Stateline: December 2012 | STATE LEGISLATURES MAGAZINE
1. Government Trust
What a difference a few years make. Trust in state government is up almost 15 percent since a low of 51 percent in 2009. Nearly 65 percent of Americans said they have a great or fair amount of trust in their state government, according to a recent Gallup poll. Respondents from Southern states—71 percent of them—trusted their state governments the most; Westerners, at 57 percent, were the least trustful. Seventy-one percent of Republicans said they had trust and confidence in state government, while 65 percent of independents and 61 percent of Democrats did. Local government consistently fares well, never having dropped below 68 percent since polling began. This year, 74 percent expressed high levels of trust.
2. These Dogs Can’t Hunt
Canines no longer will be able to go hunting with their humans for bears and bobcats under a new law in California. “There is nothing sporting in shooting an exhausted bear clinging to a tree limb or a cornered bobcat,” says the bill’s sponsor, Senator Ted Lieu (D). Hunters descended on the Capitol to complain the bill infringed on their rights. “NRA members and all other hunters must continue to be as active as possible in opposition to this ban ... we’ve all got a dog in this fight,” says Darren La Sorte, NRA-ILA manager of hunting policy, on the group’s website. Seventeen of the 32 states that allow bear hunting permit hounds to participate.
3. Archives: Closed!
Citizens in Georgia will be hard-pressed to access records after budget cuts reduced the staff of the Georgia Archives to three, one of whom is the maintenance man. All states have archives, but Georgia will become the first to not have one regularly open to the public. Professional archivists see big changes in their industry. Budget cuts and technological changes—whereby everything from government tweets to official documents are being produced electronically—create uncertainty in how well records will be kept in the future.
4. Heavy Metal
Metal theft is a growing problem, and Florida became one of the most recent states to pass legislation designed to stop it. The new law requires second-hand dealers to obtain signed statements, thumbprints and photographs from sellers; purchase metals with checks or bank transfers; and send transaction records to law enforcement officials. A new North Carolina law requires recyclers to take digital photos or videotape customers posing with the metal items they are selling. The National Insurance Crime Bureau reports that metal theft claims have increased 8 percent from 2009 to 2011. States generating the most claims were California, Illinois, Georgia, Ohio and Texas. Rising prices for base metals, especially copper, are driving the increase in thefts, according to the bureau.
Replacement referees would not be allowed in professional football arenas in New Jersey if Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D) has his way. He was prompted to introduce the legislation after a particularly painful start to the National Football League season, during which the less-experienced referees made several controversial calls, including one that may have cost the Green Bay Packers a win against the Seattle Seahawks. Even Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R), who eliminated most collective bargaining rights for state employees last year, tweeted the morning after the game that the NFL should bring back union officials. (His office later clarified that the tweet “has nothing to do with unions and everything to do with a blown call,” according to Yahoo! News.)
6. Outlaw Therapy
California became the first state last fall to ban psychotherapy intended to make gay teenagers straight. The law prohibits licensed mental health professionals from using what is known as reparative or conversion therapies with clients under age 18. The Pacific Justice Institute and Liberty Counsel plan to sue to stop the law from taking effect Jan. 1. Two New Jersey lawmakers are drafting similar legislation.
7. Taxing Hazards
Washington’s hazardous substances tax is constitutional, the state Supreme Court has ruled. Approved by voters in 1988, the 0.7 percent tax—which raises approximately $125 million a year from oil products, pesticides and other chemicals—is used for environmental cleanup. Proponents had argued the tax violates the state constitution’s 18th amendment, which directs motor fuel taxes to be used for highway purposes. But the court disagreed, writing that “nothing in the constitutional provision indicates that any new tax similar to a gas tax would require the Legislature to use the funds for highway purposes.” Assistant Attorney General Laura Watson told the Associated Press that “The Legislature has very broad taxing authority.”
8. Energy Efficient
The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy named Massachusetts (in its second year atop the rankings), California, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Washington, Maryland and Minnesota as the top 10 energy-efficient states in 2012. The nonprofit organization, which promotes energy-efficiency policies, rated the states in its sixth annual “State Energy Efficiency Scorecard.” The report examines six of the primary policy areas in which states typically pursue energy efficiency: utility and “public benefits” programs and policies; transportation policies; building energy codes; combined heat and power policies; state government-led initiatives around energy efficiency; and appliance and equipment standards.
9. A Sobering Application
In an effort to reduce the number of fatalities caused by people driving while impaired (DWI), New Mexico has introduced a smartphone app called “ENDWI.” The free app offers a variety of features designed to reduce DWI-related deaths. Users can estimate their blood alcohol content based on the number and types of drinks they consumed, or play games that test their response times so they can determine their impairment levels. They also can find rides through contact lists of family and friends or by instantly locating and calling the nearest cab company. They can even report other erratic drivers with the press of a button. The state created the app in response to a recent state Department of Transportation study showing that almost 60 percent of DWI fatalities on state roads in 2011 involved repeat offenders.
10. Rich Round Of Benefits
The Congressional Research Service reports that nearly 2,400 people who received unemployment insurance in 2009 lived in households with annual incomes of $1 million or more. The report said the millionaires represent 0.02 percent of the 11.3 million U.S. tax filers who reported unemployment insurance income in 2009, and that another 954,000 households earning more than $100,000 also reported receiving the benefits. The payments may have been received by people living with spouses or dependents who earned high incomes, or before the recipients got high-paying jobs. The government does not require means testing for people receiving unemployment benefits.