STATE LEGISLATURES MAGAZINE | DEcember 2015
1. Credit Where It’s Due
Advocates who say job applicants shouldn’t be penalized because they have bad credit reports are cheering a new law in New York City. Employers, labor organizations and employment agencies in the Big Apple may no longer use or request an applicant’s consumer credit history, and are prevented from discriminating against an applicant or employee based on credit history, according to the city’s website. The law exempts law enforcement and other professions involving access to sensitive information. It’s similar to those enacted recently in several states, 11 of which currently limit employers’ use of credit information. At least 28 bills introduced during the 2015 session addressed restrictions or exemptions on the use of credit information in employment, and three were enacted—in Georgia, Nevada and Utah.
2. Serious About Civics
Wisconsin is the latest state to require high school students to pass an American citizenship test to graduate. The new law requires students to correctly answer at least 60 out of 100 questions taken from the same citizenship test required of immigrants. Most of the questions aren’t too difficult (When do we celebrate Independence Day? Who was the first president?), but a few require paying attention in civics class (How many justices are on the Supreme Court? During the Cold War, what was the main concern of the United States?). Seven other states—Arizona, Idaho, Louisiana, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah—enacted similar requirements during the first half of the year.
3. Smoking Deterrents
Adolescents and young adults living in areas with smoke-free workplaces, restaurants and bars were 20 percent less likely to become smokers, according to researchers from the University of California. They also found the same correlation with increases in tobacco taxes, with each 10-cent increase precipitating a 3 percent drop in the odds of starting smoking. The study concluded that “the $2 tax increase being discussed in the California Legislature would cut youth smoking initiation nearly in half.”
4. Tough Acts to Follow
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—with nearly 240 years to practice U.S.-style democracy, the 13 original colonies rank pretty well against the other states on ensuring two of these three basic rights, according to a Bloomberg study. About half of them beat the U.S. average life expectancy of 78.9 years, with Connecticut (at 80.8 years) leading the way. All 13 have lower incarceration rates—Bloomberg’s measure of liberty—than the U.S. average of 497 per 100,000 residents. Rhode Island has the lowest rate (197) of the 13. If the colonies lagged, it was in happiness. Using an index that “measures purpose, social, financial, community and physical elements in peoples’ daily lives,” Bloomberg reports that the “happiest” of the 13, Virginia, ranked 14th among all 50 states.
5. Tribal Farming
Legalizing the production and sale of industrial hemp in South Dakota could be a big boost for tribal economic development, Representative Mike Verchio (R) told the Rapid City Journal. Hemp, from the same variety of plant as marijuana, is one of the easiest plants to grow, he said, and its production would provide an economic opportunity for tribes with large expanses of agricultural land. At least 13 states–including neighboring North Dakota and Montana–allow industrial hemp to be produced commercially. Verchio’s draft legislation would designate industrial hemp, currently defined by the federal government as an illegal Schedule 1 drug, as an “oil seed” if it has no more than 0.3 percent of THC, the substance that produces the high associated with marijuana.
6. Working in the Garden
Some wonder whether there’s any point to keeping New Jersey’s law requiring new public workers to live in the state within one year of being hired. Since the 2011 enactment of the “New Jersey First Act,” more than 1,300 workers have requested an exemption and three-quarters have received one, Politico New Jersey reports. So many being granted exemptions, meant for those facing a “critical need or hardship,” are “proof positive it’s an untenable policy,” Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R) says.
7. Bead Ban
Soaps, body washes, toothpastes and other products containing scrubby microbeads give us that squeaky-clean feeling. But the beads—barely visible plastic bits—aren’t biodegradable and easily pass through most water treatment plants, eventually winding up in the ocean. California lawmakers are the latest to pass a ban on the sale of products that contain microbeads. Similar bans are in place in Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland and New Jersey. Several companies have pledged to remove the beads from their products as alternatives become available. California’s law will take effect in 2020 if the governor signs it. Learn about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch here.
8.Right to Keep Trying
Missouri lawmakers fell 13 votes short of the supermajority needed to override a veto by Missouri Governor Jay Nixon (D) of right-to work legislation banning compulsory union membership and involuntary donations to labor unions as a condition of employment. According to the Heartland Institute, this is the fourth attempt by the bill’s sponsor, Representative Eric Burleson (R), to preserve workers’ freedom of association. “If an individual finds that being a member of a union is in their best interests, then they should have the right and the freedom to associate with [people] they wish to associate with,” Burleson says. “If you’re being compelled to associate, then that’s not freedom.”
9. Capitol Security
Although West Virginia lawmakers last year prohibited city officials from banning guns at city swimming pools, tennis courts, after-school centers and other recreational facilities, they didn’t include the Capitol, where some now want to tighten security. Currently, visitors are mostly free to enter and exit the Mountain State Capitol as they please and, if they are concealed-carry permit holders, keep guns in their cars on the grounds. The situation is “ridiculous in these days and times,” Senate President Bill Cole (R) told The Associated Press. Lawmakers are discussing changes that could include metal detectors and X-ray machines. Twenty-eight state capitols have metal detectors, two have only armed guards and 20 have no metal detectors.
10. Hip, Hip, Hooray for Fair Pay
Women are bringing their fight for fair wages to that manliest of workplaces: the National Football League. Cheerleaders have filed lawsuits against five teams—the Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Oakland Raiders, New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers—alleging below-minimum pay, failure to reimburse expenses, misclassification as contractors and unlawful deductions from earnings, among other claims. California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D) took up the cause with a bill requiring that any cheerleader for a California-based professional sports team “be deemed an employee,” not a contractor. Her bill was enacted in July. The Raiderettes settled with their team in September and will earn the state’s minimum wage, $9 an hour, plus overtime. Similar legislation is pending in New York.