What We're Reading: Top State Stories 8/1

KS, NC, WI: Courts strike blows to voter restrictions in three states

Courts dealt setbacks to Republican efforts in three states to restrict voting, blocking a North Carolina law requiring photo identification, loosening a similar measure in Wisconsin and halting strict citizenship requirements in Kansas.

MA: Massachusetts governor to sign equal pay bill

The bill to be signed by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker would require men and women to be paid equally for comparable work. The bill also bars Massachusetts employers from asking prospective workers to provide a salary history, though salary information could be offered voluntarily.

MI: Six more Michigan public workers charged in Flint water crisis

The misconduct and other charges against six current or former employees of Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Health and Human Services brings to nine the number of public officials facing prosecution over the lead contamination that alarmed parents across the country.

ND: North Dakota lawmakers want narrow focus in special session

As North Dakota lawmakers descend on the Capitol for only the 15th special session in state history, leaders of both parties say they are determined not to get sidetracked as they try to bridge a $310 million revenue gap by cutting budgets and shifting money around.

MS: Mississippi’s crackdown on prisoner cellphones proves difficult

Mississippi prison officials say more than 9 million texts and attempted transmissions have been intercepted from inmate cellphones at two state prisons in the past five years, and they continue to wage an uphill battle to rid the corrections system of the illegal phones.

NY: In spite of New York state efforts, standardized test opt-out rates remain high

More than approximately 230,000 students opted out of New York state standardized exams in spring 2016, an increase over the previous year. In spring 2015, New York led the nation in the number of standardized test refusals with more than 20 percent of eligible students opting out of the exams.

IL: Illinois reduces punishment for minor pot possession from jail to citation

Getting caught with small amounts of marijuana will result in citations akin to a traffic ticket instead of the possibility of jail time under a new Illinois law signed by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

OR: Oregon’s public pension costs to rise

Schools, cities, state agencies and other public employers across Oregon will have to pony up an extra $885 million over the next two years to fund the state’s public pension system. That’s about 10 percent higher than previously forecast and a 44 percent increase from the system’s current $2 billion per two-year budget.

TX: Texas challenges EPA’s crackdown on oilfield methane

Texas is suing the federal government to stop new regulations that would slash emissions of methane, a gas that often leaks from well pads, compressor stations, processing plants and other equipment used in petroleum production. It is Texas’ 43rd lawsuit against the federal government since President Barack Obama took office in 2009.

CA: California officials push voluntary warnings on mercury in fish

With 180 reservoirs contaminated with excessive levels of mercury, California officials are working on a statewide mercury control program. In the meantime, the State Water Resources Control Board is pushing owners of the reservoirs to voluntarily post warnings about eating fish that accumulate the potent neurotoxin. 

WY: Wyoming prisons see cuts to substance abuse treatment

Facing a $1 million cut to its substance abuse treatment budget, Wyoming’s Department of Corrections cut 98 substance abuse treatment beds in its prisons and completely cut treatment services for those who leave prison.

AZ: Arizona sued over ban on cities mandating paid sick leave

A new state law governing paid employee sick leave has prompted a lawsuit by more than 30 state legislators and members of several city councils across Arizona.

 MO: Missouri state workers worst paid in nation: study

A new report released by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s office found that the base salary for 37,906 prison guards, social service workers and other state employees is the lowest in the nation and more than 10 percent below what is considered competitive in the job market.

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