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Stateline May 2014

Stateline | May 2014

5/1/2014

STATE LEGISLATURES MAGAZINE

 

A glass of whiskey1. Whiskey Rebellion

Some Tennessee distillers complain a law passed last year requires them to follow too many rules in order to call their product “Tennessee whiskey.” The whiskey must be fermented in Tennessee from mash of at least 51 percent corn, aged in new charred oak barrels, filtered through maple charcoal and bottled at a minimum of 80 proof. The specifications are nearly identical to those of Jack Daniel’s, the world’s best-known Tennessee whiskey, and the aim is to protect Tennessee’s reputation for high quality whiskey. But smaller craft distilleries say the rules make it too difficult to market their product as Tennessee whiskey—a big draw for customers. A bill by Representative Bill Sanderson (R) would modify the law so whiskey makers could reuse barrels instead of buying new ones at $600 each. Statehouse wags expect a spirited debate.

2. More Medal for Indiana Olympians

Indiana lawmakers think Olympic medal-winning Hoosiers deserve rewards of another kind: state tax breaks. Both chambers passed a bill that would exempt Olympic medals and prize money from Indiana income taxes. Currently, Olympic champions receive $25,000 for a gold medal, $15,000 for the silver and $10,000 for the bronze. The tax break would be retroactive to Jan. 1, so Indiana’s Nick Goepper, bronze medalist in slopestyle skiing in Sochi, would qualify. “These men and women spend many years and make many sacrifices in order to pursue their dreams, and I don’t think we need to penalize them for succeeding at a level that brings worldwide recognition for themselves, their state and their country,” said bill sponsor Representative Terri Austin (D).

3. North Dakota Wants You!

North Dakota may not have oceanfront condos, world-class dining or the best skiing on the continent, but it does have jobs—25,000 of them, and it wants to fill them pronto. In March, state and business leaders launched a workforce recruitment campaign, “Find the Good Life in North Dakota,” with a website scheduled to debut this month. With the oil and natural gas industry booming, the state needs health care professionals, skilled trades, engineers, information technology experts and energy workers. The aim is to recruit people who will put down roots—not just work for a couple months before returning to their home states. North Dakota officials tout the state’s excellent schools, outdoor recreation and business opportunities.

4. Sound And Fury

Loud movies irritate William Young so much he convinced a group of Connecticut lawmakers to carry legislation that would prevent theaters from showing a film or preview that exceeds 85 decibels. Young, a Stamford resident with a doctorate in chemistry, says the sound in theaters often hurts his ears and causes them to ring. Senator Carlo Leone, (D), a bill co-sponsor, said lawmakers will conduct a public hearing on the issue. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommends noise be kept below 85 decibels at worksites, but hearing-loss expert Dr. Robert Dobie told the Associated Press said that standard is for prolonged exposure, not occasional loud sounds from a movie. Connecticut would be the first state to regulate the maximum decibel level at movies.

5. Non-Discrimination Paws

Cities in Utah would no longer be able to ban specific dog breeds under a bill passed by the Legislature. Ten cities in the state have banned pit bulls, said Representative Brian King (D), measure sponsor. Speaking in support of the bill, Senator Mark Madsen (R) said dog-breed bans are a form of “animal bigotry and profiling.” The bill passed 26-2 in the Senate and 41-30 in the House and awaits the governor’s signature. Utah joins 15 states that prohibit cities from enacting breed-specific legislation.

6. Holocaust Reparations

A bill in the Maryland General Assembly would prohibit the state from awarding a $2.2 billion light-rail contract to a construction company unless its French-owned parent company first pays reparations to Holocaust victims transported on its trains. Senator Joan Carter Conway’s (D) bill would affect Keolis, a rail company whose majority owner is SNCF, the government-owned French railway. Historians say SNCF trains carried nearly 76,000 Jews and other Nazi prisoners to the French-German border on their way to extermination camps during World War II. Keolis officials have said the Paris-based company, founded in the late 1990s, had nothing to do with the Holocaust. SNCF owns 70 percent of Keolis, company officials have said. Alain Leray, president of SNCF America, said the company has already disclosed its “tragic World War II past” when it bid unsuccessfully on a state contract in 2011, the Washington Post reported. Leray said he will focus on whether the bill would be “discriminatory” against SNCF if it is written specifically to target one company.

7. Paper Or Electronic?

Georgia residents can now register to vote online, and Nebraskans will follow suit next year. They join residents of more than a dozen states that already have online registration. Another handful have passed authorizing legislation but haven’t yet implemented it. Georgia voters with a valid state driver’s license can register online through the “My Voter Page” on the secretary of state’s website. Online registration saves time for voters and elections officials. It also may save money. A study of Arizona’s online system showed that processing online registrations cost about 3 cents each, while paper applications cost about 83 cents apiece.

8. Prison U

New York lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are criticizing a proposal by Governor Andrew Cuomo to offer prisoners a college education. Cuomo argues giving inmates an education, at $5,000 per inmate per year, would save tax money in the long run because educated ex-offenders are much less likely to end up back in prison. But, as National Public Radio reported, even some members of the governor’s own party hate the idea. Assemblywoman Addie Russell (D), whose district includes three state prisons, says taxpayers just won’t stand for inmates getting a free college education, while middle-class families struggle to pay for their kids’ tuition, housing and books. Bipartisan critics in the Legislature killed the bill, but Cuomo says he’ll try to find money in the budget for a pilot project.

9. Trouble In The Henhouse

Starting in 2015, all eggs sold in California must come from hens kept in large cages. The law, backed by the Humane Society, is intended to improve the lives of chickens, which often spend day and night in spaces the size of an 8-by-10-inch piece of paper. But Missouri’s attorney general has raised a squawk. Californians consume 9 billion eggs a year, about 6 percent of them from Missouri. About one-third of Missouri eggs, $40 million worth, are shipped to California, UPI reports. The new California law will mean Missouri egg producers must invest in larger cages or lose a third of their customers. Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster filed suit challenging the law, saying California is violating the Constitution’s commerce clause.

10. Smoker Smackdown 

Smokers who light up at public parks or beaches in New Jersey could be slapped with fines ranging from $250 to $1,000 under a bill making its way through the Legislature. Anti-smoking advocates said the ban would improve the state’s health, environment and economy. The state already bans smoking in indoor public places. The bill would apply to all parks and beaches run by the state, counties or towns. Offenders would face a $250 fine for the first offense, $500 for the second and $1,000 for any more.

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