This week's collection of #StateReads covers Arizona's controversial immigration law, bonuses to some Wisconsin employees during a time of penny-pinching and the lack of regulations in Michigan's medical marijuana market.
These examples of extraordinary journalism about state government were recommended in tweets using the #StateReads hashtag on Twitter and in email submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Two years after Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed the country's harshest immigration-enforcement law, much of the political and social landscape has changed — inside and outside of Arizona, reports Dan Gonzalez (@azdangonzalez) for the Arizona Republic. In Arizona, the immigrant population has shrunk drastically, falling by 200,000 from its peak of 560,000 in 2008, mostly because of the state's economic downturn. And though that exodus cuts down on the state's social services costs, it may have harmed the overall economy, Gonzalez writes. Meanwhile, Arizona's large Latino population is growing more politically active, as many Mexicans pursue American citizenship in efforts to vote against the state's current elected officials. Outside of Arizona, the push to pass laws similar to Arizona's has stalled, as state legislatures await the Supreme Court's decision on the law's constitutionality, Gonzalez explains.
As Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was pushing legislation reducing most public workers' pay and eliminating their union rights in the name of reducing the state's $143 million budget shortfall, he established a program that doled out more than $765,000 in bonuses and merit raises this year to 218 employees, according to an Associated Press review of data obtained through an open records request. The Walker administration defended the program as a way to prevent top talent from leaving government work for the private sector, reports Todd Richmond (@trichmond1). But Marty Beil, executive director of Wisconsin's largest state employee union, said the program's criteria for bonuses are too vague, allowing favoritism to creep into decisions, Richmond reports.
The federal government each year sends millions of dollars to several states and Native American tribes to cleanup abandoned coal mines. But many of those mines have already been cleaned up, reports Damian Paletta (@damianpaletta ) for The Wall Street Journal. Four States and three tribes no longer need the money, and they have been left to spend it however they wish, Paletta reports. For instance, Wyoming, which receives the largest slice of the money, used $10 million of it to help refurbish the basketball arena at the University of Wyoming. Most on Capitol Hill want to cut the $180 million going to states that have already cleaned up their mines. “The money keeps flowing, however,” Paletta reports, “because efforts to stop it have been blocked by a bipartisan group of lawmakers from the states that get the money. They say the money is theirs because the federal government collected it from coal-mining operations in their states.”
A biotechnology company hopes to plant a vast marijuana farm deep within an abandoned copper mine in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, hoping to capitalize on Michigan's large population that uses medical marijuana. About 131,000 Michiganders — one in 75 of residents — are licensed to smoke marijuana for medicinal purposes, a practice legalized by a 2008 referendum, Paul Egan (@paulegan4) reports for the Detroit Free Press. But the state's supply chain has been disrupted after many dispensaries were closed as the result of a Michigan Court of Appeals ruling. The company must navigate several obstacles before opening up shop. “The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the Food and Drug Administration, the Legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder would all have to sign off,” Egan reports. “Federal agencies consider marijuana illegal. DEA agents have not cracked down on small operations to supply licensed patients but almost certainly would view SubTerra (the company's Michigan subsidiary) as a major bust opportunity.”
Wisconsin environmental officials are failing to fully enforce state water quality regulations aimed at reducing algae growth, which can make boaters, swimmers or anglers sick. “The state Legislature in 2010 approved (state Department of Natural Resources) regulations intended to cut down on the amount of phosphorus running into waterways, where it causes algae to grow so thick that the water turns to green soup,” Kathleen Foody (@katie_foody) reports for Gannett Wisconsin Media. “But as of last week, only 19 permits with stricter limits had been issued since September 2010. The DNR still is evaluating applications from 201 municipal facilities and 155 industrial facilities, while hundreds more must apply for permits in the coming years.”