Protesting: Sparking change or putting yourself in danger?

In light of recent events in the United States (the Dakota Access Pipeline, the election of Donald Trump, Black Lives Matter, etc) protests and their importance have jumped smack dab right back into the social climate of our country. Contrary to many people’s belief, protests have been an important and integral part of our history and progress. Even throughout the last five years, protests have demanded attention to important legislative battles throughout the states, spanning from income, racial and gender inequality.

Brief History of Important Protests in the United States

Perhaps the most famous protest of American history, The Boston Tea Party, is one of the events which this country was built upon. For those of us that need a refresher, the Boston Tea Party was when protesters gathered in Boston Harbor to speak out against the Tea Act. The Tea Act allowed the East India Company to sell its tea at reduced cost, giving the British government-controlled company an effective monopoly. This also protested the larger issue of lack of representation of the colonists in the British Parliament. By flinging 46 tons of tea overboard in 1773, Americans stood up not only against an injustice of being forced to buy British tea, but also against a greater injustice forced onto the people of the country inhibiting their progress.

Our founding fathers included “the right of the people peaceably to assemble” in the very first amendment to the constitution, making clear that it is one of the most important of our civil rights.

Fast forward a hundred years to the Seneca Falls convention in 1848 and the work of women’s-rights trailblazers like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott. After this convention, the push for equal voting rights gained traction eventually leading to the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920. Giving women the right to vote took almost seventy years of protests, demonstrations and activism.

Suffragette Protests by jimmykopelia.blogspot.com

August 28th, 1963 the March on Washington, also known as the most important protest of the civil rights movement, made history. Over 200,000 people congregated in the August Washington D.C. heat to stand up for the rights of African Americans. These non-violent protesters made history and gave Martin Luther King Jr the platform for his renown “I Have a Dream” speech we still celebrate today. This march has been attributed to one of the most important events in the successful passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Martin Luther King Jr at the March of Washington by Wikimedia Commons

We then saw the biggest protest of the 20th century in 1969 protesting America’s involvement in Vietnam. Although antiwar protests have been a part of the history of the United States, this protest was more than 500,000 people. Also in 1969, we saw riots from the police raid of the Stonewall Inn turn into a full-scale rally for acceptance and equality of LGBTQ rights. This was the first step in bringing the gay-rights movement out from underground and into the national spotlight. This has also been an almost seventy year fight for equality – still going on today.

Social justice movements are not the only topics protested. The labor movement has seen many strikes, protests and riots throughout American history. From railroad, coal and steel strikes to the Garment-Workers Strike to the Seattle General Strike to the Wisconsin Protests, these major oppositions to the labor movement lead to progress at every stage. There were also protests at the turn of the century against globalization and its role in increasing the gap between the rich and poor in the United States.

Protests in the United States in the last five years (2011-2016) 

The first major protest in the last five years was Occupy Wall Street (started on September 17th, 2011). On its first day, 3,000 people descended on Wall Street to protest the corruption and greed in the financial system and government. With slogans like “We are the 99%”, small scale marches were organized against the system which used taxpayer money to bailout the banks that majorly contributed to the financial crisis of 2009. It succeeded in igniting the conversation about economic inequality and reducing corporate influence on policy-making in the US.

Anti Obama Protests occurred across the nation both when he was elected in 2008 and in 2012. Like in all countries across the globe, not every citizen is happy with the outcomes of elections. President Obama’s election was no different, but he did not have large scale protests erupting across the country, they were concentrated and few. These protests seemed to have an underlying element of racism (see signs below). He also faced prolonged questioning of the “legitimacy” of his presidency with speculations about his faith and country of birth. Many people in the public eye from lawmakers to current president elect Donald Trump continuously questioned if Obama was a citizen, even after he produced a birth certificate (something no other president has ever had to do).

WND.COM billboard questioning Obama’s citizenship.
Protest Posters from Anti-Obama demonstrations

Black Lives Matter movement (from 2013 to now) was ignited in Ferguson Missouri after the death of a teenager, Michael Brown, who was shot by police. This spread across the country as other black men and women (Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and others) were killed at the hands of police officers under less than “justified” circumstances. Protests erupted in towns where these people were killed, along with all over the United States with the goal of bringing attention to systemic racism, racial inequality, racial bias and violence against people of color in the United States. Although these protests have been heavily criticized, they have started a conversation on the national level about implicit bias and racism in America.

The Dakota Access Pipeline was another important protest in 2016. This demonstration intended to put a stop to the new oil pipeline that was originally planned to cross the Missouri River near Bismarck. It was moved about a mile over due to concerns that an oil spill at that location would have wrecked the state capital’s drinking water. A mile over was the Standing Rock Sioux reservation. They too shared the concerns of the pipeline threatening their public health, water supply and cultural resources. What began as a small protest camp in April, turned into the encampment between 1,000 and 3,000 people by the end. Protesters were met with pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets, dogs and even water cannons in below-freezing temperatures by law enforcement. After this, about 2,000 veterans pledge to take over for and protect protesters. On December 5, 2016 (after eight months of protesting), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers legally blocked the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, denying it a needed easement to drill beneath the Missouri River. They then began an assessment of whether the pipeline should be moved or cancelled altogether.

