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Kentucky

Bathroom bills are floundering

Good.

Bills to curtail transgender people’s access to public restrooms are pending in about a dozen states, but even in conservative bastions such as Texas and Arkansas they may be doomed by high-powered opposition.

The bills have taken on a new significance this week following the decision by President Donald Trump’s administration to revoke an Obama-era federal directive instructing public schools to let transgender students use bathrooms and locker rooms of their chosen gender. Many conservative leaders hailed the assertions by top Trump appointees that the issue was best handled at the state and local level.

Yet at the state level, bills that would limit transgender bathroom access are floundering even though nearly all have surfaced in Republican-controlled legislatures that share common ground politically with Trump. In none of the states with pending bills does passage seem assured; there’s been vigorous opposition from business groups and a notable lack of support from several GOP governors.

The chief reason, according to transgender-rights leaders, is the backlash that hit North Carolina after its legislature approved a bill in March 2016 requiring transgender people to use public restrooms that correspond to the sex on their birth certificates. Several major sports organizations shifted events away from North Carolina, and businesses such as PayPal decided not to expand in the state. In November, Republican Pat McCrory, who signed and defended the bill, became the only incumbent governor to lose in the general election.

[…]

National LGBT-rights groups are closely monitoring the fluctuations, recalling how North Carolina politicians took activists by surprise last year when they passed the divisive bathroom bill in a fast-paced special session.

“That experience makes us very wary about when and how legislation will move,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director of the Human Rights Campaign. “On the other hand, the American public has been incredibly vocal against these bills… so we’re hopeful that legislators have learned a lesson from North Carolina.”

Even if all the new bathroom bills fail, Warbelow said activists will continue to push for explicit and effective federal protections for transgender students — protections have been undercut by this week’s revocation of the Obama-era guidance.

In addition to Arkansas, I counted fourteen other states where legislators have tried or are trying to pass a North Carolina-like bill, though none of the ones that are trying are getting any traction. The fact that states like South Dakota and Kentucky have explicitly rejected such bills should give you some idea of how far out on a limb Texas would be if we follow Dan Patrick and pass SB6. All these other states saw what happened in North Carolina, and they have stepped back from the abyss. Are we really dumber than they all are? Call Dan Patrick’s office, as so many others have, and ask him that.

Medicaid expansion: Still a good idea

I know, right?

It's constitutional - deal with it

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Fewer low-income residents of Kentucky and Arkansas, two poor states that expanded Medicaid in 2014, reported problems paying medical bills after the coverage expansions, especially compared with residents of Texas, which has rejected the health law.

And hospitals in Medicaid expansion states saw a marked decline in the share of patients without insurance, compared with hospitals in states that have not broadened access to Medicaid, a second study found.

“Our findings underscore the significant benefits of Medicaid expansion not only for low-income adults, but also for the hospitals that serve this population,” the authors of that study conclude.

The two studies, both published Tuesday in the journal Health Affairs, come as new states consider Medicaid expansion, a key pillar of the health law that President Obama signed in 2010.

[…]

GOP resistance to Obamacare is already affecting low-income residents of those state, the new studies suggest.

In Texas, for example, the percentage of residents reporting trouble paying medical bills, skipping prescriptions or delaying care because of cost barely moved between 2013 and 2014.

By comparison, Kentucky and Arkansas saw major declines in all three measures of access to medical care after the Medicaid expansion began in 2014.

The share of residents of the two states who reported skipping a medication due to cost fell more than 10 percentage points. And the percentage of Kentucky residents who said they had trouble paying medical bills dropped by more than 14 percentage points, from 42.7% to 28.4%.

Researchers also found major gains in the share of residents who said they had a check-up in the prior year, which increased more than eight percentage points in both Kentucky and Arkansas.

And they found sizable increases in the percentage of patients with chronic medical conditions who got regular care, which increased more than 6 percentage points in the two states.

Texas, by contrast, saw a decline in the percentage of chronically ill residents who got regular care between 2013 and 2014, according to the study, which was based on a telephone survey of 5,665 low-income, working-age adults in the three states.

