3 Pieces of Good News for Obamacare You Might Have Missed

Remember Obamacare? Also known as the Affordable Care Act? With news of conflict and tragedy dominating the airwaves, recent news about the sweeping new health care law has been getting swept under the rug.

That’s too bad, because here’s the basic headline: the Affordable Care Act is working, and consumers have a lot to look forward to when the next open enrollment period starts in November.

Here’s the rundown:

1.) More insurance companies are joining the exchanges. The health exchanges set up under the ACA work best when more insurance companies participate. More companies means more competition for your business, which ultimately means lower prices for consumers.

For instance, last year in New Hampshire there was only one company on the state exchange–not a recipe for healthy competition. Even so, signups exceeded expectations, and other companies are diving in to swoop up consumer dollars. For 2015 open enrollment (which begins on November 15, 2014), there will be not one more but four more companies on the New Hampshire exchange.

That’s happening across the country. In Michigan, there will be 18 companies for 2015 open enrollment versus 13 in 2014. In Indiana, consumers will have double the options to choose from. Major carriers like United, Aetna, and Cigna are wading into California’s exchange, which they previously sat out. Again, more competition means more options and lower prices for consumers.

2.) The ACA is massively cutting the rate of uninsured. Between the creation of state exchanges, the expansion of Medicaid in half the country, and the end of disgusting insurance practices (like denying insurance to those with pre-existing conditions), the Affordable Care Act is succeeding at its main goal: reducing the number of uninsured Americans.

Look at where we stand. The rate of uninsured in New Jersey is down 38 percent. In Minnesota, it’s down a whopping 40 percent. And in Kentucky, where Senator Mitch McConnell advocated full repeal of the ACA, the rate of uninsured has been cut in half.

What of predictions that all those consumers signing up wouldn’t pay their premiums? Charles Gaba, who runs ACASignups.net, has crunched the statewide data and estimates 90 percent of those who signed up on the exchanges have paid the first premiums.

3.) A majority of Americans want to keep the ACA. The Koch Brothers, the Republican Party, and the health insurance lobby itself have all spent massive amounts of money on a barrage of misinformation to convince the country that Obamacare is a government takeover, a socialist conspiracy, a massive waste of money, or the “worst thing since slavery,” depending on who you ask.

But as more and more people gain the peace of mind that health coverage brings, the misinformation loses its effectiveness.

A Bloomberg poll released on June 11 shows that 56 percent of Americansthink Obamacare “may need small modifications, but we should see how it works,” vs. 32 percent for repeal and 10 percent for leaving it be. The poll also finds 11 percent oppose the law because it didn’t go far enough.

And as we’ve seen since 2010, support for the actual components of the ACA is much higher: 55 percent support eliminating lifetime caps, 65 percent support changing rules on preexisting conditions, and 75 percent (!) support allowing children to remain on parents’ plans until 26.

As MSNBC’s Simon Maloy put it: “We’re only six days into June, and opponents of the ACA have already had a terrible month.” Which makes it a great month for consumers like you and me.

Visit WorkingAmericaHealthCare.org to find out more information on getting affordable coverage that works for you.

Photo by Obamacare on Facebook

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New Hampshire Ends Cruel Denial of Medicaid Expansion, Maine May Follow

New Hampshire officially expanded its Medicaid program this week, enabling about 50,000 more people in the Granite State to afford health coverage.

Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan signed the bill into law on Thursday, enacting a bipartisan compromise plan that would use federal Medicaid funds to buy private coverage for adults making less than 138 percent of the federal poverty limit, rather than providing state-funded health insurance.

When the Supreme Court declared the Affordable Care Act constitutional in July 2012, they left the option open for states to reject the federal funds that would be used to expand their Medicaid programs. As of now, 25 states and the District of Columbia have accepted the expansion in full. 21 states, all with Republican governors or Republican-controlled legislatures, have formally rejected Medicaid expansion.

New Hampshire was one of six states where the final call had not yet been made on Medicaid expansion.

