Best of #StateReads: N. C. Regulators Miss Catching Cheating Businesses

  • August 29, 2012
  • By Daniel C. Vock

This week's collection of #StateReads shows how a lack of cooperation among North Carolina regulators let businesses avoid buying workers' compensation insurance, how Alaska may be able to boost its waning oil production and why Texas is rethinking a law making repeat offenses for prostitution a felony.

These examples of extraordinary journalism about state government were recommended in tweets using the #StateReads hashtag on Twitter and in email submissions to dvock@stateline.org.

“The ghost workers” — The (Raleigh) News & Observer

Thousands of businesses avoid buying workers' compensation insurance for their employees and get away with it, because North Carolina's state agencies do not work together to crack down on those violations, reports Mandy Locke of The News & Observer (@newsobserver) in a three-part series. The problem is especially big in the construction industry, where businesses that do not buy the insurance have an unfair advantage over competitors in the down economy. Some businesses opt to buy bare-bones coverage and illegally treat employees as independent contractors to avoid paying taxes and insurance. North Carolina businesses can get away with those practices easier than companies in California or Louisiana, because North Carolina's state regulators do not share information with other agencies when they find violations, Locke writes.

“Getting an unemployment check in Florida is frustrating ordeal for many” — The Miami Herald

Florida Governor Rick Scott often touts the state's decline in residents receiving unemployment benefits as a sign of a rebounding economy, but the governor usually does not mention that, because of changes he proposed, it is harder for people in Florida to get checks after a lay-off than in any other state, reports Toluse Olorunnipa (@ToluseO). The state ranks last in the country in percentage of eligible residents who receive unemployment benefits and last in percentage of people who apply for the benefits who actually get them. Scott pressed to make applicants fill out a 45-question skills test and to cut down the length of time unemployed workers can get benefits. But Olorunnipa says poor customer service and unresponsive state employees make it even harder.

“Alaska pursuing unconventional shale oil development to fill its pipeline” — The Washington Post

Alaska's oil production is down, threatening the state's finances and its economy, but officials there are exploring whether they can boost production by allowing hydraulic fracturing on state lands, reports Juliet Eilperin (@eilperin). The controversial drilling practice has boosted oil production in many U.S. states, including North Dakota, which recently surpassed Alaska as the No. 2 oil-producing state. It is unclear whether the technique will work in Alaska, but if it does, Eilperin writes, it could pose problems for the state, which lacks enough inspectors, geologists and engineers to handle more work.

“Salary caps chasing North Jersey superintendents out of state” — Bergen County Record

A New Jersey initiative to cap the salaries for school superintendents led to substantial savings for several school districts, but it also led to led to substantial turnover and less experienced administrators, report Leslie Brody (@lesliebrody) and Dave Sheingold. Governor Chris Christie called for the caps two years ago, arguing that the superintendents should not make more than he did, about $175,000 a year. “Only a few superintendents swallowed pay cuts themselves,” Brody and Sheingold wrote. “Most often, experienced superintendents quit when their contracts expired and they were replaced by younger, cheaper recruits, or by ‘interim' leaders paid per diem.”

“Texas rethinks law making repeat prostitution a felony” — Austin American-Statesman

Texas prisons currently house 350 prostitutes and others convicted of prostitution-related crimes, but state officials are reconsidering whether they belong there at all, reports Mike Ward (@MikeStatesman). Texas lawmakers made repeated offenses for prostitution a felony in 2001, and offenders convicted of those charges landed in state prisons. But they cost as much as $18,000 a year to keep in state prisons, compared to $4,300 to place them in community-based programs. “It's nuts that we've got this many prostitutes in prison,” says Senator John Whitmore of Houston, “people that we're not afraid of, but we're just mad at.”

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