What We're Reading: Top State Stories 3/12
Latest State Action on Coronavirus
PA: Pennsylvania delayed release of details on cases because of a decades-old law
Pennsylvania officials cited a 1955 law authored in the heyday of syphilis to withhold details about coronavirus cases, including how many people have been tested.
NC: North Carolina has only 250 coronavirus test kits; officials say that’s not enough
North Carolina has only 250 coronavirus tests and officials are calling on the federal government to send the state some more. U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis and U.S. Reps. Richard Hudson, both Republicans, and David Price, a Democrat, said in a letter to Vice President Mike Pence that test kit supplies are not adequate for “the expected demand.” North Carolina Health Director Elizabeth Tilson said the state lab has the capacity to test 250 people.
UT: Utah county votes down ban on mass gatherings
A proposed restriction would have banned outdoor gatherings of more than 250 people and indoor gatherings of more than 100 people from March 16 to April 14 in Utah’s Grand County, home to Moab. But it failed on a 3-3 vote after local business owners warned of a potential collapse of the local economy.
MA: Potential ‘superspreading event’ linked to most Massachusetts cases
Among the coronavirus numbers that Massachusetts officials have shared recently, one is particularly striking: Of the state's 95 cases detected, they say 77 stemmed from a meeting that the Cambridge biotech company Biogen held in late February.
CO: Colorado opens drive-thru coronavirus testing facility
Colorado is opening a drive-up coronavirus testing center, one of the first in the nation, as the state ramps up testing efforts to fight the growing viral outbreak. But there are certain criteria and specific documentation patients need to take advantage of the testing.
US: Senator proposes nationwide vote-by-mail in response to coronavirus
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, is proposing $500 million of federal funding to help states prepare for possible voting disruptions caused by the coronavirus outbreak. Wyden’s bill also would give Americans the option to vote by mail in case of a widespread emergency.
AK: Alaska explores options for housing people who are quarantined
The state of Alaska put out a request seeking “motel rooms, apartments, trailers, or other suitable dwellings.” The units must be located so the general public can avoid interaction with those being quarantined, it said. Apartments or hotels may not be suitable if there is a common hallway, for example.
HI: Coronavirus could cut Hawaii revenue by $300 million
Fears over the coronavirus could mean a $300 million hit to state tax collections. The state Council on Revenues projected that the state should expect no revenue growth in state taxes in fiscal year 2021, as international passengers to Hawaii are down nearly 36%, domestic flights are expected to decline and a report suggests visitor spending could drop 10%, costing the service industry 6,000 jobs.
MI: Michigan courts advise postponing jury trials
The Michigan Supreme Court is recommending that judges adjourn all civil jury trials, and some criminal trials if the defendant is not in custody. A separate state emergency declaration also suspended jury selection pools for many cases.
TX: Texas universities moving to online classes
More than half a dozen Texas universities announced they would extend students' spring breaks and start switching to online classes, joining a swelling group of colleges across the country taking steps to prepare their campuses for the novel coronavirus. Most Texas institutions extending their breaks said they plan to use the extra time to prepare faculty for teaching online.
MO: Missouri opens hotline for COVID-19 concerns
Residents and health care providers in Missouri now have a hotline they can call to ask questions about the novel coronavirus. The hotline number is 877-435-8411, and the number will be in use 24/7. Medical professionals will operate the hotline.
FL: Florida's state universities shifting to online classes
Schools in Florida's state university system will begin shifting to online classes as soon as possible, the state Board of Governors announced, and the private University of Miami is following suit. In addition, universities have been instructed to send all students home for at least two weeks.
NM: New Mexico governor declares virus emergency
Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declared a public health emergency as the first cases of COVID-19 surfaced in New Mexico. Three New Mexico residents tested positive for COVID-19 and are now isolating themselves at home.
WA: Washington governor halts large gatherings in Seattle region
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, ordered a halt to all gatherings of more than 250 people in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, and ordered schools across the state to immediately begin contingency planning for potential closures in the next several days. The moves mark the strongest action the state has taken to date to try to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus in Western Washington.
