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News and stories from the campaign to reclaim individual responsibility and liberate Americans from bureaucracy and legal fear.

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Philip Howard Leads Roundtable on Regulation for Inc. Magazine

In March, Inc. magazine organized a roundtable discussion with small business owners about the regulations that affect their businesses. Common Good’s Philip Howard moderated the conversation, which is summarized by Inc.'s Editor-at-Large Leigh Buchanan in their July/August issue.

One of the participants, who heads a winery, discussed a federal rule that limits where he can sell his product if it contains grapes from “‘noncontiguous’ states.” Inc. relates:

This rule exists, suggests Howard, to protect vested interests. But, he adds, 'it looks like [rules governing the wine industry] exist only because someone made them up that way 80 years ago.'

That could be said of tens of thousands of governmental rules that appear arbitrary, irrational, or out­dated. Unfortunately, the list is only growing. Roughly 3,400 federal regulations were issued in 2015, 545 of which directly affect small business, according to the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The Office of Management and Budget reports that another 3,000 are on course for this year. Entrepreneurs are, or soon could be, grappling with new federal and state rules related to—among other things—overtime, sick leave, health care reporting, employee retirement plans, independent contractors, lead dust in commercial buildings, and website accessibility for the disabled. The most recent academic paper on the topic released by the Small Business Administration's Office of Public Advocacy—in 2010—reports that per-employee regulatory costs for small companies are 36 percent higher than those for large ones.

The problem is not regulation per se, the roundtable participants agreed—entrepreneurs “want to do the right thing for their employees, their customers, and the environment,” Inc. writes—but that the growing mass of—oftentimes obsolete, conflicting—regulations prevent growth with no accompanying benefit:

Every time your business is prevented from doing something or you choose not to do something because the government makes it difficult, there is an opportunity cost. According to the Paychex survey, concern over regulation had dissuaded 39 percent of respondents from entering a new market, 36 percent from introducing a new product, and 25 percent from starting a particular kind of business.

The Inc. article ends by offering five reform proposals to “build[] a smarter, less restrictive regulatory system”—these include: allowing new business “breathing room” in addressing minor regulations; treating “disrupters” differently than established industries; regulating by principles as opposed to precise specifics; cleaning out obsolete regulations; and empowering regulators to use their common sense.

Common Good has long-advocated for these last three ideas. On the proposal to allow regulators to exercise discretion, Inc. writes:

‘America is run by dead people,’ says Howard. ‘The people who wrote those rules are dead, so you can't argue with them or hold them accountable.’ Some regulations date back 60 years, so it is vital that live human beings have the power to interpret them, says Howard. In general, those who enforce the rules should be encouraged to exercise their best judgment depending on the situation. All too often, regulators and inspectors are conditioned to say no, because that’s the safe bet.

Click here to read the Inc. article in full.

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David Choi: Put Teachers in Charge of Their Classrooms

After months of standoff with the de Blasio administration, the recent decision by Success Academy Charter Schools to close its free, full-day pre-K programs has created a stir in the education community. The Success Academy controversy dates back to its refusal to enter into contracts mandated by the New York City Department of Education (DOE) that would govern the operations of its pre-K programs. On appeal to the state government, Success Academy’s lawyers claimed that the DOE had exceeded its authority in conditioning the payment of funds on the execution of an “overly onerous” and “bureaucratic” 241-page contract. Even if it was within the DOE’s authority, they further argued, the contract was inconsistent with New York’s Education Law. In February, the state education commissioner, MaryEllen Elia, ruled for the DOE.

As these things so often do, the latest development in this protracted affair has devolved into familiar, and emotional, refrains about the successes or failures of the New York-based charter school network. Others have lamented the fact that many parents will now have to scramble to find alternative pre-K schools, many of which may not be able to match the quality of what Success Academy can offer. However, the significance of Success Academy’s decision to cancel its pre-K classes does not end with the approximately 100 students who would have attended them in the upcoming school year. What is of much greater consequence to all students is the underlying philosophical debate about school regulation.

