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Stateline: May 2010

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Older Drivers

Drivers over age 75 in Massachusetts may be required to prove they can still drive safely, if a bill in the Senate passes. Seniors between 75 and 80 would be required to take cognitive and physical screenings from their doctors; after age 80 they would have to pass the tests every three years. “I think it’s stupid,” Peter Teeti, 78, told the Eagle-Tribune while playing bingo. “It’s unfair. Kids 16 to 19 should be tested as well. This is just picking on elderly people.”

Date Ed

It may not yet be a national education standard, but seven states require schools to teach students about teen dating violence. Pennsylvania may soon join them. The bill in the Keystone state would require the Department of Education to work with local domestic violence and rape crisis centers to develop a dating violence policy to help districts draft their own standards around the issue. Dating violence education would be required for seventh through 12th graders. Districts would also have to educate their teachers and staff on how to recognize the warning signs of a violent relationship.

@%!&* No

The California Assembly said “yes,” but the Senate said, “@%!* no!” At the end of February (and some tense budget discussions), the Assembly approved a ceremonial resolution turning the first week of March every year into “Cuss Free Week.” The Senate, however, rerouted the resolution to the Senate Rules committee until lawmakers address the state’s $20 billion budget deficit. The resolution by Assemblyman Anthony Portantino was inspired by a teenager, McKay Hatch, who founded a No Cussing Club at his junior high school in 2007. Portantino said his resolution is simply a guideline, a reminder to “act like you’re at your grandma’s house.”

Pros Must Pay

Professional wrestling and martial arts events can be dangerous, and the medical aid required for injured fighters can be costly. So Delaware Rep-resentative Quinn Johnson introduced a bill to make the exhibitors, rather than the state, pay for the costs of police, fire, paramedic and other emergency services if a participant is injured. “If they’re making money off it, which they are, we as citizens shouldn’t have to pay for the state police helicopter,” he told The News Journal.

Mum's the Word

New Mexico has banned employment applications for state, county or local government agencies from asking job seekers if they have ever been convicted of a crime. The question, however, can still be asked during a face-to-face interview, and background checks can continue. The law does not apply to private businesses. Minnesota has a similar law.

Give 'Em Credit

More and more legislatures are looking at banning credit checks on most job applicants. Two states already do. In Washington, under a law that took effect in 2007, the applicant’s credit history must be substantially related to the position. Hawaiian lawmakers approved a similar measure last year, restricting employers from checking credit before making a job offer. This year, bills limiting the use of credit information by employers have been introduced in 19 states. Federal law requires potential employers to get permission before obtaining a credit report on a potential employee.

Song Bill on Pause

Alabama citizens have a year to voice their opinions on a new state song. Representative Johnny Mack Morrow, according to the Associated Press, put his bill changing the state song on hold so that the Tourism Department can poll Alabamans through their website on which song (out of 20) they prefer. Morrow prefers changing the current state song (“Alabama”) to the state anthem and making “Stars Fell on Alabama” the state song. Others prefer “Sweet Home Alabama” or “My Home’s in Alabama.” Morrow plans to rewrite a new bill next session based on the public’s chorus of votes. Stay tuned.

911 Privacy

Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Wyoming have passed laws preventing the public release of 911 calls. Currently, lawmakers in Alabama, Ohio and Wisconsin are considering doing so. Generally, however, most states consider emergency calls public records. Advocates of the bans fear that people are hesitating to call 911 knowing their calls may be played, and replayed, on the nightly news. But open-government advocates argue that keeping them public helps expose botched calls and vindicate operators accused of mishandling a call. and helps vindicate operators accused of mishandling a call.

Report Cards to Come

U.S. senators from Utah will soon be receiving grades from their state political parties and legislative caucuses back home on their performance on states’ rights. Senator Howard Stephenson’s bill authorizes political parties to change their bylaws to require U.S. senators and candidates to consult regularly with party caucuses “to make sure they’re advocating states’ rights and moderating the federalism aspects of their duties,” he told The Salt Lake Tribune. The 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1913, requires the direct election of U.S. senators by the people. Before that, they were elected by state legislatures. Stephenson believes that the change was a mistake and is one reason states’ rights have suffered at the hands of federal power.

Live Here

Some New Jersey lawmakers think it’s reasonable to ask public employees to live in the state. The bill being considered would affect teachers, firefighters, police officers, and all others employed by state, county and local governments, as well as state colleges and universities, and public boards and agencies. “It is very simple,” says Senator Donald Norcross. “If you want a paycheck from New Jersey taxpayers, you should have to live here, pay your taxes here, and be part of your community.” States’ residency requirements for public employees vary widely. Neither Pennsylvania nor New York has requirements for most state government employees.

Drug Reporting

Washington recently became the second state to pass a law granting legal immunity to people who call to report a drug overdose. New Mexico passed a similar law in 2007. Under the law, people who call for help for someone suffering a drug overdose will not face prosecution for possession of drugs. “It might take the fear out of calling for help,” says Senator Rosa Franklin. The immunity does not cover manufacturing or selling drugs, however. There were 820 unintentional fatal drug overdoses in 2008 in Washington, according to the Associated Press. That’s more than double the number in 1999. Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Rhode Island are looking at similar measures.