On the same day, legislators in Maine granted final passage to a bill that would expand Medicaid to about 70,000 low-income Mainers. The bill now goes to Republican Governor Paul LePage for his signature or veto.

LePage has expressed opposition to Medicaid in the past, calling it “sinful” just a few weeks ago. But many of his fellow Republicans don’t share this view:

Despite the references to different numbers and analyses, many lawmakers have conceded that support or opposition of the bill is as ideological as it is pragmatic.

The bill approved by the Legislature was crafted by moderate Republican Sens. Roger Katz of Augusta and Tom Saviello of Wilton as a compromise, designed to bring more Republicans on board.

Assistant State Majority Leader Anne Haskell (D-Portland) also pointed out that 10 other Republican governors, including Govs. John Kasich (R-OH) and Jan Brewer (R-AZ) have accepted expansion.

The last time a Medicaid expansion bill hit Gov. LePage’s desk in July 2013, he vetoed. Now, with more Republicans on board, we hope he makes a different choice.

Send a message: Tell Gov. LePage to accept federal Medicaid funds.

Photo by Governor Maggie Hassan on Facebook

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AFL-CIO and Working Families Lead Efforts Across the Country to Raise the Minimum Wage

Photo via All-Nite Images/Flickr

While Republicans in Washington, D.C., are doing their best to stop a federal increase to the minimum wage, working families and their allies across the country are fighting to increase the minimum wage at the state and local level. America’s working families consistently support a minimum wage increase, supporting the idea that jobs should lift workers out of poverty, conservatives continue to rely upon disproven criticisms of increasing the wage. But Americans aren’t buying the conservative lies and are demanding that Congress and the president raise the wage for millions of workers, including tipped workers. And many of them aren’t waiting for Washington to get the job done, they’re taking action across the country. The federal minimum wage has remained $7.25 an hour since 2009 and wages for tipped workers have been frozen at $2.13 an hour since 1991. Here’s the latest news on the push for a higher minimum wage across the nation:

Alaska: More than 43,000 signatures were collected in favor of an August ballot initiative that would raise the wage to $9.75 over two years, with an annual increase for inflation.

Arkansas: Labor and community groups are pushing for a ballot measure that would raise the the state minimum wage to $8.50 over the next three years.

Connecticut: Gov. Dannel P. Malloy (D) proposed increasing the wage to $10.10 an hour. The legislature is now considering the bill.

Idaho: Labor and community groups are working on legislation that would increase the wage in the state that has the highest percentage of minimum wage employees in the nation.

Iowa: With the rallying cry “We can’t survive on $7.25!” working families in Iowa are pushing for a bill that would raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.10.

Los Angeles: The Raise L.A. campaign is working on raising the minimum salaries of hotel workers to $15 an hour while the L.A. County Federation invited Pope Francis to visit the city to help champion economic equality for low-wage workers.

Maryland: Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has joined with Raise Maryland in calling for the state’s wage to be raised to $10.10 an hour. They also are calling for tipped workers to earn at least 70% of the minimum wage.

Massachusetts: The Raise-Up Massachusetts campaign is collecting signatures to put a minimum wage increase on the ballot and is organizing a low-wage worker listening tour.

Minnesota: Working families and their allies are pushing to raise the state minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2015, with future increases tied to inflation.

Missouri: Low-wage and tipped workers organized and testified at a critical committee hearing for a bill to increase the minimum wage to $10 an hour. The bill is active in the state Senate.

Nebraska: The legislature is considering a package of bills backed by local labor groups that would raise the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour and require employers to provide paid sick days.

New Hampshire: The state’s labor movement and community allies have made raising the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour one of their top priorities for 2014.

Pennsylvania: A community coalition launched a campaign to raise Pennsylvania’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

Seattle: Working families in Seattle are trying to recreate the success of allies in SeaTac in an effort to raise the local minimum wage to $15 an hour.

