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Legislative Updates

Keeping you up to date on policy action from the president's administration and the U.S. Congress.

December 2015

» Business and Economic Development

Congress Passes Tax Bill, President Signs 2016 Budget
President Barack Obama signed the 2016 Budget which provides a $1.2 trillion catch all spending bill and prevents a government shutdown at the end of the year.   The bill includes a $622 billion tax bill that provides tax breaks to individuals and families.  The measure will protect tax breaks such as the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Child Tax Credit and the American Opportunity Tax Credit.   Tax credits for businesses include research and development tax credits, tax breaks for NASCAR, horse racing, and film and television productions.

Read more:
President Obama Signs Massive Spending Bill, Tax Measures into Law (USA Today)
What’s Inside the $622B Tax Deal (The Hill)


»Education

President Obama Signs the Every Student Succeeds Act, Ends No Child Left Behind
President Obama signs a new K-12 measure that received wide bipartisan support that will effectively return control over public schools back to the states.  The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) ends the No Child Left Behind, a remnant of the George W. Bush administration.  ESSA removes the federal oversight system created by NCLB and instead leaves it to states to develop their own systems for judging the quality of public schools.  It also removes the requirement to base teacher effectiveness on student scores.  

Read more:
Obama Signs New K-12 Education Law that Ends No Child Left Behind (The New York Times)
President Obama Signs Education Law, Leaving 'No Child' Behind (NPR)
Senate Scraps No Child Left Behind; Education Battle Moves To States (Politico)


»Energy, Transportation, and Environment

Climate Agreement Made in Paris Summit
196 countries, including the United States, met in Paris, France for the Sustainable Innovation Forum (SIF15) during the annual Conference of Parties (COP21) to discuss climate action, including lowering CO₂ emissions, increasing the use of renewable energy, increasing climate finance and more.  The Paris Agreement commits the participating countries to work together to limit global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.  It also focuses on stopping greenhouse gas emissions from rising.  The Paris Agreement will not be implemented until 2020 and has not yet been signed by the participating nations, though it was adopted. 

Read more:
Sustainable Innovation Forum (COP21paris.org)
Here’s What You Need to Know About the New Paris Climate Agreement (Grist)
World Leaders Agree to Historic Climate Accord (The Hill)
Leaders Move to Convert Paris Climate Pledges Into Action (New York Times)

Obama Rejects Keystone XL Pipeline Proposal
After seven years of review and decision making, the President rejected the proposal for the Keystone XL pipeline after the State Department’s review of the proposal.  The review found that the development of the Keystone would not be in the best interest of the United States.

Read more:
Obama Rejects Keystone Pipeline (The Hill)

Congress Passes Transportation and Infrastructure Bill
Congress passed the first major transportation and infrastructure bill in nearly a decade.  The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act will include a 15 percent increase in highway spending, an 18 percent boost in transit spending.  It would also funnel 93 percent of federal highway funding through states. 

Read more:
Obama Signs 5-Year Infrastructure Spending Bill (Associated Press)
A Decade in the Making, Congress Strikes a Deal on Transportation Funding (Governing)
House-Senate Negotiators Agree On U.S. Highway Bill, Revive Ex-Im Bank (Reuters)


»Law, Justic and Ethics

The United States Supreme Court began a new term in October.  Below are cases with state impact.

  • Evenwel v. Abbott is a redistricting case, where the Court will be tasked with determining if the Equal Protection Clause requires states to draw voting districts based on total population or total voting population.
Read more: Supreme Court justices divided on 'one person, one vote' (USA Today) 

  • Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, this case comes before the Court for the second time.  The case, focusing on the University of Texas’ admissions policy on using race as factor for admission, will have a long reaching impact on diversity and school admissions.
Read more: Supreme Court Takes up Affirmative Action (The Hill)

  • The Court will decide on whether requiring teachers to pay into a union they are not a part of violates the First Amendment in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.
Read more: This Supreme Court Case Could Significantly Weaken Teachers Unions (Huffington Post)

  • Montgomery v. Louisiana is challenging Louisiana’s decision to keep Henry Montgomery in jail despite the Supreme Court ruling in 2012 that the Eighth Amendment prohibits anyone under the age of 18 from being sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole as a punishment for murder.  Montgomery has been in prison for murder since he was 17 years old.
Read more: What Happens to Old Sentences When the Law Changes (The Atlantic)

  • Kansas v. Carr and Kansas v. Gleason are two cases whereby the Supreme Court will determine if the Eighth Amendment requires “beyond a reasonable doubt” be met when considering mitigating circumstances not when just applied.
Read more: Carr Cases to Be Heard by a U.S. Supreme Court Increasingly Skeptical of the Death Penalty (Topeka Kansas Capital Journal)
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