What We're Reading: Top State Stories 9/25
NY: New York will review virus vaccines, citing politicization of process
Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo said New York would review coronavirus vaccines approved by the federal government, a day after President Donald Trump raised doubts about tougher guidelines from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. New York officials do not play a role in the approval of a vaccine but could delay distribution if they thought the vaccine was not safe.
CO: Colorado adopts first-in-the-nation rules to reduce fracking air pollution
Oil and gas companies will have to control and monitor emissions from fracking and meet tighter emission-performance standards on the electric motors used at drill sites, under some first-in-the-nation rules passed by Colorado air quality regulators.
NJ: New Jersey legislature passes nation's toughest ban on plastic and paper bags
The state Assembly and Senate passed a bill that will enact several restrictions on everyday products in an effort to curb plastic pollution that has inundated New Jersey's beaches, riverfronts and water supplies.
MI: Michigan clerks get more time to process ballots
Michigan clerks in the state's largest cities will have an extra 10 hours this year to begin to open and sort absentee ballots and use shifts of workers to count them on Election Day. Clerks are preparing to process millions of absentee ballots for the November election.
KY: FBI investigation into Breonna Taylor case continues
The FBI opened an investigation into the police shooting of Breonna Taylor in May and continues to look at how the Louisville, Kentucky, police department got a search warrant for her apartment. A county grand jury indicted one of three officers involved in the shooting with endangering neighbors but not for Taylor’s death.
CA: California’s largest-ever fire threatens cannabis farms worth millions. Many won’t evacuate.
It is a critical time of year in the Emerald Triangle, a three-county corner of Northern California that by some estimates is the nation’s largest cannabis-producing region. Some farms have crops worth half a million dollars or more, and many are within days or weeks of harvest, making growers wary of leaving farms vulnerable to either flames or thieves.
TN: Judge won't block Tennessee law with heavy penalties for sharing absentee ballot request forms
A federal judge blocked a request from voting rights advocates to remove a unique Tennessee law related to sharing applications for absentee ballots.
FL: One county in Florida with older voters could hold key to election
Any slippage in support for President Donald Trump in Lee County, Florida, home to Fort Myers and a magnet for retirees from across the United States, could complicate his efforts to again capture the critical swing state. Some former Trump voters are changing their minds.
MO: Judge blocks attempt to streamline mail-in voting in Missouri
In a 35-page decision, Circuit Judge Jon Beetem dismissed claims by the League of Women Voters and the NAACP that the various steps required by Missouri to vote by mail during a pandemic posed unconstitutional health risks.
LA: Louisiana GOP senator warns special session likely will pit 'emotions versus science' over COVID-19
A special legislative session called by Republican leaders likely will pit "emotions versus science" over concerns about Democratic Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards' orders in response to COVID-19, the GOP chair of the state Senate health committee said.
GA: Absentee ballot tracking service launched for Georgia voters
Georgia voters hoping to confirm their absentee ballots are counted can now receive text messages, emails or phone calls to track their ballot’s progress.
PA: U.S. Supreme Court next up in Pennsylvania’s mail-in ballot fight
Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court rejected Republican requests to put on hold its decision to extend the deadline to receive and count mail-in ballots in November’s election. The court, which has a 5-2 Democratic majority, rejected the request without comment, clearing Republicans to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to block the ruling.
MD: Maryland governor says nursing home residents and staff will get vaccine first
Under Maryland’s early plans, staff and residents at nursing homes and assisted living facilities would be prioritized for the first round of vaccinations, as well as senior day care attendees and employees, health care workers, essential workers, public safety officials and educators.
WA: Washington governor announces safety guidelines for air travel
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, announced safety requirements for commercial airport service, as the airline industry continues to struggle amid COVID-19. Airport businesses and vendors must follow requirements for physical distancing, employee screening and personal protective equipment.
ID: 3 arrested for flouting mask order at Idaho church
A church event attended by more than 150 people in the city hall parking lot in Moscow, Idaho, led to three arrests, including a county commission candidate. Moscow Police Chief James Fry said the department has been "very lenient" about the mask order, but given the open defiance of the event, "at some point you have to enforce."
HI: Hawaii has a new COVID-19 response team
For the first time since the onset of the pandemic, leaders helping to supervise Hawaii’s COVID-19 response say there’s finally a consensus on how to move forward in fighting the virus. New leadership, including a new acting state epidemiologist, has been given authority to act on their decisions in a way that gives some officials hope that things will be different.
ME: Drought intensifies in Maine
Parts of Southern Maine are now experiencing extreme drought conditions after months of unusually warm and dry weather, according to the United States Drought Monitor. The drought is now threatening fall crops and causing record-low river levels and scattered reports of dry wells.