In fact, the pre-K controversy is just another chapter in the ongoing discourse about the appropriate role of government in education. On mandating the execution of the contract, Mayor de Blasio has stated, "Every other charter school organization we've worked with has signed a contract, all the religious schools have signed a contract because they all understand it is a commitment to uphold the standards we've put forth on behalf of the people. We have an obligation as the government to set those standards." In a scathing article aimed at the New York City mayor, Campbell Brown, former CNN anchor and a member of the Success Academy board, responded: "[I]t appears that the mayor values bureaucratic conformity and control more than our ability to help students perform remarkably across grades and schools."

If there is unmistakable anger among those in support of Success Academy, there is also a hint of pride on the part of the de Blasio administration in having upheld its standards for pre-K programs. It’s understandable. In fact, the administration’s stance reflects a longstanding belief that the law must prescribe how schools operate in order to ensure a certain level of quality. This is at the core of education reform in the United States through the latest iteration of federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act.

While well-intentioned, such reform doesn’t work. In his book “Life Without Lawyers,” Common Good Chair Philip Howard writes:

All these reforms have been based on an unspoken assumption: that better organization is the key to fixing whatever ails schools. The theory is that by imposing more organizational requirements—better teacher credentials, more legal rights, detailed curricula, the pressure of tests—schools will get better. That’s the theory. The effect, however, is to remove the freedom needed to succeed at any aspect of teachers’ responsibilities—how they teach, how they relate to students, and how they coordinate their goals with administrators.

Such requirements also leave teachers frustrated and unhappy. Lack of classroom autonomy and little influence over school decisionmaking are consistently cited as some of the major reasons for teacher job dissatisfaction.

Teaching is a distinctly human exercise. Just think about your favorite teacher from childhood. She didn’t take cues from a manual to walk through the elements of the Pythagorean Theorem or to lead a lively discussion on the hubris of Oedipus. He did not need zero tolerance rules to earn the respect and attention of his students. Such teachers simply had a knack for engaging the classroom with their own unique style, and any formal requirements would have only gotten in the way.

As professionals, teachers must be empowered to exercise their judgment because they cannot be successful without it. In their interactions with students, teachers must constantly make choices throughout the school day, and no rule created in advance can account for the nuances of each and every situation. Therefore, a necessary measuring stick for any school regulation, whatever the source, is to ask whether it allows teachers to rely on their best instincts.

So, how does the DOE’s contract measure up? As an initial matter, one is left to wonder why a contract governing a pre-K program should be 241 pages long. Any time you have too many rules, people tend not to follow them, often because they simply cannot remember them all. If one ventures to keep track of, and comply with, all the rules, it requires administrative cost and takes time away from other things, like, say, instruction time.

The terms of the contract are absurdly specific. For example, the contract requires the school to provide students with access to blocks and dramatic play materials for "at least 2 hours and seven minutes per day" and to limit daily computer use to 15 minutes. What if completing an interactive online activity required a child to spend 20 minutes on the computer? What if holding other events like field trips—which are also limited by the contract, by the way—meant students could only spend exactly two hours playing with blocks? Short of breaching the contract, there is no sensible answer.

However, for Success Academy, it was a losing battle from the start. In her decision, Ms. Elia noted that the Education Law requires all participating pre-K programs to demonstrate quality in various areas, including curriculum and learning environment. She ruled that the DOE’s contract terms could be seen as reasonable ways to carry out the law’s requirements. Just last week, a New York state judge also rejected Success Academy’s petition in state supreme court. As long as we believe the government should impose organizational requirements in order to improve our schools, the result will usually be the same: less freedom for teachers on the ground.

It’s time for a philosophical shift. This is not to suggest that the law should not hold schools to high standards. Ineffective teachers should be held accountable. If Success Academy’s pre-K programs fail to prepare children for kindergarten, the DOE should be allowed to take reasonable action. However, we cannot allow the fear of a few bad actors to prevent the vast majority of good teachers from using their best instincts to teach their students. Teachers must be free to decide how best to meet the standards we demand from them. Until then, true education reform may only be a pipe dream.

David Choi is a senior attorney with Common Good.