Anti-Trump Protests (2015 to now) have taken place throughout his presidential campaign and election and are among the biggest, and most frequent, this country has seen. These protests range from demonstrations at Trump sponsored political rallies to campus demonstrations at colleges around the country to calls for boycotts of Trump associated brands and products to full fledged demonstrations with thousands of people in some of the biggest cities across America. Reasons for protest cover a wide range of topics due to the constant drama of the Trump campaign from issues with racism and sexism to sexual-assault allegations to mimicking a disabled reporter to association with “alt-right” (white supremacist) groups to issues with the Trump Foundation to simply outright outrageous comments about women, veterans, Mexicans and sex-tapes. Protests immediately followed the election of Donald Trump due to democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, winning the popular vote, but Donald Trump winning the electoral college vote. During Trump’s inauguration, protests erupted in DC, other states and around the world, with over 100 people arrested and many sent to the hospital with injuries. The Women’s March on Washington, scheduled for the day after the inauguration, had over 600 “sister marches” simultaneously taking place around the globe where hundreds of thousands of women, men and children marched to “stand together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families, recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.”

Offensive Anti-Trump protest signs
Positive Anti-Trump protest signs from Women’s March Denver

These various protests have led to many different outcomes: attention to the issue, progression forward for the issue and legislative changes. Check out some of the bills related to these protests.

The Bills

Pertaining to Black Lives Matter, there have been immense legislative movements toward combating racial bias and unjustified police use of force. There have been 65 bills introduced this session pertaining to requiring an independent investigation when police use force. Take a look at this map of all of the bills proposed having to do with racial bias and police body cameras introduced around the states since the movement began in 2013.
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The protests for the Dakota Access Pipeline not only led to nine bills being proposed that are directly about the pipeline, but it also spread awareness of Native American rights. This map shows all of the bills in the last session around the United States that have to do with Native American rights.
Native American Rights around the US

Currently there are 23 different bills that relate to protesting in general. Perhaps the most interesting bill relating to protests was recently proposed on January 9th, 2017. North Dakota introduced ND 1203 regarding “pedestrians on roadways”. The bill effectively allows motorists to run down protesters if they are “obstructing vehicular traffic on a public road, street, or highway.” Arizona HB2116 pertains to rezoning protests. Indiana SB0285 relates to traffic obstruction by protesters requiring a responsible public official to dispatch all available law enforcement personnel with instructions to clear the roads of persons unlawfully obstructing vehicular traffic within 15 minutes. North Dakota 1304 which would prohibit wearing of masks, hoods, and face coverings at certain functions (like protests); and to provides a penalty. One might question if these new laws would be compatible with the bill of rights.

Conclusion

Without these movements and protests, we wouldn’t move forward. The moments that have made our history, the Boston Tea Party, the suffragettes, the civil rights movement, are some of the most celebrated successes of America. We fought and stood up for human rights and we obtained those human rights. Often using our successes as “examples” for how countries need to change to promote equality for all.  Through protest we obtained the progress needed to step forward into the 21st century as a human rights activist in the world.

He is my President, that’s why I marched.

Saturday January 21st, 2017 was the most inspirational day in recent American history. The Women’s March – on Washington DC, Los Angeles, Denver, New York City, Chicago, Boston, London, Tel Aviv, Melbourne, Moscow, Berlin, Mexico City and even Antartica – with an estimated over 2.8 million women, men and children attending – the world stood up to President Donald Trump. We stood together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families – recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country. – The Women’s March

Children and Vets at Women’s March Denver

With chants like “Show me what democracy looks like, this is what democracy looks like”, “Trump escucha, estamos en la lucha!”, “Women united will never be defeated”, “Women’s rights are human rights”, “My body, my choice” the message was clear: people are fighting for equality, respect and women’s right to have control over their lives and bodies. Some of the loudest and most impactful statements came from the little tykes protesting an America they deserve so much better than “I’m a Kid and This Cannot Be My Future.” Other moving tributes consisted of those from men “Men of quality don’t fear equality” or veterans, “Walked Point in Vietnam to Defend Democracy in 1970, Walked the Mall in Washington to Defend Democracy in 2017.”

I was inspired by all of the people I saw from my alma matter (University of Denver) and my hometown (in the mountains of Colorado) as well from other walks of my life at the march in Denver and at marches all over the US and world. From women I admire and respect making the trek out to Washington DC to women living abroad and traveling far to attend marches in London, Buenos Aires and Barcelona – I was so proud of the women in my life and on this Earth that day.

BT50 Employee Sarah at the Women’s March Denver

While at the march, I sat on a fence for about an hour and took in what was happening. It was such an emotional rollercoaster. Seeing the masses of women, men and children coming together in such a beautiful, peaceful and passionate way is something I will never forget. It was so interesting to reflect about my personal journey through the campaigns and election. The feelings of despair, disgust and confusion I (and so many others) felt had resulted in something so magnificent and inspiring. I didn’t feel alone and scared, I felt supported and encouraged. Sitting in silence on that wall, I was overcome with with faith and hope in humanity and the future of the country I love, but haven’t been proud of as of late.

Not only did I see signs promoting women, but also promoting LGBTQ acceptance and shining light on issues people of color have been consistently fighting for years. This march was a march for all women and demonstrated that it is not only straight, white, cis women’s rights that are in danger and worth fighting for. I believe this was a step forward in coming together to continue to bring activism throughout the country and world to issues that affect select groups of people and are incredibly important to our progress and end goal of equality.

My favorite signs from the day (aside from the ones that made me laugh..and then cry a little) were these, some from friends, some from strangers, but all with a good message.

Best Denver Women’s March Signs

I’ll leave you with the words of Aziz Ansari from SNL on January 21st:

“I want to leave you guys with a serious thought. I know there’s a lot of people that are worried right now. This is a weird time.

If you’re excited about Trump, great. He’s president. Let’s hope he does a great job.

If you’re scared about Trump and you’re very worried, you’re going to be O.K., too. Because if you look at our country’s history, change doesn’t come from presidents. Change comes from large groups of angry people. And if Day 1 is any indication, you are part of the largest group of angry people I have ever seen.” 

Below are some of my pictures from the March on Denver along with some tweets from around the world.

