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Stateline: June 2010

Illustration of man with a guitar

Help at Work

Wisconsin lawmakers are considering a bill that targets workplace bullying. After a woman killed herself following months of harassment at work, her family was told it had no legal recourse since she wasn’t from a protected class, such as the elderly or a racial and religious minority. The proposal would allow workers who believe they have been harmed by “abusive conduct” to sue for compensation, seek reinstatement, or force the employer to stop repeated verbal or physical conduct that is threatening, intimidating or humiliating.” Supporters say 16 other states are considering such legislation.

See-Through States

Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas received As and Bs in a “Transparency 2.0” report by U.S. PIRG, a national consumer protection group. The report examines whether states allow citizens to see government expenditures online, and how comprehensive and searchable the information is. It grades states from “A” to “F.” The higher-graded states provide information that is very searchable and include detailed data about government contracts, tax subsidies and grants to businesses. Twenty-five other states received Cs and Ds, and 18 states failed.

Forests R Us

Colorado officials want to manage their own roadless national forests. The governor submitted a request to the Obama administration for the state to manage about 4.2 million acres in a way that better protects areas surrounded by oil and gas development. State officials also argued they need more flexibility for community protection against wildfires, ski slope expansions and coal mine operations. The nation’s 58 million acres of roadless national forest land are federally managed according to a national rule established in 2001.

Online and Educated

Michigan teens are going to have even more opportunities to take online high school classes with new rules that allow two new cyber schools to open. Senator Wayne Kuipers, sponsor of the bill, told the Detroit Free Press that it’s important for kids to have choices. “There are no boundaries, no barriers. Kids are able to work at their own pace.” The schools will operate as charter high schools but eventually add elementary school students. Opponents argue against any program that bypasses the student-teacher relationship.

Fee for Filing

The fee to file a ballot initiative in California may be increasing from $200 to $2,000. If the legislation passes, it will be the first increase since 1943. Assemblywoman Lori Saldana told the Associated Press that the current low fee has resulted in an increase in frivolous initiatives that never make the ballot but cost the state money to review. Critics argue a higher filing fee would limit citizens’ ability to promote their ideas. Seventeen of the 24 initiative states charge no filing fee. Alaska, Mississippi, Ohio, Washington and Wyoming charge between $5 and $500. Florida charges 10 cents per signature. Alaska and California refund the fee if petitions qualify for the ballot.

Desert Tough

Arizona lawmakers recently passed one of the strictest immigration enforcement bills in the country, making it a violation of state law to be in the country without the proper documentation. Police will have the power to stop and verify the status of anyone they suspect of being illegal. Repre-sentative John Kavanagh, a supporter of the bill, told The Wall Street Journal that it “addresses the concerns of our communities, constituents and colleagues.” But opponents argue that it will promote racial profiling and chase away workers, thus hurting the state’s economy. “Where do the legislators think business will find workers?” asked Joe Rubio, of the Valley Interfaith Project, an advocacy group.

Abortion Firsts

Nebraska lawmakers, according to the Associated Press, passed a first-of-its-kind abortion measure requiring doctors to screen women to determine whether they were pressured into having abortions. They will also have to assess whether the women have “physical, psychological, emotional, de-mographic or situational” factors that could lead to mental or physical problems after an abortion. Supporters say it’s no different than other medical procedures in which patients are screened for possible problems. Doctors will have to tell patients whether they have any of the risk factors but will be able to perform abortions even if they do. If a screening is not done, a woman could file a civil suit. Doctors will not face criminal charges, nor can they lose their medical licenses. Nebraska lawmakers are also looking at another first-of-its-kind bill banning abortions at 20 weeks, based on the claim that fetuses feel pain by then.

Direct Vote

The Citizens in Charge Foundation has graded states according to “the extent to which residents have the ability to affect their government through the initiative and referendum process.” The organization believes citizens should be “in charge of their government … that additional checks on state legislatures are to be encouraged.” Arkansas, California, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon and South Dakota received either an A-, B+ or B. Only 24 states have the initiative and referendum process.

Turtle Troubles

A man will spend some time in his own kind of shell for breaking the Lacey Act by trying to smuggle more than 100 turtles out of West Virginia to sell in Virginia. He was sentenced to a year in prison. The federal act protects both plants and wildlife by creating civil and criminal penalties for a wide array of violations. It also underscores other federal, state and foreign laws protecting wildlife by making it a separate offense to take, possess, transport or sell wildlife that has been taken in violation of those laws. The Lacey Act was first introduced by Iowa Congressman John Lacey and signed into law by President William McKinley in 1900.

Expensive Lesson

The cost of education has nearly doubled over 20 years, according to the American Institute for Economic Research. That’s three times the rate of the Consumer Price Index. Along with huge tuition and fee increases at colleges and universities, tuition and fees at private elementary and high schools rose by more than 250 percent. The cost of books and supplies rose by more than 200 percent, and fees for lessons and instruction by more than 100 percent. The cost of personal computers and other equipment, however, dropped by almost 90 percent.

Got Milk?

Raw that is. Wisconsin dairy farmers might soon be able to sell unpasteurized milk directly to consumers under a proposal currently in the House. The legislation would allow state officials to track raw milk back to an individual farm if there is a food-borne illness outbreak. And, unlike an earlier version of the bill, it does not give farms selling raw milk immunity from liability. Opponents of the legislation argue bacteria can too easily contaminate raw milk and sicken drinkers. Supporters counter that raw milk is healthier and tastier. Twenty-five states allow the sale of unpasteurized milk at some level.

Running to the Rocking Chair

More Iowa state employees than expected took advantage of an early retirement plan approved by the General Assembly last year. To qualify, employees had to be at least 55. They received $1,000 for every year of state employment, up to $25,000, and the state will continue to pay for their health insurance for five years. Only half the retirees will be replaced, with new hires who will earn about half the pay of those retiring. Supporters estimate it will save the state at least $60 million.