption decreases. HB 128 directed refunds of money already collected under the guarantee.

INDIANA

Almost a third of small business owners in the state of Indiana who were recently surveyed said they don’t expect business to be back to normal until 2022, and 11% said they don’t expect it to return to normal in 2023, almost two years from now. It was the 16th in a series of surveys the NFIB has done since March 2020, and taken together, the results present more evidence of the profound disruption of normal life in the state of Indiana over the last year and point to the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers. But the most recent results also show some improvement in the economic outlook.

VIRGINIA

Legislation that will put heavy restrictions on localities changing election rules and open up the possibility of lawsuits was signed by Gov. Ralph Northam. House Bill 1890 and Senate Bill 1395, which have been titled the “Voting Rights Act of Virginia,” will require localities to receive public comment or preapproval from the attorney general’s office before making any voting changes. It also allows the attorney general to sue if he believes a policy is suppressing voter rights. A locality’s ability to hold at-large local elections will also be restricted. An at-large seat provides representation to municipalities as a whole, rather than breaking them into smaller districts. A locality will be prohibited from holding at-large elections if it dilutes the voting strength of a protected group and any member of that group could bring civil action against the locality if he or she feels his or her vote is being diluted.

KENTUCKY

Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams had a busy couple of days early last week thanks to his Republican colleagues in the General Assembly. Adams wound up signing at least 15 bills into law after GOP lawmakers were able to override the vetoes from Gov. Andy Beshear, including House Bill 563, the school choice bill. It barely cleared the state House of Representatives after House Education Committee Chairwoman Regina Huff, R-Williamsburg, changed her no vote from earlier in the session to a yes vote Monday night. Huff’s vote gave the House 51 yes votes. That’s the threshold needed to override a veto in the 100-seat chamber. Three hours later, the Senate’s 23-14 vote sent the bill to Adams’ desk on the Capitol’s first floor.

WEST VIRGINIA

Legislation passed in the West Virginia House of Delegates would fully eliminate the state’s income tax, which differs from Gov. Jim Justice’s proposal to eliminate 60% of the income tax and then fully repeal it at a later date. House Bill 3300, sponsored by Del. Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, would gradually cut the state’s income tax by $150 million every year until it is fully eliminated. Depending on revenues, this would fully eliminate the tax in six or more years. This differs from the original income tax legislation proposed by the governor, which would cut the income tax by 60% on day one and raise consumption taxes to offset some of the losses. It would leave a $150 million gap. Householder’s legislation does not include any tax increases, but lawmakers would have to find ways to offset some of the losses to keep up with spending demands. The income tax accounts for half of the state’s yearly revenue.

ARIZONA

Arizona lawmakers have sent Gov. Doug Ducey legislation they say protects the state’s business owners, hospitals and nursing homes from frivolous COVID-19 lawsuits. The Arizona Senate gave final approval of Senate Bill 1377 on Tuesday and sent it to the governor. If Ducey signs it, plaintiffs in liability lawsuits involving COVID-19 infections would have to prove the business was guilty of gross negligence or willful misconduct instead of only negligence. This represents a higher bar for trial lawyers to reach to win a case.

MICHIGAN

Although many of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s COVID-19 executive orders issued during the first five months of the pandemic were rendered unconstitutional by the Michigan Supreme Court, the state continues its battle against businesses that violated the governor’s rules. Among them are Karl Manke, a 78-year-old Owosso barber who garnered national recognition for persisting in keeping his business open during the pandemic and became the focal point of a protest on the state Capitol steps last May. The Michigan Board of Barber Examiners fined Manke $9,000 this week; his attorney told The Center Square that Manke plans to appeal.

IOWA

In a state case with national importance, Democrat contender for Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District Rita Hart dropped her challenge against Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks. The certified election results resulted in a six-vote lead for Miller-Meeks. Hart claimed 22 ballots cast in her favor were wrongfully excluded, and her attorney claimed to have found extra ballots for Hart. Hart's attorney had asked Congress to overrule state elections officials and seat her.   

MINNESOTA

Regulatory burdens imposed by the state are prompting a prominent brewery to open its new facility across the border in Wisconsin. Currently, Minnesota law prohibits breweries that produce more than 20,000 barrels a year from selling to-go beer. Once a brewer hits that cap, they can no longer sell beer in 64-ounce growlers, crowlers, or 750-milliliter bottles directly to customers. State law prohibits breweries having multiple taprooms in the state, even though about 98% of Lift Bridge’s alcohol is sold through the three-tier alcohol distribution system. Meanwhile, just five miles away, Wisconsin’s limit is 300,000 barrels per year before banning direct-customer sales, allows multiple taprooms, and allows any format of canned beer or kegs directly out of the taproom.

WISCONSIN

Conservatives inside and outside the Wisconsin Capitol say the state's Supreme Court ruling against Gov. Tony Evers and his coronavirus emergencies orders restores a balance to state government. The court ruled 4-3 that Evers overstepped his constitutional powers by issuing an extended emergency order under which he placed limits on crowds and required people in the state to wear masks.

Chris Krug is president of the Franklin News Foundation, a non-partisan 501(c)3 non-profit news organization, and publisher of The Center Square. Contact Chris at ckrug@franklinnews.org.

Publisher

Chris Krug brings more than 25 years of award-winning media experience to The Center Square. He is the former publisher of the Chicago Pioneer Press newspaper chain, and was vice president for Shaw Suburban Media and a deputy editor at the Denver Post.