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SARL Members and Alumni News

Voter suppression, the blueprint to a broken democracy

The Hill | Posted on November 2, 2017

Numerous false narratives have been advanced to sow division in the American electorate, with few more pernicious than the myth of voter fraud. Created as a tactic to justify discriminatory voter suppression practices, this mythos threatens our most fundamental constitutional right and undermines the core democratic values of republican government. The myth that voter fraud is rampant and our elections are infiltrated by undocumented immigrants was used as a pretext for state legislatures across our nation to make it harder for minorities to vote. Against the tide of reforms to expand the franchise for all voters, states like North Carolina began to repeal common sense legislation designed to ease the inconvenience of antiquated voting practices. In 2013, the state enacted a law allowing election boards to cut voting hours. The state Republican Party even informed election officials that “Republicans can and should make party line changes to early voting.” Consequently, 23 counties reduced early voting, accounting for half of all registered voters. 


Minnesota testing farmer health care cooperative

DTN | Posted on November 2, 2017

Farmers in most of the country are left largely with the same health-insurance options they have faced in the past when it comes to the law, though a new experiment is starting in Minnesota with a farmer health-insurance cooperative. The idea of a farmer health-care cooperative had been kicked around in Minnesota since 2009 but had faced multiple regulatory stumbling blocks. At the end of last year, Minnesota farmers complained to state lawmakers that the insurance exchange was collapsing down to one insurance option across much of the exchange and as many as seven counties in the state were looking at no insurance option. Minnesota lawmakers passed legislation last spring specifically allowing farmers and their employees to form a health-care cooperative."It will fill a need in the individual marketplace for the people who have gotten hammered by the premium increases," said Gary Wertish, president of the Minnesota Farmers Union. "This is where all the farmers fall, and this is an attempt to correct that."The cooperative, called 40 Square, is a self-insurance plan that operates like most insurance policies with a deductible, copays and a percentage of out-of-pocket costs. Deductibles and out-of-pocket costs are waived for routine preventive care, and there are standard costs for prescription drugs. A summary of 40 Square plans offers annual deductible options for families from $3,000 to $13,100 in different plans.To sign up for 40 Square, a Minnesotan has to farm and have at least one common-law employee -- a person who receives a W-2 for working on the farm. If the insurance is attractive, a farmer who is a sole proprietor might consider working with an accountant to provide a seasonal contractor, or relative, with wages and taxes withheld to issue a W-2 rather than treat that person as an independent contractor with a 1099 form."If your spouse does the books and you issue him or her a W-2, you can consider the farm an employer with a common-law employee," said Charlene Vrieze, project manager for 40 Square.Farmers require an employee because the cooperative is regulated under a Department of Labor regulation dealing with employer-employee benefits.Farmers also purchase stock to join the cooperative, which amounts to a $100 voting share stock and a $1,000 common stock, which will be paid throughout the first 12 months of membership in 40 Square. The cooperative also requires farmers to offer 40 Square insurance to employees for at least three years.


VT Lawmakers group to hold hearing at Statehouse for public feedback, new ideas on local economy

The Commons | Posted on November 2, 2017

The Vermont House Rural Development Caucus will hold a public hearing at the Statehouse, from 5-7 p.m., on Tuesday, Nov. 7, to hear from municipal, business, education, and nonprofit interests in rural Vermont about what issues are the most pressing. The Rural Development Caucus, also known as the Rural Economic Development Working Group, is a nonpartisan group of Vermont lawmakers that seeks to ensure that the needs of rural Vermont are considered when public policy is contemplated, debated, or enacted


Maine’s new food sovereignty law gets a last-minute overhaul

Civil eats | Posted on November 1, 2017

“I think Maine is leading the way,” said State Senator Troy Jackson, the Maine Senate Democratic leader and original sponsor of the bill. “I think we’re really the first state to empower our local municipalities this way.” But in a special legislative session October 23 to address federal concerns about the new law, lawmakers added some clarification: When it comes to meat and poultry inspections, all farmers, regardless of where they conduct business in the state, must follow federal and state meat and poultry regulations. Moreover, they must adhere to all food safety guidelines when conducting third-party business, such as wholesale sales.When the legislature in June passed the food freedom law, it noted that the law was not declaring all local food sales free of any state or federal regulation, but that it recognized the right of local municipalities to establish their own food ordinances. The thrust, according to Jackson and other supporters, was to support the local food economy and encourage local food sales.But before Governor Paul LePage’s signature was even dry on the law, a new issue cropped up not about raw milk, but about meat and poultry processing. According to LePage, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue informed the state that if the new food sovereignty law was not clarified to indicate how state meat-inspection programs would remain “at least equal to” federal rules, the USDA would seize control of the state’s meat and poultry operations. LePage promptly called a special legislative session to address the matter.


