Opening Day, part two – with bills to track

There were also on the order of two hundred and fifty bills introduced yesterday.

Some bills to pay attention to (a hardly exhaustive list):

HR 23 (introduced by Rep. David Valadao, R-CA) “to provide drought relief in the State of California”
HR 196 (introduced b Rep. Michael Simpson, R-ID) to split the 9th circuit into two
HR 22 (introduced by Rep. Ted Poe, R-CA) “to provide for operational control of the international border of the US”

HR 24 (introduced by Rep. Thomas Massie, R-KY) “to require a full audit of the Federal Reserve”
S 16 (introduced by Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY) to audit the Fed

HR 36 (introduced by Rep. Trent Franks, R-AZ) “to amend 18 USC to protect pain-capable unborn children”

HR 25 (introduced by Rep. Bob Woodall, R-GA) “to promote freedom, fairness, and economic opportunity by repealing the income tax and other taxes, abolishing the IRS, and enacting a national sales tax”
S 18 (introduced by Sen. Jerry Moran, R-KS) “to promote freedom, fairness, and economic opportunity by repealing the income tax and other taxes, abolishing the IRS, and enacting a national sales tax”

HR 29 (introduced by Bob Goodlatte, R-VA) “to terminate the internal revenue code of 1986”
HR 30 (introduced by Richard Hudson, R-NC) “to repeal the federal estate and gift taxes”
HR 21 (introduced by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-CA) to change US code to allow the Congress to use a single vote to reject all of the Obama administration’s late-term regulations in a single action.
HR 26 (introduced by Doug Collins, R-GA) to change 5 USC 8 to say that major rules of the executive branch shall have no force or effect unless approved by both houses of Congress
HR 31 (introduced by Rep. Richard Hudson, R-NC) to periodically review the need for federal agencies and abolish them if there is no public need
HR 33 (introduced by Rep. Steve Chabot, R-OH) to amend 5 USC 6 to ensure “complete analysis of potential impacts on small entities of rules”
HR 74 (introduced by Rep. Tom Marino, R-PA) to amend 5 USC to postpone the effective date of high-impact rules pending judicial review
HR 76 (introduced by Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-TX) to amend 5 USC to ban Chevron deference and instead require deference to Congressional interpretation

HR 80 (introduced by Rep. Brian Babin, R-TX) to suspend admission of refugees in order to examine the costs of allowing them in
HR 81 (introduced by Rep. Brian Babin, R-TX) to suspend and then terminate the admission of “certain refugees”
HR 83 (introduced by Rep. Lou Baretta, R-PA) to prohibit federal financial assistance to sanctuary cities

HR 133 (introduced by Rep. Tom Cole, R-OK) to abolish taxpayer financing of presidential campaigns

HR 140 (introduced by Rep. Steve King, R-IA) to amend the immigration and nationality act to deny birthright citizenship to children born to parents in the country illegally

HR 232 (introduced by Rep. Don Young, R-AK) to allow states to acquire national forest land

HJR 2 (introduced by Rep. Tom Cole, R-OK) to authorize military action against ISIL


Opening Day

The Congress is off to a busy start; the House passed 14 bills on its first day, the Senate passed 5.

The Senate’s were entirely pro forma:

S. Con. Res. 1: A concurrent resolution extending the life of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies
S. Con. Res. 2: A concurrent resolution to provide for the counting of the electoral votes
S. Res 1: A resolution informing the President that a quorom of each house has assembled
S. Res 2: A resolution informing the House that a quorom of the Senate has assembled
S. Res 3: A resolution fixing the hour of daily meeting of the Senate
So were most of the House’s:

H. Con. Res. 1: grants the Speaker and Majority Leader the power to ask the Congress to assemble outside DC if they believe the public interest warrants it (apparently this is almost always HCR1, and the power is never actually used)
H. Res 1: electing the officers
H. Res 2: informing the Senate that a quorom has been assembled, and of the officer election results
H. Res 3: authorizing the Senate to notify the President that Congress has assembled
H. Res 4: authorizing the Clerk to inform the President of the officer election results
H. Res 5: adopting the rules for the session
H. Res 6: electing members to standing committees
H. Res 7: electing other members to other standing committees
H. Res 8: naming employees of the minority caucus
H. Res 9: fixing the daily hour of meeting
S. Con Res 1: extending the life of joint congressional committee on inaugural ceremonies
S. Con Res 2: authorizing the counting of electoral votes on Jan. 6
But there were two non-pro-forma bills passed. The text is not available online yet.