Protests reached as far as Antartica. Here are my two favorites.

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And my all time favorite sign to end on

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The Craft Beer Craze, Even Politicians are Catching On.

Hipsters, connoisseurs  and millennials alike have one thing in common, a fascination with craft beer. This could be attributed to the American trend of wanting to consume unique, special products, or due to the fact craft beer is delicious. As many Americans’ desire for this libation increases, politicians have moved towards enacting legislation to regulate, celebrate and create craft beer.

What Exactly is Craft Beer and the Craft Beer Craze? 

A craft beer is a beer made in a traditional or non-mechanized way by a small brewery. The practice in the United States started with home brewers in the 60s. These people took inspiration and techniques from practices of homebrewing in the UK, Germany and Belgium. Over time, they grew from a few places in Oregon and California to being a national trend. The breweries often had a bar attached, known as a “brewpub”, where patrons could buy the product directly. These breweries also sell product to retailers (liquor stores) and third-party re-sellers (restaurants).

An “American Craft Brewer” is defined as small (6 million barrels of beer or less), independent (less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled by a beverage alcohol industry member) and traditional (beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation). They focus primarily on quality, flavor and brewing technique. Most craft breweries are incredibly small – of today’s 4,600 breweries, over 95% make less than 15,000 barrels of beer a year. If you’re curious about how to taste craft beer like a pro to understand more of the movement, check out this handy little poster from CraftBeer.com

The pride in the craft brewer is innovation and experimentation of different brewing styles and flavors to give drinkers a truly noteworthy experience. Many Americans have gravitated towards craft beer simply because it tastes better, but also due to the culture behind the movement. The fad of homebrewing (making beer in your garage) has further contributed to the experimentation of wanting the most distinct beer drinking experience. The lifestyle behind being a craft beer connoisseur includes not only frequenting different breweries around your town or on vacation, but also celebrating the breweries and beers you love the most. This celebration and demand for product leads to legislation needed  to regulate this “grass-roots” movement gathering massive momentum.

The Bills 

As mentioned earlier, legislation focuses on regulation, celebration and creation of craft beer. Here is a map of all of the bills pertaining to craft beer or breweries over the last couple years across the United States.

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The bills address a plethora of different issues pertaining to manufacturing, distributing and understanding craft beer. New York’s A00128 establishes the New York craft beverage council to develop a marketing strategy to promote the state’s fine wines, spirits and craft brews. Nebraska and Georgia also created  craft brewery boards and committees. 

Other states, like WashingtonCaliforniaIllinoisMississippi and New Jersey, introduced bills that restrict the amount of product manufactured per year. Many states passed bills to expand the access to craft beer (specially this bill from Michigan). New Jersey proposed to take away restrictions requiring limited brewery licensees to provide tour when selling beer to consumers. Washington created a special permit by a manufacturer of beer to hold a private event for the purpose of tasting and selling beer of its own production. Vermont reestablished a Vermont Crafts Crawl which highlights Vermont-made crafts available to locals and tourists.

Many states made moves to celebrate their craft beer culture. New Jersey designated the third weekend in October each year as “Shuck, Sip, and Slurp Weekend” to promote NJ oysters, wine, and beer. MichiganPennsylvaniaTennessee each proposed bills to designate days or months to celebrate the libation like “Local Craft Beer Day”. US SRes473 was a resolution introduced expressing appreciation of the goals of American Craft Beer Week and commending the small and independent craft brewers of the United States. NY A06526, proposed to designate a portion of the state highway system as the North County Craft Beer Trails.

The future of craft beer and the ways it will be celebrated and accepted into society are an interesting area of legislation. Maybe cracking open a craft brew while tracking some of the other legislation around healthcare, marijuanadrones and police body cams will make this year a little more interesting.

Airbnb – your vacation rental in Barcelona may be in trouble!

Airbnb is a 21st century company which completely disrupted the way many of us live and vacation. The platform, which allows users to “find adventures nearby or in faraway places and access unique homes, experiences, and places around the world”, is quickly replacing traditional housing options for travel like hotels and changing the travel experience. As nice as it is to stay in an apartment with friends for the same price as a hotel, the gray area of legislation which Airbnb operates within has posed some challenging battles in the United States and around the world.

What is Airbnb? 

Airbnb is the space in between hotels and couch surfing, used by everyone from young world adventurers to serious business travelers. Airbnb is a peer-to-peer online marketplace and homestay network which enables people to rent short-term lodging in residential properties (houses or apartments). The company was founded in 2008 in San Francisco. According to their website, they are in over 34,000 cities, 191 countries and have 1,400 castles listed on the site.

Many people use Airbnb as a way to monetize their extra space (attic, basement, extra room, etc.). House rules and cost of accommodation are set by the host (property owner) based on the space and amenities offered. Airbnb’s primary source of revenue is service fee charges to hosts and guests on every booking. Fees for guests range between 6% and 12% and hosts are charged 3% from each guest booking for credit card processing. Online profiles provide photos, neighborhood information, house rules and reviews. Airbnb uses public reviews, social connections and recommendations as quality controls for both hosts (and their spaces) and guests.

Airbnb has grown rapidly over the last 8 years, implementing new products and experiences yearly. Their new products like the wishlist (a curated catalog of desired listings) and neighborhoods (travel guide to help choose the ideal neighborhood based on filters and attributes) are aimed at improving the guest’s experience in the new area. Airbnb commissioned HR&A Advisors to conduct a study to measure the market impact of collaborative consumption within urban populations in 2012. The study, pertaining to Airbnb, found its guests and hosts contributed $56 million in spending within the San Francisco economy, $43.1 million of which supported local businesses. Also, they found the average guest stay was 5.5 days, compared to 3.5 days for hotel guests, and the average guest spent $1,100 ($360 accommodation spending) during their stay, compared to the $840 spent by hotel guests.

