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Pregnant mom with a clock

Stateline: December 2010

A mask and a computer

Mean Is Out

Malicious, credible impersonation through a website, e-mail account or social media will soon become a crime in California punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and a year in county jail. Starting Jan. 1, 2011, the law makes “harming, intimidating, threatening or defrauding another person” online and without their consent a misdemeanor. And, it allows the victim to sue the imitator for damages and losses. First Amendment free speech protections will continue to allow online parody, satire and political speech, according to the bill’s sponsor, Senator Joe Simitian. Hawaii, New York and Texas also have laws targeting harassing electronic impersonation.

Eradicating Cactus Toy

Connecticut has said good-bye to the giant, lighted cactus ball. It was just too dangerous. The Department of Consumer Protection pulled it from Walgreens stores because the pliable ball with cactus-like arms could cause a possible choking hazard if the appendages were pulled off and swallowed by a child. Children younger than 3 could easily be captivated by the squishy, squashy ball, according to Courant.com. The state department also asked the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to check into the toy’s safety.

The Dropout Cost

State governments spent more than $7.6 billion between 2003 and 2008 on college students who dropped out before their sophomore year, according to the American Institutes for Research. During those five years, for the 30 percent of college students who didn’t return for their second year, states appropriated $6.2 billion to colleges and universities, and more than $1.4 billion on student grants. California, Texas, New York, Illinois, North Carolina, Ohio, Florida and Indiana (in that order) lost the most.

Cutting Copper

California has passed a bill requiring manufacturers to reduce the amount of copper in brake pads to 5 percent by 2021 and no more than 0.5 percent by 2025. The concern is over what the metal does to sea life, especially in San Francisco Bay. Every time someone brakes, tiny amounts fall onto streets. Small amounts of copper are enough to confound a salmon’s sense of smell, making it hard to find its spawning ground. Washington has passed a similar law, and New York and Rhode Island are considering doing so.

Matrix Mania

Although a dozen or so states use bar codes on bills, Wisconsin will soon be using the latest graphic—matrix codes—on bills, amendments and resolutions. These graphics, which contain hyperlinks, can connect users to loads of information through the cameras on their smart phones. Scanning software (often free) on the phone determines the nature of the information. For example, if the code contains a phone number, the phone will dial the number. If the code contains a URL, it will open the Web page. In this case, the code will link to the bill status Web page. It cost about $2,000 to establish and requires nothing to maintain, according to Legislative Reference Bureau Chief Steve Miller.

Braids OK

A federal appeals court upheld a lower court ruling that the Needville Independent School District violated Texas state law by punishing a 5-year-old American Indian student for wearing his hair in traditional braids, an expression of his family’s religious beliefs. School officials had placed the kindergartner in an in-school suspension. The school district requires boys to cut their hair above their ears or the tops of their shirt collars. The boy’s parents sought permission for the braids, but the district would allow the braids only if they were in a bun on the top of his head or in a single braid tucked in his shirt. The family didn’t like those choices and sued, citing Texas law that bars any government agency from “substantially burden[ing] a person’s free exercise of religion,” according to Education Week.

Grading Performance Pay

The National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University finished a 3-year study of performance-based teacher pay and found no effect on student achievement. Paying teachers bonuses based on how well their students do has been controversial, but until now never scientifically researched. Does bonus pay alone improve student results? “We found that it does not,” said Matthew Springer, executive director of the National Center on Performance Incentives. Many states and districts have adopted a performance-based model in the last few years. The Race to the Top competition, in fact, encouraged states to base pay decisions on teacher evaluations.

No Vacation for You

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled businesses can fire new employees who take time off for pregnancy. It’s not gender discrimination, the justices concluded, to require workers to put in a certain amount of time before taking extended time off. As long as companies apply their policies evenly, for all kinds of medical breaks, they aren’t discriminating. The same court ruled a year ago that businesses can fire employees for taking unauthorized time to express milk.

Parents' Problem, Too

Under California’s new truancy law, parents whose kids miss more than 10 percent of the school year can be charged with a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine. The bill also authorizes local districts to require whatever family services are needed to get the children back to school. Chronic elementary school truancy is widespread, according to the San Jose Mercury News. Nearly 40 percent of the truant students in California are in elementary school. And it’s not uncommon for some children to miss more than half the school
year.

Pill Mill Kill

A new law in Florida takes aim at “pill mills”—clinics where doctors see up to 100 patients a day and prescribe large quantities of pain and other medications, often to out-of-state patients. The law requires these clinics to be owned by doctors, limits patients paying for a prescription without insurance to a 72-hour supply, bans advertisements for specific medicines, like Oxycodone, and requires training for pain management doctors. Clinics now can be charged with a felony for failing to register as a pain clinic. “I think it’s going to take a bite out of [the problem], but it doesn’t go far enough,” Representative John Legg, bill sponsor told the Jacksonville.com. “It’s just one small baby step.”

A Coming Tribute

“There was nothing there representing the fact that for thousands of years, Indians had resided at that very point, that very spot,” Chief Kenneth Adams of the Upper Mattaponi Indian Tribe told the Richmond Times-Dispatch about Virginia’s Capitol Square. But that will be changing. In September, a commission began gathering ideas about what kind of memorial they want to celebrate the state’s American Indian heritage. About 20,000 American Indians and Alaska Natives live in Virginia, according to the newspaper. Virginia will join just a few other states with tributes to Native Americans in their capitols. Oklahoma has a 17-foot statue of an Indian warrior atop its dome sculpted by former Oklahoma Senator Kelly Haney, a Native American. Kansas has a warrior statue on its dome that portrays a Kansa Indian shooting an arrow toward the North Star. And California has a commemorative seal on an Indian grinding rock honoring Native Americans (and designed by a Native American) on the capitol grounds.