What We're Reading: Top State Stories 12/6
US: State lawmakers often blur the line between the public's business and their own
State lawmakers around the country have introduced and supported policies that directly and indirectly help their own businesses, their employers and sometimes their personal finances, according to an analysis of disclosure forms and votes by the Center for Public Integrity and The Associated Press. The votes did not necessarily represent a conflict of interest as defined by the state, because legislatures set their own rules for when lawmakers should recuse themselves.
OH: New report says Ohio must find solutions beyond health care to keep so many babies from dying
As state and local officials continue searching for ways to reduce Ohio’s stubbornly high infant-mortality rate, a new report says improving social and economic conditions such as housing, transportation, education and employment opportunities could help.
UT: Utah’s Obamacare sign-ups are on the upswing
Utahns are signing up in droves for health insurance under Obamacare despite slashed federal advertising, reduced spending on navigators to explain the program and general uncertainty about its future. Through 26 days of open enrollment for 2018, nearly 63,000 state residents had enrolled in coverage, 35 percent more people than signed up over the same period last year.
WI: Wisconsin moving forward with drug-testing food stamp recipients
Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s administration has finalized a rule that would require able-bodied adult recipients of food stamps in Wisconsin to be screened and possibly tested for drugs. The move is the latest step in the ongoing battle over whether such testing is legal under federal law.
CA: Climate scientists see alarming new threat to California
Using complex new modeling, scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have found that rapidly melting Arctic sea ice threatens to diminish precipitation over California by as much as 15 percent within 20 to 30 years. Such a change would have profound economic impacts in a state where the most recent drought drained several billion dollars out of the economy and severely stressed infrastructure.
MN: Minnesota facing $188 million deficit
Minnesota budget officials anticipate the deficit over the next 18 months because of slowing national growth projections and spending passed by the Legislature earlier this year. They say more spending and uncertainty in the federal government could expand the deficit in the future.
DC: D.C. Council toughens shelter eligibility rules for the homeless
Supporters say the new requirements for homeless services are needed to ensure that the overburdened shelter system is used by those who need it most. But some advocates for the homeless say the rules — which require that those who live on the streets provide detailed documentation that they were Washington, D.C., residents before becoming homeless and that they have no other safe housing options — will lead to many being turned away with nowhere to go.
MO: State pension buyout expected to save Missouri $90 million
Missouri’s largest employee pension system is on track to save an estimated $90 million as part of a buyout program for former employees. More than 3,700 former state workers, from prison guards to social service workers, signed up to receive a lump sum payment rather than wait for a monthly pension check to begin arriving when they reach retirement age.
KY: Kentucky auditor finds public workers took paid leave to vote — but didn’t
More than 1,300 public employees in Kentucky claimed four hours of paid election leave in two recent elections but were not entitled to the benefit because they did not vote or complete other election duties, state Auditor Mike Harmon said.
RI: Expert raises alarm on Rhode Island finances
A legislative expert painted an alarming picture of Rhode Island’s finances, warning of more than $200 million in red ink over the next 18 months and questioning whether Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo’s administration has moved fast enough to tackle the problem.
NV: Nevada cuts unemployment insurance taxes on businesses
Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval said Nevada will reduce unemployment insurance taxes on businesses for the first time in eight years, from 2.58 percent to 1.95 percent. Nevada now has more than $1 billion in its unemployment insurance trust fund balance.
SD: Facing shortfall, South Dakota governor asks lawmakers to fill $34 million hole
Most South Dakota state employees won't see a raise for the next two years as the state grapples with low sales tax revenue. The announcement came as part of Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard's budget address, in which he asked lawmakers to find almost $34 million to fill a shortfall for the current fiscal year.
NH: New Hampshire driver's licenses now have random numbers to make ID theft tougher
Up until Oct. 11, all New Hampshire driver’s license numbers were based on the driver’s name and birth date, making it fairly easy for someone to guess the number without seeing the license. License numbers now start with a three-letter code followed by eight random numbers.