The Issues

Airbnb rentals can help homeowners earn extra income by subletting a room, which might be the difference for a struggling family trying to keep their home. But there are a host of thorny issues that have arisen with the growing popularity of these rentals. For example, non-home owning users who sublet their space can often find themselves in breach of their lease. In addition, there are listing rules many cities have that some renters don’t abide by. Cities are also concerned that taxes on rental income isn’t being properly paid by renters, meaning losses to city coffers for rents paid by vacationers that otherwise would have stayed in a tax paying hotel. Perhaps the most impactful issue is that affordable housing advocates around the world worry that Airbnb means more apartment units being rented to travelers, effectively taking affordable units off the market for full-time residents and driving housing costs higher.

Airbnb has had to fight battles with New York, San Francisco, Santa Monica, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Spain and Berlin, to date. The New York and San Francisco legal fights are a crucial test of Airbnb’s business model and future success.

San Francisco is currently in a suit with Airbnb due to their attempt to block a new ordinance that would force home-sharing websites, like Airbnb, to remove illegal rentals that are not registered with the city. Under the new law, the city would be able to issue hefty fines to home-sharing companies if they do not remove unregistered listings.

In 2013, Airbnb irked New York’s attorney general’s office by fighting a subpoena for data on who used the platform and what they used it for. In July 2014, a New York City ruling stopped a landlord’s eviction plans for a who tenant sublet her unit through Airbnb. The judge found that local laws prohibiting short-term sublets apply to landlords only, which opened the doors to many more sublets through Airbnb in the coming months and years. The NY state Attorney General found between 2010 and 2014 more than 300,000 New York Airbnb reservations violated the law, about $304 million in revenue, and about $40 million profit to Airbnb.

In July 2016, Santa Monica convicted its first Airbnb host under their new regulations. The law allows “home-sharing”, renting a couch or spare room, while the owner is present and bars renting residence for fewer than 30 days. The man arrested rented his five properties through Airbnb and was charged with eight misdemeanor counts of operating a business without a license after he failed to comply with citations. The city now has a full-time task force dedicated to the issue.

New Orleans disallowed short-term listings in the city’s French Quarter, a tourist-heavy area, where the hotel industry put up the biggest fight. Hosts also have to register with the government and will be restricted to a maximum number of days they can rent full houses. Airbnb will now collect local hotel taxes for short-term rentals.

The Bills 

New York S06340 (or A08704) was signed into law and bans the advertising of “such rentals”, meaning that hosts could not list a full apartment for rent on Airbnb for less than 30-day increments. Hosts caught listing their unit would be fined up to $7,500. It “should be a big boost in the arm for the business,” Mike Barnello, chief executive of the hotel chain LaSalle Hotel Properties, said about the passing of the law, “certainly in terms of the pricing.”

Airbnb filed a suite after the passing of this bill (which was settled on December 2nd, 2016) stating the law’s ambiguous wording could allow New York authorities to apply it to online platforms (like itself) that host third-party listings, which creates the risk of significant civil penalties and criminal liability. Under the terms of the settlement, New York City agreed that the law would not be enforced against the company, instead it is aimed at individual violators.

“Airbnb put a lot of pressure on Governor Cuomo and spent millions, so I’m gratified that he stood up for the cause of affordable housing and protecting tenants,” Linda B. Rosenthal (Manhattan Democrat) said. “This will help stop the bleeding and the loss of units that should be occupied by New Yorkers and not tourists who are here for a few nights. I represent New Yorkers. I don’t represent tourists, and my responsibility is not to protect their cheap deal at the expense of New Yorkers.”

Airbnb also had a similar issue with Nashville where Davidson County Circuit Judge, Kelvin Jones, ruled in October that the law was too vague to be understood by citizens, meaning it was unconstitutional and as a result unenforceable. Although this ruling took place, the city has continued enforcing the law while asking the judge to stay his decision until better regulations are written.

The San Francisco mayor vetoed a bill that would have put a 60 day cap on rentals. He stated that the legislation “will make registration and enforcement of our short-term rental regulations more difficult and less effective, and risks driving even more people to illegally rent units instead of complying with our city’s current short-term rental regulations.”

In Arizona, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey partnered with the company. Starting in January, Airbnb will collect and remit the 5.5 percent Short Term Rental Accommodations tax. Guests will be charged the appropriate taxes on their Airbnb bill and they will remit the taxes collected to the city. They also passed SB1350, which inhibits cities from prohibiting vacation or short-term rentals. The bill does allow regulation for the protection of the public, housing sex offenders, nude or topless dancing, or other adult-oriented business.

Illinois proposed HB6243, or the Short-Term Residential Rental Property Act, which provides that a short-term residential rental property listed on internet-enabled platforms shall not be regulated by a unit of local government in a manner more restrictive or taxed more than bed and breakfast establishments are regulated under the Bed and Breakfast Act. Other states that introduced bills pertaining to the taxation of transient occupancy are CaliforniaConnecticutHawaiiNew JerseyNew HampshireAlabama and Rhode Island.

Missouri introduced the “Short Term Rental Freedom Act” which prohibits political subdivisions from enacting or enforcing an ordinance prohibiting or unreasonably restricting residential dwelling rentals. Virginia signed the “Limited Residential Lodging Act“which allows persons to rent out their primary residences or portions thereof for charge for periods of less than 30 consecutive days or do so through a hosting platform.

The Global Legislative Issues 

In May of 2016, Berlin banned landlords from renting out apartments to short-term visitors due to the general lack of apartments.  The penalty for breaking the law is €100,000 ($113,000) given to the people renting their homes, not on the guests. People will still be able to rent out rooms in their homes, as long as the rooms don’t cover more than 50 percent of the property’s floor space.

