Stateline | Legislative News From Around the Nation

5/1/2016

STATE LEGISLATURES MAGAZINE | may 2016

 

1. Into the Light

On standard time, New Englanders spend a lot of time in the dark. Moving to the Atlantic Time Zone and making daylight saving hours permanent would add evening sunlight, which would improve commutes, mental health and quality of wintertime lifestyles, advocates say. Skeptics warn the costs of redoing Amtrak and airline schedules and of being out of sync with New York banks could hurt business. A pending Massachusetts bill would form a commission to study the idea. Rhode Islanders would jump to Atlantic Time “if and when Massachusetts does so,” according to pending legislation. Meanwhile, lawmakers in 16 states are considering measures related to daylight savings.

2. Sting Operation

Call it a honey of a deal. Two Minnesota beekeepers whose hives were damaged by pesticides from a nearby farm received compensation from the state under a system created by the Legislature two years ago. Representative Rick Hansen (D), who sponsored the bill that created the system, says the result for the beekeepers was a national first and could serve as a precedent in a larger battle against neonicotinoids, a controversial group of insecticides thought to be connected to the decline of bees and other pollinating insects. “This is the first action of any state, a finding of fact, that neonicotinoids are harmful to bees,” he said.

3. Taxing Women’s ‘Luxuries’

A bill in Connecticut would end the so-called “tampon tax” by expanding the state sales tax exemption on “necessities of life” to include feminine hygiene products and disposable or reusable diapers. “Getting one’s period is a biological function, not a choice,” says Representative Carolyn Treiss (D) of Connecticut. Only a handful of states— Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey and Pennsylvania—currently exempt feminine hygiene products.

4. Death Penalty Overhaul

Virginia may soon become the third state to designate electrocution as an alternative method of execution to be used when lethal injection is not available. Lethal injection is the primary execution method in the 31 states with capital punishment, but opposition to the death penalty in the pharmaceutical industry has made obtaining lethal drugs increasingly difficult. Fifteen states have designated electrocution, hanging, firing squad or lethal gas as backup methods of execution.

5. Word Watchers

When Indiana’s state auditor, Suzanne Crouch, took office in 2013, she was surprised to see her job described in male terms—“he shall” and “his duties” were everywhere. Although legislation since 1999 has been gender-neutral in the state, Crouch suggested the wording of laws referring to statewide officeholders be updated as well. Representative Sharon Negele (R) agreed and wrote a bill to make 40 pages of older code gender-neutral. The bill passed with every female member of the House and Senate on board and is now awaiting the governor’s signature. At least 20 states have similar requirements.

6. Phone Lines Open

In an emergency, people can’t always make a call. That’s why at least three states—Illinois, North Carolina and Pennsylvania—have passed bills related to next-generation 911, known as NG911, allowing users to send text, video and picture messages instead of calling. Illinois’ law, for example, requires NG911 to be available statewide by July 1, 2020. For more details, search NCSL’s 911 legislation database at ncsl.org/magazine.

7. Pink Is the New (Blaze) Orange

Keep an eye out for a new fall color in Colorado. A bill to allow hunters to wear fluorescent pink, and not just blaze orange, was on its way to Governor John Hickenlooper, who was expected to sign it. “I want to send the message that women belong in hunting,” said Senator Kerry Donovan (D), the bill’s sponsor. For safety reasons, hunters are required to wear blaze orange when they hunt elk, deer, pronghorn, moose or black bear. The animals can’t see the bright color—but humans with guns can. Washington also allows hunters to pick pink.

8. Place Your Fantasy Bets

Fantasy sports regulation is a reality in Virginia, the first state to enact a law to monitor the multibillion-dollar industry. Signed into law in March, the Fantasy Contests Act establishes basic consumer protections but exempts the games from current gambling regulations. It requires companies to ensure players are at least 18 years old, offer limits on the amount players may bet, undergo annual audits and bar employees from competing in company contests. It also defines fantasy contests as “any fantasy or simulated game or contest” to cover competitions involving awards shows, political debates and spelling bees. Stay tuned. Similar legislation, with some variations, is pending in nearly 30 states.

9. Seeing Is Believing

Despite progress in captioning technology, only about 1 percent of movies in the U.S. are shown with captions, according to the National Association for the Deaf. Hawaii wants to change that. Lawmakers passed a first-in-the-nation law last year that requires companies with more than two theaters to show open captioned films at least twice a week, when available. Open captioning means the text of the captions is visible to everyone watching the movie. The law was written to sunset in 2018, however, so its author, Representative James Tokioka (D), whose son is deaf, has reintroduced it with the sunset removed.

10. Oh, Dairy!

It might have just been the stomach flu. But the paradox wasn’t lost on several West Virginia lawmakers who fell ill after lifting glasses of raw milk in celebration of a new law allowing dairy farmers to sell the unpasteurized milk. Representative Pat McGeehan (R) said the tummy trouble was a coincidence, because a stomach virus was going around. Perhaps he was just feeling sour. “There definitely shouldn’t be a law against allowing people to do what they want within the framework of the rule of law. Just be careful,” he said. No doubt, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would agree.

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