What We're Reading: Top State Stories 2/23

US: Recession already a reality in some states

As economists size up the chances of the first nationwide slump since 2009, four states — Alaska, North Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming — already are in a recession, and three others are at risk of prolonged declines. The regions suffering the most are in the flop stage of the energy industry’s boom-to-bust cycle.

VA: Historic gun deal headed to governor’s desk in Virginia

A compromise that will preserve the rights of Virginia gun owners to carry concealed weapons, but also require those convicted of domestic violence to surrender their firearms, is awaiting the signature of Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

US: Health officials push FDA to add warnings about using opioids, benzodiazepines together

With evidence that using powerful prescription painkillers alongside common anti-anxiety drugs known as benzodiazepines increases the chance of a deadly overdose, dozens of state and municipal public health officials are pushing the Food and Drug Administration to add so-called black box warnings to both types of medicine.

VT: Vermont Senate committee narrowly passes marijuana legalization bill

A bill to legalize small amounts of recreational marijuana narrowly passed the Senate Appropriations Committee, clearing the way for a vote by the full Senate. Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin supports the bill, which would make Vermont the first state to legalize recreational marijuana through the legislature.

CO: U.S. appeals court says Colorado can enforce its 'Amazon tax' law

A federal appeals court endorsed Colorado’s “Amazon tax” law, designed to make it easier for the state to collect sales taxes on out-of-state purchases made over the Internet.

SD: South Dakota House approves sales tax hike for teacher pay

After voting last week against a measure that would have increased sales taxes in South Dakota, the House approved Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s plan for the increase, which would help boost teacher pay. The bill now moves to the Senate where it is likely to pass.

NC: North Carolina set for clash on transgender rights

The Charlotte City Council passed a law allowing transgender people to choose public bathrooms that correspond to their gender identity. Republican Gov. Pat McCrory has called the measure a threat to public safety and warned that the North Carolina General Assembly may step in.

ME: Maine’s governor proposes transferring $72.7 million to rainy day fund

After the Maine Revenue Forecasting Committee said it expects $72.7 million in additional General Fund revenue through the end of the current two-year budget cycle in June 2017, Republican Gov. Paul LePage proposed funneling the surplus into the state’s rainy day fund. The move could set up a conflict with legislators about the best uses for the extra money. 

UT: Utah Legislature: One in five bills poses potential conflict of interest

About one of every five bills in the Utah Legislature is sponsored by a lawmaker with a deep professional or personal interest in the proposal.

MO: Missouri public defender warns department in crisis

The director of Missouri's public defenders is warning that the state's chronically underfunded system for representing poor people has become a “house of cards” that could face a federal lawsuit if it's not improved.

ID: After years of defiance, Idaho House panel passes Real ID bill

Idaho lawmakers took a small step in signing off on a proposal that would allow the state to comply with national proof-of-identity requirements after refusing to go along with the strict federal regulations for nearly a decade.

OK: Oklahoma prison officials hang up on cellphones for inmates

Nearly 8,000 cellphones were confiscated last year in Oklahoma's correctional facilities, where officials say inmates used the contraband devices to access the Internet, harass their victims, conduct illegal financial transactions and, in some cases, publicly identify corrections staff to the outside world.

LA: Louisiana legislators scraping for budget fixes turn eyes toward state contracts

Reducing state contracts will not produce enough savings to close Louisiana’s $900 million deficit. But lawmakers, aware they're going to have to defend both budget cuts and tax increases when they return from Baton Rouge, are scraping for ways to make changes they can point to as common-sense reforms.

Battling Zika 'Social Impact Bonds'