VA: Virginia easing guidelines on rent and mortgage relief
Virginia landlords can now apply for assistance on behalf of tenants who owe back rent through a state relief program. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam announced the change to the state’s $50 million rent and mortgage relief program implemented in the wake of COVID-19.
NC: North Carolina lieutenant governor asks for investigation into mail-voting rules change
President Donald Trump’s administration should launch an investigation into a proposed change in North Carolina’s vote-by-mail rules, Lt. Gov. Dan Forest said. Forest, a Republican, wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr asking him to look into potential changes the North Carolina State Board of Elections voted on earlier this week that allow more absentee ballots to be counted.
SC: Witness signature required on South Carolina absentee ballots, court rules
An injunction by a South Carolina federal judge to allow easier absentee voting during the coronavirus pandemic was overturned by a three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. The injunction had prohibited the state election commission from enforcing a requirement that anyone voting absentee must find and have a witness sign the envelope. But that was frozen pending any appeal.
MS: Mississippi uses inmate labor to make repairs at prison
The head of Mississippi’s troubled prison system told lawmakers that the Department of Corrections intends to move some inmates out of a private prison and into a state-owned facility by mid-December. Corrections Commissioner Burl Cain said the department is spending about $1.5 million and using inmate labor to make repairs to the state prison.
MD: Maryland gives go-ahead to resume high school sports next month
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan noted that Maryland parents have been clamoring for a return of high school sports and that “our health metrics could not possibly be any better.” Maryland is one of only seven states to have no fall competition so far this year.
CT: ‘Phase 3’ of Connecticut’s reopening process will begin next month
Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont announced the third phase of Connecticut’s COVID-19 reopening process, which will allow for 75% indoor capacity at restaurants beginning Oct. 8.
IN: U.S. judge blocks Indiana’s limits on voting time extensions
A federal judge blocked a law unique to Indiana that prevents voters from asking courts to extend voting hours beyond the state’s 6 p.m. closing time because of Election Day troubles. The law prohibits anyone other than a county election board, which oversee voting matters, from requesting court orders to extend voting hours.
RI: Program aims to retrain Rhode Island workers in fields ravaged by virus
Rhode Island has started a new skills training program for workers whose jobs will be permanently wiped out by the pandemic recession. The state has committed $45 million from federal CARES Act money and plans to start training 3,000 people, then expand.
ND: North Dakota governor boosts COVID-19 measures for elderly
Saying it’s time to “spring into action” to handle rising COVID-19 cases in long-term care facilities, North Dakota Republican Gov. Doug Burgum is directing health officials to place those residents at the head of the line for testing and to shift medical personnel and supplies to congregate settings.
NE: Nebraska governor stands by decision to discontinue emergency SNAP
Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts doubled down on his decision to leave Nebraska as the only state that has discontinued emergency food assistance benefits that were made available under the federal coronavirus relief package, despite pleas from advocates for the poor.
NM: New Mexico subsidies keep child care afloat
New Mexico’s new child care agency has been regularly tweaking policies in an effort to keep the fragile industry afloat while increasing access. Providers say the work is paying off for them and parents.
AK: Alaska mayor wants anti-discrimination for police – 2 weeks after vetoing LGBTQ measure
Ketchikan’s borough assembly took up a resolution asking the Alaska State Legislature to add police officers to the state’s anti-discrimination law. The mayor requested the resolution two weeks after vetoing a similar resolution seeking protections for LGBTQ residents. The borough assembly overrode that veto.
DE: University of Delaware turns to layoffs because of $250M deficit
The University of Delaware will lay off staff in multiple departments and furlough all staff due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. It's unclear how many staff members will be affected by the layoffs.
TX: Texas governor calls for new crimes, mandatory jail time for certain offenses related to protests
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, and other state leaders have criticized recent attempts to lower police spending in Austin and Dallas. Activists and local officials say using those funds for social services could stem systemic racism.
PA: Pennsylvania’s failure to mandate quicker death reports before COVID-19fueled data fluctuations, mistrust
An investigation found Pennsylvania health officials abandoned their urgency in implementing a faster process, leaving them ill-prepared to accurately report death data when the pandemic arrived.
CO: Colorado county bans college-aged residents from gathering
Boulder County, Colorado, issued a new public health order prohibiting college-aged residents from gathering. More than 30 specific properties — largely Greek houses — were placed under a stay-at-home mandate as cases of COVID-19 surge among University of Colorado students.
OK: Oklahoma health officials prepare COVID-19 vaccination plan
Oklahoma health officials are preparing a three-phased approach to distribute COVID-19 vaccines once a viable candidate is distributed to states. Health care workers, including those who work in hospitals and have direct contact with COVID-19 patients, will be the first to be vaccinated.