South Dakota: The South Dakota AFL-CIO and allies successfully placed a minimum wage increase on the ballot that will be voted on in November, raising the state’s wage to $8.50 with an annual cost-of-living increase.

West Virginia: The legislature passed a bill championed by the West Virginia AFL-CIO that would raise the minimum wage to $8.75 and would increase the minimum wage for tipped workers.

Do you think America needs a raise? Sign the petition

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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The Five States With the Lowest Quality of Life Have This In Common.

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Politico Magazine released a comprehensive report comparing all 50 states using 14 different indicators of quality of life. In their ranking, the five bottom states (Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Alabama) are all so-called “right to work” states.

Four out of five of the states with the highest quality of living, according to the study, are free bargaining states: New Hampshire, Minnesota, Vermont, and Massachusetts.

The study confirmed something that more and more working Americans are learning every day: “right to work” laws are wrong for everyone.

Quick review: “Right to work” laws require unions to extend their services to all employees in a bargaining unit, whether or not they pay dues. By making dues optional, “right to work” laws force unions to spend more resources on collecting dues than on advocating for their members–both at the workplace and in the political arena. It’s a roundabout method of de-funding unions that has been instituted in 24 states.

The Politico Magazine study used rankings from the Census Bureau, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the FBI, and data on math and reading scores, average income, life expectancy, crime, home ownership, infant mortality, and more.

As 2014 kicks off with legislators and big-money donors pushing “right to work” and other collective bargaining restrictions in–at the very least–Missouri, Oregon, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, it’s important to make it very clear what effects these laws actually have, versus what their proponents claim they have.

A few effects of “right to work” are not disputed by its proponents. The key sponsors of the collective bargaining restrictions Missouri, for instance, openly admit that wages would go down if the law is passed. Indeed, wages in “right to work” states are 3.2 percent lower that in free bargaining states. Essentially, it’s like the average worker is paying an annual $1,500 fee for living in a “right to work” state. (Other reports have found “right to work” states have higher poverty rates, fewer workers with employer-based health insurance, and higher rates of workplace injuries and fatalities.)

But when you combine income with a host of other factors, as the Politico Magazine ranking does, the picture doesn’t get better for “right to work” states. Overall, 15 “right to work”  states rank in the bottom 20.

The Politico Magazine ranking is not the definitive scientific report on quality of life. But it does confirm yet again that in places where workers’ right to organize is deceptively circumvented and wages decrease, other important life-quality factors decrease as well.

As legislators push these laws across the country, we should consistently require proof to back up their claims. The actual numbers don’t look too good for them.

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Sen. Ayotte Pits Unemployed Workers Against Poor Children

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Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) has a plan. She says that to pay for extending unemployment insurance (UI), we should cut off the Child Tax Credit for 2 million families (5 million children), most of them Latino.

Let’s repeat that because it sounds kind of important.

To help the families of the 1.3 million workers who have been out of work for six months or more and lost their UI payments just before Christmas, Ayotte’s solution is to take money away from poor Latino children whose families are taxpayers.

That may be a valid solution to the extremists who run the Republican Party these days, but it comes across as a vindictive and mean-spirited move to most people, including a coalition of organizations that condemned the proposal in a Monday press conference.

“Senator Kelly Ayotte says she understands families, but her proposal to deny a child tax credit to a taxpaying immigrant family is an attack on innocent children. Pitting children against the long-term unemployed is nothing more than an ugly attempt to derail legislation to extend emergency unemployment for struggling families,” said Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice group that is part of the coalition. “Her proposed amendment should be soundly defeated as antithetical to the Gospel call to care for children and those at the margins of society, and to long-held values in our nation.”

The AFL-CIO is also part of the coalition and Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre also condemned Ayotte’s plan:  “This cynical proposal doesn’t reflect the America I have come to know and love as an immigrant. My America doesn’t need to pit the jobless against the children of immigrants. We are better than that.”