But hey, we sure are pro-life around here, right? Just not pro-healthy life, or at least not pro-healthy life for non-rich people. I’m sure that’s in the bible somewhere. The Chron and Daily Kos have more.

SCOTUS will take up same sex marriage

This is it.

The Supreme Court announced on Friday that it will take up four cases challenging state bans on same-sex couples’ marriages — a long anticipated move that could lead to nationwide marriage equality.

The cases ask the justices whether Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee bans on same-sex couples’ marriages and bans on recognition of same-sex couples’ marriages from out of state violate the Constitution’s due process and equal protection guarantees.

The two questions granted by the court for argument are: 1) “Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?” and 2) “Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?”

There will be 90 minutes of argument on the marriage question and 60 minutes of argument on the marriage recognition question, per the court’s order.

The coming showdown before the justices over same-sex couples’ marriage rights has quickly become seen as inevitable following the Nov. 6, 2014, decision of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee. The ruling set up a disagreement with other appeals courts to have considered the issue; the 4th Circuit, 7th Circuit, 9th Circuit, and 10th Circuit courts of appeals all have struck down such bans on various grounds.

[…]

The same-sex couples plaintiffs’ briefs will be due by 2 p.m. Friday, Feb. 27. The states’ briefs will be due by 2 p.m. Friday, March 27. The reply briefs from the plaintiffs will be due by 2 p.m. Friday, April 17.

Then, likely in late April, the justices will hold arguments over the issue — which would mean a decision, and possible nationwide resolution of the issue, would be expected by late June.

Freedom to Marry has reactions from many of the people that have been directly involved in the litigation, while TPM reports that the Obama administration will formally ask SCOTUS to rule in favor of same sex marriage. This is what we’ve been waiting for, and while I suppose it could all go horribly wrong it’s hard not to feel optimistic. I look forward to seeing the analyses of the case as the briefs get filed and replied to and whatnot. In the meantime, I wonder if this will spur the Fifth Circuit to issue its ruling prior to SCOTUS, or if they’ll be happy to let the Supremes take that task out of their hands. The Trib lists some possibilities:

  • At the very least, the Supreme Court’s ruling — which will likely come in June — will make the 5th Circuit’s decision in the Texas case less consequential, said Aaron Bruhl, an associate law professor at the University of Houston. The 5th Circuit could issue its decision in the case in a few weeks.
  • The Supreme Court’s action on Friday could also delay the 5th Circuit’s decision in the Texas case. “It is possible that at this point [the 5th Circuit] could say, ‘Whatever we say, the authoritative decision is going to come not too much later than we would rule anyway. Maybe we should just wait,'” Bruhl said.
  • Lawyers for each side in the Texas case have said they hope the 5th Circuit rules before the U.S. Supreme Court. Bruhl said it’s possible the parties in the case will ask the court to issue a ruling even though the Supreme Court has taken up the issue again.

I also wonder what the backlash from the bad guys will look like. If all goes well, this ruling could do a lot of good for a lot of people in Texas, but as we have seen, marriage is only a piece of the puzzle. There’s a lot more to be done, and it’s not clear yet who will be more energized by a nationwide defenestration of anti-gay marriage laws. But that’s a thought for another day. For now, let’s celebrate coming this far. SCOTUSBlog and Hair Balls have more.

Yes, we can cut back on coal

It won’t be that hard, and it will come with a lot of benefits.

Texas burns more coal than any other state in part because of its large and growing population and industrial base. But the carbon-intensive fuel accounted for less than 40 percent of the state’s power use last year.

The federal proposal calls for Texas to reduce its carbon emissions 39 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. In contrast, West Virginia and Kentucky, which generate nearly all of their power from coal, would be required to make cuts of 20 and 18 percent, respectively.

Some Texas officials have questioned whether the proposed reduction is even possible without a radical shift in generation toward natural gas, wind and solar and a stronger push to use energy more efficiently. Texas’ power grid operator has said about half of the state’s coal-burning capacity might be retired under the federal plan.

But some experts say Texas wrongly views the rules as an existential threat to its energy-heavy economy. Instead, they argue, the state could achieve the federal targets without a lot of new initiatives.