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Common Good Hosts Reception for TED’s Chris Anderson

On June 14, Common Good hosted an evening reception and discussion in New York City for Chris Anderson and his new book, TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking. Anderson is the curator of TED, a nonprofit best known for its widely popular TED Talks. Joining him in the conversation as moderators were Mark Thompson, President and CEO of The New York Times Company, and Common Good Chair – and 2010 TED Talk speaker – Philip Howard.

During the lively hour-long discussion, Anderson spoke about some of the major public speaking traps that hinder the effectiveness of many speakers, as well as the strategies that make other speakers so successful. The conversation also focused on TED’s critical role in not only providing a platform for new ideas, but also offering role models to those who may not believe they are capable of influencing the world with ideas of their own.

Click here to learn more about Chris Anderson’s new book. And click here to watch Philip Howard’s 2010 TED Talk, “Four Ways to Fix a Broken Legal System.”

L to R: Mark Thompson, Chris Anderson, Philip Howard

Photos: Howard Heyman

    

                                                                                              

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Larry Summers Writes on Broken Infrastructure Process, Broken Government

Last week, former US Treasury Secretary and Harvard University President Larry Summers wrote two pieces tying America’s inability to fix our decrepit infrastructure to the larger problems of broken government – particularly government officials’ inability to take charge to achieve even the smallest of accomplishments.

In the first piece for the Boston Globe, Mr. Summers (along with Harvard student Rachel Lipson) outlines the delays and cost overruns in rehabilitating Boston’s Anderson Memorial Bridge. “Rehabilitation of the 232-foot bridge began in 2012, at an estimated cost of about $20 million,” he writes. “[F]our years later, there is no end date in sight and the cost of the project is mushrooming, to $26.5 million at last count.” The project, he argues, exposes America’s national problems with fixing infrastructure:

How, we ask, could our society have regressed to the point where a bridge that could be built in less than a year one century ago takes five times as long to repair today? Here are some of the reasons that have contributed to the delay:

In order to adhere to strict historical requirements overseen by the Massachusetts Historical Commission, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation had to order special bricks, cast by a company in Maine, to meet special size and appearance specifications from the bridge’s inception in 1912.

At the same time, extensive permitting and redesigns haven’t helped. For instance, once construction had already started on the bridge, the contractor, Barletta Heavy Division, discovered that an existing water main would need to be relocated. With the subsequent change order and additional Massachusetts Water Resources Authority permitting processes, an additional 357 days were tacked on to the original contract completion date.

Infrastructure delays, he concludes, are the result of bureaucracy and the lack of leadership from those supposedly in charge. But he also blames it on the American people for not demanding accountability – “a failure that may in part reflect a lowering of expectations as trust in government declines.”

Mr. Summers builds on the government trust argument in his second piece for the Washington Post. He writes, still using the example of the Anderson Memorial Bridge:

Investigating the reasons behind the bridge blunders have helped to illuminate an aspect of American sclerosis – a gaggle of regulators and veto players, each with the power to block or to delay, and each with their own parochial concerns. All the actors – the historical commission, the contractor, the environmental agencies, the advocacy groups, the state transportation department – are reasonable in their own terms, but the final result is wildly unreasonable.

At one level this explains why, despite the overwhelming case for infrastructure investment, there is so much resistance from those who think it will be carried out ineptly. The right response is to advocate for reforms in procurement policies, regulatory policies and government procedures to make the investment process more efficient and effective. This is all clear enough.

At another level, though, our story may illustrate phenomena that go way beyond infrastructure. I'm a progressive, but it seems plausible to wonder if government can build a nation abroad, fight social decay, run schools, mandate the design of cars, run health insurance exchanges, or set proper sexual harassment policies on college campuses, if it can't even fix a 232-foot bridge competently. Waiting in traffic over the Anderson Bridge, I've empathized with the two-thirds of Americans who distrust government.

People, he argues, won’t trust government to do the big things if they can’t execute the little things properly. This upcoming election, he concludes, ought to be about how we can trade cynicism for progress: “More than questions of personality or even those of high policy, the question of how to escape this trap should be a central issue in this election year.”