The proposal targets not only aspiring citizens, but any individual not eligible for a Social Security Number, something that isn’t limited to undocumented immigrants. Ayotte’s proposal would deny Child Tax Credit eligibility to families using the alternate option for those who can’t obtain a Social Security Number, the Individual Tax Identification Number, and who are legally eligible for the Child Tax Credit.  This would deny the credit to approximately 5 million children in low-wage families, making it harder for those families to feed and provide housing for these children.

A recent poll on the topic found the obvious that voters oppose cuts to the Child Tax Credit, with 68% of those surveyed in opposition.

Photo by Gage Skidmore on Flickr

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Don’t Look Now, But Seems Like 5 Million Americans Are Getting Mad At The Politicians Blocking Their Health Care.

Our country is split down the middle when it comes to Medicaid. Literally.

25 states and the District of Columbia have elected to expand Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act. That includes states with both Democrats and Republicans in control.

Unfortunately, politicians in 25 states have actively refused to expand Medicaid, even though the federal government would pay for 100 percent of costs through 2016, and never less than 90 percent after that.

The stubbornness of these politicians is leaving 5 million Americans without access to affordable health insurance.

Luckily, the White House and wide variety of activist groups are pursuing the issue in 2014. In Florida, Virginia, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Maine, there are signs that next year’s legislative sessions could offer a path to expanding the program in those states.

In addition, enough voters are waking up to the needless cruelty of blocking Medicaid expansion to make it a viable campaign issue. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, was elected governor  in purple Virginia in part by promising to make expansion a priority. 200,000 Virginians would be helped by such an action.

Rep. Mike Michaud, the leading Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Maine, has made an issue out of Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s outright refusal to expand Medicaid. “It’s not just good economics; it’s the morally right thing to do,” Michaud writes on his campaign website.

However, the big win would be in Texas, which has the most uninsured of any state in the country. Nearly 2 million Texans would benefit from expansion, but Gov. Rick Perry refuses to take any action on the issue.

More than 16,000 Texans have signed our petition to Gov. Perry to expand Medicaid. Join them.

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10 Ways Working Families Are ‘Kicking Ass’ for the Middle Class

Sure, working families have been under attack for years, but people across the country are rolling up their sleeves and fighting back to protect workers’ rights and raise living standards for everyone. Here are 10 ways they’re doing it:

1. Increasing the Minimum Wage

Four states (California, Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island) have increased their state minimum wage in 2013, and on Nov. 5, New Jersey voters will vote on a ballot measure to increase their minimum wage.

2. Passing “Buy America” Laws

Three states (Colorado, Maryland and Texas) passed laws in 2013 to ensure that the goods procured with public funding are made in the United States.

3. Ensuring Paid Sick Days

Portland, Ore., Jersey City, N.J., and New York City became the latest three cities to adopt standards for paid sick days in 2013.

4. Protecting Immigrant Workers

In 2013, six states (California, Colorado, Indiana, Maryland, Oregon and Vermont) have enacted protections for immigrant workers, including access to driver’s licenses and education.

5. Cracking Down on Businesses That Cheat Workers

Texas passed legislation in 2013 to crack down on businesses that cheat employees by treating them as “independent contractors” who lack worker protections (such as minimum wage and overtime protection, and eligibility for unemployment benefits and workers’ compensation).

6. Giving Workers the Right to a Voice on the Job

In 2013, some 15,000 home care workers in Minnesota won collective bargaining rights through state legislation, as did 10,000 in Illinois and 7,000 in Vermont. Thousands of other workers around the country have enjoyed organizing wins, too: 7,000 electrical workers, more than 5,000 Texas public school teachers, taxi drivers in New York and other cities, telecom workers, college and university faculty, EMS drivers, hotel and casino workers and domestic workers, to name a few.

7. Protecting Your Privacy on Social Media

Nine states (Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington) have passed legislation in 2013 to prohibit employers from requiring access to your social media passwords or information as a condition of employment.

8. Fighting for LGBTQ Equality

Five states (Colorado, Delaware, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Vermont) have passed legislation banning workplace discrimination or recognizing marriage equality.

