Top State Stories 3/25
VA: Virginia becomes first Southern state to abolish death penalty
Four centuries of capital punishment in Virginia ended outside the Greensville Correctional Center, the site of more than 100 of the state’s most recent executions. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam signed legislation abolishing the death penalty under a tent opposite the entrance to the sprawling prison.
NY: New York health officials were tasked with testing governor’s relatives, associates
High-level members of the New York State Department of Health were directed last year by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker to conduct prioritized coronavirus testing on the governor’s relatives—including his brother, mother and at least one of his sisters—as well as influential people with ties to the administration.
CO: Three Boulder lawmakers back assault-style weapon ban in Colorado
None of the three Colorado Democrats said they had started drafting a bill. Republican lawmakers immediately dismissed the idea, however, saying that a response to the latest mass shooting should focus more on mental health and not infringe on Second Amendment rights.
OR: Oregon mistakenly OKs vaccines for 11,000 people
About 11,000 Oregonians ineligible for COVID-19 vaccines until April 19 will be granted appointments ahead of schedule because of a mistake by the Oregon Health Authority.
ND: Popcorn machine nixed at North Dakota Capitol after alarms
A popcorn machine has been removed from the North Dakota Capitol after it twice triggered fire alarms that brought firefighters to the building and caused legislators to evacuate.
MA: Massachusetts GOP governor voices support for a federal assault weapons ban that emulates his state’s
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, said he would support a federal ban on assault weapons and that he would pitch Massachusetts-style gun laws to fellow Republicans in Congress. Massachusetts, which bans assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and requires background checks for gun licenses, had the nation’s lowest rate of gun deaths in 2019, the most recent year for which data are available, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
MS: Mississippi rewrites ‘confusing’ vaccine scheduling script
The Mississippi Health Department is rewriting a “confusing” script that employees and contractors read to people scheduling COVID-19 vaccination appointments by phone. The move came after one resident was told that “there’s no documented proof” the Moderna vaccine works.
MT: Montana governor gets warning after killing Yellowstone wolf
Montana Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte received a warning from wildlife officials after killing a radio-collared wolf near Yellowstone National Park without first taking a mandated trapper education course—a violation of state hunting regulations, officials said.
GA: Georgia bill could shift election law power to GOP appointees
Decisions about Georgia elections, such as vote counting and polling place closures, could be made by appointees of Republican state officials empowered to take over local election operations, according to a bill awaiting final votes.
TX: White Republicans are Texas’ most vaccine-shy group
In Texas, 59% of Republicans either said they are reluctant to get COVID-19s vaccines or would refuse them. People of color have increased confidence in COVID-19 vaccines.
WI: Wisconsin Assembly OKs election investigation
The resolution authorizing the investigation in Wisconsin passed on a 58-35 party-line vote, with all Republicans in support and all Democrats against. It passed after Republicans last month ordered an audit of the election results.
UT: Utah’s statewide mask mandate will end April 10
Utah’s statewide mask mandate will expire April 10, now that Republican Gov. Spencer Cox has signed legislation that lays the groundwork for ending public health restrictions enacted during the coronavirus pandemic.
AZ: Arizona town calls state of emergency over migrant arrivals
Gila Bend, a small town in Arizona, has declared a state of emergency over migrant families being dropped there as a growing number of border communities grapple with how to get the new arrivals to shelters in bigger cities that can help them.
HI: The Hawaii Capitol is closed to the public, but some lobbyists still have access
Some Hawaii lawmakers have hosted in-person meetings with lobbyists, business leaders and government officials even while the Capitol has been closed to the public for the 2021 legislative session. Some individuals, including registered lobbyists, have been able to gain an audience with lawmakers in their offices after scheduling appointments.
MD: Maryland board delays approval of emergency vaccine contracts
The Maryland Board of Public Works delayed approving three emergency contracts awarded by the state’s health department to bolster its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with two of three board members citing a lack of transparency.
WV: West Virginia Senate passes bill that would limit voting options
The legislation would revoke a 2016 law under which West Virginians would be automatically registered to vote when they obtained driver’s licenses. The bill also pushes up deadlines for early in-person voting and for submitting applications for absentee voting by mail.
AZ: Arizona may let community colleges offer four-year degrees
A proposal moving through the Arizona legislature that would allow community colleges in Maricopa and Pima counties to offer four-year bachelor’s degrees was approved by the House Education Committee on a 9-0 vote.
NV: Nevada lawmakers propose banning death penalty
State Sen. James Ohrenschall and Assemblyman Steve Yeager, both Democrats, have introduced bills that would abolish the death penalty in Nevada. Ohrenschall’s bill would ban the death penalty going forward but would not apply to criminals already on death row. Yeager’s bill would ban it altogether.
VT: As Vermont loosens restrictions on bars, restaurants, workers feel at risk
Between January and March, food service workers in Vermont had the highest rate of COVID-19 infection of any occupation in the state. As Vermont’s vaccination effort ramps up, state officials have begun relaxing restrictions on gatherings, including in the hospitality sector. But restaurant and bar workers have not been prioritized for immunization, and most workers in the industry are still weeks—if not a month or two—away from getting a shot.
NC: North Carolina governor’s budget includes raises for teachers, state employees
North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s proposed state budget would give teachers 10% raises over two years, increase education funding and put a bond on voters’ ballots this fall. Now the Democratic governor will try to convince the Republican-controlled legislature to go along with some of his priorities.
IA: Iowa is on target to open vaccines to all adults April 5, governor says
Iowa remains on target to open COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to all adults beginning April 5, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds said. Reynolds said the state anticipates a boost in vaccine allocation in the coming weeks, allowing it to broaden the eligibility criteria.
PA: As thousands of unemployment claims expire, Pennsylvania residents refile
Tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians have or will reach the end of their state unemployment benefits this month and next, as they approach their one-year anniversaries of the date they first lost work as a result of the pandemic and the government shutdown.
NH: A COVID-era change to election policy could mean fewer tossed absentee votes in New Hampshire
This week, the New Hampshire Senate is taking up a package of election reforms that would give local election officials more time to review returned absentee ballots before the polls open. The proposal, which appears to have bipartisan support, would also give voters more opportunity to correct problems with their absentee ballots before it’s too late for their vote to count.
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