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Stateline: September 2010

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Bong Swan Song

A new Florida law makes it a crime for stores to sell pipes and bongs unless it has a state license to sell tobacco and derives at least 75 percent of its revenue from tobacco. “Everyone knows what’s being smoked out of these pipes; the only ones who claim they don’t know are the sellers of these pipes,” Representative Darryl Rouson told the St. Petersburg Times. “The law just tries to chip away at what we know is a façade.” Twenty head shops across the state have filed a lawsuit, claiming it unconstitutionally “singles out a specific type of retail business, and criminalizes the owners.”

Happy States

New research from the University of Cambridge in England shows that, based on 2008 data, residents in states with wealthier, better educated and more tolerant citizens are also happier. On average, the study’s measure of well-being was highest in Mountain and West Coast states. Researcher Jason Rentfrow told Live Science that “these results don’t say wealthy people are happier than unwealthy people. … We can only make generalizations about groups of people.” The Top 10 happy states from No. 1 down were: Utah, Hawaii, Wyoming, Colorado, Minnesota, Maryland, Washington, Massachusetts, California and Arizona.

Tweets and More Forever

If your legislature uses Twitter, those tweets, along with every other public tweet since Twitter’s inception in March 2006, will now be archived digitally at the Library of Congress. But will other digital legislative materials in your state be preserved for future use? The Minnesota Historical Society, with funding from the Library of Congress, is working on a trustworthy information management system that states can use to preserve and provide better long-term digital access to bills, committee reports, floor proceedings and other legislative materials.

Farm Workers Win

The California Legislature recently passed a bill to give farm workers overtime pay after eight hours on the job. Previously, they had been the only California employees who were exempt from receiving overtime. Picking vegetables, fruits and nuts can be one of the most difficult and injury-prone jobs, says Senator Dean Florez, grandson of farm workers and sponsor of the bill. Opponents argued the higher pay for workers would hurt the agriculture industry in the state, which makes $36 billion a year but operates on slim profit margins. The bill is awaiting the governor’s signature.

Data Go Green

A new data center in Springfield, Mass., is expected to be a model for green technology. The center, which will back up the state’s critical records, is part of a plan to better manage technology by consolidating 183 data centers into two new energy efficient facilities. The 148,000-square-foot center will have an energy efficient infrastructure and a sustainable design that uses rainwater, natural sunlight and recycled building materials. Equipment will be Energy Star certified. The $110 million center is expected to be completed by 2012.

10-Year Trust

NCSL’s Trust for Representative Democracy, created to combat cynicism toward government and to educate young people about American democracy, celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. It has reached more than 2 million students, conducted national polls about attitudes toward government, produced effective classroom materials and created American Democracy Television. Through the Alliance for Representative Democracy, a partnership of the Trust, the Center for Civic Education and the Center on Congress at Indiana University, outreach to policymakers, teachers and students has expanded and improved.

Reaching Out

The New York Senate has launched a mobile phone legislative application for citizens to use to search for bill information, view event calendars, read senators’ blogs, watch archived video of Senate sessions or reach their senator. “NYSenate Mobile” was built entirely in-house by Senate staff at no additional cost to taxpayers. The application has been released as open-source software, meaning other legislatures, as well as nonprofit organizations, media and small businesses, are free to use it to develop their own custom mobile legislative applications. The application for iPhones and other mobile devices is available for free in the iTunes store.

Blowing Sideways

The Iowa Department of Economic Development has awarded $150,000 to a local company to manufacture and commercialize vertical axis wind turbines. Stirling Wind Systems created the prototypes for suburban areas, where demand on the electrical grid is higher and the more traditional wind turbines aren’t as practical. The new turbines tilt upward and point toward the sky but don’t turn in the direction of the wind. They can be installed on a roof top, street sign, light pole, house or office buildings, according to The Des Moines Register. The turbine blade uses 90 percent recycled materials, yielding a stronger yet lighter turbine that is more than 17 percent more efficient than comparative systems. Demonstration units will be set up in various communities around the state.

Tobacco Times

Bolstering state tobacco control efforts, new federal Food and Drug Administration regulations focus on making tobacco products less available and attractive to young people. Each day, approximately 3,900 young people between the ages of 12 and 17 try their first cigarette, and about 1,000 of them become daily cigarette smokers. An estimated 20 percent of all U.S. high school students currently smoke cigarettes. The new regulations prohibit tobacco products labeled or advertised as light, low or mild; cigarette or smokeless tobacco sales to anyone younger than 18; most vending or self-service sales; free give-aways with brand names (such as T-shirts); and free samples of most tobacco products. They also require larger, more strongly worded health warning labels for smokeless tobacco.

A Wide Gap

Native American students at schools run by the federal Bureau of Indian Education did considerably worse on national standardized tests in reading and math compared with Native American students in public schools, especially schools with less than 25 percent Indian students. The bureau oversees 183 schools on 64 reservations in 23 states. They educate less than 10 percent of all Native American children. Researchers of the study, conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, attributed poverty, poor access to resources and difficulty retaining good teachers as contributing to the problem.

4U&Baby

Pregnant women and new mothers can now receive free advice through weekly text messages from an educational program of the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition. The program, “text4baby,” includes three messages a week timed to a woman’s due date or the baby’s birthday. They focus on a variety of topics, including immunization, nutrition, prenatal care, emotional well-being, drugs and alcohol, labor and delivery, breastfeeding, birth defects, oral health, car-seat safety, exercise and fitness, family violence and more. Text4baby is made possible through a public-private partnership that includes government, corporations, academic institutions, professional associations, tribal agencies and nonprofit organizations.