9. Protecting the Rights of Domestic Workers

Two states (California and Hawaii) have passed legislation in 2013 to protect the rights of domestic workers. California’s Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights will benefit about 200,000 domestic workers, and Hawaii’s will benefit some 20,000 domestic workers.

10. Protecting Voting Rights

Twelve states (California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Virginia and West Virginia) have passed legislation protecting voting rights in 2013, while voting rights legislation was vetoed by the governors of Nevada and New Jersey.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Progress on Medicaid Means Real Coverage for Real Families—Roadblocks Remain

In Arizona, 300,000 people will get the health care coverage they need, thanks to Gov. Jan Brewer’s change of heart on a key program of the Affordable Care Act. Brewer signed a bill into law accepting federal funds to cover low-income families under Medicaid—a bill that she had to fight against members of her own party in the state legislature to get passed in a special session she called.

It was a hard fight, but one we’re glad to see turned out the right way. The Medicaid provision was one of the key components of the ACA, but it was put at risk by a Supreme Court decision that left it up to the states to accept or decline the funds. Many states have—but others, like Texas, are refusing, leaving millions without coverage.

In other states, the process is still unfolding:

  • About half a million people are waiting on the Michigan state Senate, who should vote this week on a state House-passed proposal to accept expanded Medicaid funds. Gov. Rick Snyder has promised to sign the bill into law.
  • As the state legislature in Ohio debates accepting expanded funds, a new poll shows 63 percent of Ohioans want the expansion, which would cover an estimated 275,000 people.
  • In Virginia, a commission to study accepting expanded Medicaid funds had its first meeting this week. The next meeting will take place in August.
  • In New Hampshire, the state House—which supports accepting expanded funds—is working to craft a measure that will be able to get through the Republican-controlled Senate. This may mean a commission will be created to review the issue.
  • Unfortunately, in Maine, Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a measure to accept expanded funds. The bill, which would cover 60,000 people, passed by strong but not quite veto-proof margins, so the fate of Medicaid in Maine remains unclear.

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NH House Overrides Veto of Unconstitutional Redistricting Bill

Last week, New Hampshire Governor John Lynch vetoed the Republican-controlled House’s redistricting plan, on the grounds that it was unconstitutional. His press release is very clear on what his objections were:

The population of New Hampshire based on the 2010 census is 1,316,470. A straight division into 400 districts yields an ideal population per district of 3,291. Under federal and state law, towns and wards that equal or are within 5 percent of this ideal population are entitled to their own representative. Based on the 2010 census, there are 152 towns and wards in New Hampshire that qualify for their own representative.

HB 592 denies a total of 62 New Hampshire towns and wards their own seats in the House. For example, the towns of Atkinson, Hudson, Meredith, and Pelham all have sufficient population under state and federal constitutional standards to have their own representative, but all are denied their own representative under the House-approved plan. This is completely contrary to what the citizens of New Hampshire called for in the state constitutional amendment adopted in 2006.

Lynch also points out that the plan needlessly breaks up municipalities:

For example, in Manchester, the state’s largest city, HB 592 combines Wards 8 and 9 with the town of Litchfield. Pelham will again share its representatives with Hudson. Strafford will share a representative with New Durham. And Concord’s Ward 5 will now be made part of a district that includes the Town of Hopkinton. The leaders and governing bodies of each of these communities have expressed their strong opposition to HB 592, noting that it unnecessarily and unconstitutionally dilutes local representation, and have asked me to veto this bill.

He wrapped it up with this perfectly reasonable request:

I urge the House to take up my veto quickly in order to allow time for alternative plans to be brought forward, or for litigation in the event of the absence of agreement on a constitutional plan. The House was presented with alternative plans by members of both political parties that would go further to satisfy the requirement for equal representation and fairness. There is still time before the candidate filing period to enact redistricting legislation that will assure equal voting rights of all New Hampshire citizens.

