Stateline | December 2013



US Supreme Court1. Pretender to the Flown?

As sure as George Washington was our first president and Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, Wilbur and Orville Wright were No. 1 in flight. Or were they? A new name has emerged to challenge the Wrights as the fathers of flight, and three states are arguing over who’s correct. The Wrights are beloved sons of Ohio, their birthplace, and North Carolina, site of their famous flight. But a new Connecticut law says German-born aviator and Bridgeport, Conn., resident Gustave Whitehead made the first powered flight in 1901—two years before the Wrights. In October news conferences, Representative Rick Perales (R) of Ohio and Senator Bill Cook (R) of North Carolina told Connecticut to cool its jets on the first-flight claim. “Nowadays it seems like there are an awful lot of people who are trying to rewrite history,” Cook told the Associated Press. Connecticut Representative Larry Miller (R) countered with an email stating “over 100 contemporary published accounts ... and supporting photographs” prove their guy Gustave was the first aloft, on August 14, 1901.

2. 18—The New 21?

Utah has joined a handful of states debating whether to raise the smoking age to 21. In most states, a person must be 18 to buy tobacco, but in four states—Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey and Utah—the minimum age is 19. The goal is to stop smokers before they start. Studies show that if a person has not smoked by 21, it’s highly unlikely he ever will, says Senator Stuart Reid (R) of Utah, sponsor of the bill. New Jersey, New York and Texas are considering similar bills. Supporters say raising the smoking age would improve health and lower medical costs; opponents say it would hurt small businesses, reduce tax revenues and undermine the rights of 18-year-olds, who are legally adults and eligible for military service.

 3. No Candy Zone

Massachusetts Senate President Therese Murray (D) has asked senators to clear their desk drawers of candy. Apparently it’s been attracting mice, which not only help themselves to the candy, but also nibble on lawmakers’ microphone wires, and recently gnawed through $83,295 in electrical equipment. Mice are not uncommon in the Statehouse, which was built more than 200 years ago. Perhaps tabby cats (Felis familiaris)—designated Massachusetts’s Official Cat in 1988— could lend a paw.

4 Duck bill

Organizers of the Ducktona 500 in Sheboygan, Wis., were taken aback to learn their 25-year-old annual fundraiser might be illegal. The event, which attracts as many as 3,000 rubber ducks, operates like a raffle: participants buy tickets that match numbers on the ducks, which float down the Sheboygan River. The first across the finish line win cash prizes. This year, the Wisconsin Department of Justice told the Sheboygan Falls Chamber of Commerce-Main Street Organization the race amounts to illegal gambling. But just when it looked like the event was a dead duck, Representative Andre Jacque (R) floated a bill to legalize non-profit duck races, potentially averting a quackdown.

5. Hazy on details

Seattle lawyers want clarification about recreational marijuana use—specifically, their own. Adult pot use is legal in Washington, but the federal government still deems it a crime. The lawyers asked the Washington State Supreme Court to confirm they aren’t violating ethics rules by using pot or counseling clients about the law, which went into effect Dec. 1, the American Bar Association Journal reports. Colorado and Washington voters opened a can of worms last year when they legalized personal pot use. Policymakers scrambled to address such tricky issues as whether a person has a right to fire up a joint in his back yard if his neighbor objects to the smell. No word if or when the Washington high court will clear the air in the Seattle lawyers’ case.

6. Disturbing Cyber Trend

“Revenge porn” sounds like a comic’s line, but the cyber trend is anything but funny. The term refers to the malicious posting of private sexual images or videos of someone on a website, typically by a jilted lover trying to punish his ex-girlfriend. Two states have banned the practice. In New Jersey, posting revenge porn is punishable by three to five years in prison and a $30,000 fine. In California, anyone who posts explicit photos “with the intent to cause serious emotional distress” faces six months in jail or a $1,000 fine. “Too many have had their lives upended because of an action of another who they trusted,” says bill sponsor Senator Anthony Cannella (R) of California.

7. Talkin' Turkey

The holidays are high season for turkey growers, when an estimated 32 percent of annual sales take place. Americans consume an average of 16.4 pounds of turkey per person per year—more than any other country.

Top Five Turkey Producers (birds per year)

1. Minnesota 47 million

2. North Carolina 32 million

3. Arkansas 31 million

4. Missouri 18 million

5. Virginia 18 million

8. 'Warning Shot' law blasted

A Florida representative says a law making it a crime to brandish a gun or fire a warning shot is too harsh and should be exempt from the state’s mandatory minimum sentencing rules. Representative Neil Combee (R) has introduced a bill that would amend the law. Combee and co-sponsor Representative Katie Edwards (D) say the state’s mandatory minimum laws were meant for people committing crimes such as robbery, not for people trying to protect themselves. Combee says there are cases of Floridians serving 20-year prison terms because they pointed a gun at someone in situations where they felt threatened. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd has said the mandatory minimum sentencing regulations have reduced crime and indicated the Florida Sheriff’s Association will likely oppose the new bill.

9. Together Furever

New Yorkers who want to be buried next to their pets are generally out of luck, as state law forbids human cemeteries from interring pet remains. But the rules governing pet cemeteries are less clear. The issue came to light in 2011, when the state barred a retired New York police officer from being laid to rest next his three Maltese dogs in the 117-year-old Hartsdale Pet Cemetery. A public outcry ensued, so the state reversed itself, but stipulated pet cemeteries could not charge for human burials. Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti (D) called the ruling government interference, and introduced a bill to remove the stipulation. Meanwhile, Assemblyman James Brennan’s (D) new bill would allow pets to be buried in human cemeteries, and cemetery vocalists soon may be brushing up on “Nearer My Dog to Thee.”

10. Brake on Bikes

A controversial Georgia bill would require bicycle owners to register their bikes, pay a $15 fee each year, and affix license plates. The bill limits groups to four cyclists in single-file formation. Under the measure,  cyclists could be banned from state roads at certain times. Supporters say increased bicycle traffic on narrow mountain roads has made them dangerous, and that bicyclists will be more courteous and law-abiding if they can be identified via license plates. Many bicyclists complain the bill is government overreach. Sponsors are Representatives Emory Dunahoo (R) and Carl Rogers (R) and Senator Lee Hawkins (R).

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