Lawmakers and local activists support environmental justice bill

The Sun Chronicle | Posted on November 1, 2017

Clean air and water are guaranteed rights under the Massachusetts Constitution, and lawmakers and activists hope these rights will soon become law. The Legislature is considering bills to protect low-income, minority and other at-risk populations from the effects of pollution. Local activists hope the proposals will help their communities and increase awareness of this issue.Almost three years ago, then-Gov. Deval Patrick signed an executive order authorizing environmental justice, which is defined as the “right to be protected from environmental pollution and to live in and enjoy a clean and healthful environment regardless of race, income, national origin or English language proficiency.”


New York law protects agritourism

Farm and Dairy | Posted on November 1, 2017

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently signed legislation that will amend state law regarding agritourism, clarifying the legal responsibilities for both farm operators and visitors. This legislation establishes limited liability protections for the inherent risks of inviting the public onto a farming operation.Agricultural tourism and outdoor recreation activities that include horseback riding, u-pick Christmas trees and fruit orchards, along with tours of wineries and maple operations, all now have a new line of defense against frivolous lawsuits. Under the legislation, farms must have proper signage to delineate pathways and buildings open to the public, adequately train employees involved in agritourism, take reasonable care to prevent foreseeable risks and post warnings to visitors about inherent risks of participating in activities on working farms.


Sadly, Denver’s proposed cat declawing ordinance would hurt some cats

The Denver Post | Posted on November 1, 2017

In his book “Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One,” economist Thomas Sowell describes an insight he gained while he was an undergraduate at Harvard. After the young Sowell had enthusiastically listed the benefits of a favorite public policy proposal, his professor asked “And then what will happen?” over and over until Sowell began to see the unintended consequences that would surely follow.When lawmakers stop at stage-one thinking and don’t anticipate what happens next, the consequences are often worse than the problem the policy was intended to solve in the first place. Thus the road paved with good intentions leads to Prohibition crime syndicates, home building on flood plains backed by cheap government insurance, decrepit housing projects, and endless military involvement in faraway places.Earlier this week, Denver City Council committee members engaged in stage-one thinking when they approved a ban on cat declawing within the city limits with little exception. The full council will take up the proposed ordinance early next month. If approved, Denver would join eight cities in California with similar prohibitions on the procedure. Proponents assume that if they outlaw declawing, cat owners will simply not do it. True, some Denver residents will respond this way. Others, however, will go to a vet in the suburbs. Still others will choose not to adopt a cat or to relinquish a cat to a shelter if they are unable to control the scratching behavior. A declaw prohibition would not pose a major deterrent to cat ownership, but it would affect the lives of some cats for the worse. A cat is better off declawed and in a home than in a shelter or put down.


VT:Legislators Approve Tighter Wind Turbine Sound Standards

US News and World Report | Posted on November 1, 2017

A Vermont legislative panel has approved a proposal that sets more strict sound limits for wind turbines.Vermont Public Radio reports the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules voted 5-2 Thursday to keep nighttime sound levels no greater than 30 decibels inside a home.The vote did not please either side of the argument for tight sound standards. Public health advocates say the new rule is not strict enough, while business and clean energy supporters say the limits will make it difficult for future wind development.The Public Utility Commission created the proposal, and they say the 30 decibel standard will protect public health. The commission says the new rule will not completely rule out utility-scale wind energy.


Michigan bill looks to clarify tax exemptions for distributed generation projects

Midwest Energy News | Posted on October 26, 2017

A bipartisan group of Michigan lawmakers introduced a bill last week that aims to clear up confusion over tax collections for small-scale distributed generation projects. HB 5143 would reinstate a tax exemption for “alternative energy personal property” that was in place for 10 years under the Michigan Next Energy Authority Act of 2002. That law — signed by former Republican Gov. John Engler — granted the exemption to 13 different kinds of small-scale renewable energy systems meant to offset any portion of a property’s energy use. The latest bill was introduced by Republican Rep. Tom Barrett and has two Democrat and four Republican co-sponsors, including House Energy Policy Chairman Gary Glenn, who has said he favors incentives for solar energy over mandates. It has been referred to the House Tax Policy Committee.While it applies to all types of properties, advocates say the bill is meant to provide clarity particularly for residential property owners with solar panels. Over the past several years, Michigan has seen a patchwork of communities that assess solar installations because they are improvements and boost the value of the property.


Tesla starts work on first Puerto Rico energy project to help rebuild island

CNBC | Posted on October 26, 2017

Tesla has begun making good on its promise to help Puerto Ricorebuild its energy grid after a devastating hurricane caused massive damage on the island. On Tuesday, Tesla announced via Twitter that Hospital del Nino in Puerto Rico is "first of many" solar and storage projects going live.


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