AL: Alabama state health officer says coronavirus could require more funding
Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said talks are ongoing with the Legislature about the need for more funding to ramp up testing for the coronavirus. Harris spoke to the Health Committee in the Alabama House as the state continues to respond and prepare for the rapidly changing coronavirus outbreak.
WY: Wyoming reports first case of coronavirus
The first Wyoming patient identified with the virus is a woman from Sheridan County with some recent domestic travel history, according to the state Department of Health. Officials have said Wyoming's rural nature and isolation from the big population centers exposed to international travel contribute to the low risk.
DE: University of Delaware suspends classes after identifying state’s first case there
Delaware state health officials believe the patient came in contact with fewer than 50 people because he self-quarantined quickly. "We've been expecting this for weeks," Gov. John Carney said at a press conference. "We're not panicking and neither should you."
GA: Georgia leaders OK budget deal with $100 million in coronavirus funds
The Georgia House and Senate reached a deal on a midyear budget that restores funding for everything from county public health grants to food inspectors and adds $100 million that Republican Gov. Brian Kemp requested to fight the coronavirus.
LA: Louisiana ACLU calls for release of some state prisoners as coronavirus cases increase
The Louisiana branch of the American Civil Liberties Union is calling on corrections officials and law enforcement leaders to reduce the state's jail and prison populations as the number of coronavirus cases continues to climb.
MS: Mississippi reports first case of coronavirus
The Mississippi Health Department reported the state's first case of coronavirus, a Forrest County man who has recently traveled to Florida. Final verification will come from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state officials said in a news release.
ME: Maine sets up coronavirus hotline, gets back more negative tests
Maine has still not confirmed through testing any cases of the coronavirus in the state, but it’s continuing to test more people and is setting up a hotline to answer Mainers’ questions about the infection, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
NH: New Hampshire House grapples with coronavirus concerns
Concerns over the new coronavirus are playing out in the New Hampshire House, where at least one member is in self-quarantine and the chamber is being repeatedly sanitized. Three of the 400 House members missed the start of session because they had been told to self-quarantine.
RI: Governor urges Rhode Islanders to avoid events with 250 or more people
Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo called on all Rhode Islanders to not attend or organize events of 250 people or more for the next two weeks because of the coronavirus outbreak. She said this was a recommendation and not an order.
NY: New York to contract with private labs for coronavirus tests
As novel coronavirus cases surpassed 200 in New York, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he will contract with private laboratories to help increase the state's current limited testing capacity. Cuomo said the state has talked with 28 labs that specialize in virology and have agreed to begin testing as soon as they get the go-ahead from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
MD: Maryland election officials consider mail-in only election to prevent coronavirus spread
Maryland officials are in talks on how to hold a mail-in only election for the April 28 primary, should it become necessary in response to multiple confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the state. Maryland already allows voters to cast absentee ballots without any stated reason but voting by mail has never been mandatory.
VA: University of Virginia cancels in-person classes
The University of Virginia will be moving classes online starting next Thursday, possibly through the end of the semester as cases of COVID-19 continue to spread through Virginia. The university said it will reassess after April 5 on whether to resume classes as normal.
WV: West Virginia University suspends in-person classes
West Virginia University is suspending in-person classes across all campuses after the upcoming spring break over concerns about the continued spread of the coronavirus. In-person classes will be canceled through March 30, at which time WVU will begin to “offer online class instruction or other alternative learning options.”
MN: University of Minnesota cancels in-person classes
In an unprecedented move, the University of Minnesota announced it's canceling all in-person classes across all five of its campuses, moving to online classes starting Monday.
VT: University of Vermont cancels classes on campus
Students will stop attending University of Vermont classes in person on Friday as the school shifts to remote learning. University President Suresh V. Garimella described the move as “exercising an abundance of caution,” but said it was needed to protect the health and safety of the community.
WI: Wisconsin's election clerks prepare COVID-19 contingency plans
Election officials in Wisconsin are making contingency plans for what they'll do if polling places are closed. The virus has complicated the jobs of local clerks ahead of Wisconsin's April 7 presidential primary.
