What We’re Reading: Top State Stories 5/17

CA: Tax measure could cause financial jolt to California smokers

A campaign to raise California's cigarette tax by $2 a pack said it has collected enough signatures to qualify the proposal for the Nov. 8 ballot and raise the prospect of a pocketbook jolt for smokers in the nation's most populous state.

KS: Kansas governor signs bill that shortens how long families can be on welfare 

Saying new rules will encourage people to re-enter the workforce, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback signed a bill that will reduce the number of consecutive months families can receive welfare to 24 months from 36 unless a hardship exemption is granted. The new law also will reduce the lifetime limit in Kansas from 48 months to 36, compared to the federal limit of 60 months.

OH: U.S. Supreme Court: Debt collectors can use Ohio attorney general’s letterhead to collect state debts 

Contractors hired to collect bills owed the state of Ohio can send correspondence to debtors on letterhead of the Attorney General's Office without violating debt collection laws, the justices said. Ohio had argued it needed the outside help to collect on the billions of dollars of state debts scattered across all 88 counties.

VA: Virginia adds computer science to public school curriculum

To help prepare students for technology jobs, Virginia is adding classes in computer science, computational thinking and computer coding to its curriculum. The new requirements won’t replace any existing subjects.

TX: Seminary program aims to transform Texas prisoners from the inside out

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s seminary program allows inmates to receive bachelor’s degrees in biblical studies from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. After completing four years of study, they are divided into teams and assigned to one of Texas’ 109 prison units, where they minister to other inmates.

FL: South Florida officials push for federal regulation of sober homes

Thousands of the homes, a kind of halfway house for drug addicts fresh out of rehab, have cropped up in South Florida. But officials say protections under the federal Americans With Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act have made it difficult to regulate them.

AK: Criminal justice bill heads to Alaska governor’s desk

The measure, which includes reforms to sentencing, bail, probation and parole practices, aims to reduce Alaska’s rising prison population and save money from the state’s corrections budget.

NJ: Minimum wage hike continues to advance in New Jersey

Lawmakers in New Jersey are advancing legislation that could hike the state’s minimum wage to $15 by 2021. The proposal has been cheered by labor and anti-poverty groups and criticized by Republican Gov. Chris Christie and business organizations.

CO: Colorado governor considers a special session

Colorado lawmakers adjourned last week without striking deals on a number of Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper's priorities, like reclassifying the hospital provider fee, overhauling construction defects laws, and putting more money toward road construction.

WA: Washington state health insurers seek rate hikes

Thirteen health insurers have filed to sell 154 individual health plans for 2017 in Washington state, both inside and outside the state exchange, and they’re seeking rate increases that average 13.5 percent.

Is America Finally Ready for Smart Guns? Top State Stories 5/16