What We're Reading: Top State Stories 5/6
VT: Governor signs law making Vermont 14th state to ban LGBTQ ‘panic’ defense
Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, signed into law a ban on using the LGBTQ “panic” defense in court cases. The new law prevents a defendant at trial or sentencing from justifying violent actions by citing a victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Such defenses have succeeded in excusing assaults on—and even the murder of—LGBTQ people across the country.
OH: Ohio broadband expansion bill clears legislature, heads to governor
Legislation that would provide millions in state grants to expand high-speed broadband internet service around Ohio is on its way to Republican Gov. Mike DeWine after passing a final House vote.
CO: Annual mental health wellness exams would be covered under Colorado bill
A Colorado bill that would require insurers to cover annual mental health wellness exams is back this year, and sponsors say it has a good chance of becoming law because they have an agreement with the governor. The mandate would first apply in 2022 to the large-group market, which covers about 650,000 Coloradans.
SC: South Carolina House approves bill that would restore firing squads, death by electrocution
People on death row in South Carolina would be forced to die by electrocution or firing squad unless lethal injection drugs become available again under legislation approved in the state House of Representatives.
OK: Bill that would ban honking at bicyclists, animal-drawn vehicles goes to Oklahoma governor
The Oklahoma bill would make it a misdemeanor to honk at an animal-drawn vehicle—or a bicycle—and also would clarify bicycle traffic law. Bicycles, for instance, would be able to coast through stop signs legally if an intersection is clear.
AZ: Arizona lawmakers approve measure that would govern ‘controversial issues’ in class rooms
The Arizona House of Representatives voted on an amendment that would punish teachers who don’t present both sides of controversial science or events. Some lawmakers say the amendment could force teachers to seek out and present contrary views on everything from climate change and slavery to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Holocaust—and even whether President Joe Biden really won the election. Teachers who violate the law would be subject to a $5,000 fine.
NM: New Mexico will end taxes on medical pot, increase grow limits
Top health and licensing regulators announced in a letter to authorized cannabis businesses that on June 29, New Mexico will stop charging sales taxes on medical marijuana and begin revising current limits on pot cultivation, the state’s first steps towards legalization of recreational marijuana.
NC: North Carolina officials change their guidance on school face mask rules
North Carolina health officials are no longer requiring face masks to be worn outdoors at schools but are strongly recommending them when social distancing can’t be maintained.
NH: New Hampshire Senate panel seeks governor’s input on emergency powers
A New Hampshire Senate committee wants to hear from Gov. Chris Sununu’s office as it considers whether to dramatically check the powers of a governor dealing with a future emergency. Sununu, a Republican, will need GOP allies in the Senate to avoid having to veto a House-passed bill that would require a vote from both houses of the legislature to extend any governor-declared emergency beyond 30 days.
TX: Bill that would let people carry handguns without license passes Texas Senate
A proposal that would let people carry handguns in public without a license or training cleared a major hurdle, winning passage in the Senate and putting Texas on a path to become the latest state to lift firearm permitting requirements. Now it heads back to the House, where members can accept the Senate changes or request to negotiate a final version.
AK: Alaska state corporation is still pushing a massive gas line plan
An Alaska state corporation is in the middle of making another big push to try to get an 800-mile-long natural gas pipeline built from the North Slope to the Kenai Peninsula. Supporters say it’ll be good for the state’s economy and for energy costs, but critics argue it’s too expensive.
WI: With budget vote, Wisconsin Republicans will create a $3.4B gap
Wisconsin Republicans will create an initial $3.4 billion gap in the state budget when they vote to reject tax increases and forgo additional federal aid. Much of the financial hit comes from the Republicans' decision not to make more people eligible for the BadgerCare Plus insurance program, under which the federal government would pay for more of the state's health care costs.
MN: Legislators push for Minnesota office of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives
Minnesota's Native female legislators are spearheading the creation of a new state office to bring the largely hidden epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls to the forefront. They're behind legislation that would establish an office that would pull in data from state and federal sources on missing person cases and unsolved murders of Native American women and men.
KS: Kansas Senate OKs business relief for COVID losses
The Kansas Senate has passed two bills that would compensate businesses for lost income from the COVID-19 pandemic, despite concerns from counties that it could become a local budget buster. Both of the bills seek to use property tax refunds to compensate businesses for income they could potentially have made during periods when they had to comply with shutdown orders or other restrictions designed to slow the spread of COVID-19.
DC: In nod to statehood bid, DC mayor is admitted to Democratic Governors Association
Announcing the move on CNN, New Mexico Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who chairs the association, cited Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser’s role in advocating for District residents and combating the coronavirus pandemic in the city.
LA: Louisiana Senate passes bill that would ban discrimination based on hairstyles
In a unanimous vote, the Louisiana Senate passed a proposal that would ban employers from discrimination on the basis of hair textures and styles such as braids, twists and natural hair. The measure now moves to the House.
MA: Study finds hunger persists in Massachusetts
More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, 1.6 million adults in Massachusetts are still struggling to get enough to eat. A new survey conducted by the Greater Boston Food Bank has found that many of the households experiencing hunger at the outset of the pandemic are still food insecure, and many more are not accessing available programs that could help.
MO: Business owners could get a tax break under proposal approved by Missouri House
Businesses that were shut down by local health orders could get some financial relief under a proposal approved in the Missouri House. The legislation would help support business owners who lost income during pandemic-related shutdowns.
IA: Iowa governor returns millions of federal dollars for COVID testing for schools
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, said that Iowa schools haven't asked for the state's help to cover COVID-19 testing, and that there are other funds and testing options available for those who want to be tested.
OR: Efforts to address missing, killed Indigenous women falter in Oregon despite new law
An Oregon bill from 2019 directed Oregon State Police to study how to combat the unsolved killings and disappearances of Native Americans. Though the state police released their report in September, the agency says it’s waiting on lawmakers to take additional action.