The disconnect persists because “this regulation hits the status quo harder than any other, and we have powerful economic interests in this state wanting to maintain the status quo,” said Thomas McGarity, a University of Texas at Austin law professor who specializes in government regulation.

The combination has caused some operators to decide whether to retire their coal plants or retrofit them with expensive new pollution controls.

In its formal comments on the proposal, the Sierra Club said Texas could achieve the EPA’s proposed target by retiring 10 coal-burning power plants that are more than 40 years old and replacing them with natural gas-fired plants.

“We talk about how there is a war on coal, and that’s true,” said Victor Flatt, a professor of environmental law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “But there isn’t a war on fossil fuels. This rule is favorable to natural gas. In the end, I don’t think it will have the huge economic impact that people say it will.”

But there are concerns that the EPA will require states to make emissions cuts too quickly, leading to unintended consequences.

See here and here for the background, and remember again that reducing the use of coal for power generation would also greatly reduce water usage, which would have ancillary benefits for Texas. The crux of the complaint by the TCEQ seems to be that it’s not fair to ask more of Texas than some other states, including Kentucky and West Virginia, which produce the most coal but which use much less of it since they’re so much smaller than we are. I guess “Texas exceptionalism” stops when the discussion turns to responsibilities. I don’t know about you, but I think the great state of Texas is more than up to the task of being a leader in reducing coal consumption. Too bad the TCEQ – and I presume more than a few Republican officeholders – think so little of our state’s abilities.

Sixth Circuit stands up for inequality

It was bound to happen eventually.

RedEquality

Remember the big no-decision decision the Supreme Court issued on same-sex marriage just a month ago? The justices were asked — in five separate cases no less — to weigh in on whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marriage. The Supreme Court demurred on the question, which was a significant move in and of itself.

By declining to review any of the cases before it, the justices effectively blessed lower-court rulings that had struck down state gay marriage bans in five states. Circuit courts had been unanimous on the subject. So what more was there to say? Barack Obama even told Jeffrey Toobin recently that he thought this was the best Supreme Court decision of his tenure: a silent statement on the importance of letting cultural change spread across the country, one state at a time.

Well, so much for the power of silence. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit just reversed rulings striking down gay-marriage bans in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. This means that four circuit courts have now struck down gay marriage bans, while one has upheld them. We no longer have unanimity. The Supreme Court, eventually, will have to step in.

The 6th Circuit decision is here. A lot of people had been waiting to see what the Fifth Circuit would do, if they would be the court that provided the circuit split that forced SCOTUS to act, but they took too long. They will still get a chance to have their say, of course, and perhaps now that they wouldn’t have to be the trailblazer for upholding this particular injustice they’ll feel more free to let their colors show. One hopes that in the end neither this ruling nor the one the Fifth Circuit is expected to make will matter. Daily Kos and Freedom to Marry have more.

Lots of same sex marriage appeals about to happen

Busy times in the federal appeals courts.

RedEquality

Federal appeals courts soon will hear arguments in gay marriage fights from nine states, part of a slew of cases putting pressure on the U.S. Supreme Court to issue a final verdict.

If the appeals judges continue the unbroken eight-month streak of rulings in favor of gay marriage, that could make it easier for the nation’s highest court to come down on the side of supporters.

If even one ruling goes against them in the four courts taking up the issue in the coming weeks, it would create a divide that the Supreme Court also could find difficult to resist settling.

“We’re going to be racking up more courts of appeals decisions, and every one we get puts more pressure on the Supreme Court to weigh in,” said Douglas NeJaime, a law professor at the University of California-Irvine. “It’s very likely the Supreme Court ultimately settles this question. Given how quickly things have moved, it’s hard for the court to avoid this in the short term.”

[…]

Arguments similar to those [that were] heard Wednesday will take place Aug. 26 in the 7th Circuit in Chicago, for bans in Wisconsin and Indiana, and for Sept. 8 in the 9th Circuit in San Francisco, for bans in Idaho and Nevada. The 5th Circuit in New Orleans is expected to soon set a date to hear arguments on Texas’ ban.

The flurry of arguments means an upcoming spate of rulings, possibly all issued this autumn, that could profoundly alter the nation’s marriage laws.

