What We're Reading: Top State Stories 2/15

MI: Michigan Legislature agrees to hike personal tax exemption, forgive costly driver fees

The Michigan House and Senate reached a compromise with Republican Gov. Rick Snyder that would eventually give every Michigander a $4,900 personal tax exemption and eliminate costly driver responsibility fees, forgiving $637 million in debt owed by nearly 350,000 drivers. Without the legislation, the personal exemption would have been eliminated because of the new federal tax law.

CO: Colorado toughens oil, gas rule to try to prevent pipeline explosions

Colorado regulators set tougher rules on the oil and gas industry and set up a task force after six months of grappling over how to protect people and the environment from underground pipelines. But they still face a difficult challenge: Industry officials say they don’t know where all the pipelines are.

CA: Women target seats held by California lawmakers accused of sexual harassment

There are just 27 women in the 120-member California Legislature — the lowest number in more than two decades — but a trio of special elections offers an early opportunity to reverse the trend. At least one woman has filed to run in each of these districts vacated by men, including those of Democrats Raul Bocanegra and Matt Dababneh, who both resigned last fall amid accusations of sexual misconduct.

TX: Texas AG tells three school districts to stop ‘electioneering’

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, says the school districts are violating state law by using taxpayer money to distribute messages advocating for specific candidates and policies to their staffs. It's the latest chapter in a fight over how involved public education organizations can get in this year’s elections.

MN: In Minnesota, a bipartisan push to tax prescription opioids

The plan from Minnesota Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and a bipartisan group of lawmakers would tax prescription opioids a penny on each milligram of active ingredient in a pain pill. The proceeds, estimated at $20 million a year, would go toward prevention, emergency response, treatment and recovery, and law enforcement.

MO: Student journalists would be shielded under Missouri bill

The Missouri House gave first-round approval to legislation that would largely shield student journalists from censorship by their schools. The idea stemmed from a 2015 incident at the University of Missouri-Columbia in which a professor called for the removal of student journalists.

AL: Panel moves to strike anti-gay phrase in Alabama sex ed law

Alabama lawmakers took the first step to strike anti-gay language from the state’s sex education law, which says students should be taught that homosexuality is both socially unacceptable and illegal. The proposal now moves to the Alabama Senate.

OR: Meth-related deaths soar in Oregon as opioids wane

Meth-related deaths in Oregon are surpassing the rates seen at the height of the meth crisis in the mid-2000s. In 2016, methamphetamine contributed to more deaths than heroin and as many as prescription opioids. Some experts say use is up, while others point to an increase in the product's potency and purity and say the deaths could stem from the state's opioid problem.

WI: Wisconsin panel approves governor's sales tax holiday, child tax credit

A Wisconsin Assembly committee has approved Republican Gov. Scott Walker's proposals for a one-time child tax credit and sales tax holiday on a party-line vote. Republican lawmakers argued the proposals take advantage of a recently announced $137.5 million state budget surplus and would spur economic activity in the state.

CT: Connecticut House Speaker: Turn transportation over to a new authority

After failing for years to properly invest in highways, rail and bridges, the Connecticut Legislature should relinquish oversight to a transportation authority immune from the pressure of election-year politics, Democratic House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz said. 

VA: Millennials in the Virginia General Assembly form a caucus to advocate for their generation

With an influx of young legislators in the Virginia General Assembly and a new focus on bipartisanship, Virginia lawmakers formed a new caucus for millennials. The goal: advocating for issues that affect young people — student debt, affordable college, the changing job market, green energy and new technologies.

AK: Alaska’s Permanent Fund dividend has ‘no effect on employment,’ study says

As interest in the concept of a universal basic income grows around the world, two researchers have found that Alaska's Permanent Fund dividend had "no effect on employment" overall in the state, though it did increase part-time work by 17 percent.

OH: Ohio House GOP plan would merge education departments

A proposal to combine three Ohio agencies into one department and give the governor more direct power over the implementation of education policy will be a primary focus of House Republicans over the next three months.

New Medicaid Requirements Long Voting Lines