HR 27: Amend 38 USC to require the VA Secretary to retain a copy of any reprimand or admonishment received by an employee of the Department in the permanent record of the employee
HR 28: Amend 38 USC to require the VA Secretary to adopt and implement a standard identification protocol for use in the tracking and procurement of biological implants by the VA

Both were agreed to by a voice vote.

A happy new year

A happy new year to you all.

I know many of you have hated 2016, and for good reason; I think anyone paying attention to the state of the world *should* be a little bit on edge this fall.

I hope that the things we are afraid of do not come to pass, and that next year brings a world both more peaceful and more free.

Speaking just for myself, though, 2016 was a good year. I acknowledge this is vaguebooking, and yet: 2015 ended in disaster, and much of 2016 was about recovering from that ending; and yet as 2016 breaks into 2017, I find myself in a better emotional state than I’ve been in in years.

I hope the upswing continues, and I wish you all much love in the coming seasons. 🙂

Election preference recap

A rundown of how I am intending to vote, with links.

President: Hillary Clinton. Trump is the worst major party presidential candidate of my lifetime, by far. I voted for Ted Cruz in the primary in the hopes that he could take some delegates from Trump, because he was the most likely not-Trump to win any delegates; I vote for Hillary Clinton for the same reason.

Senate: Kamala Harris. I voted against her for AG in 2010 and still have problems with her sense of legal ethics, AND that doesn’t apply to a legislative job in the same way that it does to a practicing-law job, AND Loretta Sanchez’ campaign has been dreadful.

State Senate: Scott Weiner. He’s way more likely to push to enable large-scale housing development, and that’s the single most important issue in local politics.

Prop. 51: No. (

Prop. 52: No. (

Prop. 53: No. (

Prop. 54: Yes, reluctantly. (

Prop. 55: Yes. (

Prop. 56: Yes. (

Prop. 57: Yes, enthusiastically. (

Prop. 58: Yes. (

Prop. 59: No. (

Prop. 60: No. ( It’s one of the worst initiatives I’ve ever voted on.

Prop. 61: No. (

Prop. 62: Yes. (

Prop. 63: No. (

Prop 64: Yes. I never got around to writing this up. It’s not perfect, but it’s a workable compromise, and I’ve been in favor of legalization since I was a teenager.

Prop. 65: No. (

Prop. 66: Oh, Hell No. (

Prop. 67: Yes. (

—San Francisco Propositions—-


A: yes

B: yes

C: yes

D: no

E: yes

F: no

G: yes

H: no

I: no

J: no

K: yes

L: no

M: no

N: no

O: yes

P: no

Q: no

R: no

S: no

T: yes

U: no

V: no

W: yes

X: no

RR: yes. If we don’t take care of BART’s maintenance backlog, we’re all hosed.

Yes on 57

I’ve been avoiding Proposition 57 because, without having read the text of the law yet, I assumed it would require cross-referencing with the penal code, and I wanted to set time aside to do that.

I was wrong; it does not require such cross-referencing, because it’s actually very, very simple.

Prop. 57 does three things:

[a] anyone in prison for a nonviolent felony is eligible for parole *consideration* after completing the full term for their primary offense.

[b] The Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation (“Corrections”) can award good behavior credits.

[c] When kids between the ages of 14-18 commit crimes, instead of being automatically transferred to adult court if the prosecutor follows the procedure needed to do it, will only be transferred to adult court *if a juvenile court agrees to the transfer* after considering the behavioral patterns and social history of the minor.

