Georgia’s HB 757 – Free Exercise Protection Act

The Georgia Legislature recently passed the “Free Exercise Protection Act.”  This bill, which combined several pending bills, addresses (1) the obligations of religious entities to provide employment and services they find objectionable, (2) the power of the state to restrict or punish persons acting according to their religious beliefs, and (3) what happens when a public official’s duty conflicts with her faith.  The Act, which awaits Gov. Deal’s signature, has been condemned by a number of business and LGBTQ advocacy groups as potentially encouraging discrimination.

Click here for my recent interview with Georgia Public Broadcasting on HB 757 and its legal implications.

 

 

Supreme Court Review: A Preview

Each fall, during Georgia College’s Constitution Week, I host a panel on recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions.  On September 17, from 6-8pm, a group of lawyers and law professors will join me in Milledgeville, GA to talk about same-sex marriage, ACA subsidies, and other major decisions of the 2014-15 Roberts Court.  The event is free and open to the public.

WRGC 88.3 radio host Daniel McDonald and I met to discuss the Court and its recent rulings.

 

Oh Say Can U.A.V.?

Today, I heard a research presentation on the economics of drone warfare and it reminded me to follow up on my Drone Home post.  Congress gave the FAA until 2015 to integrate drones (or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to you sophisticates) into U.S. commercial airspace. The New Year is upon us, and so is the question – Dude, where’s my TacoCopter?

To be fair, Congress gave the FAA until September.  But why wait?  Just file for an exemption, and you can join the lucky UA-VIPs who already fly the red, white, and blue skies.

Academic community -- Attend my open house or be destroyed.

Academic community: attend my open house or be destroyed.

Lest you think the FAA hands out drone licenses like TicTacs, you’ll still have to wait in a pretty long line. The FAA currently is considering exemption requests from hundreds of companies and individuals.  I hoped to find a few really strange proposals, but most of them appear reasonable – agriculture surveys, aerial photography, search and rescue, and, of course, training people how to operate drones. Some of the more entrepreneurial applicants requested exemptions for every use that the FAA has approved for other companies.  After all, once you get permission for commercial drone use, why limit yourself?

Sadly, taco delivery is not yet on the horizon.

Greed is (an Environmental) Good

In March, the U.S. Trade Representative announced its intent to negotiate a WTO agreement “aimed at eliminating tariffs on a wide range of environmental goods.”  How wide a range of products falls under USTR’s aim? That depends on what you consider to be an “environmental good.”  USTR requested public comment on WTO negotiating objectives, including products.  The public responded, with many companies scrambling to get their products into USTR’s sights, and a few scrambling to get theirs out.

Gary Larson Bear
Is a ceiling fan an environmental good?  Yes, according to the Hunter Fan Company.

 

“Ceiling fans are able to work so efficiently because they cool people, not air. Using very little energy, fans produce an airflow that generates a wind chill, providing a cooling effect on those in the room. Because a person must be present to feel these effects, ceiling fans can and should be powered off when a room is empty, saving even more energy. On the contrary, air conditioners are often run continuously in an empty room to maintain a comfortable temperature for when people re-enter.”

Of course, fans are less environmentally friendly than, say, sweating.  As WTO negotiations proceed, except this to be a major sticking point.  Is a product an “environmental good” just because it is better for the environment than an alternative?  Is a blanket an environmental good if it helps you use less heat?  How about clothing in general?

Coca-Cola wants to include the plant-based plastics used in its PlantBottles.  These PET plastic bottles are made from 30% plant material (sugarcane ethanol).  That’s better then, well, the bottles Coke was using before.  When a company improves its own environmentally unfriendly product, does that make the improved product an environmental good?  What if another company invents a 50% plant-based bottle?  Should Coke’s 30% bottle be delisted?  How often must we make updates as the products on the list fall behind emerging technologies?  WTO negotiations aren’t known for their speed.  By the time an agreement is reached, will today’s “green” technologies have turned “brown”?

brown banana

It’s still good, right?

Who else wants in?  The International Wood Products Association would like USTR to include wood products from “sustainably managed forests.”  However, there’s always debate over what makes a forest “sustainably managed,” even among third-party certifiers like the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and the Forest Stewardship Council.

The National Association of Manufacturers has a laundry list of items for USTR, including laundry – well, “personal protective equipment,” such as gloves.  Liquified Natural Gas? Sure!  Why not throw in the kitchen sink?  Wait, there it is.

And yet this potential trade agreement doesn’t have every company seeing green.  Some companies benefit from existing tariffs on their products.  For example, a U.S. producer of a product that has low foreign tariffs and high U.S. tariffs might enjoy that it has foreign market access and limited competition for its U.S. sales.

Timken wrote to tell USTR that certain of its products (ball and roller bearings) emphatically were not environmental goods.

“While bearings may be incorporated in such environmental goods, they are also incorporated in a wide variety of other goods. Indeed, bearings are used in virtually everything that moves or turns. Thus, bearings, in and of themselves, are not environmental goods even if these products can in various circumstances help in the reduction of energy use.” (emphasis in original)

Seriously, we don’t even turn the lights out when we go home for the night.  Please stop accusing us of helping the planet.  (Just kidding, Timkin.  Love those HTS 8482’s – keep ’em coming.)

Clearly, the biggest issue facing this WTO negotiation is how to define an “environmental good.”  Expect lots of wrangling and horse-trading (wait a minute . . . is a horse an environmental good?  How about a horse-drawn carriage?  A butter churn?  Are we headed toward an Amish export boom?) before this agreement gets the green light.