Top State Stories 2/19
TX: Texas dodged months without power
Power grid operators implemented blackouts to avoid a catastrophic failure that could have left Texans in the dark for months. Nevertheless, millions in the state lost power for days.
SC: South Carolina governor signs ‘heartbeat’ abortion law
Just five weeks into the legislative session, South Carolina lawmakers passed a bill banning abortions after an ultrasound can detect embryonic cardiac activity—what abortion rights opponents call a “fetal heartbeat”—and Gov. Henry McMaster, a Republican, signed it into law. Before the ink was dry, the new law, which critics say doesn’t give women enough time to get an abortion after learning they’re pregnant, was facing a court challenge.
IL: Illinois House Speaker resigns after ouster
A half-century after he was first sworn into the Illinois House, Michael Madigan announced he would resign at the end of February, a little more than a month after he was deposed by fellow Democrats as the nation’s longest-serving House speaker. In a statement, the embattled lawmaker, ensnarled in a federal corruption investigation, lashed out at his critics as he sought to defend his actions during his 36-year reign.
CO: Colorado chief justice admits to ‘crisis of confidence’ in courts amid scandal
The chief justice of the Colorado Supreme Court vowed to reform the state’s judicial branch in the wake of allegations of judicial misconduct, sexism and harassment—and of a high-level cover-up intended to keep those misdeeds secret.
IN: Indiana governor signs bill providing COVID-19 liability protections to businesses, nursing homes
Indiana Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb signed a bill that would provide businesses, including nursing homes, civil immunity from coronavirus-related lawsuits. The act goes into effect immediately.
US: Short on vaccines, states find hidden stashes in their own backyards
Millions of doses of coronavirus vaccine are still sitting in freezers, allocated in excess to nursing homes or stockpiled for later use. Now states are claiming them.
SD: South Dakota’s attorney general is charged with 3 misdemeanors for fatal crash
South Dakota’s Republican attorney general has been charged with misdemeanor careless driving after he struck and killed a man with his car, authorities said.
NY: New York legislature considers curbing governor’s emergency powers
New York lawmakers are examining how to rein in the emergency executive powers bestowed on Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo a year ago as the pandemic began to engulf the state. The initiative has quietly played out for weeks, but gained momentum in the wake of recent revelations about the administration’s questionable reporting of COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes.
TN: Dolly Parton asks Tennessee officials not to put her statue at Capitol
Dolly Parton is asking Tennessee lawmakers to withdraw a bill that would erect a statue of her on the Capitol grounds in Nashville. “Given all that is going on in the world, I don’t think putting me on a pedestal is appropriate at this time,” Parton said in a statement.
MO: Missouri bill would delay some public record access
A bill passed by the Missouri House would pause open-records requests when public agencies are closed, an attempt to ease pressure on governments during emergencies like the coronavirus pandemic. But the measure also would cover state lawmakers who close their offices for most of the year while the legislature is not in session.
NH: With more New Hampshire students absent during pandemic, some schools turn to child protective services
New Hampshire schools are trying to keep track of kids learning remotely. And if students are chronically absent, the school has a few options: Call the parents, send a school employee to knock on their door or call the state’s Child Protection Services. That option is becoming more popular as the pandemic drags on.
OH: Ohio payroll shows overtime, sick pay skyrocketed for many workers during pandemic
The toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on both state workers and Ohio taxpayers can be told in the stark numbers of a payroll ledger. The state health department’s spending for overtime, for example, was almost 2.5 times the amount from 2019, a Columbus Dispatch and USA TODAY Network Ohio analysis of new state data shows.
ND: North Dakota bill aims to control recreational marijuana
Caught off guard by North Dakota voters’ surprise support five years ago for allowing medical marijuana, lawmakers now are developing rules to legalize the drug for recreational use as well—with heavy restrictions.
IA: Iowa GOP moves quickly on bill that would limit early voting
Iowa House and Senate committees approved a bill that would significantly limit voting by mail and early voting, threaten criminal charges against county auditors who deviate from state election guidance and remove voters from the active voter rolls if they miss one general election.
CA: California Democrats move to reopen schools in April
Aiming to break a stalemate that has kept many California schools closed this year, leading Democrats in the legislature unveiled their own plan to start in-class instruction by mid-April.
MD: Tech giants challenge Maryland’s digital ad tax
National groups representing the likes of Facebook and Google are challenging Maryland’s first-in-the-nation tax on digital advertising in federal court, hoping to block its implementation and ward off attempts in other states to pass similar laws. They’re seeking an injunction to prevent the new tax, which they call a “punitive assault” on digital advertising, from being collected.
OR: Oregon landlords can now apply for pandemic relief
Landlords in Oregon whose tenants have fallen behind on rent during the coronavirus pandemic can now apply for relief from the state. Applications for the state’s new landlord compensation fund have opened, nearly two months after lawmakers allocated million to seed the program.
HI: Proposed property tax aims to fix Hawaii’s tax imbalance
Some lawmakers in the Hawaii House have hatched a complex plan to export more of the state’s heavy tax burden to nonresidents, but it would require an amendment to the Hawaii Constitution and a huge leap of faith by voters. The first bill asks voters to amend the constitution to allow the state to impose property taxes, followed by a suspension of Hawaii’s personal and corporate income taxes.
NJ: New Jersey can issue new medical marijuana dispensary licenses, court rules
Plans for a massive expansion of the New Jersey Medical Marijuana Program got a jump start after an appeals court lifted a 2019 order that barred the state from issuing any more licenses to medical marijuana dispensaries.
WI: Wisconsin governor calls for expanding early voting
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers’ state budget would expand early voting in Wisconsin, allow clerks to count absentee ballots before election day and require a voter bill of rights to be posted at every polling station.
ME: Drug overdoses in Maine set record in 2020
Maine recorded its worst year for drug overdoses in 2020, with 502 deaths, and preliminary numbers for January 2021 indicate the numbers are still rising. The data released by the Maine Attorney General’s Office adds to a sustained and grim trend that has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.
NC: North Carolina governor wants to clarify in-person school bill
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, said he wants to have more discussions with legislative leaders before deciding how to act on a bill that would require school districts to give students the option of in-person learning. Cooper said bills should require schools to comply with the state health department’s guidelines for returning to in-person learning, which include social distancing for middle and high schools.
OK: Takeout cocktails could be legalized in Oklahoma during pandemic
An Oklahoma House panel unanimously passed legislation that would allow businesses with mixed-beverage licenses to offer some alcoholic beverages as takeout items during the pandemic.
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