If the four federal circuit appeals courts rule in favor of gay marriage, then nine states with pending appeals stand to have their bans stricken down altogether or ordered to recognize out-of-state gay marriages: Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee, Kentucky, Texas, Indiana, Wisconsin, Idaho and Nevada, though the decisions likely would be put on hold for a Supreme Court ruling.

Five additional states under those four circuit courts have gay marriage lawsuits awaiting decisions by federal judges: Alaska, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi and Montana.

Observers say the 6th or 5th circuits could deliver the first victory for gay marriage opponents.

We know about the Sixth Circuit, in which arguments were heard this week. We still don’t know when the Fifth Circuit will hear arguments there, but we do know that 63 Texas legislators have signed a brief in the appeal in which they declare that same sex marriage is icky and they totally have Greg Abbott’s back. Hey, remember when something like that would have been bipartisan? This one was an all-R effort, with the TDP and these troglodytes’ two LGBT colleagues firing back. I’m so glad those days are over, even if there are still a few laggards on the issue. In any event, the national picture will almost certainly be a lot clearer, or a lot more complicated, in the next few months.

Marriage equality’s legal winning streak may be on the line this week

And it’s not even the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that might bring a halt, however temporary, to the march of progress.

RedEquality

Marriage equality has had a very good run in the federal courts ever since the Supreme Court declared the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional in 2013. Every single federal court to consider the question has sided with marriage equality, although two federal appellate judges have dissented from this consensus view in the United States Courts of Appeals for the Fourth and the Tenth Circuits.

Nevertheless, equality is likely to face more skeptical judges as more of these cases advance to the court of appeals level. As ThinkProgress warned last June, “appointments to federal circuit courts have historically been much more politically charged than appointments to the lower-ranking district courts, so litigants are far more likely to encounter a judge who was selected for their loyalty to a particular ideology.” We also predicted that the Sixth Circuit, with a strong Republican majority and a history of partisan acrimony, was especially likely to treat a marriage equality case with skepticism.

Next Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit will convene in Cincinnati to hear several marriage equality cases arising out of Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee — and the GOP-dominated panel that will hear these cases is unlikely to bring joy into the hearts of equality’s supporters.

If the Sixth Circuit really wants to accept a bunch of ridiculous and widely discredited arguments on behalf of discrimination, there’s not much anyone can do to stop them. History will remember them unkindly, but I suppose we’ll all be dead by then, so YOLO and all that. As the story notes, there’s a chance it might not go down this way, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves. In the end, even a bad decision just means that the Supreme Court will have to take it up sooner rather than later.

No ruling in Texas same sex marriage lawsuit

We’re going to have to wait to see if an injunction will be granted against Texas’ Double Secret Illegal Anti-Gay Marriage constitutional amendment.

RedEquality

A San Antonio federal judge issued no decision Wednesday in a request to bar the state from enforcing its ban on same-sex marriage.

The request for a preliminary injunction by two gay couples who sued the state of Texas in October is seen as a giant step towards marriage equality.

Plaintiffs Nicole Dimetman, her spouse Cleo DeLeon and Vic Holmes and his life partner, Mark Phariss, whom were featured in a story this weekend in the San Antonio Express-News, allege the 2005 ban is unconstitutional because it treats the LGBT community unequally.

“This is one of the most important things we’ve ever done,” said Dimetman, who married DeLeon in 2009 in Massachusetts. “We look forward to our day in court.”

Their suit rides a wave of change in the legal and social landscape. It is among more than 40 cases challenging same-sex marriage bans in more than 20 states, including some where federal courts have ruled that similar bans are unconstitutional. Two other suits are pending in federal courts in Texas.

The hearing Wednesday morning before U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia lasted about two hours. Federal marshals had geared up in case there were clashes between supporters of gay rights and opponents, courthouse sources said.

“As we all know, no matter how I decide this, this matter is going to be appealed in time,” Garcia said, adding that any of the courts who have been dealing with same-sex marriage will make their way to the Supreme Court

To get a preliminary injunction, the plaintiffs would have had to convince Garcia that they are likely to win when the full lawsuit is litigated later and show that they are being harmed right now.

