What We're Reading: Top State Stories 3/15
NY: New York’s vaccine czar called county officials to gauge their loyalty to governor
One Democratic county executive was so unsettled by the outreach from Larry Schwartz, the head of New York state’s vaccine rollout, that the executive filed notice of an impending ethics complaint with the public integrity unit of the state attorney general’s office. Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been buffeted by sexual harassment claims, prompting calls for his resignation.
MD: Maryland legislature moves to make it easier to vote
Maryland’s Democrat-led General Assembly is moving to make it easier to vote by mail and to vote early, partially driven by the pandemic election that saw record turnout in the state by those means. Lawmakers are also examining early voting centers, including how many there should be and where they should be located.
UT: Advocates urge Utah’s governor to veto tax cut to preserve COVID-19 relief funds
Utah advocates are warning that new state tax cuts could put at risk millions of dollars in federal coronavirus aid, as the federal aid plan says states should not use the funding to pay for tax cuts. But a spokesperson for the Utah Senate says she doesn’t think the federal bill’s prohibitions would apply to the state’s new tax cuts.
NJ: New Jersey governor’s administration blocked some public health data during pandemic
While Democratic New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has pledged to be transparent throughout the coronavirus pandemic, his administration has denied or slowly responded to requests for records related to spending, communications and decision-making.
AR: Small Arkansas pharmacies take lead role in vaccinations
Almost overnight, pharmacies around Arkansas have added staffing, online registration systems, phone lines and other infrastructure to deal with a crush of people desperately seeking vaccines. In some cases, they've had to buy their own supplies, such as gloves, syringes and sterilization materials.
OH: If Ohio workers don't return to city offices, what will happen to the municipal income tax?
Thousands of Ohioans spent the past year working from their kitchen table while paying income taxes to the city where their empty office building stands.
TN: Tennessee governor draws scrutiny after maskless Nashville visit
Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee faces criticism after posting a series of tweets that show him visiting Lower Broadway in Nashville without a mask.
ME: Distance requirements limit openings for Maine schools
Maine schools received good news this month when the state announced it would be prioritizing educators for coronavirus vaccines. But as the effort gets underway, the state’s physical distancing requirements, which ask schools to maintain 6 feet of distance, are hampering efforts to reopen.
VT: Indoor sports, elementary buildings source of most Vermont COVID-19 cases in schools
Over six months of pandemic schooling, just 130 people are known to have caught COVID-19 while at school or at a school-sponsored event in Vermont. The data suggests that outbreaks have occurred most frequently in elementary schools, despite research indicating that young children are far less likely to catch the disease than teens and adults. Indoor sports have also emerged as a source of spread in the winter.
NC: North Carolina aims to protect students accused of sexual assault; critics are wary
Some North Carolina state senators have introduced a bill that would expand the rights of college students accused of sexual misconduct in all 16 UNC system universities. The new bill would set a higher burden of proof for universities to find students responsible for sexual assault. But critics say the proposed changes would be unfair to those who say they have been assaulted.
MA: Massachusetts teachers union leaders back emergency legislation delaying reopening
The leaders of three Massachusetts teachers unions are backing emergency legislation filed by state lawmakers that would require the education commissioner to give districts more time to prepare for the full-time return of elementary school students to classrooms.
CO: Colorado nursing home industry faces financial distress
State health officials are worried about the future of a handful of Colorado nursing homes with “severe financial concerns” after a bruising pandemic year that resulted in many empty beds. Two major nursing home operators, meanwhile, are making plans to back out of Colorado or at least decrease operations.
NV: Nevada officials say implementing federal unemployment benefit extension could take time
Nevada officials warn that there could be more of the payment delays like those that have plagued the implementation of the late 2020 stimulus bill and left many Nevadans without weekly payments since December.
WA: Washington state governor tells school districts to reopen classrooms
All of Washington’s public school districts will have to offer students a chance to learn in-person at least part-time by mid-April, Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, announced. The governor’s emergency proclamation will come early next week, less than two weeks after he invited teachers and other school employees to get in line for a COVID-19 vaccine.
OR: Oregon governor won't move up vaccine eligibility just yet
Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, said it was too soon to tell all Oregonian adults that they’ll be eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations starting May 1, and that she won’t accelerate the current timeline for starting vaccinations despite President Joe Biden’s direction a day earlier that all states should do so. Brown is sticking to her plan to begin vaccinations of the general population of Oregonians 16 and older by July 1.
MS: Mississippi's top doctor: Avoid spring break and proms, wait until summer for gatherings
Prom dances would be a bad idea this spring because of COVID-19, as are social gatherings and travel for spring break, Mississippi’s top health officers warned. Mississippians should instead hold off until summer to plan social gatherings, said State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs and State Epidemiologist Paul Byers.
TX: Texas milestone: Vaccinations outnumber cases
About 9.8% of Texans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, which exceeds the percent of people who have tested positive for the virus. Texans age 50 and older can get vaccinated starting this week.
IA: Iowans have received 1M shots, despite issues with making appointments
More than 1 million doses of coronavirus vaccine have been administered in Iowa, the state announced, even as residents who qualify struggled to make appointments for a shot.
AK: Alaska is seeing a pandemic housing boom
In 2020, a year of widespread financial hardship, Alaska’s housing market was surprisingly strong. As interest rates fell, and many Alaskans began working remotely, the demand for homes—and their prices—soared.
WY: Wyoming school funding system, among the nation’s fairest, may fail
Mineral wealth has kept Wyoming schools flush for decades, but unless legislators in this red state vote to raise state taxes, schools and small towns there could be in trouble.