What We're Reading: Top State Stories 7/13
TX: Texas Democrats leave state to block GOP voting bill in special session
Democrats in the Texas House left the state to break quorum and derail Republican plans to pass sweeping changes to election laws during the special session of the legislature. More than 50 House Democrats made the trip on two chartered flights from Austin to Washington, D.C., proclaiming that they plan to remain there until the special session ends Aug. 7.
MS: COVID-19 surge prompts Mississippi mask guidance
Mississippi’s state health officer released new recommendations encouraging all residents 65 and older and individuals with chronic underlying conditions to avoid all indoor gatherings despite vaccination status. The guidance comes as the state saw a 50% increase in new COVID-19 cases and a 65% increase in hospitalizations between July 4 and July 11.
CA: California faces power shortage as fires threaten electric lines
Amid record-breaking temperatures and raging wildfires, California’s energy operator has issued another alert to customers to stabilize the state’s electric grid, asking residents to conserve as much electricity as possible from 4 to 9 p.m. to reduce stress on the system.
SC: South Carolina says it won’t enforce COVID-19 mask mandates on school buses
Breaking with guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the South Carolina Department of Education will not enforce local mask mandates on state-owned buses, the department said in a memo.
GA: Fired lawyer opposed no-bid contract, released emails on Georgia governor’s handling of pandemic
In a letter seeking compensation under the state’s whistleblower protection law, a former Georgia state lawyer alleges she was unlawfully fired in retaliation for questioning a $14 million, eight-month contract for scheduling COVID-19 vaccinations, awarded without competitive bidding to a company represented by a lobbyist whose family apparently is close to the public health agency commissioner.
TN: Tennessee fires top vaccine official as COVID shows signs of new spread
Dr. Michelle Fiscus, the medical director for vaccine-preventable diseases and immunization programs at the Tennessee Department of Health, said she was terminated to appease Republican state lawmakers who were angry about the department's efforts to vaccinate teenagers against COVID-19.
MO: Missouri governor will sign law targeting abuse at religious boarding schools
Missouri Republican Gov. Mike Parson is slated to sign into law new regulations for unlicensed religious boarding schools, marking an attempt to prevent abuse and neglect at the facilities, which have traditionally been exempt from state and local oversight.
VA: Private hospitals in Virginia offer more beds for mental health—if they get help with costs
With Virginia’s mental health system in crisis, a private hospital system is offering to open 58 licensed beds for adolescents and adults with behavioral health disorders—if the state allots $8.5 million in federal emergency aid to pay for the requisite staff.
OH: Ohio governor signs bill giving counties control over large wind and solar projects
Ohio Republican Gov. Mike DeWine signed a law giving elected county officials the authority to block development of large-scale wind and solar farms.
AK: As contagious strain rises in Alaska, regions with low vaccination rates raise concern
The delta variant of COVID-19, which spreads far more quickly than other strains, represents a growing share of Alaska’s cases: 40% in the state’s most recent report on variants. Vaccination rates vary widely across different regions and communities within Alaska, so the virus represents different risk levels in each place.
UT: Utah governor admits fault in reporting inaccurate COVID vaccination rate
Republican Gov. Spencer Cox confessed that his July 4 assertion that Utah reached its goal of vaccinating 70% of adults against COVID-19 is wrong, because of a data error made by the Utah Department of Health. When the numbers are crunched correctly, the agency said, 67.07% of Utah adults have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
KS: Feds will send Kansas rural hospitals $23.5M to fight COVID
Kansas’ small rural hospitals will get $23.5 million from the federal government to fight COVID-19—the second most of any state—as health officials brace for a case surge. Kansas, which has a significant network of small hospitals to serve vast rural areas, is second only to Texas’s $29.7 million in the amount it will receive.
CO: A screening program for newborns is saving Colorado babies
In January 2020, Colorado added spinal muscular atrophy to the list of 39 diseases for which newborns are screened. Advances in medicine—gene therapies that trigger the body to produce essential proteins—make it possible to save the lives of infants who previously were destined to die. And those treatments work best when given right after birth.
MA: Massachusetts business owners are left wanting more in federal relief funds
The Massachusetts restaurant industry lobbied hard for a grant program that would help eateries recoup losses from prolonged shutdowns during the pandemic. But its rollout was pockmarked with issues—foremost a discrimination lawsuit. In June, the federal government rescinded grants that had been awarded to nearly 3,000 business owners in the priority categories, leaving many in the lurch.
HI: Hawaii worries people aren’t completing food stamp paperwork
The state of Hawaii said people haven’t been completing the paperwork they need to continue receiving food stamps, raising concerns that thousands may be unintentionally cut off from public assistance.
ID: Idaho lawmakers object to employers’ mandatory vaccine rules
Several Idaho lawmakers are speaking out after the announcement of vaccination requirements by some employers. The lawmakers signed a statement that read, in part, “We believe the right to refuse invasive medical procedures, including vaccinations, is paramount to the interests of the employers, employees, and freedoms of the individual in almost all situations.”
IA: Iowa will pay for troopers sent to border in Texas, governor says
Nearly 30 Iowa State Patrol officers are currently deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border in a trip financed by Iowa, said GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds. The officers will stay in Texas for 16 days. Reynolds did not share details about what the state troopers would do during the mission.
RI: Rhode Island governor signs 2 gun safety bills into law
Rhode Island Democratic Gov. Dan McKee signed into law two bills focused on gun safety. The bills ban so-called straw purchases of firearms and prohibit bringing a gun onto school property except in certain cases, including if the carrier is with school security or retired from law enforcement.
WI: Survey shows nearly all University of Wisconsin dorm residents will be vaccinated
A survey conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison has found 92.5% of incoming dorm residents will be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by the start of classes this fall. Nearly 90% of UW-Madison's dorm residents filled out the survey, providing a promising glimpse into how vaccination rates will look despite the University of Wisconsin System's decision to strongly encourage, but not require, the shots.