What We're Reading: Top State Stories 2/25
GA: Sunday voting restored in Georgia House bill that would tighten election rules
A key Georgia House committee backed off a ban on Sunday voting, but approved a vast elections overhaul bill that would restrict ballot drop boxes, require ID for absentee voting and shorten the time before runoffs.
KS: Kansas Department of Labor paid nearly $300M in fraudulent claims last year
While Kansans who lost their jobs last year scrambled to file unemployment claims to an overwhelmed state agency, the Kansas Department of Labor paid out at least $290 million and possibly as much as $600 million in fraudulent benefits to people seeking to rip off the system during the pandemic.
MA: Reopening Massachusetts schools will help, but won’t end, child mental health crisis
Child health care experts say that a return to full-time in-person learning in Massachusetts, which Republican Gov. Charlie Baker moved to require this week, will help alleviate some of the pressures placed on children’s mental health over the past year but will not be a silver bullet.
AR: Arkansas lawmakers send 'stand your ground' bill to governor
The Arkansas House voted along mostly partisan lines to send a controversial "stand-your-ground" bill to Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson. He has not said whether he will sign the legislation, which would remove the duty to retreat while in public places from Arkansas' self-defense laws.
NJ: New Jersey residents drink and smoke more during the pandemic, generating tax revenue
New Jersey anticipates it will collect $42.1 million more in tobacco tax revenue and $25.9 million more in alcohol taxes than it had predicted, according to an outline of Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy’s budget. That’s $68 million in unanticipated revenue.
CO: Colorado sees unprecedented drop in flu cases during pandemic
Colorado is more than halfway through the annual flu season, and thanks to the aggressive public health measures taken to combat COVID-19, along with an uptick in vaccinations, the state has seen a staggering drop in serious influenza cases and deaths.
IA: Iowa lawmakers look at expanding grounds for disciplining school officials
Prompted by a fight with Des Moines Public Schools officials over in-person learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, Iowa Senate Republicans are advancing a bill that would expand the reasons for disciplining superintendents and school board members.
PA: Counties will again be unable to process mail ballots early during Pennsylvania’s primary election
Local officials in Pennsylvania are facing another election without extra time to process mail ballots, likely leading to delayed results and putting increased pressure on counties reeling from the most expensive contest ever.
NH: Proposed GOP bills focus on free speech in New Hampshire schools
Republican lawmakers in the New Hampshire State House are considering several bills aimed at protecting students’ free speech and curtailing what their sponsors see as liberal political bias in schools.
ND: North Dakota House passes recreational marijuana bill
The Republican-controlled House has passed legislation to legalize recreational marijuana in North Dakota. Lawmakers also passed a related bill setting up a tax policy for marijuana. Both bills now go to the Senate.
ME: Maine primary care doctors feel excluded by ‘unrealistic,’ 1,000 shots a week, requirement
Family physicians and primary care doctors say Maine health officials are needlessly excluding many smaller practices from the state’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign by requiring them to administer 1,000 doses a week, which they say is an unrealistic number.
VA: Virginia governor pushes for more state minority contracting
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, is making a late push through legislation and the budget to make the state live up to higher goals for awarding public contracts to companies owned by women and racial or ethnic minorities.
NC: North Carolina governor eases COVID-19 restrictions on capacity, bar hours
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, announced a modified stay-at-home order that includes lifting a curfew, allowing bars to reopen indoors with 30% capacity, increasing indoor gathering sizes and authorizing more sports fans at games.
SC: Plan to prioritize South Carolina teacher vaccinations stalls
A legislative effort to prioritize South Carolina teachers for COVID-19 vaccinations has stalled in the state House and may be dead after failing to advance out of committee. State health care officials argue it could hinder vaccination of older adults.
WI: Wisconsin teachers will be eligible for COVID-19 vaccines starting Monday
Wisconsin health officials say they are ready to move forward with the second half of Phase 1B next week—and educators will be first in line. Nearly half of Wisconsinites ages 65 and up have received their first dose of vaccine.
UT: Utah bill would make online impersonation illegal
The Utah proposal would make it a crime for a person to use someone else’s name to create a webpage on a social networking site or another website and to post or send a message with the intent to “harm, defraud, intimidate or threaten any individual.”
AK: Alaska governor tests positive for COVID-19
Alaska GOP Gov. Mike Dunleavy has tested positive for COVID-19 and is suffering from mild symptoms, his office said. On Saturday, Dunleavy, 59, was exposed to a person who later tested positive for the virus, according to a statement from the governor’s office.
WY: Wyoming expands vaccine access to residents with risky health conditions
Wyoming residents who are 65 years of age and older, those with certain medical conditions, and their caregivers who may be otherwise ineligible for vaccination, can now pre-register to receive a vaccine. The expansion includes people who have specific diagnosed illnesses or conditions that put them at greater risk of more serious COVID-19 disease.
MN: Minnesota wants K-12 students, families tested every two weeks
Minnesota health officials recommended that schoolchildren and their families get tested for COVID-19 every two weeks as more students return to classrooms. The recommendation applies to families whose children leave home for learning, youth sports or extracurricular activities, and officials are asking for testing to continue until the end of the school year.
WA: Washington state bill would mandate that police officers who witness excessive force must intervene
A Washington bill to curb excessive force by law-enforcement officers got the approval of the state Senate, becoming the first piece of police accountability legislation to pass out of a chamber this year. Supported by Democratic legislators and community advocates, the measure would require officers to intervene and try to stop excessive force by their peers.
OR: Oregon leads nation in armed militia interest
In the run-up to the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, Oregon led all states in per-capita internet searches for “armed groups” and conspiracy theories. The state has been a longtime home to right-wing militia activity, spurred years ago by the reduction in federal timber payments as well as increasingly limited government services in some rural areas.
ID: Hundreds of Idaho wolves could be killed under legislation proposed this week
Idaho lawmakers introduced a bill that aims to cut Idaho’s wolf population by two-thirds and remove most hunting regulations for the animals in much of the state. The reclassification would also allow hunters to shoot wolves from motorized vehicles, including ATVs, helicopters and snow machines.
HI: Hawaii push to legalize magic mushrooms dies
State lawmakers shelved a bill that would decriminalize psychedelic mushrooms in Hawaii and require state health officials to develop treatment centers where people can consume the mushrooms’ active ingredients in a controlled environment.