What We're Reading: Top State Stories 6/11
OR: Oregon House expels member who helped armed protestors enter state Capitol
The Oregon House voted 59-1 to expel Republican Rep. Mike Nearman, the first time it has ejected a sitting representative. Lawmakers removed Nearman, who was the only “no” vote, because he let far-right demonstrators, some of whom were armed, into the Capitol on Dec. 21 while lawmakers were holding a special session. The Capitol was closed to the public due to the pandemic and remains so.
US: Increase in wages to $15 an hour brings flood of workers to US businesses
Across the country, businesses in food service and manufacturing that are trying to staff up have been reporting a scarcity of workers interested in applying for low-wage positions. But when they raised wages to $15 an hour—higher than any state’s minimum—applications came flooding in, The Washington Post found.
PA: Pennsylvania legislature’s GOP majority ends Democratic governor’s emergency powers
Using the powers voters awarded them last month, the Pennsylvania legislature’s Republican majorities brought a sudden end to Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s pandemic disaster declarations. Resolutions to formally close the 16-month state of emergency passed on mostly party line votes first by a 30-20 margin in the Senate, and later in the House, 121-81.
TX: Texas governor announces plan to build ‘barrier’ along state’s border with Mexico
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott said next week he will announce a plan for Texas to begin building a wall along the border with Mexico, restarting construction that stopped when President Joe Biden took office. The governor offered no further details about the funding, timeline or location, but suggested the barrier could provide a way for officials to arrest migrants who try to get past it.
NH: New Hampshire bill that would establish equal justice for deceased cats heads to governor’s desk
A bill seeking equal justice for run-over cats in New Hampshire is heading to the governor’s desk, minus the name of the animal that inspired it. State law already requires drivers who injure or kill dogs to notify police or the animals’ owners, or else face a $1,000 fine, but Republican Rep. Daryl Abbas, sponsored a bill that would give cats equal footing after the death of his 5-year-old cat, Arrow. The House passed the bill in April, as did the Senate, but the latter objected to dubbing it “Arrow’s Law.”
AR: Walton family sets up $1M fund for LGBT groups in Arkansas
Family members of Walmart founder Sam Walton launched a $1 million fund for groups assisting LGBT people in the retail giant’s home state of Arkansas, which has enacted new restrictions targeting transgender people.
TN: Tennessee governor wants US Senate to hold hearings on unaccompanied minors
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee is asking the U.S. Senate to investigate the arrival of unaccompanied migrant children in his state, a request that comes as the Republican governor continues to slam the Biden administration over a lack of transparency on the issue. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has released thousands of unaccompanied minors to sponsors in Tennessee in recent years, including during former President Donald Trump’s term.
MS: Mississippi employers can require workers to be vaccinated against COVID
Though the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued guidance saying that employers can mandate employee COVID-19 vaccinations, some Mississippi employers, such as the Nissan plant and the University of Mississippi Medical Center, are not requiring workers to be vaccinated.
AK: Canada might loosen border in early July—but no word yet on ending the recreational travel ban to Alaska
Canada’s phased approach to begin loosening its COVID-19 border restrictions doesn’t much help Americans who want to drive to or from Alaska in Phase 1. It seems likely the ban on letting Americans cross for nonessential travel will continue past June 21, when the current rules expire.
NY: New York legislature passes bill that would create dedicated fund for opioid-related settlements
The New York legislature passed a bill this week that would create a dedicated fund for the millions of dollars New York is expected to receive in opioid-related legal settlements. The measure comes weeks after advocates learned an initial payout had been swept into the state’s general fund.
WA: Washington will again require active job search for unemployment benefits
The nearly 300,000 Washingtonians still filing for unemployment benefits will once again be required to look for work to keep those benefits coming. The job-search requirement resumes July 4, the state Employment Security Department announced.
NM: New Mexico offers COVID relief for those who don’t qualify for federal stimulus
New Mexicans who did not qualify for federal stimulus checks, including immigrants in the country without legal permission, could qualify for a new round of COVID-19 relief through the state. The Human Services Department is getting ready to distribute $5 million set aside by the legislature for economic relief.
DE: No-excuse absentee voting amendment fails in Delaware House
Advocates for expanding ballot access were disappointed after a constitutional amendment to allow no-excuse absentee voting failed in the Delaware House. Both parties had agreed on the amendment in 2019 when its first leg passed the House, but after false claims of 2020 election fraud, Republicans changed their minds.
WI: Wisconsin GOP lawmakers spent $8.5M in taxpayer money on lawsuits
Wisconsin taxpayers have spent more than $8.5 million on attorneys hired by Republican lawmakers over the past three years. Republicans did so to challenge Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' COVID-19 response, intervene in cases to prevent changes to election laws and to defend laws limiting the powers of Evers and Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul that were enacted after the two were elected but before they took office.
KS: Kansas governor wants to extend COVID emergency order
Kansas’ COVID-19 state of emergency is set to expire next week after GOP legislative leaders, calling for an “exit strategy,” agreed to a limited extension last month. But Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly told reporters she is requesting another extension and wants the order to stay in place through the end of August.
RI: CDC awards Rhode Island $20M to address COVID-related disparities
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has awarded the Rhode Island Department of Health nearly $20 million “to address COVID-19 related health disparities,” the agency said in a news release. “Funding will help improve health status in communities that are underserved and adversely affected by COVID-19 to improve health equity,” the CDC said.
SC: South Carolina families could lose extra federal food aid after COVID emergency order ends
Starting in August, South Carolina families getting extra food assistance from the federal government because of COVID-19 will lose that relief after Republican Gov. Henry McMaster announced his decision not to extend the state’s state of emergency order.
VA: Virginia's COVID-19 state of emergency will end June 30
Virginia’s 15-month-long state of emergency brought on by COVID-19 will come to an end June 30, Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s office announced, citing a decline in coronavirus infections.
LA: Louisiana legislature allows for more child sex abuse lawsuits—including against the Catholic Church
The Louisiana state legislature unanimously passed a bill that would remove civil lawsuit limitations over child abuse, including sexual and physical abuse and sex trafficking. The legislation would allow adult victims of child abuse to file a lawsuit if they missed the time span to file suit. The current law says the suit must be filed before the victim turns 28 years old. The bill now heads to the governor’s desk.
CO: Youth mental health was front and center in Colorado’s legislative session
This legislative session was a remarkable one for Colorado children’s mental health, with nearly $20 million in one bill tagged for crisis beds and programs aimed at dealing with kids’ issues before they reach the point of a suicide attempt. Lawmakers also passed legislation calling for annual mental health checkups for kids and up to three follow-up therapy sessions for children dealing with depression, anxiety or other issues.
UT: Utah housing crisis pushes many renters to breaking point
Nearly one in five renters in Utah is severely cost-burdened, meaning they spend at least half their income on housing and often struggle to pay for food, transportation and other bills, according to federal data for 2013 to 2017. And more than 63% of the state’s lowest-income residents fall into this category, this data shows.
WY: Wyoming officials warn of intense fire season
There are three notable wildfires burning in Wyoming, marking an early start to what could be an active fire season. State officials predict that the state is at an average to high risk for fires throughout June and into July, and at above-average risk from mid-July into August.