What We're Reading: Top State Stories 6/10
MA: Massachusetts lawmakers advance bill that would put millionaire tax on the ballot
Massachusetts lawmakers overwhelmingly voted to advance a sweeping change to the state tax code to the 2022 ballot, kickstarting what’s expected to be a bruising political debate over whether the wealthiest residents should pay more in taxes. The vote was 159-41 to set a ballot measure that would impose a 4% surtax on annual personal income above $1 million.
NY: New York bill could make it easier to sue gunmakers
New York lawmakers passed legislation that would allow civil lawsuits to be brought against firearm manufacturers and dealers, an attempt to circumvent the broad immunity gun companies currently enjoy under federal law. The bill, passed by the Democratic-controlled legislature, is the first of its kind in the nation, and is intended to expose the gun industry to civil liability suits.
PA: Pennsylvania didn’t secure personal information from contact tracing
Personal information collected during coronavirus contact tracing calls in Pennsylvania is still available online in a document accessible to anyone with a link, Spotlight PA has learned, more than a month after the company responsible said the data had been secured.
TX: Texas governor signs bills to make power companies better prepare for extreme weather
Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law two bills meant to improve the state’s main power grid and change the governance of the agency that operates it. Calls for sweeping changes to Texas’ power infrastructure have amplified since February, when a catastrophic winter storm left more than 4.8 million homes and businesses without power for days.
TN: Closed cold case murder is tied to ousted Tennessee governor
Former Tennessee Democratic Gov. Ray Blanton’s administration helped fund a contract murder of a key federal witness decades ago while embroiled in the state’s largest political scandal, law enforcement officials announced. Samuel Pettyjohn, a Chattanooga businessman and close friend of union boss Jimmy Hoffa, was fatally shot in 1979 after testifying during the early phases of Tennessee’s notorious “cash-for-clemency” scandal.
VA: Regardless of outcome, Virginia lieutenant governor’s race will make history
No matter which party prevails in Virginia’s elections in November, the result of the lieutenant governor’s race will be the same in one way: A woman of color will hold a statewide office in the commonwealth for the first time in history.
SC: Lifetime placement on sex offender list unconstitutional, South Carolina Supreme Court rules
South Carolina’s high court has unanimously ruled the state’s lifetime sex offender registration requirement unconstitutional, and people who demonstrate a low risk of reoffending should be able to petition a judge to have their names purged.
OK: Oklahoma will review disability aid list in hopes of eliminating 13-year wait
The Department of Human Services recently contracted with Liberty of Oklahoma Corp. to conduct an extensive review of the state's waiting list. By January, agency officials plan to present to Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt and state lawmakers a concrete cost estimate to eliminate the list entirely. In recent years, state lawmakers have appropriated about $2 million annually to reduce the list, but the agency still falls short of being able to help everyone awaiting services.
WI: Wisconsin Senate approves new absentee voting limits, policing bills
The Wisconsin Senate approved several bills that would put new restrictions on absentee voting, as well as proposals that would change policing in the state, including setting a statewide standard for use of force. The election bills are part of a Republican package of proposals that largely respond to GOP criticism of the 2020 presidential election.
MN: Minnesota lawmakers agree on $100M boost for colleges
Minnesota lawmakers have reached a higher education funding deal that would increase support to public colleges and universities by nearly $100 million to a total $3.5 billion over the next two years, establish an automatic college acceptance program for state high school seniors and create new grants for students who were raised in foster care.
IA: Iowa governor signs bill banning some educational concepts on history of racism
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, signed a new law that she said will target the teaching of critical race theory and other concepts in government diversity trainings and classroom curriculum. Critical race theory examines systemic racism.
MT: Montana sees record visitation at state parks
A record-breaking amount of people went to Montana’s state parks during the first part of this year. There were 393,175 visitors from January through March of this year. That’s a 20.2% increase over 2020 and a whopping 78% increase from 2019.
AL: Alabama’s nitrogen gas death chamber is almost complete
In 2018, Alabama became the third state to authorize use of nitrogen gas as an execution method for incarcerated people. The state told a federal judge the nitrogen gas system is nearly complete.
ID: Idaho’s surplus exceeds expectations
Idaho’s surplus is larger than state officials were expecting, GOP Gov. Brad Little announced. State officials now expect the surplus to total about $800 million by the end of the fiscal year June 30. Income tax filings that were due in May came in stronger than officials expected. Little said he plans to put some of those extra dollars into education funding.
WA: Washington prisons chief was forced out of his job by governor
When Washington Department of Corrections Secretary Stephen Sinclair announced his retirement earlier this year, the decision was framed as a voluntary winding down of a distinguished career. But Sinclair was asked to step down by Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, public records show, though there was no explanation in those records as to why Inslee decided to make a change.
OR, ID: Rural Oregonians who want to move border with Idaho say they 'no longer recognize' their state
In May, five rural Oregon counties voted to study moving the border so they would become part of neighboring Idaho. They say the more liberal Democratic majorities in the state government have turned Oregon into a state that they “no longer recognize” or feel comfortable in.
MI: Michigan governor creates juvenile justice task force
Michigan must no longer fail its most vulnerable residents, said Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, announcing the creation of a task force that will endeavor to improve how the state punishes and rehabilitates young offenders. The Task Force on Juvenile Justice Reform aims to understand not only how Michigan treats juveniles who break the law, but how to reduce the number of young adults already in the criminal justice system.
AK: Alaska considers gambling and other options to close future budget gap
Alaska State Revenue Commissioner Lucinda Mahoney told the House Finance Committee that revenue options would include GOP Gov. Mike Dunleavy's proposal to expand gambling in the state. She said the administration is seeking more detailed analysis of how much money it would raise.
UT: Utah governor issues drought order, bans fireworks on state land
Republican Gov. Spencer Cox issued an executive order that says state entities in northern Utah shall only water their lawns two times per week. In southern Utah, the watering regime is three times per week. The order asks cities to follow the same watering guidelines.
LA: Louisiana state workers can use urgent care clinics with no out-of-pocket cost
The Louisiana legislature agreed to pay $36 million to an insurance agency to continue insurance plans for state workers to access urgent care clinics without paying out-of-pocket expenses for at least another year. This ends a dispute between the lawmakers and the agency after the state learned it was overpaying for services.
CT: Connecticut budget gets approved 31-4 with key Republican support
With no major new tax increases, Connecticut’s two-year, $46 billion budget was hailed by both Democrats and Republicans as the state Senate overwhelmingly approved the spending plan on the final day of the 2021 regular legislative session.
AZ: Use of hotels to house migrants in Arizona under scrutiny over costs, oversight
The use of hotels in Phoenix, Arizona, to house migrant families at taxpayer expense is under increased scrutiny as details about the contract and how the facilities are run remain limited. Migrant advocates, elected leaders and watchdog groups have expressed concerns about the high costs of temporarily housing migrant families in the hotels and the oversight of the privately-run facilities, as well as questions about how the contract was awarded.