Top State Stories 6/14
FL: Florida unemployment office axes call centers despite thousands who still need help
Florida’s unemployment office has gotten rid of all the call centers it brought on in 2020—a decision that critics said is premature, as thousands of claims continue to pour in and applicants still struggle to get through the state’s antiquated CONNECT website.
ME: Maine legislature passes landmark bill seeking to sell off state’s fossil fuel investments
Lawmakers gave final approval to a bill directing Maine’s state government and pension fund to stop investing in fossil fuel companies as part of the global divestment movement in response to climate change. But the sell-off wouldn’t take place immediately—and may never happen entirely—because of a key clause that still gives broad latitude to the managers of Maine’s nearly $17 billion pension fund.
CA: California’s stricter COVID rules did not hurt the economy, report finds
Regulations aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 did not come at the expense of California’s economy, according to a new report from the UCLA Anderson Forecast. It found states that took a more hands-off approach to the pandemic did not see an economic boost from their limited regulation.
UT: Utah pipeline would tap water promised to the Utes
Water that Utah plans to tap for a planned Lake Powell pipeline was previously promised to the Ute Indian Tribe, which is now suing to get back its water and asserting that the misappropriation is one of a decades-long string of racially motivated schemes to deprive it of its rights and property.
TX: Federal board approves removal of ‘Negro’ from 16 place names in Texas
A federal board approved the renaming of 16 sites in Texas whose names include the word “Negro,” a change long sought by politicians and activists in the state, but one that will affect only a small fraction of the hundreds of racist names of towns and geographical features that remain in the United States.
TN: Tennessee teachers wary of new law limiting instruction on race
Particularly in districts with large numbers of people of color, Tennessee educators say they worry everyday discussions about students’ experiences could land teachers in hot water. Among other things, Tennessee’s teachers can’t instruct that “an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously.”
IA: One year later, a look at how Iowa’s police accountability law is going
Iowa’s law bans chokeholds when police make an arrest, except for circumstances that would allow an officer to use deadly force. The law also allows the attorney general to investigate any killings by police and prevents officers from being hired in Iowa if they have previous felony convictions, have been fired for misconduct or quit to avoid firing for misconduct.
OH: Ohio could kill municipal broadband services, critics fear
County and municipal officials are concerned that language added to Ohio’s proposed $75 billion budget could put municipal broadband internet services out of business. The provision threatens more than 30 municipal broadband providers in Ohio, critics say.
ME: Maine tries to shift some costs of recycling onto companies instead of taxpayers
With mountains of boxes and bubble wrap from online pandemic shopping now going in the trash, lawmakers are trying to make Maine the first state to shift some of the costs of its recycling onto companies—not taxpayers.
WA: Washington heads into wildfire season with a drought
The start of this fire season in Washington doesn’t look promising. Already this year, the state has responded to at least 410 blazes on state lands, according to state Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz, who called it “the highest number of year-to-date fires in our history.”
AK: Alaska joins states seeking to block youth climate activists’ lawsuit
Alaska Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration has joined a group of 17 states trying to defeat a lawsuit by youth climate activists. The 21 plaintiffs in the case, who filed their lawsuit in Oregon, allege that federal government promotion of fossil fuels and the lack of policies to reduce them violates their constitutional rights.
AL: Alabama won’t reach White House vaccination goal
About 36% of the total population of Alabama has received at least one dose of vaccine. It ranks next to last in the country for lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates, above only Mississippi.
MS: Mississippi reports B in excess revenue
Mississippi lawmakers say the state’s economy is on track after the Mississippi Legislative Budget Office reported $1 billion in excess revenues from income, corporate and use taxes.
CO: Big bills that died in Colorado legislative session will be back, sponsors say
Colorado Democrats coalesced on policies that will be felt for years to come in the state’s tax code and transportation system, at marijuana dispensaries and gun shops, in courtrooms and classrooms. Lost in the mix were several big-ticket proposals on things like policing, school discipline and workplace harassment.
AZ: New Mexico seeks reforms at unemployment agency
New Mexico Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham vowed to replenish the state’s indebted unemployment insurance trust fund with federal relief funds to avoid future tax increases to businesses and said a $300 weekly federal bonus to unemployment benefits will continue through the expiration date in September.
OR: The number of Oregonians receiving jobless benefits is plunging
As vaccines proliferate and COVID-19 recedes, the number of Oregonians collecting unemployment benefits is plunging. There were nearly 80,000 fewer Oregonians receiving benefits at the end of May than at the start of the year.
SC: South Carolina’s gas tax will go up again in July to pay for state roads
Starting in July, motorists will pay an additional 2 cents per gallon of fuel as part of an annual gas tax increase that will run through 2022 to help pay for road maintenance needs in South Carolina. It’s the fifth year of a six-year process to bring the gas tax from 16 cents to 28 cents per gallon, though the state says it will need more money.
KY: Kentucky community college board freezes tuition
The Kentucky Community and Technical College System Board of Regents voted to freeze tuition for 2021-22 academic year at the current rate of $179 per credit hour.
MT: Montana had more deaths than births in 2020 for the first time
Montana’s mortality rate increased by 14% in 2020, according to the state Department of Public Health and Human Services. There were 12,018 deaths compared with 10,791 live births—the first time deaths surpassed births since 1908, when records started being kept. COVID-19 was the third-leading cause of death in Montana last year, though deaths from other causes also rose.
ID: Idaho’s growth has come largely in its cities
Idaho continues to grow statewide, with the fastest-growing population in the country between 2019 and 2020. Much of this growth occurred in Idaho’s urban areas. Approximately 70.5% of Idahoans lived in cities in 2020 compared with 61.2% in 1980, according to the Idaho Department of Labor.
RI: In Rhode Island, a legal dispute centers on voting rights and beach cabanas
A group of Rhode Island residents is suing the Bonnet Shores Fire District, claiming it’s unconstitutional for the district to prevent residents from voting if they own less than $400 worth of property. They say that restriction prevents some year-round residents from voting while giving voting rights to non-residents who own beach cabanas—including 16-square-foot “bathroom units.”
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