Stateline: September 2012 | STATE LEGISLATURES MAGAZINE
1. Drive Alones
Nevada last year became the first state to pass legislation allowing self-driving vehicles on public roads. This May, the state issued its first license to Google. These cars essentially drive themselves using technology instead of a human. The hope is to improve safety by eliminating human errors. The U.S. Department of Defense, auto manufacturers and universities are also experimenting with driverless cars, with varying degrees of success. Florida has followed Nevada’s lead, and a bill in California has passed the Senate. At least four other state legislatures are looking at driverless car bills as well. These issues touch on many areas of existing state law, including liability, traffic safety, vehicle registration, driver’s licensing, insurance, cross-jurisdictional issues, labor, privacy and security.
2. Marital Bliss
The Mississippi Gulf Coast’s wedding industry appears to be experiencing an uptick as the result of a new state law eliminating the three-day waiting period and blood test for syphilis to obtain a marriage license. Senator Melanie Sojourner (R) sponsored the bill in part because tourism officials wanted to attract out-of-state couples to hold weddings in the area, according to the Associated Press, and because she believes cutting red tape will encourage more in-state couples to take wedding vows. Harrison County alone received more than 100 marriage license applications in a two-week period, more than double the previous average.
3. Transparent Arkansas
State employee salaries, revenues, expenses and contracts are among the records available on Transparency.Arkansas.gov, the state’s new website that premiered on July 1. It’s a result of the Arkansas Financial Transparency Act. It is designed to promote accountability and curb wasteful spending. While at least 34 other states have passed transparency legislation and offer searchable websites, much of Arkansas’ information is updated daily. Although the data were available previously through open records laws, posting the information online is expected to cut down on the considerable time state employees spend responding to
4. A Parent Trio
California kids soon may be able to have more than two legal parents if a bill sponsored by Senator Mark Leno (D) passes. He introduced the bill after a girl wound up in state custody when a judge ruled her biological father could not be a third legal guardian. She already had two mothers, one in the hospital and the other in prison. Proponents described several scenarios of three-parent families. Opponents argued the bill is yet another step toward eroding the traditional family. The legislation, which would neither change the definition of “parentage” nor limit the number of parents, passed the Senate and went to the Assembly Appropriations Committee in July.
5. Ex-Felons Must Wait to Vote
Ex-felons will have to wait to vote in Florida and Iowa after governors in those states recently reversed policy automatically restoring voting rights upon release from prison. In both states, ex-felons must now apply to regain their voting rights; Florida ex-felons must wait up to seven years before applying, depending on their crime. Kentucky and Virginia are the only other states that leave it up to the discretion of the governor or clemency boards to restore voting rights to ex-felons, according to NCSL. Thirty-eight states and Washington, D.C., automatically restore voting rights upon completion of sentences, and in Maine and Vermont, felons never lose their right to vote, even while in prison.
6. NCSL.org Officially Archived
The U.S. Library of Congress has selected NCSL’s website, www.ncsl.org, for inclusion in the library’s historic collection of Internet materials related to public policy. The library called the site “an important part of this collection and historical record.” The Library of Congress preserves the nation’s cultural artifacts for use by the public. Its traditional role of preserving materials of historical importance to foster education and scholarship extends to digital material, including websites.
7. Send $
Following California and Maryland’s lead, the Federal Elections Commission ruled in June that people can now contribute to campaigns and political groups by texting. Donors simply send a text message to a predesignated number, the way many currently contribute to charities. Advocates say this option allows smaller donors to have a bigger say in elections and appeals to the younger generation, many of whom send about 100 texts a day, according to several studies. Others worry that the ease of donating through texting exploits people’s impulsive natures.
8. History Credit
Pennsylvania, home to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, has become the 30th state to offer an historic restoration tax credit. Senator David Argall (R) and Representative Robert Freeman (D) have been working to get the 25 percent tax credit approved for years, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. The credit applies to non-residential structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places or located in a National Register historic district. The credit is limited to $3 million statewide for the first year, and $500,000 per project. Combined with federal tax credits, proponents say it’s a good start. “It’s a tremendous incentive,” Freeman stated in the article. “It will create jobs, improve property values, and turn around communities.”
9. ACLU vs. Michigan
The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the state of Michigan and a Detroit area school district for violating a 1993 state law that gives students the “right to learn to read.” The class-action lawsuit, filed in a state court in Wayne County in July, alleges that children in the Highland Park School District are functionally illiterate. The law states that public school students who are not proficient in reading according to tests given in 4th and 7th grades must be given “special assistance” to bring them to grade level within a year. Most of the Highland Park students are years behind grade level and never received the assistance required by law, says the ACLU. A spokeswoman for Governor Rick Snyder said the administration is working to address “a long overdue fiscal and academic crisis that was crippling the district,” according to the Washington Post.
10. A Drop of Relief
Help is on the way for the more than 1,000 counties in 26 states plagued by the worst drought in decades. The U.S. Department of Agriculture proclaimed the counties natural disaster areas and pledged assistance. It’s the largest such declaration ever. Farmers and ranchers are being offered low-cost loans to offset losses caused by drought, wildfires and other natural disasters. Areas covered by the declaration include more than 50 percent of the Midwest, encompassing the southern and eastern parts of the Corn Belt, as well as most of the Southwest and Southeast.