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What We're Reading: Top State Stories 2/23

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What We're Reading: Top State Stories 2/23

US: Mask mandates have ended in all but one state

washingtonpost.com

As coronavirus cases continue to decline across the country, all states but Hawaii have dropped their mask mandates or have made plans to do so in the coming weeks. 

SD: South Dakota lawmakers snub governor with vaccine bill

apnews.com

The South Dakota House passed a proposal to allow employees to avoid vaccine requirements by citing any objection of conscience. It was a snub to Republican Gov. Kristi Noem, who asked for exemptions based on medical or religious grounds.

OR: Several Oregon school districts plan to drop mask mandates early, defying executive order

oregoncapitalchronicle.com

School leaders across Oregon are five weeks away from having permission to make masks optional for students and staff without the risk of fines or the loss of COVID-19 relief funds. Still, several school boards have decided to skip the wait and accept the risks to allow for optional masking early.

CA: California schools could be required to develop COVID testing plans under proposed law

sacbee.com

California could require school districts to develop state-funded COVID-19 testing plans in cooperation with state health officials, according to a newly proposed bill.

GA: Georgia bill seeks protection for loud gas leaf blowers

ajc.com

No matter how loud gas-powered leaf blowers get, a bill in the Georgia General Assembly would prevent local restrictions or bans that target them. The legislation would prohibit counties or cities from treating gas-powered leaf blowers any differently from electric leaf blowers.

MD: Maryland state school board votes to rescind mask mandate

baltimoresun.com

The Maryland State Board of Education voted to rescind an emergency regulation mandating the use of face masks in schools and instead allow school districts to set their own policies, sending the decision to state lawmakers for final approval.

WI: Wisconsin Republicans seek more oversight of elections but face likely vetoes

jsonline.com

Republicans in the Wisconsin Senate passed measures that would give lawmakers the power to rewrite guidance to local officials and cut funding for state agencies they believe aren't strictly following election laws. Those bills and others related to elections face likely vetoes from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers if they get to him.

AL: Alabama House passes bill to end permit requirement for carrying concealed pistols

al.com

After two hours of debate, the Alabama House of Representatives approved a bill that would repeal the state’s requirement for a permit to carry a concealed handgun. Legislators have proposed that for years, but the bills had never passed the House until now.

KS: GOP advances plan to limit Kansas emergency regulations

apnews.com

Top Republicans have revived a proposed amendment to the state constitution to make it easier for the GOP-controlled legislature to overturn state agencies’ regulations, pushing it through the Kansas House with a little help from dissident Democrats

ID: Idaho Senate passes bill requiring insurers to provide longer supply of contraceptives

idahocapitalsun.com

After five years of voting down similar bills, the Idaho Senate passed a bill that would require insurance companies to reimburse for up to a six-month supply of contraceptives, not including emergency contraception or medications to induce abortions. The bill now goes to the House.

HI: Hawaii Senate panel passes ban on fundraisers during session

apnews.com

The Hawaii Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill that would ban lawmaker fundraisers during the legislative session, one of several measures aimed at addressing corruption after two former legislators pleaded guilty in connection with a bribery scandal.

MN: Minnesota Democrats hope to ban noncompete clauses for many workers

startribune.com

Noncompete agreements for many lower- and middle-income workers would be banned under a proposal that Democratic legislators and Attorney General Keith Ellison are pushing at the Minnesota Capitol. But Republican lawmakers say the proposal would be too onerous for small businesses.

MI: Michigan releases key tax forms for those who were jobless last year

freep.com

More than 1.2 million taxpayers who received jobless benefits in Michigan last year can now move forward and file their 2021 tax returns after a three-week delay involving key paperwork. The Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency said that those who filed jobless claims in 2021 can now view or download their 1099-G tax statements.

AK: Alaska Senate considers different proposals to change PFD formula

alaskapublic.org

The Alaska Senate could be voting as soon as next week on legislation aimed at rewriting the formula that sets the amounts of permanent fund dividends. A key legislative committee considered two bills that would set PFDs at a lower level than the roughly $2,500 GOP Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposed, unless there are new taxes.

UT: The era of cheap water may be about to end in Utah

sltrib.com

A bill would require all secondary water connections to have a meter by 2030—and those connections currently reach about a quarter of a million homes, businesses and other secondary customers across Utah. If the legislation becomes law, it would give districts tools to charge higher rates for overuse.

NV: Lawsuits aim to halt ballot initiatives to create voucher-style education program in Nevada

thenevadaindependent.com

An education advocacy group is trying to stop an effort to revive a voucher-style education program in Nevada before the question ever reaches voters.

CO: Free COVID test kits available at Colorado mask distribution sites

denverpost.com

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced that “many” of the 437 sites distributing free KN95 masks around the state will also give out rapid test kits. A map on the state health department’s website shows public libraries, fire stations and other community sites offering free kits.

MA: Massachusetts State House opens to public for first time since pandemic started

bostonglobe.com

The Massachusetts State House reopened to the public on Tuesday, 708 days after legislative leaders closed its doors at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. With it came new rules and mandates, out-of-town tourists again strolling its marbled hallways, and large doses of symbolism. 

MT: Number of COVID cases continues to fall in Montana

billingsgazette.com

The number of active COVID-19 cases in Montana fell by more than half over the past week as the recent surge driven by the virus’s omicron variant appears to be waning. Still, 3,125 Montana residents have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, according to the state Department of Public Health and Human Services.

AR: Arkansas House votes down funding for public television

arkansasonline.com

The Arkansas House overwhelmingly rejected a $5.9 million appropriation to fund the state's public broadcasting network. Appropriations bills need a three-quarter vote in the 100-member House to pass, and the measure failed 65-20 with seven present votes.

WV: West Virginia House passes bill to reinstate film tax credit

apnews.com

The West Virginia House passed a bill that would give financial incentives to filmmakers working on projects in the state, as long as they portray West Virginia in a positive light. Using the proposed tax credit, filmmakers could recoup up to 27% of spending on movies, television shows and music videos in West Virginia that cost at least $50,000 to make.

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