Best of #StateReads: Iowa Felons Struggle for Voting Rights

By: - June 27, 2012 12:00 am

This week’s collection of #StateReads explores felons’ tough road to enfranchisement, lax oversight of aging mobile homes, low pay for public defenders and chemical secrecy in hydraulic fracturing.

These examples of extraordinary journalism about state government were recommended in tweets using the #StateReads hashtag on Twitter and in email submissions to [email protected].

“Few Iowa felons pursue voting rights”— The Associated Press

Bucking a national trend, Iowa has made it increasingly difficult for felons to vote, reports Ryan J. Foley, for the Associated Press. Many states have eased the process through which felons regain their voting rights after spending time in prison, but Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, on his first day in office, signed an executive order reversing a six-year-old policy that automatically granted voting rights to felons following their release from jail. Branstad’s policy, among the nation’s strictest, requires applicants to submit a credit report, along with a 31-question application that asks for information such as the address of the judge who handled the conviction, Foley (@rjfoley) reports. Fewer than a dozen of the 8,000 felons released from prison have successfully navigated the process, and many have quit trying.

“State’s mobile home oversight splintered” — Gannett Wisconsin

The state of Wisconsin is struggling to regulate the mobile home industry, often failing to address health risks for the roughly 250,000 Wisconsinites who live in mobile homes — particularly those built decades ago — Kathleen Foody reports for Gannett Wisconsin Media. “Wisconsin uses a patchwork system to regulate mobile home parks that often forces communities…to act alone when a park owner won’t make repairs to houses with malfunctioning plumbing, broken heating systems and mold-covered walls,” Foody (@katie_foody) reports. “The results can be long delays in responding, frustration for residents whose complaints bounce around in state bureaucracy and unchecked health risks for tenants, many of whom are elderly and poor.”

“New fee rules rile South Florida defense lawyers” — The Miami Herald

Florida attorneys say that under new rules lowering the pay of public defenders, Florida’s poor will lack effective legal representation, David Ovalle reports for the Miami Herald.  Intended to save state money, the new rules created a “limited registry” pool of lawyers who will work for flat fees on most cases. “The catch: Lawyers cannot ask for additional money,” Ovalle (@MiamiHerald) reports. For instance, a first degree felony case, which could take hundreds of hours of work, would cost the state just $2,500. Attorneys logging normal hours on such a case might end up making less than the minimum wage. Critics worry that counsel will expend little effort on these cases, shortchanging clients who can’t afford better representation.

“Fight escalates over chemical secrecy in hydraulic fracturing” — Energy Wire

As environmental groups and energy companies continue to debate how strictly states should regulate oil and gas production, secret chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing have taken center stage in new rules drawn up by lawmakers and regulators, reports Peter Behr for EnergyWire. Ohio this year became the 10th state to require drilling companies to publicly disclose fracking chemicals. “But as in Ohio’s case,” Behr reports, “several states recently also enlarged the right of drilling companies to shield chemicals from disclosure when the chemical manufacturers invoke trade secret protections.” In multiple cases, chemical disclosure rules were strict when first proposed, but industry officials successfully lobbied for loopholes. Overall, state disclosure policies vary widely.

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