Japan also has plans for new regulations in 2017. Currently, it is technically illegal to rent out a room to the general public continuously because it is considered a breach of the Japanese Hotel Business Law. The new law will require Airbnb-style operators have a contract with an outside management company which is a registered Minpaku business.

Barcelona, Airbnb’s third-largest market in Europe, is imposing fines that exceed $65,000 for listings without proper licenses. Airbnb is also having trouble in the UK when they paid only £317,000 in UK tax, despite London being the third biggest city from which the company offers rental accommodation.

In other areas of the world, like Australia, Airbnb has made it a point to work with the local government to help combat the issue of access to affordable housing. When talking about the Sydney market, Chris Lehane (Airbnb’s Head of Policy) said, “You can create a regulatory approach that really encourages, and has a light touch, for those that are doing this out of the homes that they are living in, so they are not necessarily impacting the long term housing market.”

The Solution?

One thing is clear about 2017, it will be a year of heavily fought legislative battles. Between Airbnb, marijuana, and driverless cars and drones, we expect to see 2017 be a year full of working out what the laws are going to be in these fresh new policy areas. Airbnb proposed a set of five new rules to attempt to combat New York’s new law. They range from one host one home – limiting people renting their home to a single home within the five boroughs to requiring registration (even though that has not worked well for San Francisco) to “good neighbor” rules to authorizing Airbnb to collect and remit taxes on hosts’ behalf in order to support affordable housing.

Airbnb’s legal argument in both the San Francisco and New York cases rely on a 20-year-old statute, known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which was designed to protect free speech online and has become fundamental to the working of the internet. In the San Francisco lawsuit, the company stated that the city “impermissibly treats Airbnb as the publisher or speaker of third-party content” when it is merely a platform for communications between property owners and guests. They are arguing that they cannot legally be held responsible for how landlords use the platform. This particular lawsuit has big implications for Airbnb and for business on the internet in general.

These legal issues will continue to shift as the company itself evolves. When talking about the future of Airbnb, CEO Brian Chesky stated, “We would absolutely consider really interesting partnerships with companies. I think going forward, Airbnb can become more of a platform. Today people would probably call us more of a marketplace. … But companies cannot plug into [it] very easily.” Currently, the company does not have an API to plug into, Chesky continued “I think going forward, though, we are really interested in becoming a platform. What companies plug in probably remain to be seen. But we’ve been pretty open that we see ourselves moving beyond just the home, toward an end-to-end-trip [platform].”

What do you see for the future of Airbnb? Do you think the pros of the service out-weigh the cons?

A Slice of Life, December 2016

As many of you are well aware, BillTrack 50 has many cool trinkets and tools, my favorite has to be our trending bill widget on the home page. This widget shows the ten most searched bills at the moment. In leu of what 2016 was, the bills trending here at the end paint an interesting picture of the current climate of our country.

MT SB44 was introduced on (12/13/16) to prevent Montanans from incurring excessive out-of-pocket expenses in out-of-network air ambulance (helicopter) situations in a manner that is not preempted by the Airline Deregulation Act. Because of Montanans’ lifestyles, many find air ambulance services necessary, and at times – lifesaving, means of transportation during health emergencies. Stay safe on those mountain slopes, kids.

AR HB1040 was introduced on (12/8/16) to ensure that athletic trainers do not provide rehabilitation or treatment of an athletic injury or illness in a nonclinical setting while the  athlete is in the the beginning recovery stage – or four weeks after a surgical operation and up to ten weeks after surgical operation. A “nonclinical setting” means a facility or setting that is unable to bill Medicare for services provided at the facility or setting like a house or home office. 

US HR6184, or the Medicare Enrollment Protection Act, is currently in committee. This bill aims to amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to provide for a special enrollment period under Medicare for individuals over 65 enrolled in COBRA continuation coverage, and for other purposes. Bills (and blogs) regarding insurance coverage and plans will be quite popular in the 2017 session.

VA HB1401 was introduced to prohibit public institutions of higher education from curtailing the freedom of any individual to speak on campus. These individuals include enrolled students, faculty and other employees, and invited guests. The only “abridging” allowed is that which is permitted by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The bill’s sponsor, Steve Landes, stated “Current state code covers faculty and students, but does not cover other staff members on campus, or lecturers who come on campus or invited speakers. There has been, not necessarily in Virginia that I know of specific cases, but there have been incidences in other states where especially individuals or other speakers on campus are not allowed their free speech rights.” The University of Colorado at Boulder is currently dealing with an issue similar to this from their invitation to conservative journalist Milo Yiannopoulos to speak at the school in January. This bill relates to almost every single “passé” in the United States today (marijuanastate gun legislationimmigrationheritage issues, etc.)

AK HB374, or the Reinsurance Program, was signed into law in July 2016. This is an Act relating to coverage under a state plan provided by the Comprehensive Health Insurance Association and established the Alaska comprehensive health insurance fund. It also defined ‘residents who are high risks’ as residents who have been rejected for medical reasons after applying for a coverage policy within the six months of the application. Medical reasons may include preexisting medical conditions, a family history that predicts future medical conditions, or an occupation that generates a frequency or severity of injury or disease. 

TN HB2510, signed in May of 2016, modified state code to require headlights to be displayed while approaching a curve on a mountain highway where the view is obstructed. The rest of the code reads “The driver of a motor vehicle traveling on mountain highways shall hold that motor vehicle under control and as near the right-hand edge of the highway as reasonably possible and, upon approaching any curve where the view is obstructed within a distance of two hundred feet along the highway, shall give audible warning with the horn of the motor vehicle.”  For other (maybe a little more interesting?) information on car regulations go here or here

FL H7099, signed in April of 2016, pertains to state taxes. Some of the changes included specifying additional uses for revenues received from tourist development taxes, revising an economic development tax exemption for certain enterprise zone businesses and exempting the sales of food or drinks by certain qualified veterans’ organizations. Here is more information about property taxes information in different counties.