Prop. 57 is on the ballot at the behest of our Governor, who put it there as part of an attempt to change criminal procedure in the s tate, partly for the purposes of finding a way to comply with a federal court order to reduce prison overcrowding. There’s a good argument that the proposition violates the California Constitution, which requires that initiative propositions be confined to a single subject; the parole-related provisions were tacked on to the juvenile justice change after the initiative was initially submitted, and they don’t really address the same issue. Still, the California Supreme Court said it didn’t violate the single subject rule, and so it’s on the ballot. 🙂

In order to understand the effects of these changes, it’s helpful to look at what happens now. 🙂

===How do criminal sentences and parole currently work?===

Currently, California has two different sentencing schems: “indeterminate sentencing”, in which convicts are sentenced to a variable-length term with a defined minimum and no defined maximum (eg, “25 years to life”), and “determinate sentencing”, in which people are convicted to a fixed term. Prior to the late 1970s, California *only* had indeterminate sentencing, but the stte adopted a determinate sentencing scheme for most offenses during the late 1970s.

For people sentenced to indeterminate sentences, after the *minimum* term is served, the parole board conducts a hearing and considers whether to let the guy out or not. Some people get out; some people don’t get out. The people who don’t get out have another hearing in a couple of years (the length depends on various things). Some people (notoriously Charles Manson and his friends) go to hearing after hearing after hearing and never get out.

For people sentenced to determinate sentences, there is no parole hearing; they automatically get out when their term ends. Furthermore, many non-violent felons serving determinate sentences are currently released at *half* of their prison sentence due to the implementation of a federal court order requiring California to reduce criminal overcrowding.

Some people are sentenced to multiple consecutive sentences because they commit multiple crimes. Consider, for example, someone who was arrested for possessing heroin with intent to sell, but who also had in his possession an amount of cocaine sufficient for personal use. If convicted of *both* offenses, he would be sentenced to two consecutive sentences: one for the heroin, one for the cocaine. As both would be determinate sentences, he would not be eligible for release until he’d served all of both.

=== What does Prop. 57 do to parole? ===

Under the terms of Prop. 57, nonviolent criminals who are sentenced to multiple consecutive sentences because they have been convicted of multiple crimes will be eligible for parole as soon as they have served the time required for their *primary* offense. So, in the example above, the guy would get out when he w as done serving t he time for possessing heroin with i ntent to sell.

=== What are the arguments for and against this part of the proposition? ====

The primary argument *for* this is: the state is under federal court order to reduce prison overcrowding. We’re *not* going to do that by building new prisons (because there’s no money and insufficient political support), and this is one of the lowest-impact ways we can come up with to reduce prison populations: let nonviolent criminals who are in for a long time out earlier.

The primary arguments *against* this are: this will let dangerous criminals loose on the streets of California, and this *in effect* means the criminal isn’t being punished *at all* for his lesser crimes – by punishing him only for the primary crime, the state is allowing him to get away with the other crimes.

The official argument against claims the proposition will reduce sentences for people convicted of raping an unconscious victim, human sex trafficing, lewd acts against a fourteen year old, and other terrible crimes. This is true, but *only* because *existing law* defines these crimes as nonviolent – the initiative doesn’t define nonviolent, it uses the existing definition under state law. That definition can be changed by the legislature at any time.

=== How do early release credits work today? ===

Under state law, inmate sentences can be reduced by a certain amount (it differs among category of crime) for prison labor, participation in education programs, and good behavior. Some prisoners are not eligible due to the nature of their crime.

=== What does Prop. 57 change? ===

Prop. 57 changes the Constitution to allow good behavior credits (which are currently authorized by statute). This will have the effect of increasing the number of people who are able to get them, as it allows Corrections to determine eligibility by regulation (instead of eligibility being spelled out in statute).

=== What are the arguments for and against this part of the proposition? ===

There are two arguments for: (a) we need to reduce prison overcrowding, and (b) rewarding inmates for good behavior, participating in education and training programs, and working *encourages them to do these things*, which both improves management of the prisons AND increases their rehabilitative effect.

The arguments against are: (a) it will let dangerous criminals out on the street, and (b) by extending eligibility to people convicted of various horrible crimes, it reduces the punishment for those crimes, and that’s unfair to their victims and dangerous to the public.

=== How do juvenile justice transfers currently work? ===

Under current law, children aged between 14 and 18, who are accused of cimmitting crimes after they turned 14, are automatically transferred to adult court if they are accused of committing murder or sex offenses with special circumstances, are automatically transferred if a prosecutor alleges that they have a significant criminal history or if they are accused of particular crimes, or they can be transferred via a hearing in front of a juvenile court judge. In 2015, according to the LAO’s analysis, less than 100 juveniles were transferred to adult court via a judicial hearing, and between 500 and 600 juveniles were sent to adult court total.