The lesson with this legislature is: be careful what you wish for. They did take up his veto right away. In fact, yesterday, the House voted to override the veto. Or, to put it properly, the House voted to violate the state’s constitution in order to override the veto of an unconstitutional bill. From the Concord Patch:

The controversy began when House Speaker Bill O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, called for a recess for a 15-minute private caucus for Republicans, forcing Democrats, media and the public to leave the House chamber.

and

According to a release from the House Democratic office, O’Brien called for the private caucus “to present a legal opinion that he said allowed him to override the New Hampshire constitution and centuries of New Hampshire House tradition.”

The arrogance on display here is positively breathtaking.

Not everyone in the majority party was in agreement.

From the Concord Monitor:

Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, a Manchester Republican, pleaded with his caucus yesterday to sustain Lynch’s veto and try to amend the bill before it may be found unconstitutional by the courts. Ten years ago, Democratic former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen vetoed the redistricting plans brought forward by the Republican Legislature and the court had to draw up the current House map, which has been challenged for putting groups of legislators into multi-town districts. House Republicans note their plan creates twice as many districts as the current map.

Vaillancourt said by overriding the governor’s veto yesterday, House Republicans are “virtually guaranteeing that you’re going to be in court.”

He’s correct. This will end up in court. Presumably our courts will find this blatant gerrymandering unconstitutional, and a new plan will have to be hastily adopted – given that the window for filing candidacy papers for state elections is open from June 6 through June 15.

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New Hampshire Senate Passes Voter ID Bill

The New Hampshire voter ID bill has just cleared the senate. From the Nashua Telegraph:

“This bill is very workable,’’ said Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro. “It does not disenfranchise any voters. It does not create a single barrier. What it does do is ensure our elections are clean. As long as you are who you say you are, you will not have a problem. If not, then don’t try to vote in New Hampshire.”
Unlike other failed voter ID bills of the past, this bill permits those without an ID to vote. They would have to sign a challenged voter affidavit under penalty of perjury.

This bill is the latest in a nationwide push by state legislators to restrict voting. Pennsylvania’s state Senate also passed a voter ID bill this week.

New Hampshire has same-day voter registration, and anyone who registers on election day is required to sign a domicile affidavit. Of course, this article doesn’t point out that New Hampshire doesn’t actually have voter fraud issues.

Sen. Amanda Merrill, D-Durham, said up to 5 percent of voters could be disenfranchised by this mandate.
“There have been no indications of anything approaching widespread voter fraud in New Hampshire,” Merrill said. “There are approximately 50,000 residents of our state without photo identification, which is roughly the population of an entire state Senate district. This bill threatens the Constitutional right to vote for thousands of citizens without any clear evidence of a problem.”

Given that this is a highly partisan issue, the chair of the New Hampshire GOP disagrees:

Republican State Chairman Wayne MacDonald disagreed and noted that in the state’s presidential primary, conservative activists were able to successfully pose as deceased voters and initially obtained ballots at targeted polls in Nashua and Manchester.

He’s referring to James O’Keefe (an acolyte of the late Andrew Breitbart) who is most famous for the “pimp” sting on ACORN, with highly edited film footage. It would be so much easier to take McDonald’s outrage seriously if O’Keefe and his pals were actually prosecuted for attempted voter fraud. There’s been no suggestion of that from the NH GOP.

Now that this bill has cleared the Senate (which has behaved slightly more responsibly over the last 2 years than the New Hampshire House) it goes back to the House, which is eager to pass the bill.

Photos will be taken at the polling places, which means a cost to the taxpayers, and more work for the community volunteers who run elections in New Hampshire small towns. As has so often been said, this is a solution in search of a problem. It also seems to be a rather blatant attempt at disenfranchising voters before the elections in November.

In June of last year Governor Lynch vetoed a Voter ID bill. The old bill was rewritten, so desperate is the New Hampshire legislature to pass a Voter ID bill.

Thirty-three states have introduced Voter ID laws this year. Coincidence? Hardly. It’s another gift from ALEC.

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