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Statelines February 2014

Statelines | February 2014

Mary Winter 1/24/2014

STATE LEGISLATURES MAGAZINE

1. No Ifs, Ands Or ...

Illinois lawmakers have declared war on cigarette butts. As of Jan. 1, tossing a cigarette out a car window or onto the sidewalk is punishable by up to a $1,500 fine and six months in jail. Sponsor of House Bill 3243, former Representative Deb Mell, (D), told the Chicago Sun-Times: “There are far too many [butts] on our streets and our roads, and this just tries to clean that up.” Representative David Reis (R) was not buying it. “We’ve got a lot more important things to talk about here than fines for a cigarette toss,” he said. Seven other states include cigarettes in their anti-littering laws.

2. Rights Collide

Two Ohio lawmakers took action after a public school was forced to remove a portrait of Jesus that had been there since 1947. Representatives Tim Derickson (R) and Bill Patmon (D) introduced the Ohio Religious Freedom Restoration Act after the Jackson City School District settled a lawsuit for $95,000. Plaintiffs, including three parents and the Freedom from Religion Foundation, said the portrait was an unconstitutional government endorsement of Christianity. The district argued it belonged to a religion-centered student group that had the right to hang it. Derickson said the bill is meant to “defend religious liberties on behalf of our citizens of all faiths.” Seventeen states have similar religious-freedom laws—laws that are frequently challenged.

3. Sobering Statistics

Representative Roger Goodman (D) of Washington says he’ll push for tougher drunken-driving laws, including establishing sobriety checkpoints, which currently are prohibited under the state constitution. A report delivered to the Legislature in December by the Washington Impaired Driving Work Group said the 39 states and Canadian provinces with checkpoints have seen a 15 percent to 33 percent reduction in fatal collisions, while DUI-related fatalities have dropped only 2 percent in Washington in the past 10 years, mynorthwest.com reports. Groups, including the ACLU, oppose sobriety checkpoints on privacy grounds. Ten other states also prohibit sobriety checkpoints.

4. Redistricting Do-Over

Wisconsin Democrats want to get politics out of redistricting. Every decade in America, legislative and congressional districts are redrawn to ensure they’re roughly equal in population. In 13 states, the job falls to independent commissions; in 37 states, legislatures do it, and the party in power often has the upper hand. Wisconsin is in the second camp, and Democrats, unhappy with the 2010 GOPdrawn map, say it’s time for a nonpartisan group to take over. A bill to that effect died, so Representative Dana Wachs (D) is proposing a referendum on the 2014 ballot. Lawmakers would not be bound by the results. Democrats say their goal is to bring attention to the issue.

5. With Spray Abandon

Pennsylvania schools could ban body sprays, colognes and other fragrances under a proposal by Representative Marcia Hahn (R). Hahn came up with the idea for her Fragrance Free Schools Act after a high school boy in her district suffered an allergic reaction to Axe Body Spray and had to be taken to the hospital. Axe is popular among boys, who sometimes use it liberally in place of showers after gym class, the Pennsylvania Independent reports. Hahn’s act would require school districts to develop a written policy banning the use of scented products if notified by a student with a related allergy.

6. Money 101

Florida high school students would have to take a financial literacy course under provisions of a new bill. Sponsors Senator Dorothy Hukill (R) and Representatives Heather Fitzenhagen (R) and Manny Diaz (R) say studies show nearly half of Florida teens don’t understand financial basics. In 15 states where such classes are required, students are more likely to save and pay off their credit cards, and they’re less likely to buy on impulse, compared to students in other states, according to the National Endowment for Financial Education. Senator Maria Sachs (D) told the Orlando Sentinel she supports the bill because “It’s very important that our students not only learn calculus in school and read Shakespeare, but also know how to manage their 401(k).”

7. Wired

U.S. households with Internet access increased from 18 percent 1997 to 72 percent in 2011. The following states have the largest percentage of highly plugged-in residents—those connected to the Internet from “multiple locations and multiple devices” at home and at work, according to a 2013 Census Bureau report.

  • Colorado, 35.8 percent
  • Maryland, 33.5 percent
  • Minnesota, 33.4 percent
  • Washington, 33 percent
  • New Jersey, 32.6 percent
  • Connecticut, 32.6 percent

8. Home, Affordable Home

Massachusetts lawmakers have made $73 million available for affordable housing projects in 17 communities, much of it in low-income housing tax credits for builders. The money, part of a $1.4 billion bond bill the legislature enacted, will be used to update public housing; help subsidize affordable multifamily developments; and increase rental housing for low- and moderate-income residents, the elderly, the homeless, people with disabilities and veterans. The rest of the bond money will fund other capital programs over five years, such as improving early education facilities in low-income communities.

9. Anti-Smoking Champs

Alaska and North Dakota are spending their tobacco-settlement money on the right things—that is, on anti-smoking programs—says a children’s advocacy group. North Dakota will spend $9.5 million next year to keep kids away from cigarettes, and Alaska will spend more than $10 million, says a new report from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. But most states are spending “only a miniscule portion” to fight tobacco use, according to the report. Fifteen years ago, 46 states settled lawsuits against tobacco companies to recover tobacco-related health care costs and will get about $246 billion over 25 years. States don’t have to spend it on anti-smoking programs; many diverted it to Medicaid, especially during the recent recession.

10. More is Bad

Delaware is creating a task force to deal with the state’s estimated 45,000 hoarders. People who accumulate items or animals in excess can create fire hazards, weaken structures, attract rodents and harbor disease. About 5 percent of the population, or 15 million Americans, are thought to be hoarders. Advisers to Delaware’s task force include representatives from police and fire agencies, hospitals, substance abuse and mental health centers, code enforcement departments and animal welfare agencies, reports the News Journal of Wilmington. The task force plans to develop a network of resources to help agencies work with hoarders.

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