Top State Stories 3/24
US: State gun laws vary widely, have become a partisan issue
Since the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut killed 20 first-grade students and six adults, 13 states, all controlled by Democrats, have enacted or expanded background checks for new gun purchases. Meanwhile, 14 states, all controlled by Republicans, have passed laws allowing their residents to carry guns with no permit process at all.
WV: West Virginia governor signs bill to give protection from COVID lawsuits
West Virginia Republican Gov. Jim Justice has signed a bill that protects employers, health care providers and others from being sued due to the coronavirus pandemic. The bill offers protection from COVID-19 lawsuits even if public health guidelines were ignored, but suits could be filed if there is evidence a person or entity acted with intent to hurt, kill or cause other damage.
VT: Vermont House approves health insurance for children, pregnant women without documentation
The Vermont House voted to give preliminary approval to expanding insurance coverage to help women and children living in the United States without documentation to obtain medical care. The legislation would cover roughly 100 children and 22 pregnant women a year who are currently ineligible for health insurance because of their immigration status.
SD: South Dakota governor bends partially on transgender ban
South Dakota Republican Gov. Kristi Noem at first declared she was “excited to sign” the bill banning transgender women and girls participating in women’s sports leagues. Her enthusiasm faded surprisingly fast when faced with lobbying from business and legal threats. She settled on vetoing only part of the bill and sending it back with major changes, something which has apparently pleased no one.
NV: Nevada regulators latest to take aim at coyote-killing contests
Nudged by a Clark County resolution last month against organized, competitive coyote hunts, the Nevada Department of Wildlife Commission is also considering a ban on such contests. Those who oppose regulation say coyotes are a threat to humans, pets, livestock and prey game and need control. Those who want to see the hunts outlawed say the wildlife killing contests have no ecological benefit and are gruesome, unethical waste.
WI: Wisconsin Senate approves allowing bars and restaurants to sell drinks to go
The Wisconsin Senate passed a bill that would allow people to grab alcoholic drinks to go at bars, restaurants, grocers and liquor stores. The surprise move drew broad bipartisan support. Senators sent a bill affecting bars and restaurants to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and a broader measure to the Assembly, where its fate is unclear.
MD: Maryland to double mass vaccination sites
As Republican Gov. Larry Hogan unveiled plans to open mass immunization sites in six of Maryland’s most populous counties, he described the inoculation effort “as a race between the vaccines and the variants.” Weeks after lifting many restrictions, Hogan also acknowledged some of the key metrics had seen a plateau, likely attributable to the spread of mutations.
IL: Illinois prisoners to be released under COVID lawsuit settlement
About 1,000 Illinois prison inmates nearing the end of their sentences could soon be released under a settlement announced in a federal lawsuit filed as the pandemic was creating a health crisis in state lockups.
NJ: New Jersey minority communities want COVID vaccines but can’t get them, new poll finds
Most New Jersey residents who are minorities or lower-income want the coronavirus vaccine but are being inoculated at half the rates of White and richer residents, according to a Stockton University poll. It found about 30% of White respondents received a vaccine dose, compared with about 16% of Black respondents. A total of 27% of non-Hispanic residents said they got their shot, compared with about 14% of Hispanic residents.
AK: Alaska prisons remain closed to visitors as mistrust undermines vaccine effort
Almost 50% of Alaskans behind bars have had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine—a higher rate than the general population of Alaska, according to the state Department of Corrections. But the prison system has also run up against the twin challenges of vaccine hesitancy and stubbornly high rates of COVID-19 spread in nearby communities, delaying efforts to get rid of tight restrictions prisoners have lived under for the past year.
WY: Wyoming House kills sales tax boost to help local governments
A measure that would have added 1 cent to Wyoming’s statewide sales tax to benefit local governments was killed in the House as representatives agreed it would hurt the ability of towns and counties to tax themselves.
MN: Minnesota governor tells lawmakers he could act alone to spend stimulus money
Under a provision in Minnesota state law, the governor will get to decide how to spend the state’s federal stimulus funds—unless the House and Senate can agree to spend some of the money in a budget emerging from the 2021 session and provided Democratic Gov. Tim Walz agrees to sign such a budget.
KS: Asian American Kansas lawmaker says he was threatened at bar
The only Asian American lawmaker serving in the Kansas Legislature says he was physically threatened in a western Kansas bar by an out-of-state patron, who he said questioned whether he had been carrying COVID-19.
CA: California cities, farms receive grim warning about water supply
State and federal officials issued remarkably bleak warnings about California’s summer water supplies, telling farmers and others to gear up for potential shortages.
DC: Commission studying policing in District of Columbia to recommend sweeping changes
An independent commission studying how to reinvent policing in the District of Columbia stopped short of recommending specific cuts to the department’s budget or staffing but agreed to urge the city to divert resources to other programs while reducing the duties of law enforcement.
CO: Colorado COVID hospitalization declines stall as state prepares to loosen restrictions
Colorado’s three-month long decline in COVID-19 hospitalizations has stalled, officials said, creating uncertainty about the trajectory of the pandemic just as the state plans to further loosen restrictions and has moved to a new vaccine phase.
MA: Massachusetts approves requests from 58 school districts to delay full-time reopening
Massachusetts’ education commissioner has approved requests from 58 school districts seeking to delay returning their lower grades to in-person school full time but is taking more time to consider requests from Boston and Worcester, state officials said.
GA: Georgia House gives final passage to measure eliminating pay for indicted pols
Georgia voters will be asked next year to approve a constitutional amendment to keep taxpayers from having to pay state officials who are suspended from their jobs while facing felony indictments.
HI: 2 pay raises for Hawaii lawmakers are raising eyebrows
Hawaii lawmakers are positioned to receive two pay raises during the year ahead, a move critics described as “unconscionable” at a time of high unemployment and economic desperation in much of the community. The raises were recommended by the state Commission on Salaries in 2019 and will take effect on July 1 of this year and Jan. 1, 2022, unless the legislature takes action to defer the raises.
WI: Wisconsin lawmakers collected K in work expenses last year
Wisconsin taxpayers paid more than half a million dollars to cover work expenses for state lawmakers in 2020. In election years, lawmakers typically adjourn in the first few months of the year and use the rest to campaign. But their absence was heavily scrutinized in 2020 when multiple once-in-a-generation crises hit the state, and lawmakers passed one bill in April in response.
MT: Montana Senate moves bill to end same-day voter registration
Montana’s Senate is moving forward with a bill to end same-day voter registration. The bill to close voter registration at noon on the Monday prior to a primary or general election day was endorsed 32-18 on second reading.
KY: Dozens killed by COVID in Kentucky prisons. Only half of prison staff seek vaccine.
Barely half of the Kentucky Department of Corrections’ 4,288 employees and contractors either have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or have a pending vaccination appointment, according to new state data.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.