Stephanie Mencimer

Stephanie Mencimer

Reporter

Stephanie works in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. A Utah native and graduate of a crappy public university not worth mentioning, she has spent the last year hanging out with angry white people who occasionally don tricorne hats and come to lunch meetings heavily armed.

Full Bio | Get my RSS |

Stephanie covers legal affairs and domestic policy in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. She is the author of Blocking the Courthouse Door: How the Republican Party and Its Corporate Allies Are Taking Away Your Right to Sue. A contributing editor of the Washington Monthly, a former investigative reporter at the Washington Post, and a senior writer at the Washington City Paper, she was nominated for a National Magazine Award in 2004 for a Washington Monthly article about myths surrounding the medical malpractice system. In 2000, she won the Harry Chapin Media award for reporting on poverty and hunger, and her 2010 story in Mother Jones of the collapse of the welfare system in Georgia and elsewhere won a Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

House GOP Advances Fake Pro-Working-Mother Bill

| Tue May 7, 2013 12:44 PM EDT
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor tours Richmond Public Schools adult career center.

In February, in the wake of their bruising loss at the polls in the 2012 presidential election, Republicans in Congress decided to launch a concerted effort to change their image and lure back a critical group of voters who abandoned the party in droves last year: women. To that end, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) gave a high-profile speech about how the party intended to "make life work" for working families. He emphasized women-friendly ideas like improving education, reducing the cost of college, and other key work/life balance issues. Among those he touched on was the idea of flex time. Cantor said:

If you're a working parent, you know there’s hardly ever enough time at home to be with the kids. Too many parents have to weigh whether they can afford to miss work even for half a day to see their child off on the first day of school or attend a parent-teacher conference.

Federal laws dating back to the 1930s make it harder for parents who hold hourly jobs to balance the demands of work and home. An hourly employee cannot convert previous overtime into future comp-time or flex-time. In 1985, Congress passed a law that gave state and municipal employees this flexibility, but today still denies that same privilege to the entire private sector. That’s not right...

Imagine if we simply chose to give all employees and employers this option. A working mom could work overtime this month and use it as time off next month without having to worry about whether she’ll be able to take home enough money to pay the rent. This is the kind of common sense legislation that should be non-controversial and moves us in the right direction to help make life work for families.

Flex-time as Cantor described it sounds great on paper—every working parent's dream even! But of course, the devil is in the details. Those details come in the form of the Working Families Flexibility Act, a bill Cantor introduced in April. Far from helping working families, the proposed legislation would instead deprive them of the longstanding right to be paid time-and-a-half for overtime. The bill would allow companies to give hourly workers comp time in lieu of overtime if the workers agree to it. That might not be such a terrible thing, except that the bill doesn't give workers any power to decide when to use the comp time. The employer gets to decide that. If the employer fails to let the worker use a bunch of accrued comp time, the bill would allow the worker to demand the overtime compensation in cash, but it gives the company 30 days to make good on the payment. And if the company stiffs the worker on the overtime compensation, the bill prevents workers from complaining to the US Department of Labor, as they can now, and instead forces them to try to find a lawyer who will take up their cause to collect a few hundred dollars worth of back pay, a fairly toothless enforcement measure. The bill, supported by the US Chamber of Commerce, is a backdoor attempt to shield big companies like Wal-Mart from costly lawsuits they've seen stemming from their systematic refusal to pay low-wage workers the overtime to which they're legally entitled.

All of this is why women's groups aren't signing on to the bill. The legislation "only pretends to give people the time they need to manage the dual demands of work and family," Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership on Women and Families, said this week as the bill moved forward in the House. "It is insulting that the House is wasting time with a bill that would make things so much worse."

Republicans' track record of helping working families is truly dismal, and one speech from Cantor isn't going to change that. Republicans fought the Family and Medical Leave Act tooth and nail (the first President Bush vetoed the bill twice before Bill Clinton finally signed it in to law) and have refused to expand it to include more people or paid leave so families could actually use it. This is the same party that rabidly opposes the Healthy Families Act, which would provide paid sick leave for more workers, a measure public health officials say is critical not just to family sanity but to the nation's health. Perhaps what's most depressing about the GOP's new working families bill is that Republican leaders thought women were dumb enough not to notice that it was just a cynical attempt to win women's votes while still catering to the GOP's big corporate backers.

