What We're Reading: Top State Stories 3/3
TX: Against public health advice, Texas governor ends statewide mask mandate
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said it's time to "open Texas 100%" and end the statewide mask order, citing declining hospitalizations across the state as more people are vaccinated against the coronavirus. Public health experts and federal health officials said the move comes too early and that the coronavirus still poses a grave danger, with not enough people vaccinated to significantly slow the disease's spread.
U.S.: Biden plan to distribute virus aid irks some governors
The Biden administration’s plan to funnel more coronavirus aid into states with greater unemployment has irked governors whose states have lower jobless rates, even though many have economies that weren’t hit as hard by the pandemic.
NY: New York Democrats forge deal to strip governor’s emergency powers
An agreement among New York Democrats will prohibit Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo from unilaterally issuing new executive orders related to the pandemic without legislative review. He will retain the ability to tweak or renew existing orders relating to slowing the spread of COVID-19, including the state's mask mandate or business restrictions.
NJ: New Jersey schools must teach about diversity, inclusion under new law
New Jersey schools must begin age-appropriate lessons about diversity and inclusion as early as kindergarten under a new law signed by Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy. The law, which several Republican lawmakers vocally opposed, takes effect next school year.
TN: Dolly Parton 'gets a dose of her own medicine' with COVID-19 shot
Exhale, Tennesseans: Dolly Parton received a dose of COVID-19 vaccination. The country music legend—who helped fund the Moderna vaccine with a $1 million donation to Vanderbilt researchers—received her shot in Nashville, per an Instagram post.
MS: Mississippi governor lifts mask mandate
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, announced that he is lifting all mask restrictions in the state except for in K-12 schools and indoor arenas. Reeves said he is instead signing an executive order that will recommend, but not require, that people wear masks and follow the health department’s guidelines.
MO: Outside audit finds Missouri’s ‘vaccination gap’ is worse in urban centers
A consulting firm hired by Missouri has repeatedly found the state’s urban centers have the largest “vaccination gap”—the estimated number of eligible residents who still haven’t received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
SC: South Carolina officials urge full school openings, now that teachers are eligible for vaccines
Speaking alongside the governor and state health director following their announcement that South Carolina would expand vaccine eligibility to 2.7 million more residents, including teachers and school staff, Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman, a Republican, called for opening schools five days a week.
MA: Lawmakers, teachers unions urge Massachusetts to vaccinate educators
Pressure mounted on Massachusetts Republican Gov. Charlie Baker to join the majority of states in immediately vaccinating teachers, as President Joe Biden, state lawmakers and teachers unions intensified calls to move educators to the front of the line.
AL: Alabama Senate passes bill banning transgender treatments for minors
The Alabama Senate passed a bill that would ban puberty-blocking hormone medications and surgeries as transgender treatments for people under age 19.
KS: Kansas House gives first approval to college athlete bill
Kansas House members advanced a bill that would allow college athletes to profit from their name, image or likeness.
DC: District of Columbia expands paid bereavement leave for public workers
The District of Columbia Council decided it will expand bereavement leave for public employees who lose a child from three days to two weeks, but it will not broaden the more generous leave to include the loss of other family members, as some city lawmakers had advocated.
IN: Indiana extends COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to people 55 years and older
As additional doses of vaccine become available, Indiana is opening up eligibility for shots at a faster pace. State health officials announced that people ages 55-59 can now make vaccination appointments at the nearly 400 clinics across the state.
MN: Minnesota governor wants to build up threat response team
In his 2022 budget proposal, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, said a little-known investigative unit called the Minnesota Fusion Center, a subset of the state's public safety force, will be key to Minnesota's strategy for thwarting the threat of domestic terrorism. The proposal asks for taxpayer money to fund expanding law enforcement—particularly surveillance—an unpopular idea among a vocal subset of Minnesotans.
WI: Wisconsin GOP lawmakers propose banning transgender athletes from women’s sports
Republican lawmakers are proposing legislation that would ban transgender athletes in Wisconsin from participating in women's sports at every grade level and in college. The move—part of at least a dozen proposals across the country—drew a heavy rebuke from the state's transgender community and its advocates.
AZ: US Supreme Court seems ready to sustain Arizona voting limits
The U.S. Supreme Court appeared likely to uphold two election restrictions in Arizona and to make it harder to challenge all sorts of limits on voting around the nation. The immediate question for the justices was whether two Arizona measures ran afoul of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
WA: Washington state teachers, child care workers can now get vaccines
Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, said teachers and licensed child care workers could seek doses of COVID-19 vaccines immediately, following new directions from the federal government.
HI: Next up for vaccinations in Hawaii are people 70 and older
Hawaii health officials are preparing to open up COVID-19 vaccinations to those 70 and older around March 15 and start immunizing the 65-plus age group a couple of weeks later. The Department of Health said it is still working through the most vulnerable population, 75 and older.
AR: Arkansas makes food plant workers eligible for vaccines
Workers at Arkansas' poultry plants and other food manufacturing facilities are now eligible for coronavirus vaccines, GOP Gov. Asa Hutchinson said. The move opens up access to the vaccines for another 49,000 people.
OK: Oklahoma House passes bill to display 'In God We Trust' in state buildings
The Oklahoma House passed a Republican-sponsored bill that would add the phrase in 342 state buildings at an estimated cost of $85,000. The legislation incited fierce debate from Democrats, who argued the bill violates the separation of church and state and could alienate some Oklahomans.