State sunshine headlines, August 2009

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Finalists chosen for 4 trial bench vacancies in Minnesota

Minnesota: Out of the 39 applications received for a vacant seat on the Chisago County bench, and 49 applications for the three open seats on the Anoka County bench of the Tenth Judicial District, the Minnesota Commission on Judicial Selection made several recommendations to Governor Pawlenty. The Governor has narrowed those recommendations to eight finalists for the four seats.

For the Chisago County seat the finalists are: Suzanne Bollman, John E. Hennen and Todd Schoffelman. For the Anoka County seat the finalists are Bollman, Robert D. Goodell, Hennen, Bethany A. Fountain Lindberg, Stephen R. Nicol, Daniel A. O’Fallon, Schoffelman and Dyanna L. Street.[1]


Oregon tax hike referendum likely to be on January 2010 ballot

SALEM, Oregon: The signature deadline is less than a month away, but Oregon Tax Hike Referendum supporters said that they are well on their way to meeting the 55,000 signature requirement. If enough signatures are collected a special election will be held on January 26, 2010.[2] Most recently the Oregon Farm Bureau Federation joined Oregonians Against Job-Killing Taxes. According to agricultural businesses the tax hikes, if approved by voters in January, is essentially double taxation. According to business owners after paying a corporate tax earnings would be taxed again as personal income.[3] Pat McCormick, a spokesman for the group Oregonians Against Job-Killing Taxes, said the group has raised about $750,000 from business organizations, timber companies to help pay for the signature-gathering effort.[2]


Maine may investigate alleged illegal fundraising

AUGUSTA, Maine: Maine officials may be conducting an investigation of the Maine Same-Sex Marriage People's Veto (2009) fundraising tactics, after receiving an official complaint last week. The complaint was filed by Fred Karger, founder of Californians Against Hate, on August 25, 2009. According to the allegations, supporters of the Maine Same-Sex Marriage Veto are hiding campaign contributions.[4] In the 9-page complaint Karger said groups like the National Organization for Marriage and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, solicited contributions from individuals and in turn gave the money to Stand for Marriage - hiding the identity of the individual donors.[5] Maine election law states that every donation, regardless of how small, must be listed.

The Maine Commission on Government Ethics and Election Practices will review the allegations and decide on October 1 if they plan to pursue an investigation.[6]


Opponents lay out arguments against Ohio casino initiative

COLUMBUS, Ohio: Last week, Ohio Casino Initiative (2009) opponents laid out arguments for voting against the November measure. Below are some of the arguments made by TruthPAC against the measure:[7]

  • the initiative's proposed 33% tax is too "stingy"
  • "charitable gambling could be banned"
  • "a loophole allows non-taxable cash wagering"
  • there isn't any information on the construction of the casinos

Supporters of the anti-issue 3 campaign include: Parma Mayor Dean DePiero, Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams, Cleveland pastor E.T. Caviness of Greater Abyssinia Baptist Church, Rep. Lou Blessing, Rep. Tyrone Yates and Sen. Teresa Fedor.

Initiative supporters, however, call the arguments "half-truths" and "unsubstantiated attacks." The casino initiative, they said, will create more jobs and increase revenues for cities and schools.[8]


Maine implements absentee ballot service

AUGUSTA, Maine: On August 3, 2009, the Maine Secretary of State’s Office introduced the new 2009 Online Absentee Ballot Request Service. So far, 189 cities and towns have accepted electronic absentee ballot requests under the terms of the service. Voters can now fill out their requests for absentee ballots electronically through the internet.

Another option presented to voters under this system allows them to print out blank requests forms, fill them out and send them in. According to Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap: “In 2008, the first year Maine law allowed municipalities the option to accept electronic absentee ballot requests, 52 towns and cities chose that option. The service was enthusiastically embraced by voters and election officials alike in those participating municipalities, and now this year, we’ve seen the number of participating towns more than triple.”[9]


Criminal Appeals judge to enter race for Alabama Supreme Court

Alabama: Chief Judge of the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, Kelli Wise, is seeking election to the Alabama Supreme Court. She is running for the seat the Patricia Smith will be vacating in 2010.[10]

Wise was elected to the Court of Criminal Appeals in 2006, over Democratic candidate Claude Patton. Wise won with 56 percent of the vote.[11] Prior to her election to the Court of Criminal Appeals, Wise served as staff attorney to Justice Jean Brown on the Alabama Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeals.[12]

Her candidacy has been endorsed by the Alabama Civil Justice Reform Committee, a statewide coalition of business groups.[13]


