1. Proving Paternity
In Mississippi, if a girl under 16 gives birth and won’t name the father, authorities must order a sample of her umbilical cord blood to help prove paternity through DNA testing. Representative Andy Gipson (R), the new law’s sponsor, hopes it makes it easier to prosecute statutory rape cases and lower Mississippi’s stubbornly high teen pregnancy rate. Experts say teen moms often shield the identities of the fathers, many of whom are over age 21. Critics argue the law is too invasive and question how a potential father can be compelled to submit DNA and possibly implicate himself in a crime. But Governor Phil Bryant (R) has drawn a bright line: “It is time to stop children from being raped.”
2. Lobster Tale
Maine Governor Paul LePage (R) told folks gathered at a lobster festival that the state needs more lobster processing plants. He blamed the Legislature for getting in the way by keeping taxes and energy costs too high, the Bangor Daily News reported. Representative Chuck Kruger (D), who introduced LePage at the festival, later said the governor was swimming in the wrong ocean. LePage has yet to release bond money voters approved in 2010 that would spur job creation, Kruger said. Politics aside, lobster fishermen’s pots aren’t empty. Maine is spending $3 million on a national campaign to market the decapod crustaceans, thanks to a bill passed by lawmakers and signed by the governor.
3. Too Many Elections?
Two Ohio lawmakers want to end special elections, saying they’re too expensive and turnout is low. The bill, by Representatives John Becker (R) and John Adams (R), would prevent school districts and local governments from putting tax issues before voters in February and August. “Local government entities—it’s usually schools, but it can also be the local governments—spend a lot of the local taxpayers’ money to acquire additional taxpayers’ money in these special elections,” Becker told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Cuyahoga County charges roughly $1,500 to $2,300 per precinct to hold a special election. The Ohio School Board Association opposes the bill, arguing it takes time to educate voters about issues and that schools need the flexibility special elections provide.
4. I'll Have a Warm One
Indiana grocery stores, gas stations and pharmacies can sell beer, but it has to be warm. If you want a cold one you’ll have to find a liquor store or grab one at a bar or restaurant. Hoping to overturn the law that limits “cold” sales, the Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association have sued. They noted that Indiana is the only state that regulates the sale of beer by temperature. In the opposing corner, a liquor store chain called 21st Amendment argues that, if gas stations and pharmacies want to sell cold beer, they should be under the same restrictions as liquor stores, which must close on Sundays, be at least 200 feet away from churches, and limit those who enter to customers 21 and older. Public opinion is running hot and cold.
5. U Text, U Lose
A New Jersey appeals court has sent a strong message about distracted driving: Text someone you know is driving, and you can be held liable if an accident occurs. In 2009, Kyle Best, 18, drove his truck over the center line and hit a motorcycle. Both people on the motorcycle lost their left legs. They sued Best and the woman texting with Best at the time of the accident, arguing the woman was “electronically present” in the truck. Best settled out of court, and judges ruled the evidence against the woman was insufficient. But the court laid down a new standard of responsibility. When the sender “has actual knowledge or special reason to know ... that the recipient will view the text while driving, the sender has breached a duty of care to the public by distracting the driver.”
6. Top 10 for Startups
More businesses were launched in Arizona, per capita, than in any other state in 2011, according to the 2012 Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity. For every 100,000 adults in Arizona, 520 businesses were started, according to Kauffman. It conducts its rankings on a yearly national survey of about half a million adults who start a business. Arizona’s lures are low business and property taxes, plus a highly educated labor pool. Texas, No. 2, has no personal or corporate income tax, and living costs are low. California, Nevada and Idaho appeal to tech companies, and manufacturers like Missouri’s low taxes and energy costs.
7. Study Now, Pay Later
At a minimum, a college education can cost $34,000. That’s a hefty sum for most and prohibitive for many. To help students, Oregon lawmakers are considering a new financing system where students pay no tuition up front. In return, students would pay a percentage of their future income—say 3 percent over a 20- to 25-year period—back to the state. A House bill directing the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission to study a pilot program passed unanimously. New Jersey, Ohio, Washington and other states are investigating similar proposals. Details are daunting, but in Oregon, plan backers like to say Phil Knight, Nike co-founder and generous University of Oregon benefactor, would be a great source of seed money.
8. Earthquake Alert
An extra 30 seconds’ warning before an earthquake may save thousands of lives, many experts believe. That’s the thinking behind California Senator Alex Padilla’s (D) bill to create an early warning system for earthquakes. The measure, signed by Jerry Brown (D) in late September, calls for the California Office of Emergency Services to oversee development of an $80-million sensor system to relay data to a central location that would trigger alerts before the shaking starts. Padilla believes an early warning system would give the public more time to find safety and the operators of trains and power stations time to shut down, potentially averting derailments and explosions.
9. Jocks Call Tax Foul
Tennessee lawmakers are hearing from pro athletes unhappy with the state’s so-called “jock tax.” It’s a $2,500 surcharge levied on basketball and hockey players, per game, capped at $7,500 a year. Tennessee doesn’t have an income tax, but it does charge a number of professionals, such as dentists and lawyers, a privilege tax of $400 a year. In 2009, it was extended to NBA and NHL players. Proceeds go to the Nashville Predators and Grizzlies to help pay for operations at their arenas. At a hearing, some lawmakers questioned the fairness of the tax, noting it does not apply to players in the National Football League or entertainers. But they also conceded that the Predators and the Grizzlies depend on the proceeds from the tax. Senator Jack Johnson (R) sponsored a bill to repeal the tax this spring, but he now thinks the players should work out a solution on their own, according to The Tennessean.
10. Win for Wolves
Mexican gray wolves in Arizona and New Mexico are howling their approval over the federal government’s proposal to increase their territory and drop plans to capture them when they enter this country from Mexico. Many ranchers who have lost cattle to wolves oppose the plan to allow the endangered wolves to cross freely into Arizona and New Mexico. The wolves have been decimated by hunting and trapping and by ranchers protecting their livestock. Several years ago, about 75 wolves were reintroduced into a small area in central Arizona and New Mexico, the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is conducting hearings on the plan to release wolves into the Gila National Forest in January 2015, greatly expanding their territory to include a vast swath of Arizona and New Mexico. Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, Ariz., says he “strongly believes” federal officials will implement the plan.