=== What does Prop. 57 do? ===

Prop. 57 eliminates *all* automatic transfers to adult court and only allows transfers after a hearing in front of a juvenile court judge.

=== What are the arguments for and against this part of the proposition? ===

The arguments for is that allowing a prosecutor to make the decision on their own doesn’t provide sufficient procedural protection to determine whether a juvenile is competent to be tried as an adult.

The argument *against* is that this will allow vicious children to continue to be prosecuted by the juvenile system, which will coddle them and prevent them from learning the lessons needed to keep them from becoming vicious adult criminals.


For me, the case for the third part is compelling: allowing *prosecutors*, on their own without judicial oversight, to decide that children should be tried as adults is a terrible process. It vests the power to decide someone’s *competence* in the hands of a person whose job it is to *prove their guilt*; it creates an inherent conflict of interest and undermines the integrity of the process.

I’m neutral on the first and second part. I’m not screaming for this reform the way I am screaming for other reforms, *and* I’m not opposed to itt; we really do need to reduce our prison population, and reducing sentences for nonviolent offenders, while providing an incentive for both good behavior and participation in rehabilitative programs seems like it’s a great way to do that.

I’m voting yes.

(probably) No on 61

I’ve been ignoring Prop. 61 because i’m uncertain what to do about it.

—What does Prop. 61 do?—-

“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, and insofar as may be permissible under federal law, neither the State of California, nor any state administrative agency … shall enter into any agreement with the manufacturer of any drug for the purchase of a prescribed drug unless the net cost of the drug, inclusive of cash discounts, free goods, vlume discounts, rebates, or any other discounts or credits, as determined by the State Department of Health Care Services, is the same as or less than the lowest price paid for the same drug by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.”

In other words: the state and its agencies cannot contract with drug manufacturers to purchase drugs at a price higher than that paid by the VA.

There are a couple of obvious problems with this as stated: how do we know how much is paid by the VA, and what do we do if we can’t tell? How do we know how much we’re paying, given the complexity of discounts, free goods, rebates, etc? What’s the point in prohibiting purchases *from the manufacturer* but not prohibiting purchases from some intermediary retailer?

That last point, in particular, is telling — this only effects purchases from the manufacturer, and there are ways to get around that using shell intermediaries, so it’s not clear that it will even have any effect.

But put that aside for a moment, because it doesn’t really address my key conflict on the issue.

—Why am I conflicted?—

This is a high-stakes negotiating tactic.

One of the key things in negotiation is that when you come to a table with a price you’d prefer, you claim that you can’t budge from it. The *credibility* of that claim effects your negotiating partner’s behavior – if he thinks your claim isn’t credible and that you’d prefer a higher price to no deal, he’ll push for a higher price. If, on the other hand, he believes that you would prefer no deal to a higher price, then he has to ask if *he* would prefer no deal to this price.

So if you can increase the credibility of your negotiating position, you increase the likelihood that you’ll get what you’re asking for.

In this case, the proponents of the initiative are trying to create a situation where the state *must* take ‘no deal’ over a deal with a higher price. This is the ultimate in credibility: we are legally prohibited from taking a higher price.

That’s great! It greatly increases the likelihood of California getting the price it wants *if the people we are negotiating with would prefer that price to no deal*.

Would they?

Who knows.

That’s why this is a gamble. It’s high reward if it pays off, but it’s high risk if it fails – because if it fails then California may simply not be able to buy certain drugs.

I’m generally pretty risk averse when it comes to this sort of thing, so the high risk worries me way more than the high reward does, which causes me to lean against.

But at the same time … if *anyone* can get away with this, California can.

So maybe it’s worthwhile?

At the end of the day I’ll probably vote against, because of a combination of my risk aversion and a sense that this *really* is not the sort of thing the voters should be deciding. I get that it’s a ballot measure because the legislature is to some degree bought by the drug industry via campaign contributions and so the legislature could never pass something like this on its own; and yet at the same time, a vote of the people doesn’t strike me as being the best way to decide whether or not to proceed with a high stakes negotiating gamble.

No on 63

I’ve been ignoring Prop. 63 because somewhere along the line I became something of an absolutist. If the second amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms, then I should view rules governing arms with the same skepticism that I’d view rules governing speech. If I think that a rule prohibiting me from posting on the internet until I’ve passed a background check is an infringement on my right to freedom of the press, then I should also think that a rule prohibiting me from buying a gun until I’ve passed a background check is an infringement on my right to bear arms. The rules for what is or isn’t a *reasonable* infringement are different – because retrictions on weapons in the name of public safety raise different ‘reasonableness’ concerns than restrictions on speech in the name of public safety, and are easier to justify as reasonable – but in the context of a federal constitutional rule *prohibiting infringement of the right*, if I think it’s infringed, then reasonableness doesn’t enter into the picture.

So Prop. 63 has the *appearance* of being a law I don’t even need to think about before rejecting; if it infringes the right to bear arms, then it’s unconstitutional, and I’m not going to vote for it, *even if it’s a policy that I would think was good absent the constitutional prohibition*.

Still, nothing is absolute, and the path of wisdom is to read and consider before rejecting.

—What does Prop. 63 do?—

(a) requires that people who lose their firearms, or whose firearms are stolen, report it to local law enforcement within five days of “the time he or she knew or reasonably should have known that the firearm had been stolen or lost”.

Note: “Reasonably should have known” means that someone can be punished under this rule *even if they didn’t know that the gun had been lost or stolen*, if a jury decides that a reaosnable person would have known. I think this rule is good policy (making it easier to track lost or stolen firearms has strong public safety benefits) and is constitutional (i don’t see how it infringes your right to bear arms, to require you to report when your arms have gone missing), and i’m not sure i’m comfortable with the reasonably-should-have-known language. It’s pretty standard, to be sure, and yet, it runs the risk of punishing people for conduct outside of their control.

(b) it makes it illegal (an infraction or misdemeanor) to possess a “large-capacit magazine”. This enhances a provision adopted last year (which made it illegal to import, manufacture, or sell, such, but allowed people who already had them to keep them).

“large-capacity magazine” is defined as “any ammunition feeding device with the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds”. This ban is probably good policy, in that it makes it more difficult for people to use guns to commit mass attacks, AND it strikes me as being unconstitutional.

(c) it requires that any ammunition sale (eg, between two random people) be processed through a licensed dealer.

what? i can’t sell ammunition to my best friend without the intervention of a licensed dealer? that seems *massively* intrusive.

(d) it prohibits, as of July 1, 2019, a licensed ammunition vendor from selling or transferring ammunition to anyone who isn’t on the “centralized list of authorized ammunition purchasers”.

Under this plan, persons 18 years or older can apply for an authorization (which lasts four years), which shall be revoked for a variety of reasons. Applicants can be charged a $50 fee. Approval is subject to a background check.

So … to obtain ammunition you’d have to apply in advance and pay the state $50. The equivalent for the first amendment is horrifying.

(e) it requires that anyone who is convicted of certain offenses must relinquish their firearms by transferring either to local law enforcement or a third party who is allowed to possess firearms.

I’m kinda shocked that’s not already the law.

— Let’s make this more complicated —

California adopted a bunch of new firearm regulation rules during this last legislative session, including a rule requiring a license to sell ammunition, and a rule required licensed sellers to check to see if you are on a “cannot buy” list before selling to you. That latter rule seems much better than the rule in the proposition, in that it’s a “sell unless forbidden” rule rather than a “sell only if allowed” rule. These new rules were adopted *after* the proposition qualified for the ballot.

The complicating factor is that the legislature passed rules which *change the effect of the proposition* if the proposition passes. Those changes override the “only if allowed” rule to make it an “unless disallowed” rule, and allows the state to charge a $1 fee per transaction for checking to see if your name is on the list.


I don’t understand the need for this legislation, and I think it’s unconstitutional — the ammunition licensing provisions, and the inability to sell to your friends without going through a licensed dealer, are a gross intrusion on the right to bear arms. I’m not convinced they’re *reasonable*, and I’m fairly certain they’re not constitutional.

I will vote against.