Capitol Affairs: July 2013 in Review

Posted on 07-29-2013 by
Tags: Real Law

Brought to you by the Real Law Editorial Team

Things happen in a picosecond. It’s one trillionth of a second, or 0.000,000,000,001 seconds. That’s faster than a nanosecond (a billionth of a second), but not as swift as another near-instantaneous speed scientists can measure. A femtosecond—a quadrillionth of a second—is even faster.

Near the other end of the speed dial of life is a glob of goo oozing its way at a glacial pace through a glass funnel at The University of Queensland in Australia. The pitch-drop experiment started in 1927. So far, a drop has fallen only eight times; another has started and is thought to be “imminent,” but in pitch-drop terms that could still be a while. Even then, it will be a remarkable measure of slowness.

Somewhere between those two extremes of fast and slow is the speed at which America continues to reinvent itself through Congress, state legislatures across the country, court decisions and executive orders.

For some, events are moving too quickly. For others, the march of progress seems painfully slow.

Unintended Consequences

Several recent decisions by the Supreme Court provide examples of change occurring at a pace that depends on one’s perspective. In the top story of the July 22 edition of State Net® Capitol Journal, regular columnist Lou Cannon writes: “The Supreme Court’s momentous rulings last month on three issues shook up the country and the states.” In a thoughtful overview of what the rulings mean, he adds: “The court gave conservatives a victory on voting rights while moving the country in a liberal direction on marriage equality. Disappointing both sides, the court also kept affirmative action on life support in a case involving admission to the University of Texas.”

Cannon is referring to fallout from the Court’s decisions with regard to Shelby County v. Holder, in which it struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act requiring states and counties with a history of racial discrimination to get pre-approval from the federal government before making changes in their voting laws. The second matter involved decisions with regard to United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry, which were both about same-sex marriage and, effectively, entitlement to federal benefits. Finally, Fisher v. University of Texas prompted an overwhelming decision among the justices to return the case to lower courts to consider if “workable race-neutral alternatives would produce the educational benefits of diversity.”

Those landmark and potentially precedent-setting rulings are all worthy of the scrutiny they are given. Moreover, the decisions have already resulted in a rush to further litigation—and the battles are not likely to end soon. Indeed, as Cannon observes, “All of these rulings may have unintended political consequences.”

The Supreme Court decisions also provided the basis for the top story in the July 1 edition. Capitol Journal associate editor Korey Clark reported on the rulings in depth and reviewed their social and legal implications, neatly bracketing the month with examination of what are clearly polarizing issues.

There are many people, on both sides of the debates, who feel that matters need to speed up or slow down.

Time Out

Meanwhile, faced with a growing number of complaints from employers over the complexity of implementing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by next January, the Obama administration announced on July 2 that it would postpone, for a year, enforcement of a provision of the law that requires large employers—those with 50 or more workers—to offer those employees health coverage or face fines. The new deadline is now January 1, 2015. As Capitol Journal editor Rich Ehisen writes in the top story of the July 15 edition, many in the business community who felt that the law was rushing matters promptly lauded the unexpected decision. They were demanding “more time and clarification of the rules” before implementing the employer mandate.

But as Ehisen also notes, the delay has given renewed energy to ongoing efforts by some to repeal or at least significantly rewrite the law. Those critics argue that the ACA is moving too quickly in an effort to transform health care in America. Their efforts raise a lot of questions, while threatening to exacerbate tensions over the legislation. “The toxic political back and forth surrounding the ACA is not going away any time soon,” Ehisen concludes.

GMO Labeling

Worries about a different kind of potential toxicity, and a perception that legislation is moving too slowly to address a growing concern, provide the top story in the July 8 edition. Rich Ehisen explores a developing grassroots effort across the country to require foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to carry a label designating them as such. “That effort received a significant boost on June 25 when Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (D) signed HB 6527, making the Constitution State the first to require labeling of GMO-infused foods,” Ehisen reports.

More than 60 countries around the world require genetically engineered food products to be labeled accordingly. Critics of GMOs contend that products containing them could have a range of negative health and environmental impacts. “GMOs, they argue, carry a number of risks, including introducing new allergens and toxins into the food supply, cross contaminating non-GMO crops and producing new ‘super weeds’ that are so pesticide resistant that farmers have to resort to using increasingly more lethal chemicals to kill them,” writes Ehisen. There’s a fear that those chemicals end up in the environment through agricultural runoff.

The debate over GMOs is complex. Nevertheless, more than 87 GMO-related bills have been introduced across the country so far this year. They represent the latest skirmishes in what is likely to be an ongoing battle over genetically engineered plant and animal food products.

For those seeking to have legislation passed, time can’t move quickly enough.

News and Views from the 50 States

There’s more that fills each weekly edition of Capitol Journal. It’s all compiled by the State Net expert editorial staff and freely available on the State Net website or in various formats via email.

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