Common Good believes the answer is to free officials – and Americans at large – from the encumbrances of law that prevent them from taking action. (We are in particular agreement on his proposed solutions to expedite the infrastructure approval process.) In the coming weeks we will be launching a campaign to implement this vision. Please check back on this space.

Read Mr. Summers’ Boston Globe op-ed (“A Lesson on Infrastructure from the Anderson Bridge Fiasco”) here.

Read his Washington Post piece (“Why Americans Don’t Trust Government”) here.

Finally, writing in the Washington Examiner, Michael Barone ties Mr. Summers’ recent arguments to the writings of Common Good Chair Philip K. Howard. You can read that piece here.

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Common Good’s Gateway Report Receives Extensive Coverage from New York Times, Reuters, AP, Others

Billions for Red Tape,” Common Good’s new report on the economic and environmental costs of delayed permitting of the Gateway Rail Tunnel Project, continues to receive significant national and local attention. On May 18, Jim Dwyer of the New York Times wrote about the project and our report in an essay titled “Less Talk, More Action on Hudson Rail Tunnels, Before It’s Too Late”:

At issue now is not building replacements, but how fast it can be done. The customary pace of public works projects puts the entire region in peril.

If just one of the two tunnels has to be shut down, which could happen at any time, it means train traffic will have to be reduced not by half, but by 75 percent, from 24 trains per hour to six. That’s because the sole remaining tunnel will have to be used for two-way traffic, and time will be lost in reversing signals, according to 'Billions for Red Tape: Focusing on the Approval Process for the Gateway Tunnel Project,' a report from the Common Good, a group that advocates the reform of government processes.

The group is calling for President Obama to issue an executive order that would turn over authority for environmental review on the project to the chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality, and for other permitting issues to the federal Office of Management and Budget.

The point is to limit years of meetings with 20 agencies sitting around and planning yet more meetings, said Philip K. Howard, the president of Common Good.

'Inaction is the worst result of all,' Mr. Howard said.

The report—and the event with Senator Cory Booker that launched it—has also been covered by Reuters, the Associated Press, Politico, The Hill, New York and New Jersey media outlets, and numerous trade journals. 

You can read the report here, and its accompanying press release here.

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Common Good Releases New Report: “Billions for Red Tape”

Today Common Good released “Billions for Red Tape: Focusing on the Approval Process for the Gateway Rail Tunnel Project,” our new report showing that improved permitting for the proposed Gateway Rail Tunnel Project would save taxpayers billions and avoid significant environmental harm. The Gateway Project is a $24 billion infrastructure plan to alleviate a critical bottleneck on the Northeast Corridor, an area of the country that accounts for 20 percent of national GDP.

As set forth in the report, when compared to an 18-month process to finish review and permitting, a three-year permitting timetable would increase taxpayer cost of the project by over $3 billion, and a further two-year delay would increase costs by almost $10 billion. Another two years would raise costs by more than $13 billion.

“Billions for Red Tape” proposes approval mechanisms to reduce the cost and enhance the environmental benefits of the project. It was written by Philip Howard and supplements an earlier Common Good report released in September 2015: “Two Years, Not Ten Years: Redesigning Infrastructure Approvals.”

Read the press release here.

Read the report here.

Common Good will host a discussion of the report this evening, May 9th, in New York City. It will feature remarks from Senator Cory Booker followed by a moderated panel. You can learn more about the event here.

Common Good is pushing for a radically simplified approach to infrastructure permitting, particularly for projects of such regional and national importance as Gateway. We would welcome your comments and suggestions on this crucial issue. You can e-mail them to commongood@commongood.org. Thank you.

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Common Good to Host Two Infrastructure Events in May

Common Good will host two events on improving infrastructure approvals in the coming weeks. The first, on Monday, May 9th in New York City, will center around the release of our new report: “Billions for Red Tape: Focusing on the Approval Process for the Gateway Rail Tunnel Project.” The event will feature remarks from Senator Cory Booker followed by a moderated panel. 

