Stateline | September 2014

9/1/2014

STATE LEGISLATURES MAGAZINE

1. Gloves Come Off in California

Chefs were steamed, bartenders all stirred up. They said a 2014 California law requiring them to wear disposable gloves when handling ready-to-eat items—fresh fruit and vegetables, bread, deli meats, fish and sushi—made their jobs difficult and more hospital-like than hospitality-like. Lawmakers listened and in June, repealed the law. The effort was headed by Assemblyman Richard Pan (D), who said the glove mandate was “well-intentioned” but hard to enforce and could lead to worse things, such as food workers thinking they no longer had to wash their hands.

2. Tapping Entrepreneurs

Virginia lawmakers think fresh eyes would be good for government.

Under a bill sponsored by Delegate Steve Lande (R), Virginia is recruiting up to 10 volunteer entrepreneurs to spot inefficiencies, encourage creativity, stimulate job growth, and build bridges between government and the private sector in state agencies. Similar legislation has passed in Texas, and bills have been introduced in at least 10 states. Cities also are exploring the concept. San Francisco recently named six start-up companies to work with city agencies for 16 weeks.

3. “Fish Wars” Chapter Closes

American Indians arrested during the Fish Wars of the 1960s and ’70s in Washington can apply to have those convictions cleared under a bill recently passed by the Legislature. Tribes fished for salmon off-reservation, as allowed under 100-year-old federal treaties, but state officials said they were violating state gaming regulations and began harassing them. The Indians staged “fish-ins” and protests. Many, including activist-actor Marlon Brando, were arrested. Representative David Sawyer (D) told the Associated Press the state needed to own up to its mistakes. “We should allow people to live their lives without these criminal charges on their records.” Sawyer said he acted after hearing about a tribal member who couldn’t travel to Canada because of a Fish Wars-related felony and another tribal grandparent who couldn’t adopt because of a similar conviction.

4. Freeze!

Lawmakers have slapped the ‘cuffs on traffic ticket quotas in Illinois. Arbitrary quotas “undermine the public trust in the police departments’ priorities,” said Representative Jay Hoffman (D), bill cosponsor. Governor Pat Quinn said the measure will spare motorists “unnecessary anxiety.” The law followed reports of quotas in Carbondale, where officers were told to file 40 reports of “suspicious characters” each month last summer, and in Peoria, where officers were expected to issue 10 traffic and municipal ordinance violations monthly. Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island have similar laws.

5. High and Dry

Alcoholic beverages may soon be available in powdered form—but not in Alaska, Delaware, Louisiana, South Carolina or Vermont, where legislators already have banned them. Minnesota, New York and Ohio are also considering bans. The makers of Palcohol, who are seeking federal approval to market it, say their freeze-dried vodka, rum, “powderitas” and other drinks will appeal to backpackers and others who want a lightweight, more portable form of liquor. In Minnesota, Representative Joe Atkins (D) released a statement calling powdered alcohol “nefarious, not to mention potentially dangerous.” