legislation

A bill introduced in the Texas House of Representatives would make it illegal for private citizens to record police within 25 feet.

House Bill 2918, introduced by state Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) on Tuesday, would make the offense a misdemeanor. Citizens who are armed would not be permitted to record police activity within 100 feet of an officer, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Only representatives of radio or TV organizations that hold an FCC license, newspapers and magazines would have the right to record police.

“My bill … just asks filmers to stand back a little so as not to interfere with law enforcement,” Villalba tweeted.

The bill would go against precedent set in 2011 by an appeals court, which found that citizens are allowed to record police, according to the ACLU.

Source

The definition of a police state…

Obama Signs Bipartisan Energy Bill

President Barack Obama has signed long-delayed legislation to boost energy efficiency in buildings. Obama signed the bill into law in the Oval Office. He was surrounded by a bipartisan group of lawmakers.

The law aims to cut energy use in commercial buildings, manufacturing plants and homes.

Read more: http://www.laboratoryequipment.com/news/2015/05/obama-signs-bipartisan-energy-bill

House Ways and Means Committee Passes IRS Reform Bills

Congress may not be moving anywhere on tax reform, but they are moving forward on IRS reform. The House Ways and Means Committee has passed several bills that add up into all the IRS reform measures addressing issues that have been in the news so much.

For starters, one of the bills prohibits IRS workers from using private email for official business.

It’s no surprise the bill was approved by the Committee in bipartisan fashion, given the IRS’ own recent history about lost emails and the importance this issue of private emails used for government business is going to have in the next election.

Other IRS reform bills approved in bipartisan fashion included one that enacts the taxpayer bill of rights and another one that streamlines the process in which an organization can apply for tax-exempt status. Another one exempts taxes on donations to tax-exempt groups.

All these bills are connected to the House Ways and Means investigations that began with an acknowledgment by the IRS that agents targeted conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. Investigations into the actions of Lois Lerner, who has since retired, showed that she and other IRS workers had used personal email accounts to send taxpayer information.

The IRS reform bills passed by the Committee therefore tackle all these issues. In his opening statement during the markup of these bills, Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan said that the point they’re trying to make here is this:

“The IRS works for the taxpayer, not the other way around. It’s their job to make doing your taxes as easy as possible. And so the burden is on them to prove any wrongdoing. The burden is on them to protect people’s privacy. And the burden is on them to tell taxpayers their rights. That’s the attitude they should have.”…
“Now, these reforms are simply common sense. All we’re saying are things like, ‘Don’t target people because of their political beliefs. Don’t tax donations to tax-exempt groups. Don’t send taxpayer information to your private email.’

The Ways and Means Committee also passed a bill that would eliminate the estate tax. This was predictably passed along a 22-10 party line vote.

If it becomes law, it will cost the government about $269 billion in reduced tax revenue over a decade. There’s no chance of that happening until after the next elections, and it would still need Republican control of the House, Senate and White House. 

Even then, it’s not something that the new President is likely to take up as a priority. It would especially make no sense if a comprehensive tax reform bill is in the works or already approved and does not include the estate tax repeal.

Photo credit - PoliticalActivityLaw.com/flickr

USARK - United States Association of Reptile Keepers
Read this Lacey Act article by Kassandra Royer of Royer Reptiles. You’ll learn something. Then, comment against the Constrictor Rule if you haven’t at www.usark.org/2014-blog/constrictor-rule-1/. And share!

“There is an ever-expanding piece of law called ‘the Lacey Act’ that has been around since 1900. It was created to help stop the massive slaughter of native game animals for export by commercial hunters. Today, it does a lot more than that, as government likes to keep adding to their lists of things to do.

Perhaps one of the most useless pieces of the Lacey Act is the "Injurious Wildlife List.” Injurious means “causing or likely to cause harm.” The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which is responsible for enforcing this monster, defines Injurious Species as: “ Injurious wildlife are mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish, crustaceans, mollusks and their offspring or gametes that are injurious to the interests of human beings, agriculture, horticulture, forestry, wildlife or wildlife resources of the United States. Plants and organisms other than those listed above cannot be listed as injurious wildlife.”

When a species is added to the Injurious Wildlife list, it makes it a federal crime to transport that species across state lines. You can keep them, breed them and sell them- within your own state- but you can’t take them if you need to move across the country, and you can’t sell them to someone outside your state.

Take a look at the mammals that are currently classified as “Injurious Wildlife”

Flying Fox (Fruit Bat)
Mongoose
European Rabbits 
Raccoon dog
Brushtail possum
Indian Wild Dog aka Dhole
Multimammat mouse aka Soft-furred rat

How many do you recognize? How many have you heard about on the news? Any hint that fruit bats or Indian wild dogs are invading the United States and wreaking havoc? Lots of brushtailed possums damaging agriculture? Seen a mongoose lately? Nope. The only animal you’re probably familiar with on that list is the European Rabbit. They are literally everywhere in the United States. They’re all over, fully established feral populations- but if you transport one across state lines- that would be a federal offense. Nevermind that all the domestic rabbits came from the European rabbit…

The flying fox is invasive in Australia. Brushtailed possums have colonized New Zealand, and the mongoose is invasive on several tropical islands. The Raccoon Dog is invasive in North Europe.
The Indian Wild Dog is not only NOT invasive, it’s now classified as Endangered in what is left of it’s native territory. It is classified as injurious because it kills livestock in it’s home country… A similar situation exists for the multimammate mouse- they cause damage in their native African habitats, but they have not invaded any other countries.

Remember the definition which clearly stated the species had to be detriment to the United States? Only the mongoose qualifies, since they are in Hawaii…though the mongoose was listed 59 years before Hawaii became a state. Legislators heard some scary news from other countries and dropped the ban hammer, with little to no consideration of whether or not those animals actually pose a risk to the U.S.

Now- let’s take note of which mammals are missing from this list:
The wild boar is conspicuously absent. These invasive mammals cause damage to the United States agricultural sector and environment estimated at 1.5 BILLION dollars *per year*. NOT LISTED AS INJURIOUS.

The common house mouse as well as the black and brown rats are NOT native species- we brought them over from Europe! They are responsible for crop and property damage to the tune of over $19 billion dollars a year in the United States. NOT LISTED AS INJURIOUS

Nutria (a beaver sized water rat) are yet another introduced species which can now be found in 40 states. Each year- in the United States, mind you, not some distant country- they are responsible for a minimum of one million dollars worth of damage by wrecking levees, banks and roadbeds with their burrowing activities. NOT LISTED AS INJURIOUS.

You might say, “Well, the rats and nutria have been here forever!” Okay, I see where you are coming from, but remember the Fish & Wildlife Service still thinks the European Rabbit needs to be on the list, and they’ve been around “forever” as well.

Two of the first animals added to the Injurious list were the European Starling and the House Sparrow . Yep- those are also not native to North America! They have displaced native species and have been causing crop damage valued at as much as 800 million per year.- They were removed from the Injurious List in 1960 because regulators realized having them listed ***DID NOTHING*** to prevent them from spreading. You don’t say?

In the 113+ years that the Lacey Act has been around, dozens of species have been added, most of them very damaging aquatic species (fish, mollusks & crustaceans) Since those species can spread themselves without any help just by traveling through waterways, having them listed is virtually useless as well.

It wasn’t until 1990 that a reptile was added to the Injurious Species List- the Brown Tree Snake. You won’t find any in the United States, either. They became invasive in Guam, which, if we are nitpicking- is a US “territory”.

In 2012, more species were added- big, “scary” snakes- the Burmese python, yellow anaconda and two subspecies of African Rock Python. Anacondas have never colonized outside of their native south american habitat, anywhere in the whole world. There are no invasive colonies in the United States today. The same is true of the Rock Pythons.

The Burmese python- due to the destruction of import facilities by Hurricane Andrew in 1992- were able to establish a small colony in the Everglades. It has been 22 years and they have failed to expand outside of southern Florida. Cold spells in the winters of 2008 and 2010 demonstrated that the Everglades Burmese pythons cannot tolerate temperatures near freezing.

Are the Burmese invasive in the Everglades? Absolutely. What is not being said is that a full 25% of the animal life and nearly half of the plant species found in South Florida are NON NATIVE!

Now the Fish & Wildlife Service wants to add even more species to the list! They want to go ahead and throw in the other three species of anaconda- even though they are rare in captivity, and have never, ever established an invasive population- not even in the Everglades! 

They’re also after the famous boa constrictors- which are also not invasive or damaging to anyone, anywhere in the United States. As a matter of fact, there are boas that are native to northern Mexico- if the boa could expand further north, nature would have run that course all by herself! Also on the list- the Reticulated python- which has the impressive record of never having established a colony outside of it’s native range, EVER- and there are no wild colonies in the United States.

These species clearly do not fit the definition of Injurious wildlife given by USF&W- but they do represent people’s pets and a niche industry that focuses on the *captive* breeding of fantastically colored versions of these snakes that sell for thousands of dollars both domestically and overseas.

With over a century of history under it’s belt, it’s glaringly obvious that the Lacey Act is 100% ineffective at preventing the spread of invasive animals in the U.S. Moreover, the law doesn’t even attempt to curb the activity of the absolute worst of the worst injurious wildlife species- instead focusing on those animals with sensational taglines that “might” possibly be injurious. If it were not so injurious to the US Citizen, the Injurious Wildlife list would quite the joke.

Only two things will be accomplished by the addition of these species to the Lacey Act- the destruction of dreams, and the bankrupting of small businesses.

http://www.fws.gov/le/pdf/CurrentListInjuriousWildlife.pdf/“ - Kassandra Royer

Thanks, Kassandra! The reptile community is stronger with people such as yourself working on our behalf.

Photo: Boa constrictor longicauda © USARK - United States Association of Reptile Keepers

It’s time to address poverty, mental health and the plight of the homeless head-on as a social issue and not a criminal issue,“ State Sen. Carol Liu [D-L.A., Cañada Flintridge], said in the release. "Citing homeless people for resting in a public space can lead to their rejection for jobs, education loans and housing, further denying them a pathway out of poverty.”

Liu introduced Right to Rest Act, SB 608, in the state Senate on Friday. Similar bills, widely referred to as a “Homeless Bill of Rights,” have been introduced by state legislators in Colorado, Oregon and Hawaii.

California’s Right to Rest Act would give homeless people the right to use public space without discrimination. It also describes the right to rest in public, to protect oneself from the elements in public, to eat in public and to occupy a legally parked car as “basic human and civil rights,” according to the text of the Senate bill. “The bill would authorize a person whose rights have been violated pursuant to these provisions to enforce those rights in a civil action
Tax Reform Act of 2014 – Dave Camp Version

The much awaited draft version of the Tax Reform Act of 2014 from the House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-MI) is finally here.

Here’s the full draft of the tax reform plan. For a plan that’s supposed to make the tax code maze of 70,000 pages simpler, the draft itself is quite a complex pretzel.

Here’s the low-down on Rep. Camp’s plan of action. Without increasing the budget deficit, the draft plan will:-

-          Create 1.8 million new private sector jobs;

-          Get rid of all but two individual tax brackets of 10 and 25 percent, and reduce the corporate tax rate to 25 percent;

-          Get rid of the need to prepare and file itemized tax deductions for 95 percent of filers by enhancing the standard deduction to $11,000 for individuals and $22,000 for married couples;

-          Get rid of capital gains tax by exempting the first 40 percent of investment income and taxing the rest as ordinary income;

-          Eliminate the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT);

-          Treat carried interest as ordinary income instead of investment returns;

-          Seniors over 65 will have a separate and simpler tax return to be known as Form 1040SR;

Now that’s the official version from the Camp camp, so to speak. Obviously, it’s not as cut and dry as this, and there’s another side to the reform plan.

For instance, the individuals actually face three tax brackets – 10 percent for those with incomes below $35,600; 25 percent for those whose incomes do not exceed $400,000; and 35 percent for those above.

The hike in the standard deduction is accompanies by the elimination of the personal exemption.

State and local taxes would no longer be deductible expenses, and there would be a cap on mortgage deductions for larger loans.

The EITC takes a shellacking, and is left as a limited payroll tax deduction. There are tons of small tax credits and deductions that got chucked out of the plan.

You can pore over the plan and nitpick over the pros and cons, but the broad picture shows that Dave Camp’s plan has a sound basis to become tax law, subject of course to a gazillion amendments that will make the final bill an entirely different creature as compared to this one.

For example, the EITC changes will be unacceptable to the White House.

The elimination of deductions for state and local taxes will likewise be severely opposed by states like California and New York since wealthy constituents will force their elected representatives to oppose the whole bill unless this part is stripped out of it.

Add up everything everyone doesn’t like about the bill, and it’s fair to say the bill as it stands has next to no chance of getting a vote, leave alone becoming law.

The key factor in favor of the plan is that it doesn’t redistribute wealth by shifting tax burdens from one class to another.

Another key positive is that it doesn’t seek to raise the overall amount of tax revenues or lower them, both of which would be poison to one or the other side as either a tax cut or hike.

The rest of the plan is just about simplifying the tax code within these parameters. Many proposed changes may get chucked out along the way, but the tax code will be somewhat simplified at the end of the day.

Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. There’s a small window for debate and a vote before election fever grips Washington again. It’s more likely that there will be a half-hearted attempt, and it will then be put off until after the mid-term elections.

Here’s the full draft legislation of the Tax Reform Act of 2014, and you may also look at it in sections here.

Just last week, HB 4188, HB 4189 and HB 4190 passed out of the Michigan House of Representatives. This package of bills would allow an adoption agency to deny an adoption placement based on that agency’s moral or religious beliefs, even if the agency receives public funds. The bill now heads to the Senate where it is expected to move quickly. 

Michigan has 13,000 children in foster care at any one time.These bills could threaten the placement of the more than 3,000 children in the Michigan foster care system whose biological parents’ rights have been terminated and who are just waiting for homes. The test for adoption should always be the best interests of the child, not the religious views of the adoption agency.  

Take action today and tell your senator you do not support these harmful and unnecessary bills! 

Private Collection Agencies For Delinquent Federal Tax Debts?

Here’s a simple question – how do you feel about the IRS farming out collection of delinquent federal tax debts to private collection agencies?

For those who don’t keep track of what tax law Congress is fiddling with on any given day, this latest controversy is a part of the tax extenders bill.

Officially known as the EXPIRE Act (S.2260), it was voted down by the full Senate after being passed by the Senate Finance Committee. It’s now cooling its heels in the Senate, hoping to get another vote after negotiations which may extend into the next year.

As if there isn’t enough controversy and heat being generated by the renewal and extension of the boatload of expired tax credits and deductions that are the core components of this bill, Senators managed to add more fuel on the fire by sneaking in more measures.

One measure related to private collection agencies is drawing heavy fire from tax professionals and the media. The proposal included in the bill, if enacted into law, would allow the IRS to outsource collection of delinquent federal tax debts to private collection agencies (PCAs).

The best you can say about this idea is that Congress thinks it’s a good way to increase revenues quickly without raising taxes. Apart from that, it’s a terrible idea with extreme ramifications for taxpayers.

For starters, it’s not going to work because whatever else you think about the IRS, it’s a fact that the agency is highly effective at making people pay their taxes voluntarily. There’s no way a private tax collector will strike more fear into the hearts of delinquent taxpayers and make them pay when the IRS can’t do so.

Secondly, handing cases over to PCAs will remove any last vestiges of relief possible for those suffering from financial hardship and genuinely unable to pay their taxes.

All said and done, it’s a well-intentioned proposal that will do no good, but is likely to cause a lot of harm.

This is not just conjecture or opinion, but established fact based on the performance of the private debt collection (PDC) program administered by the IRS from 2006-2009.

Here’s what National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olsen, who was personally involved with the development of the PDC program and handled more than 3,700 cases of tax debts which PCAs were trying to collect.

Olsen says in a letter to Senators who asked for her opinion that “Based on what I saw, I concluded the program undermined effective tax administration, jeopardized taxpayer rights protections, and did not accomplish its intended objective of raising revenue. Indeed, despite projections by the Treasury Department and the Joint Committee on Taxation that the program would raise more than $1 billion in revenue, the program ended up losing money.”        

Well, that seems clear enough for ordinary mortals, but apparently not for certain Senators who are sticking to their guns and refuse to strike out the measure from the EXPIRE Act.

Photo credit – weeklydig/flickr

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Congressman Destroys War on Marijuana in Four Minutes

WTF! Why does the Republican Party not respect our one and only environment? Do they have a backup plan? I doubt it since they don’t tend to support space exploration either… Please contact your representatives to voice your scientific opinions!

Environmentalists, scientists fret over Republican bills targeting EPA science

Over objections from the White House and many science and environmental groups, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives this week approved two bills that would change how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) obtains and uses scientific data and advice. The bills aren’t likely to become law this year, but they are fueling an intense political battle that is likely to resurface when the new Congress convenes in January.

Proponents of the bills, which the House passed almost entirely with GOP votes, say they would increase transparency in how EPA uses data to justify its regulations and result in better, more balanced scientific advice for the agency. “EPA has an extensive track record of twisting the science to justify their actions,” and so reform is needed, said Representative Lamar Smith (R–TX), head of the House science committee, in a statement supporting one of the bills.

But opponents say the legislation would do more harm than good. “These bills are the culmination of one of the most anti-science and anti-health campaigns I’ve witnessed in my 22 years as a member of Congress,” said Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson (D–TX), top Democrat on the House science committee, in a statement.

Some of you have probably tripped over this already, but if you’re looking for something to be outraged about, pull up a chair!

The Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act of 2005 (Senate Bill 51 and House Bill 356) has been referred to committee in both the House and the Senate. It contains this definition:

WOMAN- The term `woman’ means a female human being who is capable of becoming pregnant, whether or not she has reached the age of majority.

Hmm. I’m…not a woman. And neither is my mother. (Neat trick, huh? Pr'aps it’s hereditary…) If you’re menopausal, sterile, or on birth control, you’re not a woman under this definition. A twelve year old with early menarche is twice the woman you’ll ever be, honey.

Possibly we’re men, in which case I’m in a gay marriage, and James is in for a real shock. Or I could go off the pill, thereby making me a woman again, but then we couldn’t have sex, so the poor man may have to choose between upholding traditional family values and gettin’ laid.*

Really, I try not to be a deranged feminist. I’d like to think I’m pretty good about it. I go along believing I’m equal, and assuming pretty much everybody else who isn’t some kind of freakish religious dinosaur does too, and gritting my teeth at tampon commercials, and it generally works out. I can’t think of the last time I flew at someone, harpy claws extended, screaming “DIE YOU TOOL OF PATRIARCHAL OPPRESSION!” I go through whole weeks without dwelling on the fact that someone, somewhere, in power, probably believes that I’m basically a glorified uterus capable of simple housekeeping chores and the occasional blow job.

And in the grand run of things, since this is just a legal definition for the terms of one bill so that they can try to guilt-trip women getting abortions even further, it’s a minor point in a generally obnoxious piece of “Shame on you for having an abortion, you bad, bad woman!” legislation.

But come ON. At least a teeny bit of token effort on the part of people drafting this stuff. A shred. At least try to pretend that you’re not defining women’s importance by their possession of a uterus. I know you are, you know you are, but maintaining the polite fiction is the only thing that keeps me from thinking I’ve woken up in a Margaret Atwood novel.


*I suspect this will not be a difficult choice.

Vote no on Michigan Senate Bill 0004

An open letter to Judiciary Committee Members: Sen. Rick Jones, Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, Sen. Tory Rocca, Sen. Patrick Colbeck, Sen. Steven M Bieda

Did you know that you can be fired or denied housing in 29 states just for being or being perceived as gay? Even more ludicrous is that any company can fire you if your relative is gay. In 31 states you can get fired for being transgender or transexual. There are just no legal protections. [1]

This is highlighted in Michigan by a recent article of Rolling Stone that ran on November 24th entitled, “The 5 Worst States for LGBT People”. Michigan was the fifth worst state, beating Tennessee and North Dakota out for this “honor”. The main reason (among many reasons) is that Michigan has a disproportionate hate crime rate on the LGBT community, largely targeting transgender women of color. [2] Transgender individuals are about 400 times more at risk to be assaulted, murdered or commit suicide than the rest of the population. [3]

We can improve conditions for the LGBTQ community by updating Michigan’s Elliott Larsen Act. Act 453 of 1976 guaranteed protection for religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, or marital status against discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. [4] However it appears the Michigan Congress has plans otherwise. Last month, the State House passed a dangerous bill, Michigan Religious Freedom Restoration Act (House Bill 5958, 2014). This bill died in the Senate when the legislative session ended. Senate Bill 0004 [5] appears to start up where that bill failed.

Senate Bill 0004 would legalize discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community. Under this legislation, a police officer could refuse to defend a mosque or synagogue, a guidance counselor could deny help to a gay student, or a landlord could refuse to rent to a single mother based on their religious beliefs. Senate Bill 0004 falsely claims to protect religious freedoms that are already protected by the current Elliott Larsen Act.

It is my belief that ALL humans should have the basic human rights afforded by the constitution. LGBT people live in every part of the world and are hard working members of society. By expanding the Elliott Larsen Act, it will give LGBT people a sense of dignity and allow them to better contribute to our economy.

Sincerely, 
David Ano
27600 Marquette St
Garden City, MI 48135
734-338-6790

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/30/fired-for-being-gay_n_6076492.html

[2] http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-5-worst-states-for-lgbt-people-20141124#ixzz3KlfHpBD1 

[3] http://www.transviolencetracker.org

[4] https://www.michigan.gov/documents/act_453_elliott_larsen_8772_7.pdf

[5] http://www.legislature.mi.gov/(S(2duqlrvaud52yqmzkapqtx55))/mileg.aspx?page=getObject&objectName=2015-SB-0004

Contact Your Michigan Senator at
http://www.senate.michigan.gov/fysbyaddress.html

Contact Your Michigan House Representative at
http://www.house.mi.gov/mhrpublic/