FL H1411, signed March 2016, makes it harder for women to get abortions. It revises the requirements for appropriate disposal and criminal punishment for failure to properly dispose fetal remains. The bill also requires certain organizations that provide abortion referral services or abortion counseling services to register with the agency and pay a specified fee. For more information covering abortion laws, go herehere or here

VA HB32, which died in February 2016, pertained to the acceptable forms of voter identification. It required officers of election to ascertain that a person offering to vote is a qualified voter before admitting them to the voting booth and giving them an official ballot. In order to ascertain this, the voter needs to provide one of the following: valid Virginia driver’s license, valid United States passport, any other photo identification issued by Virginia, any valid student identification card containing a photograph of the voter and issued by any institution of higher education located in Virginia or in any other state or territory of the United States, or any valid employee identification card containing a photograph of the voter. For a deep dive into voting rights and ID laws, read this post. 

OK HJR1059, which died in February 2016, was a Constitutional amendment providing protections for entities and individuals that refuse certain acts which violate a “sincerely held religious belief”. This bill states that an individual shall not be required to solemnize or recognize any marriage or provide services, accommodations, facilities, goods or privileges to people (the LGBTQ population or other protected classes) due to a sincerely held religious belief without risk of any civil or criminal cause of action. For blogs covering this ever so common issue, read this one about religious freedom and this one about freedom from discrimination.

I’d say these bills are a little slice of America right now. Confusing, kinda weird and all over the place.

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Hunting for some new legislation?

For being an activity that only 6% of Americans partake in, hunting is one of America’s most important regulatory segments. Pulling in 38.3 billion dollars in revenue, hunting and fishing drive a large part of the American economy and way of life. With news stories like Cecil the lion breaking last year, public attention has been brought back to hunting and related issues.

History of Hunting and Regulations

The human race has used hunting as a way to sustain ourselves and our communities throughout time. After the expansion west in the United States, elk, bison, bighorn sheep, black bears and whitetail deer all but disappeared due to market-hunting and habitat loss. President Theodore Roosevelt was one of the pioneers in establishing hunting regulations and habitat conservation groups. Modern day hunting has become a sport/food hybrid. Most people who hunt do not do so out of necessity and are in it more for the challenge, but also many do consume the animal they kill. Only a small amount of the population (126,000 animal trophies a year) who participates in “trophy” hunting – killing wild animals for their body parts, such as head and hide, for display but not primarily for food or sustenance.

The history of regulations for hunting are as follows: The first law protecting wildlife was proposed in 1900. In 1918, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act became law, making it unlawful to take, possess, buy, sell, or barter any migratory bird, including feathers, parts, nests, or eggs. The first “permit” was introduced in 1938, with the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act  requiring all waterfowl hunters aged 16 and over to possess a “Duck Stamp.” The following year, the Lacey Act was expanded to prohibit foreign commerce in illegally taken wildlife. The Bald Eagle Protection Act became law, prohibiting a variety of activities involving the species, including import, export, take, sell, purchase, or barter in 1940. In 1969, the Endangered Species Conservation Act prohibited the importation into the US of species “threatened with extinction worldwide”. This Act specifically allowed the animals to be imported for zoological and scientific purposes. Throughout the rest of the 20th century, many different actstreaties and cases before the Supreme Court made their way to become the hunting and animal regulations we see today.

This infographic from the National Shooting Sports Foundation details the current landscape of hunting in the United States

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The Bills

Throughout the last two centuries regulations for wildlife have been on the rise. This partially has to do with increasing human population, thus increasing the hunting population while at the same time decreasing wildlife habitat. Regulations are in place today to ensure that hunting is safe both for the hunters and the hunted population as a whole. Currently, there are over 2500 bills introduced that have to do with “hunting”, let’s take a look a few of them.

First, there are currently seven states that have legislation to allow “pink blaze” to be an officially accepted hunting color.
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There have been some negative reactions to the idea of blaze pink. Some women oppose the bills, calling them sexist, or seeing them as a cynical and insulting ploy to increase female interest in the sport.

Taking a different approach to widening participation in the sport, New York introduced A08358 in order to lower the age for universal hunting licenses from 14 years old to 12 years old. This bill allows the state to open up hunting to more people, “We rely on hunters to help us meet our science-based population management goals, and these new regulations will help us explore alternative season structures that will advance improved population management,” said Commissioner Seggos. The US introduced the SHARE Act (Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement) to expand access to, and opportunities for, hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting.

There are other bills that have to do with the methods of hunting: crossbows, new regulations for rifles, allowing semiautomatic firearms and air-or gas-powered rifles, allowing suppressors through “Hunting Freedom Acts” and body gripping traps. Pennsylvania Representative Matt Gabler’s bill for semiautomatic firearms and air-or-gas powered rifles was “the NRA’s top legislative priority in our state and the most significant pro-gun legislation passed by the General Assembly this session.” In regards to suppressors, New Hampshire Rep. John Burt stated “The main reason I put HB 500 in was to protect hunters hearing. There are several good side effects that have been brought up from others that support HB 500. Reduces gunshot noise for the homes nearby, reduces the high pitch noise which causes hear loss and many others benefits.”

Florida proposed a bill, HB1072, which would give the Florida Department of Environmental Protection the ability to allow hunting, cattle grazing, timber farming and RV camping in Florida’s parks and preserves. Virginia proposed a bill to allow a licensed hunter or trapper to manufacture and sell products made from wildlife that they legally harvested.