Florida lawsuit calls for new petition forms

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TALLAHASSEE, Florida: Late last month a lawsuit, Striving Towards a New Daytona v City of Daytona Beach, was filed calling for the use of colored-code carbon paper petition forms so that voters can simultaneously sign three petitions. The new proposed method, said advocates, would save time. The proposal would still leave room for voters to sign petitions separately. The suit, no. 2009-33119, was filed in Volusia County Circuit Court on July 30, 2009. According to the group, Striving Towards a New Daytona, the lawsuit was filed because they feared the rejection of their three-page carbon paper petitions, which they circulated earlier this year. A similar idea was proposed in 2008.[14]


Washington's "Top-Two" debate will go to court

OLYMPIA, Washington: Last week U.S. District Court Judge John Coughenour ruled that challenges by the state Democratic and Republican parties against the state's “top-two” system will go to trial. The suit, originally filed in 2005, was filed in reaction to a 2004 vote on Washington Top Two Primaries, Initiative 872 (2004), which created a new "top two" election system and ousted the "blanket primary system." The new system, first used in 2008, allow for whichever two candidates get the most votes advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation. The previously used "blanket primary" allowed for voters to split their tickets.[15] In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the "top-two" system does not appear to violate the freedom of association for political parties but left open the possibility that it might be a violation in practice.[16]


Nevada Supreme Court reviews judge's legitimacy

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CARSON CITY, Nevada: This month the Nevada Supreme Court announced that they will begin proceedings to determine if Family Court Judge Robert Teuton has been violating the Nevada Constitution. Teuton, who was appointed in 2008 to fill the seat of retired Judge Gerald Hardcastle, is facing a dispute about the length of his term limit. Some argue that Teuton's term ended in January 2009, others say he has 17 months left in his term. The issue was brought to the Supreme Court's attention by Las Vegas attorney Robert Lueck, who ran against Teuton for the 2008 Family Court seat. According to Lueck, Teuton's term ended in January because he did not run in the November 2008 election, however, the state attorney general argues that Teuton was appointed too late to run in the November election and therefore his term ends in 2011.[17]


Virginia Gubernatorial debate centers around taxes

RICHMOND, Virginia: The Virginia gubernatorial election is less than 4 months away and with difficult financial times front-runners Democratic Sen. Creigh Deeds and Republican former Attorney General Bob McDonnell are facing questions on taxes. This month McDonnell voiced his support for reducing government control from the business sector. McDonnell said,"As Republicans, we believe you create jobs by keeping taxes and regulation low, and litigation at a minimum. Americans succeed when government puts in place positive policies that encourage more freedom, and more opportunity."[18] On the other hand, Deeds said that he would support legislation boosting "revenues" for transportation, but never explicitly stated that he would support increasing/decreasing "taxes."[19] Some Virginia officials, however, said that in order to continue maintenance of streets and other state infrastructures, taxes will have to be raised.[20]


Upcoming vacancy on the Utah Court of Appeals

Utah: The Utah Court of Appeals is seeking applicants for the upcoming vacancy that will occur with the December 31, 2009 retirement of Pamela Greenwood. It will be the second vacancy on the court, as the seat opened with the 2008 retirement of Judith Billings is still unfilled.[21]

Applicants for the position must be "at least 30 years old, United States citizens, residents of Utah for at least five years and admitted to practice law in Utah".[22]

The annual salary for a Court of Appeals judge is $138,750, with 20 days of paid vacation and 11 paid holidays per year.[23]


New York Governor signs law that could prove costly for villages

ALBANY, New York: Governor David Paterson signed into effect a law on June 25, 2009 that would eliminate local governments through petitions and referenda. In addition, county legislatures and county-wide referenda could also be used to eliminate local governments, particularly villages.

Under the new law, which is called the New York Reorganization and Citizen Empowerment Act, if a village or town submit’s a petition containing ten percent or 5,000 signatures from registered voters, that government could face public vote on whether or not to dissolve it.

According to Paterson:“Our system of local government is outdated and overly complicated, and today we are making it easier to consolidate or dissolve local government entities. This legislation represents real reform, and will result in bottom-line savings for taxpayers.”[24]


Alaska Bar Poll rating 19 applicants for Supreme Court released

Alaska: The Alaska Judicial Council has released the results of the Alaska Bar Poll rating results of the 19 applicants still in the running for the Alaska Supreme Court. The highest overall performance rating earned was 4.3 out of 5, and it was earned by Superior Court judges Trevor Stephens and Philip Volland. Full results can be viewed here.

The Judicial Council will proceed to interviews with the applicants and conduct a public hearing in October 2009. The Council is also soliciting public comment on the applicants via mail. Following the interviews, the Council will recommend a minimum of two names to the Governor, who will choose one for the appointment.