Judge Garcia said he would take the matter under advisement, but did not say when he would issue a ruling. Kind of an anticlimax if you ask me, but we’ll see how it goes. In the meantime, we did get a ruling on same sex marriage in Kentucky.

In a ruling that could open the door to gay marriage in Kentucky, a federal judge on Wednesday struck down Kentucky’s ban on recognizing valid same-sex marriages performed in other states, saying it violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law.

U.S. District Judge John G. Heyburn II joined nine other federal and state courts in invalidating such bans.

Ruling in a suit brought by four gay and lesbian couples, Heyburn said that while “religious beliefs … are vital to the fabric of society … assigning a religious or traditional rationale for a law does not make it constitutional when that law discriminates against a class of people without other reasons.”

Heyburn said “it is clear that Kentucky’s laws treat gay and lesbian persons differently in a way that demeans them.”

Citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling throwing out the Defense of Marriage Act, Heyburn struck down the portion of Kentucky’s 2004 constitutional amendment that said “only a marriage between one man and one woman shall be valid or recognized as a marriage in Kentucky.”

You can see a copy of the decision here. The judge did not rule on whether same sex marriages must be allowed to be performed in Kentucky, as that was not part of the lawsuit, just that Kentucky must recognize marriages that are performed in other states. Defenders or Kentucky’s ban on same sex marriage made the same tired arguments about “tradition” and procreation (Texas also made them), which Judge Heyburn swatted down. I’m sure this will be appealed, but for now chalk up another win for the good guys. So far, no federal judge has ruled against the plaintiffs in any of these lawsuits. I sure hope Judge Garcia won’t be the first. Equality Texas, Lone Star Q, and the Observer have more.

Eva Longoria

She’s much more than an actor.

At a panel discussion on achieving economic and social mobility at the Clinton Global Initiative

Over the past five years of the Obama presidency, the 38-year-old Corpus Christi native who rocketed to fame in Hollywood has slowly but surely made her mark in Washington as a serious student of issues, a formidable fundraiser for Democratic causes and a spokeswoman for the emerging, increasingly empowered young generation of Latinos.

Longoria has become such an ascendant star in Democratic circles that the party’s national finance chairman, Henry Muñoz of San Antonio, says donors are sometimes disappointed when he shows up alone.

“I get that everywhere I go these days: Why isn’t Eva Longoria here?” jokes Muñoz, CEO of the architecture firm Muñoz & Co.

The answer is simple: There’s only so much politicking the actress can do while pursuing her day job in Hollywood and running her charitable foundations.

In addition to Eva’s Heroes, a charity that aids developmentally disabled children, she launched the Eva Longoria Foundation last year to promote college access and support business startups among young Latinas. The foundation’s first big move, announced in April, involves doling out $2 million in microloans to Latina business owners in Texas and California, stemming from a partnership with Warren Buffett’s son, Howard. Her efforts landed Longoria a seat alongside former President Bill Clinton to talk economic empowerment at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting Thursday in Chicago.

In Washington, she has appeared on Capitol Hill at hearings and news conferences, shining a spotlight on child-labor abuses in agriculture, the struggles of the learning impaired, the need for better schools to boost young Latinos out of poverty, the dearth of Small Business Administration programs for Latino entrepreneurs, and, of course, immigration reform.

Beyond the world of legislation, she’s put her clout behind efforts in the nation’s capital to create an American Latino museum on the National Mall, a Latino heritage fund for the National Parks and management training for Latino arts groups.

In her spare time, she received a master’s degree in American Hispanic history from California State University, Northridge, last month with a focus on math and science coursework for Latina students. She earned her undergraduate degree from Texas A&M University-Kingsville.

She’s compiled quite an impressive resume, and is attracting plenty of notice for her political activities as well. Longoria was co-chair of President Obama’s re-election campaign and his inauguration. Those aren’t things you get to do just by being a pretty face. This being Texas, and Longoria being a star Democrat in a state that could use all the Democratic star power it can get, speculation is inevitable.

