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Stateline September  2009

Tractor Parade

Missouri lawmakers passed a measure in May that allows farm tractors on state roads as long as they are in a parade. Seems the only way they were allowed previously was when farmers were driving between fields. According to the Associated Press, the governor said tractor parades give Missourians a chance to see the machines that help make the state an agricultural powerhouse. We’re not sure how many parades Missouri has a year, but it must be plenty.

Trading to Save

In these tough times Wisconsin and Minnesota are continuing their idea of sharing. Wisconsin is trading its small frylings (a walleye fish) to Minnesota for its longer fingerlings to stock its lakes. They are also looking at sharing bullets for the police, menus for prisoners, trucks for bridge inspections and sign language interpreters. According to The New York Times, the two states could save $20 million over the next two years. They are also considering buying other things in bulk, sharing computer systems and swapping intelligence about contracts that could be found more cheaply.

Arts Persevering

Students’ performance in and knowledge of music and visual arts appears to be holding up just fine. The Nation’s Report Card: Arts 2008, part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, shows little change in arts participation and achievement since 1997. Fifty-seven percent of students attend a school with music instruction at least three or four times a week, and 47 percent had access to visual instruction that often. Those figures are about the same as they were in 1997. Arts advocates are concerned about continued gaps in scores among socioeconomic and racial groups, however.

One a Month, Please

New Jersey could become the fourth state with a one-handgunper-month buying limit, if the governor signs the bill passed by the Legislature. Buyers will be limited to purchasing one handgun every 30 days, up to 13 a year. Proponents say the bill would fight “straw” buyers who purchase guns legally then sell them to criminals. Opponents, however, argue the law will do little to stop criminals and only hurts law-abiding citizens. “You are taking away the most fundamental right that we as Americans have,” argued Senator Kevin O’Toole, in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Name Change

Voters in the “State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations” will consider dropping the second part of the state’s formal name in the 2010 election. Proponents of the change argue the word “plantations” is offensive to African Americans because it conjures up images of slavery. They’ve been working for the change for more than 20 years. But opponents say the full name reflects important history—the merging of two colonies that now make up the smallest state.

Counting Votes

Washington recently joined a growing number of states pledging its Electoral College votes to the winner of the national popular vote, making, supporters say, every vote count equally. Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland and New Jersey also have done so. “It’s a big deal. It shows momentum. It shows support,” said John Koza, chairman of the nonprofit group National Popular Vote, according to The Olympian. Four times in U.S. history an elected president did not win the popular vote. Opponents argue that the 50 states offer different choices for candidates and have different rules for who can vote and when they can register, so votes are not all equal. Trying to remember the four times? 1824, 1876, 1888 and 2000.

Runaway Juror

An Oregon juror waiting to be called “just couldn’t take it” anymore and disappeared after lunchtime. Unfortunately, that’s no excuse, and an arrest warrant was issued for contempt of court, reports the Oregonian. When he was arrested, he said he left because he was “extremely bored.” Runaway jurors in the state can be sentenced to as much as six months in jail, but usually they agree to return. This juror was sentenced to one year of bench probation, meaning he does not have to report to a probation officer..

No Teeth, Please

Virginia recently joined Arkansas, Indiana and Nevada in prohibiting drivers from smiling for their license photos. Apparently facial recognition software can’t deal with smiles. The European Union and several individual countries also have smile restrictions on passport photos since Sept. 11, 2001. Licensing agencies use the software to ensure no one is using aliases or stolen identities. The software measures the distance between eyes, the width of the mouth and other cues, but smiles can impede the photo comparisons.

Solar Fast Track

The federal government is carving out public land in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah for speedy development of commercial solar power plants. The goal is to have 13 solar power plants under construction by the end of 2010. The federal Bureau of Land Management has received applications for 158 solar projects on 1.8 million acres, which, according to federal estimates, are capable of generating 97,000 megawatts, enough to power 29 million homes.

Scallions at the State House

There’s a movement germinating in the country to get an organic garden planted on the grounds of every state capitol. The idea is to educate citizens on the benefits of food gardens and encourage them to grow their own. The Vermont State House Food Garden was dedicated last spring, and was tended to by high schoolers. They grew lettuce, chives, parsley cabbage, peas, carrots and scallions. The harvest is being donated to food pantries.  

Password Un-Protected

In addition to a standard criminal record check and past employment reviews, applicants for jobs in the city of Bozeman, Mont., must now provide their user names and passwords to Internet sites. And it’s causing quite the stir. According to the ABA Journal, the application reads: “Please list any and all, current personal or business websites, web pages or memberships on any Internet-based chat rooms, social clubs or forums, to include, but not limited to: Facebook, Google, Yahoo, YouTube.com, MySpace, etc.”