On Monday, President Obama announced new restrictions on federal transfers of paramilitary gear to local police departments. Effective immediately, federal bureaus like DOD and DHS can no longer provide local police tracked armored vehicles, grenade launchers, and bayonets. Other items like explosives and riot gear will continue to be made available but with stricter federal scrutiny.
While this is certainly a step in the right direction towards demilitarizing America’s increasingly aggressive police force, civil libertarians should not celebrate prematurely. As NPR pointed out yesterday, Obama’s reforms do not apply to the vast majority of paramilitary transfers:
— The distribution of firearms .50-caliber or higher is now banned. But the 1033 program didn’t distribute a single such weapon to local authorities during the time period.
— All 84,258 rifles — including assault types such as M16s and battle types such as M14s — that were distributed to police departments would still be made available to local agencies. These rifles fall below the .50-caliber threshold.
— “Tracked armored vehicles” are now banned. But very few of 1033’s mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles (or MRAPs) distributed to local agencies had tracks. In fact, nearly 87 percent of them have wheels.
— The new rules also prohibit “weaponized aircraft.” But of the aircraft listed in the data, none was specifically listed as having weapons. Ninety-seven percent of helicopters were listed as utility, observation, trainer, medevac or search and rescue — the other 3 percent were simply listed as “aircraft, rotary wing.”
While a lot of questions are up in the air as to the scale of the reforms, Radley Balko points out that they will likely reap positive results regardless: “We’ll either get less use of this military-issued equipment, or we’ll get more and better information about how it’s used. Either outcome is progress.” Nevertheless, much more reforms will undoubtedly be needed until the country can redraw a clear line of separation between cop and soldier.
Reprinted with permission from Rare.
In a near-unanimous vote, the Los Angeles City Council has decided to increase the city’s minimum wage from $9 to $15 an hour, a 67 percent change to be phased in over the next five years. Once a measure can be formalized, Mayor Eric Garcetti promises to sign it into law. But if Los Angeles insists on raising the minimum wage, it should exempt workers 22 and younger. Otherwise, the higher minimum will price teens and students out of jobs and prevent them from getting valuable work experience.
Some argue that Los Angeles can easily absorb this increase, because compensation levels in the city are relatively high. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median hourly wage for the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale metro area was $18.32 in 2014. But the presence of many high-paying professions masks the destructive effects the new minimum wage will have on industries that offer entry-level positions. Median wages for local dishwashers, bar backs, ticket takers, and fast-food workers run between $9.00 and $9.10. It’s naïve to assume that all these positions will survive the increase. Businesses don’t have to pay the minimum wage to workers they choose to let go or don’t hire in the first place. Many positions will be automated, or employers will give additional responsibilities to more experienced workers.
Read the rest at City Journal.
In a rare victory for taxpayers, the Supreme Court ruled affirmed on Monday that states cannot doubly tax income earned in other states. From the Washington Post:
The court voted 5 to 4 to affirm a 2013 Maryland Court of Appeals ruling that the state’s practice of withholding a credit on the county segment of the state income tax wrongly exposes some residents with out-of-state income to double taxation. Justices said the provision violated the Constitution’s commerce clause because it might discourage individuals from doing business across state lines.
The issue of when a state can impose a tax on an individual has historically been a complicated one considering how transient people are. We often travel through, work at, and establish residency in different states. Especially in major cities on state borders like Washington, DC or New York, New York, an individual may work in one city and live in another.
As such, the Supreme Court established a four-pronged test in the 1977 case Complete Auto Transit, Inc v. Brady to determine when a state can levy a tax. Namely, a tax can survive a Commerce Clause challenge if it “ is applied to an activity with a substantial nexus with the taxing State,  is fairly apportioned,  does not discriminate against interstate commerce, and  is fairly related to the services provided by the State.”
Maryland’s tax violated 2 and 3. By failing to offer a full credit for taxes paid in other states, Maryland’s income tax effectively acted as a tariff, discouraging residents from making money in and thereby doing business with other states. This is a major victory against double taxation and comes at a particularly important time.
With the growth of the internet and America’s continually shifting economy toward the service sector, states keep looking for ways to impose taxes on people making money outside of their borders. It’s a welcome sign that the Supreme Court will not put up with such schemes — at least so far.
Read the rest at Rare.