IA: All 3 Iowa universities suspend face-to-face instruction after spring break
University of Iowa, Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa officials announced that the schools will suspend face-to-face instruction for two weeks following spring break. All three universities are moving classes to online instruction.
Other State News
NJ: New Jersey 'dark money' law dies: Donors to remain secret from the public
New Jersey voters likely will not be able to see which secret special interests poured thousands into state and local elections anytime soon. A federal judge made permanent a ban on a "dark money" law in a court filing, bringing to an end two out of three lawsuits that challenged the law as unconstitutional.
ID: Idaho House panel kills hemp bill
Idaho will remain one of only two states preventing farmers from growing hemp, which was legalized by the 2018 federal farm bill. The House State Affairs Committee voted 8-7 to kill a bill that would outline rules for hemp transportation in the state and begin the process to allow farmers to grow the crop.
GA: Georgia proposal would remove legal obstacles for sexual harassment victims
A bill pending in the Georgia legislature would overhaul the legal rights of sexual harassment victims, removing obstacles that leave workers vulnerable to having their careers destroyed when a co-worker won’t take no for an answer. The state currently has no law that specifically prohibits on-the-job sexual harassment, so most victims must take their legal claims to federal courts.
CA: Low-income families to get free internet for five years under California suit deal
T-Mobile promised to provide free internet for low-income customers and reduced-cost plans for five years under a settlement the company reached with California that ends a lawsuit the state filed to block the company’s merger with Sprint. Up to 10 million low-income households in the U.S. with children in school will be eligible for free broadband internet through the agreement, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced.
CT: Suit filed over Sandy Hook-inspired Connecticut law limiting gun rounds
Gun rights supporters are suing Connecticut officials over part of a 2013 state gun control law passed after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, saying it unconstitutionally bans people from loading more than 10 rounds of ammunition into their firearms.
IN: Indiana approves toxic polluting facility at least a dozen other states would have denied
Indiana environmental regulators have approved a toxic polluting facility in southern Indiana that at least a dozen other states would have either denied or required additional controls. It's a decision that, for some, raises questions about whether Indiana is putting industry concerns ahead of the state's obligation to protect Hoosiers from exposure to emissions that are known to cause cancers and other serious health effects.
WI: Conservatives ask Wisconsin Supreme Court to put voter purge case on a fast track
A group of voters asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to move thousands of people off the voter rolls as the race for a seat on the high court heats up. The conservatives who brought the lawsuit asked the court to put the case on the fast track but said they recognized the court could not rule before the April 7 election.
AZ: Arizona lawmaker proposed stricter population rules for legislative districts
The proposal would require that each Arizona district have no more than 5,000 more residents when compared with any other district. Though the measure’s Republican backers argue it is simply a matter of fairness, critics contend it would undercut the diversity of the legislature and the representation of indigenous people.
MD: Some Maryland families cash in on education savings loophole
Maryland families are cashing in on a loophole that has provided them thousands of dollars in state funds to pay for college or private school tuition. One family collected almost $100,000 in taxpayer money by opening multiple education savings accounts for each of their children to receive a state contribution of as much as $500 for each new account.
UT: Utah bill would require plans for helping homeless during emergencies
Under a bill that received final passage in the Utah House, local governments would be required to create plans for addressing the impact of emergencies on people experiencing homelessness. The bill doesn’t contain any funding for implementing those plans and doesn’t outline specific situations local leaders need to address.
OK: In reversal, Oklahoma Senate passes bill increasing penalty for drugs around schools
The bill would turn the possession or sale of meth, heroin or cocaine within 1,000 feet of an Oklahoma school — equivalent to over the length of three football fields — from a misdemeanor into a felony. It would reverse sections of State Question 780, which reduced the penalty for violating the drug-free school zone rule from a felony to a misdemeanor after voters approved the state question in 2016.
OH: Ohio state, local governments will pursue joint damages settlement over opioids
Cities and counties representing more than 85% of Ohio residents have agreed to join the state in seeking a unified damages settlement with the drug industry over the deadly costs of opioid addiction.