On Thursday, May 19th in Washington, DC, we will co-host an event with the Progressive Policy Institute and Covington & Burling LLP as part of Infrastructure Week (www.infrastructureweek.org). It will include remarks from Senator Tom Carper, Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty, current and former members of the Obama Administration, and experts from other countries. A full listing of confirmed panelists can be found on Common Good’s website here.

To RSVP for either event, please e-mail your name, position, affiliation, and contact information to Ruth Mary Giverin of Common Good at rmgiverin@commongood.org. Please contact Ruth with any questions as well. This invitation is transferable, but all attendees must register before the day of the event.

Event details:

Title:     Billions for Red Tape

Time:     Monday, May 9, 2016; 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM; cocktails and appetizers will be served.

Where:     The New York Times Building; 43rd Floor (offices of Covington & Burling LLP); 620 Eighth Avenue (between 40th and 41st Streets); New York, NY 10018 (A government-issued ID is required to pass through building security.)

Speakers

     Senator Cory Booker
     Patrick J. Foye, Executive Director,
          Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
     Philip K. Howard, Chair, Common Good
     Robert D. Yaro, President Emeritus, Regional Plan Association
          (moderator)

Description:     The Gateway Rail Tunnel Project is a $24 billion infrastructure plan to alleviate a critical bottleneck on the Northeast Corridor, an area of the country that accounts for 20 percent of national GDP. The purpose of the report and event is to outline the economic and environmental costs of different permitting timetables, and to propose approval mechanisms that will save taxpayers billions and avoid significant economic and environmental harm.

--- 

Title:     How Faster Infrastructure Approvals Can Get America Moving Again

Time:     Thursday, May 19, 2016; 9:00 AM to 12:30 PM, with lunch to follow; registration and breakfast begin at 8:15 AM. 

Where:     Covington & Burling LLP, 10th Floor, One CityCenter, 850 Tenth Street, NW, Washington, DC 20001

Speakers

Senator Tom Carper (D-DE)
Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty (D-CT)
Jason S. Miller, White House National Economic Council

Angela F. Colamaria, White House Office of
     Management and Budget
Gary S. Guzy, Covington & Burling; formerly of CEQ and EPA
Philip K. Howard, Common Good
Fawn Johnson, Morning Consult
Deron Lovaas, Natural Resources Defense Council
Will Marshall, Progressive Policy Institute
Philip D. Moeller, Edison Electric Institute; formerly of the
     Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
John D. Porcari, Parsons Brinckerhoff; formerly of the
     US Department of Transportation
Sophie Shulman, US Department of Transportation
Prof. Dr. Andrea Versteyl, National Regulatory Control Council
     (Germany)

Description:     Even as the nation’s needs grow more acute, it takes longer and longer to win government approval to build modern infrastructure. Getting permits can take a decade or longer. Other countries manage to get projects up and running in less time. We are convening this discussion to build common understanding of how government reviews can combine rigorous public oversight with expeditious approvals of projects that can save money, create jobs, boost US productivity, achieve a greener footprint, and restore public confidence in the public sector.

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May 19 Forum: How Faster Infrastructure Approvals Can Get America Moving Again

Common Good, the Progressive Policy Institute, and Covington & Burling LLP invite you to attend a morning forum on expediting and improving regulatory reviews of infrastructure projects on Thursday, May 19th in Washington, DC.

The forum, which is part of Infrastructure Week (www.infrastructureweek.org), will include remarks from members of Congress and the Administration plus two panels of experts from industry, labor, government, and environmental protection.