Florida Passes Law To Speed Up Executions

| Tue Apr. 30, 2013 12:29 PM EDT

States across the country have spent the last few years reconsidering the wisdom of capital punishment. Over the past six years, five states have abolished the death penalty entirely, including Maryland just last month. But Florida, where the execution rate is second only to Texas, isn't having that conversation. Instead, Gov. Rick Scott (R) is currently considering a bill passed by the legislature this week that would speed up executions in the state by limiting "frivolous" appeals by inmates and shortening the time they spend on Death Row. (Florida has about 400 people on Death Row, 10 of whom have been there more than 35 years.)

Called the "Timely Justice Act," the bill would create new deadlines for certain filings and force the state to move faster towards an execution after a ruling by the state supreme court. Florida legislators behind the bill believe it will save money (executions currently cost state taxpayers about $24 million each) and bring closure to victims, but legal advocates say that it's likely to do nothing but raise the possibility that Florida will execute an innocent person. They're on pretty solid ground with that argument, given that 24 people on Florida's Death Row have been exonerated since the death penalty was reinstated in the 1970s.

It's not very hard to convict someone of a capital crime in Florida, which is the only state in the country that allows a jury to recommend a death sentence with only a simple majority vote of 7 to 5. Also, the state has one of the nation's worst indigent defense systems, ensuring that anyone facing a capital charge is likely to get a bad lawyer in the deal. Because of other state budget crises, Florida has slashed the money available for indigent defense, and it caps the fees in a capital case at $15,000, an amount that barely covers a lawyer's time in court through the trial. The fees are so bad that few lawyers will take capital cases. (Florida's indigent defense system is generally a mess. After the state legislature in 2009 set very low flat fees for private lawyers who are appointed to handle criminal defense cases, lawyers fled the system in droves. Things got so dire that at one point judges attempted to force lawyers to take the cases through "involuntary" appointments.)

The lawyers who do take the capital cases are often largely incompetent. Florida made the news a few years ago after one of its mentally ill death row inmates, Albert Holland Jr., won a US Supreme Court case in which Justice Stephen Breyer found that Holland did a better job of representing himself than his court-appointed lawyers did. The New York Times explains what sorts of representation Holland had gotten in Florida:

Consider Kenneth Delegal, who was assigned to defend Mr. Holland at a 1996 retrial on charges that he killed a Pompano Beach police officer in 1990. Mr. Delegal was removed from the case after being sent to a mental health facility. Later, the two men would see each other at the Broward County jail, where Mr. Delegal was held on drug and domestic violence charges.

The next lawyer, James Lewis, was a friend of Mr. Delegal’s and had shared office space with him. When Mr. Delegal went to court after his removal from Mr. Holland’s case, seeking to be paid about $40,000 for his work on it, the new lawyer testified on behalf of the old one, saying the fees had been “reasonable and necessary.”

Mr. Delegal died of a drug overdose about a month after the fee hearing, and a local paper asked his former colleague Mr. Lewis about his troubles. “I heard some rumors,” Mr. Lewis said, “but I chose not to know.”

The new Florida bill attempts to address the issue of terrible lawyers and the appeals they generate by setting competence standards for lawyers taking capital cases, and it would bar anyone found guilty twice of giving "constitutionally deficient representation" from handling another capital case for five years. But the bill doesn't provide any more money to pay for more competent counsel.

The bill's opponents haven't convinced Florida lawmakers of any of this. During a legislative debate last week, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R) said, "Only God can judge. But we sure can set up the meeting." The bill awaits Scott's signature.

Wed Jul. 9, 2014 12:44 PM EDT
Wed Apr. 30, 2014 12:07 PM EDT
Tue Dec. 3, 2013 7:55 AM EST
Tue Sep. 17, 2013 1:32 PM EDT
Tue Aug. 27, 2013 11:12 AM EDT
Wed Jul. 31, 2013 4:01 PM EDT
Tue Jul. 23, 2013 12:36 PM EDT
Fri Jul. 19, 2013 12:54 PM EDT