The vacancy on the court is due to the retirement of Justice Robert Eastaugh which will be effective November 2, 2009.[25][26]


SEIU backs Florida fair district proposals for 2010

TALLAHASSEE, Florida: In the latest financial reports of two proposed 2010 ballot measures - Florida Congressional District Boundaries Amendment and Florida Legislative District Boundaries Amendment - the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) appears as the largest contributor. According to state campaign finance records SEIU has contributed a total of $225,000 to Fair Districts Florida, a group advocating for both district proposals. "Our goal is really just to establish some fairness standards when the Legislature begins drawing congressional and legislative boundaries. If you look at the state of Florida, there are some crazy districts out there," said Mark McCullough, a spokesman for SEIU.[27]

In order to place the measure on the ballot supporters must gather 676,811 signatures for each ballot measure.


Washington R-71 signature count 2/3 complete

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TACOMA, Washington: This week, Washington state officials announced that approximately two-thirds of the total submitted signatures to place Washington Referendum 71 (2009) on the November 3, 2009 ballot have been counted. Referendum 71 is an attempt to overturn Washington's new "everything but marriage" domestic partnership law.[28] According to the latest reports, of the 103,898 signatures checked 91,716 have been accepted and 12,182 have been rejected. In order to place the measure on the ballot R-71 supporters must have a total of 120,577 valid signatures. Brian Zylstra of the secretary of state's office reported on Monday, August 24 that the rate of error is currently 11.72%. In order to reach the 120,577 signature goal, it is estimated that the rate of error cannot exceed 12.4%. The count is expected to be completed by next week.[29]


Ohio livestock care bill officially on November ballot

SALEM, Ohio: This November Ohio voters will be deciding on what is already, a hot button issue, the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Amendment. The measure, a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment, proposes to create a 13-member board of farmers and veterinarians to oversee the rules, regulations and animal-care standards.[30] Governor Ted Strickland announced his support for it even before it was approved for the next Ohio statewide ballot, saying, "The board will ensure that Ohioans continue to have access to a safe and affordable local food supply and will make our state a national leader in the level of animal care and responsibility."[31] The ballot measure was allegedly developed in an effort to stifle efforts by the Humane Society of the United States, who is reportedly prepared to launch a statewide ballot initiative for November 2010 to call for restrictions on government agricultural agencies.[30]

HSUS officials said they are opposed to the measure because "while it’s designed to give the appearance of helping farm animals, Issue 2 is little more than a power grab by Ohio’s agribusiness lobby. The industry-dominated “animal care” council proposed by Issue 2 is really intended to thwart meaningful improvements in how the millions of farm animals in Ohio are treated on large factory farms." However, the Ohio Farm Bureau argues that the proposed 13-member group will help establish "a thoughtful process through which Ohioans consider animal care issues is better public policy than current efforts of national activist groups to illegalize specific farm practices without giving proper consideration to all sides of the debate."[30]


Recommendations made for the Western District of Wisconsin

Wisconsin: Senators Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl have recommended two attorneys and a former state Supreme Court justice to President Obama for seats on the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin.

Madison attorneys William Conley and David Jones, and former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler were recommended by the Senators for the seat opening when Barbara Crabb assumes senior status later this year.

Both Butler and Conley were previously recommended for another vacancy on the District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin.[32]


Deadline set for Oregon gas tax opponents

PORTLAND, Oregon:A September 25, 2009 deadline has been set for opponents of a law that would increase gasoline and vehicle tax. Opponents such as Don McIntire, a veteran tax critic, have until that date to submit 55,179 signatures to the secretary of state at 5 p.m. The signatures must be verified within 30 days of the deadline. If the signatures are verified, an election will coincide with the May 18, 2009 primary election.

If signatures are not submitted or there are not enough, the tax increases will be implemented on or before January 11, 2011.[33]


Ohio casino initiative will impact fundraisers, says governor

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COLUMBUS, Ohio: According to the approved casino initiative language, Gov. Ted Strickland said that the Ohio Casino Initiative (2009), as currently written, may inadvertently shut down casino nights at churches and fundraisers.[34] "If the amendment passes, we believe that it would create a risk that a court might find that those charitable games of chance that are currently legal might be determined to be illegal," said Ted Hart, spokesperson for Attorney General Richard Cordray. But supporters of the measure argue that the ballot language specifically exempts bingo and horse racing from the term "casino gambling," however opponents argue that other casino-style games like roulette and blackjack are often used at "game night" fundraisers. On Thursday, August 20, 2009, the Ohio Ballot Board approved the argument as part of the official argument against the proposal.[35]


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