Participants include:

Senator Tom Carper (D-DE)
Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty (D-CT)
Jason S. Miller, White House National Economic Council

Angela F. Colamaria, White House Office of
     Management and Budget
Gary S. Guzy, Covington & Burling; formerly of CEQ and EPA
Philip K. Howard, Common Good
Fawn Johnson, Morning Consult
Deron Lovaas, Natural Resources Defense Council
Will Marshall, Progressive Policy Institute
Philip D. Moeller, Edison Electric Institute; formerly of the
     Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
John D. Porcari, Parsons Brinckerhoff; formerly of the
     US Department of Transportation
Sophie Shulman, US Department of Transportation
Prof. Dr. Andrea Versteyl, National Regulatory Control Council
     (Germany)

Even as the nation’s needs grow more acute, it takes longer and longer to win government approval to build modern infrastructure. Getting permits can take a decade or longer. Other countries manage to get projects up and running in less time. We are convening this discussion to build common understanding of how government reviews can combine rigorous public oversight with expeditious approvals of projects that can save money, create jobs, boost US productivity, achieve a greener footprint, and restore public confidence in the public sector.

Event details:

Title:  How Faster Infrastructure Approvals Can Get America Moving Again

When:  Thursday, May 19, 2015; 9:00 AM to 12:30 PM, with lunch to follow. Registration and breakfast begin at 8:15 AM.

Where:  Covington & Burling LLP, 10th Floor, One CityCenter, 850 Tenth Street,  NW, Washington, DC 20001

To RSVP, please e-mail your name, position, affiliation, and contact information to Ruth Mary Giverin of Common Good at rmgiverin@commongood.org. Please contact Ruth with any questions as well. This invitation is transferable, but all attendees must register before the day of the event.

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May 9 Event: Billions for Red Tape

Common Good invites you to attend an end of the day discussion and reception on Monday, May 9th in New York City to discuss the release of our new report: “Billions for Red Tape: Focusing on the Approval Process for the Gateway Rail Tunnel Project.”

The event will feature remarks from Senator Cory Booker followed by a moderated panel.

Panelists:

Patrick J. Foye, Executive Director,
     Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
Philip K. Howard, Chair, Common Good
Robert D. Yaro, President Emeritus, Regional Plan Association
     (moderator)

The Gateway Rail Tunnel Project is a $24 billion infrastructure plan to alleviate a critical bottleneck on the Northeast Corridor, an area of the country that accounts for 20 percent of national GDP. The purpose of the report and event is to outline the economic and environmental costs of different permitting timetables, and to propose approval mechanisms that will save taxpayers billions and avoid significant economic and environmental harm.

Event Details:

Title: Billions for Red Tape

When: Monday, May 9, 2016; 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM; cocktails and appetizers will be served.

Where:  The New York Times Building
43rd Floor (offices of Covington & Burling LLP)
620 Eighth Avenue (between 40th and 41st Streets)
New York, NY 10018
A government-issued ID is required to pass through building security.

To RSVP, please e-mail your name, position, affiliation, and contact information to Ruth Mary Giverin at rmgiverin@commongood.org. Please contact Ruth with any questions as well. This invitation is transferable, but all attendees must register before the day of the event.

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‘No Labels’ Adopts Common Good Policy Proposals

As part of their recently-released “Policy Playbook for America's Next President”—and in particular as a prescription to create 25 million new jobs over the next decade—the reform organization No Labels included Common Good policy proposals on streamlining infrastructure approvals and requiring judges to act as gatekeepers. The playbook provides:

Idea 27: Streamline Infrastructure Approvals

About the Policy

To accelerate the construction of important infrastructure, the federal government should designate officials to streamline the regulatory process for infrastructure projects such as roads, bridges and highways.

Idea 32: Require Judges to Act as Gatekeepers

About the Policy

In order to restore fairness and reliability to the American justice system, give judges more responsibility to dismiss unreasonable lawsuit claims.

Common Good calls for empowering officials to expedite infrastructure reviews in our September 2015 report “Two Years, Not Ten Years.” Philip Howard has written on the effects of legal fear—and the role judges should play to combat it—for decades. (Read selected essays of his here and here.)

No Labels solicited these proposals from Common Good earlier this year. They then polled registered voters about them in February and March and found 75% and 81% support, respectively.

The policy playbook also calls for sunsets on regulations—which Common Good has long advocated for laws as well (see Philip Howard’s recent Wall Street Journal op-ed “The Crippling Hold of Old Law”)—and also raises the problems of fee-for-service healthcare, defensive medicine, and other issues of concern to Common Good. You can access all 60 proposals here.

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