Some wistful Democrats see Longoria as a 21st century Ronald Reagan – a dynamic communicator with the potential to alter the partisan landscape in Texas and appeal across economic and social lines nationwide.

“It would appear that for many Texas Democrats, Longoria has now replaced Tommy Lee Jones as their fantasy celebrity candidate for public office,” said Mark P. Jones, chairman of the political science department at Rice University.

Jones warned, however, that fantasies about Longoria the politician may never be fulfilled.

“While many celebrities are effective at advancing specific causes, a much smaller number have been able to move to the next level and become effective actors within the political system,” he said.

I’ll be honest, I haven’t heard anyone mention Longoria as a potential candidate for anything, wistfully or otherwise. As I recall, the ultimately short-lived Ashley Judd for Senate boomlet got started when Judd was shown to be a potentially competitive candidate in a race against Sen. Mitch McConnell. The lesson I would draw from that, if I were interested in initiating a similar phenomenon here, would be to convince a respectable pollster to do some hypothetical matchups for Sen. John Cornyn, with Eva Longoria of course being one of the hypothetical opponents, and see what happens. You never know, right?

On a side note, this article was written before the Wendy Davis filibuster and its fallout. Out of curiosity, I checked to see if Longoria commented on that on either her Twitter or Facebook accounts; as far as I can tell, the answer is No. No one is required to say anything about anything, it was just one of those things that occur to me now and again, so make of that what you will.

The Rasmussen problem

Jonathan Chait discusses the “Rasmussen problem”, which basically boils down to the fact that Rasmussen’s polls have become rather extreme outliers, and they all seem to serve a narrative about the country taking a sharp pro-conservative, anti-Obama turn. As Nate Silver has pointed out, Rasmussen’s “house effect” can’t be explained by a likely voter model alone; moreover, the magnitude of Rasmussen’s house effect didn’t begin to show up until after the 2008 elections, which Rasmussen did a pretty good job of pegging. In addition, as Kos noted, Rasmussen of late has largely avoided races as they are being decided. They had nothing in the field for the PA-12 special election, for which there was a widespread perception that the Republican candidate would win, and their last poll of the Coakley/Brown race in MA was a week out. (Chait discussed these items in a followup post.) In other words, their track record in 2008 is of limited use for assessing their current results, because there aren’t many general election results to provide an objective comparison for their apparently new model. (I’ll stipulate they did a good job calling the Texas GOP gubernatorial primary, but polling a primary is not the same as polling a general election. And their overall performance in recent years is mixed.)

You can see the result of their narrative-setting right here in Texas, where their most recent horse race poll instantly became the conventional wisdom about the state of that race. I lost count of how many mainstream media folks cited the poll, but I saw very few attempts to come up with explanations for how a “four point race” (which too was suspicious) suddenly became a “13 point race”. It just was, because that’s what Rasmussen said. And to reaffirm that point, Rasmussen is out there with more polls, telling us that Texans don’t want tax increases to be part of the budget solution and want to see the Affordable Care Act repealed, and if you wait a week there’ll be more where that came from. Rasmussen is often the only outfit polling these questions, yet their track record on “issues polls” is much less reliable than its horse race polling, so once again, what they say gets into the discourse and stays there. I think it’s time for there to be a little more skepticism of what they’re saying.

To put it another way, let me address Paul Burka:

Either this poll or the most recent Rasmussen poll is an outlier. On May 20, Rasmussen had Paul with 59% of the vote and Jack Conway, his Democratic challenger, with 34%. Research 2000 has the race at 44% for Paul, 40% for Conway. Somebody is really wrong here.

Rasmussen now has Rand Paul with a 49-41 lead over Jack Conway, which is not only much more in line with Research 2000 and SurveyUSA, it’s also consistent with its own prior polling of this race. Just scroll down to the bottom of the screen on that Rasmussen link above and see for yourself. The lesson is simple: If you’re wondering who the outlier is in a given set of poll results, the odds are good it’s Rasmussen.

UPDATE: Kos has another example of a Rasmussen outlier that was intended to set a narrative, then later “corrected” once it was shown to be ludicrous. This one was in Connecticut. Thanks to Ed Sills for the catch.