Stateline | January 2015



1. Downshifting

Since 2000, commuting to work by car has increased only in Louisiana, North Dakota and South Dakota, three states where oil and gas workers travel long distances. Elsewhere, car commuting continued to decline. Nationwide, it dropped from 88 percent in 2000 to 86 percent in 2013, according to a Stateline analysis of U.S. Census numbers. In D.C., car commuting fell 11 percent, and Colorado, Oregon and Washington saw drops of up to 4 percent. The decline is attributed to young adults who prefer pedestrian-friendly cities over suburbs; greater use of mass transit; and more people who walk, bus or bike for health or environmental reasons. Retiring baby boomers add to the decline, as do higher car expenses.

2. Open for Business

Wyoming and South Dakota topped the rankings for best tax climate for business in the 2015 State Business Tax Climate Index, compiled by the Tax Foundation, a Washington, D.C., think tank. The index compares state tax systems in terms of how friendly they are to business and economic development. Rankings are based on the rates for individual income tax (32.1 percent of each state’s score), sales tax (21.6 percent), corporate tax (20.6 percent), property tax (14.6 percent) and unemployment insurance tax (11.1 percent). Nevada, Alaska, Florida, Montana,

New Hampshire, Indiana, Utah and Texas rounded out the top 10 list.

3 Tear Down the Zion Curtain?

Utah restaurants and bars are required to erect partitions so customers can’t see bartenders make drinks—an effort to discourage over consumption. But the “Zion Curtain” law is no longer relevant, believes Representative Kraig Powell (R), who says he will sponsor legislation to repeal it. In a poll, 62 percent of Utahans said the law hurts tourism and the economy. Governor Gary Herbert disagrees, pointing out that tourism is up and that Forbes magazine ranked Utah No. 1 for business. “I don’t have a lot of people coming to me when I’m outside the state saying, ‘You know, we’d come to Utah if it wasn’t for those darn liquor laws,’” he told KUED Radio.

4. Navajos Tax Junk Food

Navajo Nation lawmakers in Window Rock, Ariz., imposed a 2-cent sales tax on junk food to combat diabetes on the reservation, which covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. The tax on snacks, candy and soda is expected to raise $1 million to fund vegetable gardens, farmers’ markets and exercise equipment. Diabetes is a leading cause of death among Navajos. Grocery stores are few and far between on the 27,000-square-mile reservation, and since electricity is not available in all areas, thousands of people have no way of storing perishable food items for long.

5. Death With Dignity Turns 20

On the 20th anniversary of Oregon’s Death with Dignity law, the nation’s first, 1,173 residents have qualified for lethal prescriptions, and 752 patients have used them, according to The Oregonian. Most who chose to die were white, well-educated, over 65 years old and had health insurance. A majority suffered terminal cancer and died at home under hospice care. Washington and Vermont have similar laws. All allow mentally competent adult residents who have been diagnosed with a life expectancy of six months to receive a prescription medication to hasten death.

6. Tennessee Rethinks Abortion Law

Representative Rick Womick (R) has filed the first bill in response to a constitutional amendment, passed by voters in November, which says the right to an abortion is not guaranteed in Tennessee. His bill would require a woman to receive an ultrasound of the fetus 24 to 72 hours before she plans to have an abortion, and a doctor must offer to show her the image, although she could decline. Bill supporters believe some women will decide against having an abortion after they see the image. Jeff Teague, an official with Planned Parenthood, which fought the ballot measure, told The Tennessean that requiring doctors to offer women ultrasound images “is about shaming women.”

7. Wipes in the Pipes

Americans may love ’em, but sewage systems don’t. Tons of disposable bathroom wipes, flushed down toilets, are clogging pipes and costing millions of dollars in repairs. Baby wipes are particularly hard on systems. Although many are labeled as “flushable,” they are strong and don’t dissolve quickly. D.C. spent $1 million last year on heavy-duty grinders to destroy them, and Maine launched a “Save Your Pipes: Don’t Flush Baby Wipes” campaign. America isn’t alone. Canadian treatment plants spend about $250 million annually to deal with wipes, according to AP. And in London, a 15-ton, 66-foot-long glob of wipes, dubbed “Fatberg,” caused major sewage backups in Whitehall this summer. Experts say only three things should go down a toilet: No. 1, No. 2 and toilet paper.

8. $15 Million in Job Grants

Six states have won nearly $15 million in U.S. Labor Department grants to expand job opportunities for adults and young people with disabilities. California, Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota and South Dakota will receive roughly $2.5 million each to beef up American Job Centers, which work with local schools, businesses and advocates to help people with disabilities find jobs. This is the fifth round of Disability Employment Initiative funding, which supports 37 projects in 26 states. More grants may be awarded in the future, but details were not available in early December.

9. Governor to Critics: When Pigs Fly

New Jersey celebrities Danny DiVito, Martha Stewart and Bill Maher endorsed a bill that would have improved life for pregnant pigs, but it still ended up on the kill floor. Senator Raymond Lesniak’s (D) bill would have banned small gestation crates that leave the sows no room to move. The bill had wide public support, but Governor Chris Christie vetoed it for a second time, saying it created needless regulation and usurped state agriculture department authority. Critics said Christie vetoed the bill because he wants to be president and was currying favor with the powerful pork industry in Iowa, which holds the first presidential nominating contest. Although New Jersey legislators couldn’t save the bill’s bacon, lawmakers in nine other states have enacted similar legislation.

10. The Last Straw

When Stephanie Bounds says she drew the short straw, she’s not speaking metaphorically. Bounds won 177 votes, the same as her opponent, in a city alderman race in Poplarville, Miss., a town of 2,818. Since state law says election ties “shall be determined by lot,” city officials had both candidates pull straws from what Bounds describes as a cut-off bleach bottle, decorated as a hat. Bounds got the short straw. “Some of the national press we got—we just looked so backwoods,” Bounds told The Jackson Clarion-Ledger. “Maybe we should have just arm-wrestled for it.” Bounds says she will lobby legislators for a better way to settle ties, such as runoff elections. At least 22 states draw lots to settle legislative ties.

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