In Alabama, they proposed HB43 which would have authorized the taking of whitetail deer or feral swine by means of bait. There are many states that proposed legislation pertaining to the use of bait with many different animals: bearturkeysbobcatswolvesarmadillos and birds.

There are also laws aimed at making it a more fair “sport” to the animals. This includes giving rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of people who injure or kill game or other protected species along with requiring the convicted person to forfeit the amount of the reward to the state. New Jersey proposed a law declaring the horseshoe crab the state arthropod and NY proposed A8218 in hopes of helping save the endangered, life saving crab.

There are serious repercussions for illegally hunting as well. West Virginia proposed a bill outlining the penalties for shooting a deer without the correct permit. In Indiana, they proposed a bill relating to the harvesting penalties for turtles. Maine introduced a bill outline acts that are not allowed when it comes to threatened or endangered species.  South Carolina introduced a bill to provide penalties for violations in the new law disallowing residents to take or possess certain Hammerhead Sharks. It requires that once caught, these sharks must be released and remain in the water at all times. This means no selfies with the sharks, you could be convicted of a misdemeanor.

This photo is thanks to YourNewsWire
This photo is thanks to YourNewsWire

Michigan proposed SB1187 which many fear would reauthorize wolf hunting, after the state defeated PA 520 (or SB1350) in 2014. This bill allowed for establishing wolf hunting seasons and designated the wolf as a game animal. New Jersey introduced two bills, S2702 and SR48, that attempt to end the legal hunting of black bears and  oppose any expansion of the legal bear hunting season and calls for it to be restricted to the original six-day hunt.

Conclusion

It is interesting to see where the different legislation lies. There are so many different areas of hunting to regulate; which is the best color to hunt in? How many animals can be taken? Where can they be taken from? How long can you hunt? What is the appropriate level for “vermin” control? Does a bear count as a vermin? What type of tool can you use to hunt? Where are you allowed to put traps? Which animals are worth protecting?

Where do you think laws have gone too far and what areas still need more work?

Voting Rights 2016: A Smidgen of Hope

With the recent election, many issues with voting and voting rights have come to the forefront of our democracy once again. What issues are being discussed? The Voting Rights ActState Voter ID LawsPhoto Identification and Felony Disenfranchisement, among others. In this election, people have been most concerned, and polarized, by two issues which are opposite sides of the same coin: voter fraud and voter suppression. Voter fraud is a very small problem in America. Voter impersonation, which voter-ID laws and stricter registration requirements and limits on early voting are meant to address, is exceedingly rare. The measures, however, quite clearly lead to fewer people voting. These two issues are divided across party lines, but when do the measures go too far into limiting citizens right, ability and access to vote?

Let’s look at some history, statistics, and bills to see how we got here and where we are going.

The History

The congressionally-created Election Administration Commission(EAC) is tasked with helping states comply with the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) of 2002. The HAVA created the EAC, appropriated funds for the replacement of outmoded voting equipment and established new minimum administration standards for federal elections (this mandated that any new registrant must provide either a driver’s license number or the last four digits of his or her Social Security number at the time of registration). This law was written and passed as a response to the controversy surrounding the contentious presidential election of 2000 (check out this post for coverage of the Electoral College and popular vote).

The Voting Rights Act, originally passed in 1965, was written to protect the voting rights of minority americans. States really got started introducing new restrictions in 2012, and in response to a challenge the Supreme Court repealed section 4 of the Act in 2013, giving states more flexibility to put restrictions on voting. The Brennan Center for Justice notes there were no states with strict photo ID requirements prior to 2004, and the trend towards more restrictions has more or less exploded since 2012. Legal challenges have been made to many of the new restrictions; some have been overturned and some have been upheld.

In 2016 14 states implemented new voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election: Alabama, Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin. The new laws range from strict photo ID requirements, to early voting cutbacks, to registration restrictions. Since 2010, a total of 10 states have implemented more restrictive voter ID laws (six states have strict photo ID requirements), six cut back on early voting time, seven have laws making it harder to register and three made it harder to restore voting rights to people with past criminal convictions.

Incidents of Voter Fraud 

In Indiana, the Indiana Voter Registration Project was raided under suspicions they were intentionally submitting fraudulent applications. It was estimated that 45,000 people were not be able to vote on Nov. 8 because their applications were seized  in this raid. Investigations like this became a focus after Indiana enacted stricter voter ID laws in 2006, which may have played a role in their reduced their election turn out in 2014 midterm elections. Of the 28,000 applications seized, 10 have been found and deemed fraudulent.

An Iowan woman was arrested and booked on a first-degree charge of election misconduct, according to Polk County Jail records, a Class D felony under Iowa state law. The woman cast two ballots, an early-voting ballot at the Polk County Election Office and another at a county satellite voting location, both for Trump.

Incidents of Voter Suppression 

Most legislation people consider suppressive relates to the requirement of showing some form of government ID in order to vote. It is not necessarily a question of whether or not people have a driver’s license, but rather if they can obtain a voter ID. In Wisconsin, the documentation needed to vote is not a social security number or driver’s license, but a completely different form of identification all together. The passage of AB7 in 2011 now requires a person to bring proof of name and date of birth (a certified U.S. birth certificate, valid passport or certificate of naturalization), proof of identity (usually a document with a signature or photo), proof of Wisconsin residency, proof of U.S. citizenship, legal permanent resident status, legal conditional resident status or legal temporary visitor status and a social security number in order to receive this identification. For anyone, getting together all of these documents would be a hassle, especially if you are someone with an easily misspelled name or if you have a busy life, like many Americans.

