What We're Reading: Top State Stories 9/18

US: Amid opioid crisis, insurers restrict pricey, less addictive painkillers

At a time when the U.S. is in the grip of an opioid epidemic, many insurers are limiting access to pain medications that carry a lower risk of addiction or dependence, even as they provide comparatively easy access to generic opioid medications. The reason, experts say: Opioid drugs are generally cheap while safer alternatives are often more expensive.

CA: California lawmakers approve landmark 'sanctuary state' bill

California lawmakers passed a “sanctuary state” bill to protect immigrants without legal residency in the U.S. The legislation, the most far-reaching of its kind in the country, would limit state and local law enforcement communication with federal immigration authorities, and prevent officers from questioning and holding people on immigration violations.

FL: New Florida rules require generators at nursing homes

Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, directed the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration to issue emergency rules requiring all of the state’s assisted living facilities to have generators. Eight people died in an overheated assisted living facility after Hurricane Irma.

US: Disability backlog tops 1M

More than 1 million Americans are awaiting a hearing to see whether they qualify for disability benefits from Social Security, with the average wait of nearly two years — longer than some of them will live.

CT: Connecticut governor vows veto of GOP-backed budget plan

Connecticut House and Senate Democrats broke with party leadership to pass a Republican-backed state budget plan that calls for large spending cuts but no tax hikes. Gov. Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, called the $40.7 billion plan “unbalanced” and vowed to veto the legislation.

PA: Pennsylvania governor postpones more than $1B in medical and pension payments

With the Pennsylvania Legislature unable to pass tax and revenue bills since July, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf delayed a $1.2 billion payment to eight state-contracted managed care providers and postponed a $581 million payment to the Pennsylvania School Employees Retirement System.

AK: Governor wants Alaska Legislature to toughen criminal justice during special session

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, an independent, said he would urge lawmakers in October's special session to approve stiffer penalties for low-level felonies and thefts, reversing parts of the cost-cutting criminal justice law passed by the Legislature last year. An uptick in crime has been fueling criticism of the measure.

NY: New York governor bars state workers from asking about immigration status

In a sharp rebuke of Trump administration immigration policies, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order to prohibit New York state employees and officers from asking people about their immigration status, with only narrow exceptions.

NH: Pot decriminalization law goes into effect in New Hampshire

The law reduces the penalty for possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce (21 grams) of marijuana and a much smaller amount of hashish from a criminal misdemeanor to a civil violation with fines up to $300. New Hampshire joins more than 20 states, including all of New England, in easing criminal penalties on pot.

TX: New law lets Texas drivers help tackle the state's rape kit testing backlog

Driver's license applications will soon ask Texans whether they'd like to donate $1 or more for sexual assault kit testing. The crowdfunding law, coupled with a new two-year budget appropriation of $4.2 million, is the state’s latest effort to reduce a backlog of untested kits that swelled for years.

IA: Iowa prisons brace for possible uptick in HIV, hepatitis C cases as opioid epidemic swells

Last year, Iowa saw its highest number of HIV infections since the state began tracking the number in 1998, and the number of hepatitis C patients nearly tripled between 2000 and 2015. An increase in the number of infected inmates could put pressure on an already cash-strapped system.

MD: Measure to let noncitizens vote in Maryland suburb actually failed

City leaders in the Washington suburb of College Park, Maryland, thought they had approved a measure last week to allow noncitizens to vote in city elections. But while most council actions require a simple majority of members present to pass, charter amendments such as the voting measure require a supermajority of six votes from the nine-member council.

KS: Wichita bike board revolts against Kansas law

A Kansas state law bans the sale of bike pedals that don’t have reflectors on both front and back. But many high-performance bikes don’t. The Wichita Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board voted 10-1 to delete the pedal-reflector requirement from changes to be adopted into Wichita’s municipal code. And now, the chairmen of the House and Senate transportation committees have agreed to hold hearings on whether the requirement should be dropped from state statute as well.

‘Bad Samaritans’ Bears vs. Humans