Top State Stories 8/24
US: Emails show businesses held sway over state reopening plans
Thousands of pages of emails provided to The Associated Press under open records laws show that governors were inundated with reopening advice from a wide range of industries — from campgrounds in New Hampshire to car washes in Washington. Some governors put economic interests ahead of public health guidance, and certain businesses were allowed to write the rules that would govern their own operations.
OK: Oklahoma’s mask mandates are working. Here’s the proof
Data from the Oklahoma State Department of Health shows cities with mask mandates nearly cut in half their average number of new COVID-19 infections after three weeks.
NY: New York governor OKs clerical fixes on mail-in ballots
Anticipating a wave of mail-in voting this fall, New York state will now give voters a chance to correct missing signatures and other clerical errors so their absentee ballots can be counted — but the exact provisions haven’t yet been made public after last-minute negotiations between Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers.
IN: Judge won’t order Indiana to expand absentee mail-in voting
A federal judge has declined to order Indiana to allow no-excuse mail-in voting for the Nov. 3 general election. In Indiana, a voter must have one of 11 excuses in order to be approved to vote by mail, including being over age 65, having a disability or being out of county on Election Day.
CT: Fatal drug overdoses in Connecticut jumped in the first half of 2020
The number of deaths from drug overdose in Connecticut increased more than 20% in the first five months of 2020, and experts blame stress and the isolation from the pandemic. There were 531 overdose deaths from January through May, compared with 435 during the same period last year, according to the state health department.
ME: Maine sees uptick in domestic violence reports during pandemic
The number of all helpline calls, emails, text messages and other contacts received by Maine’s domestic violence support agencies rose 49% from April through June last year compared to the same period this year.
GA: Georgia hangs onto savings despite fears of massive shortfall
Georgia’s tax collections — which were expected to plummet by billion or more in only a few months — came in stronger than expected. And most of the .8 billion in savings the state had built up by the beginning of 2020 remains in reserve.
MN: As campus cases rise nationwide, University of Minnesota president proposes delaying on-campus start
The fall semester might begin even more differently than expected this year for undergraduates on several University of Minnesota campuses. Three of the university’s campuses, in the Twin Cities, Rochester and Duluth, might begin classes online for at least the first two weeks of school this fall.
WI: Wisconsin lacks coronavirus testing capacity for reopening of college campuses, schools
Wisconsin doesn’t have the capacity to process the number of coronavirus tests health officials want available when schools and college campuses reopen, Health Services Secretary Andrea Palm said. But with plans for students to return to classrooms anyway, Palm said health officials in Wisconsin would be prioritizing testing and test processing for outbreaks as more young people begin to interact.
PA: Review of COVID-19’s effect on communities of color largely ignores Pennsylvania inmates
A Pennsylvania task force is calling on the legislature to give corrections and parole officials greater flexibility to release incarcerated people during declared disasters like the coronavirus pandemic. The recommendation, part of a broader report on COVID-19′s disproportionate effect on communities of color, addresses a temporary reprieve program established by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf that has released under 200 state inmates.
VT: Vermont governor unveils new economic recovery package
Republican Gov. Phil Scott has rolled out a new million plan to boost Vermont’s economy and help businesses suffering from financial fallout during the COVID-19 pandemic. The plan requires legislative approval and would use some of the .25 billion in COVID relief funds Congress sent to Vermont earlier this year.
AL: Most of Alabama’s .8B coronavirus relief fund committed
The administration of Alabama Republican Gov. Kay Ivey has committed .5 billion of the .8 billion the state received under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act).
NJ: Freeholders no more: New Jersey governor signs bill ending county title criticized as racist
Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill to end the use of “freeholder” as a title for New Jersey county leaders. Under the new measure, all current freeholder positions will be retitled as “county commissioners” beginning at the start of next year.
MA: Massachusetts criticized over calls for teachers to work from empty classrooms
The head of the Massachusetts Teachers Association said the state’s call for K-12 educators to work from empty classrooms while students learn remotely from home doesn’t factor in the condition of school buildings, indoor air quality, testing capabilities and area COVID-19 transmission rates.
CA: Trump declares California fire disaster area, despite earlier threats
President Donald Trump declared the worst of California’s nearly two-dozen active wildfires a major disaster, providing funding to victims despite his vocal criticism of state leadership. The president’s announcement comes as a contrast to his public statements, which have often been sharply aimed at Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s management of fire-prone forests.
VA: Virginia Latino families worry school plans will leave them behind
Most Virginia Latino parents are working essential jobs, many of which are low-wage and without paid sick leave, and can’t stay home to monitor their children’s remote learning — an option most local school officials have chosen to help save lives in the middle of a pandemic.
NC: Cost of opening, then closing University of North Carolina system in the millions
North Carolina universities spent millions to get their campuses ready for students on Aug. 10. But just days later, UNC Chapel Hill and North Carolina State sent many students home and reverted to remote instruction for all undergraduates after clusters of COVID-19 cases appeared in dorms, fraternity houses and among athletes.
TX: Texas coast braces as two storms approach
With two storms gaining strength in the Gulf of Mexico, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster in coastal counties and warned Texans to remember coronavirus health guidelines. If the storms land as expected, they could mark Texas’ second significant disaster this year, following Hurricane Hanna in July.
NM: New Mexico in push for election preparation
New Mexico county clerks are undertaking a huge push to beef up staff amid a pandemic that has required more election workers while sidelining some of them. They’re networking, marketing, recruiting and even trying to fundraise.
UT: Environmental groups want to block honeybees from Utah’s national forests
Several environmental groups are asking the U.S. Forest Service to put the brakes on new apiaries in national forests, especially in Utah. The groups say honeybees could compete with native bees and spread disease.
IL: Kanye West fails to qualify for Illinois ballot
Rap artist, entrepreneur and aspiring presidential candidate Kanye West, a Chicago native, did not qualify to appear on Illinois’ Nov. 3 ballot, the Illinois State Board of Elections decided. West fell short of filing the required number of signatures needed to appear on the ballot.
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