Other new voting restrictions involve making it more difficult to register to vote and cutting into early voting. North Carolina made it more difficult for people to vote by eliminating the state’s same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting (there were  2,300 cases of voters whose ballots were rejected in 2014). This year, the disenfranchisement of as many as 34,000 transgender voters could have occurred in states with the strictest voter ID laws. A report by the Williams Institute stated, “thirty percent of the voting-eligible transgender population” in these states “have no identification or records that accurately reflect their gender.”

There was a petition sent to the White House asking the Obama administration to look into a case of voter suppression in Arizona in March of 2016. The suppression in this instance consisted of extremely long lines that working Americans could not afford to wait in due to less available polling stations, few (if any) polling stations open in minority populated areas of the county, independent voters being given provisional ballots (that ended up counting due to how voters were registered) and suspicious building evacuations. Any questions with recounts, investigations and other issues surrounding issues with voting are matters that the Department of Justice, state governments or in courts.

Due to early voting hours being cut, this North Carolinian had to wait hours in order to vote:

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In Cincinnati – 4,000 people had to wait in line because Hamilton County OH (with 800,000 population) only had one in-person early voting location

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Public Opinion

According to a poll done in the summer of 2016 by Gallup, this is where Americans fell on these important issues.

Early voting, which gives all voters the chance to cast their ballot prior to Election Day
Favor: 80%
Oppose: 18%

Requiring all voters to provide photo identification at their voting place in order to vote
Favor: 80%
Oppose: 19%

Automatic voter registration, whereby citizens are automatically registered to vote
Favor: 63%
Oppose: 34%

Here are further statistics broken up by where the parties fall on these three main issues

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And finally, here are further statistics broken up by where the Americans fall on these three main issues by Race and Region
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You can see that there is broad agreement among Americans that early voting is a good idea, but also that some kind of ID should be required. There’s even pretty high support for automatic voter registration. However, when you get into the breakdowns, you can see that there are significant differences between Republicans and Democrats. Republicans lean much more towards preventing fraud (less early voting, more voter id, harder registration), and Democrats towards increasing voter participation (more early voting, easier voter requirements, easier registration).

This conflict between Republicans and Democrats, between preventing fraud and increasing participation, came to a head in this election when US district judge in Ohio issued a restraining order against Donald Trump’s campaignhis adviser Roger Stone, and their associates to prevent anyone working on the campaign from harassing and intimidating voters at the polls on election day. The lawsuit was was brought to the court by the Ohio Democratic Party and required Trump’s lawyer justify why Trump and other members of the party had made so many comments about voter fraud, but overturned on November 6th.

The Bills

The Brennan Center for Justice has a good summary of all the new restrictive laws. Here is a map of the states that had Voter ID Laws in 2016

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Here is our list of voter registration laws in 2016 and laws relating to polling places and ballots.

To combat voter fraud, North Carolina proposed and passed HB589 in 2013, a law that cut a week of early voting, eliminated out-of-precinct voting and required voters to show specific types of photo ID — restrictions that election board data demonstrated would disproportionately affect African Americans and other minorities in the state. In July of 2016,  a three-judge federal appeals panel struck down the North Carolina law, calling it “the most restrictive voting law North Carolina has seen since the era of Jim Crow.” This year, North Carolina proposed H240 to allow NC college ID to meet voter ID requirements. Virginia HB32 also adds a valid student photo identification card issued by any institution of higher education located in any other state or territory of the United States to the list of acceptable forms of voter identification. 

There were also bills this year relating to verifying a name change, outlining the penalties for voting and election crimes.

To make voting easier, Massachusetts had two bills, one requiring ID for casting a provisional ballot and another requiring ID to receive a ballot. Florida had two bills with the same aim, to replace an “absentee” ballot with a “vote by mail” ballot. Colorado attempted to make the registration process even easier on all of the citizens by proposing a bill that would allow same day voter registration with a photo ID.

Virginia introduced HB1004 which would require a voter who does not have one of the forms of identification required by law to be allowed to vote provisionally if they consent to allowing their picture to be taken taken by an officer of election. If the electoral board determines that the voter was a qualified voter in the precinct in which they cast the provisional vote and confirms that a photograph of them taken by an officer of election has been received, the voter’s provisional vote is required to be counted.

There were also bills to increase voter education and registration in public schools, clarifying the civil right to vote for individuals convicted of a felony and about the secret-ballot envelope. There were bills ranging from criminalizing voter suppression to relating to the service of a poll watcher in an election to trying to allocate funds to educate our youth and get them to the polls. 

New York decided to take their bills to the 21st century this year. A5534 provides for the inclusion of an e-mail address in the voter registration application and record, where notices and other communication required to be sent to the voter by the state board of elections would be sent by e-mail in addition to postal mail. NY370 addresses new voting technology. A5972 allows students attending a college or university in NY be able to retain his or her parental residence for voting purposes or students could register to vote from his or her residence within the college or university community depending on which community the student regards as the community of “primary concern”. Finally, NY8305 would allow people who consent to voter registration to automatically be registered to vote. They also covered what to do incase of a state of emergency, cause you know, you never know when an earthquake will happen. And the people’s vote matters. 

Conclusion

Of course we don’t want fraud in our elections, but we do want everyone legally entitled to vote to be able to exercise their franchise if they want to. How to strike a balance between those goals is tricky business. But we should not give concerns about fraud and suppression equal weight. According to an article by The Nation comparing the two issues is “a dangerous false equivalence”. I believe the pendulum has swung far too far, and our attempts to remove fraud have resulted in alarming levels of voter suppression. Fraud is rare; we need to be much more concerned about helping people vote. I am encouraged by some of the creative measures the states are working on to increase voter participation, but I’m not sure it’s enough. Ideally we’ll once again strengthen the Voting Rights Act, but in the meantime, hopefully at least some states will continue to take meaningful positive steps.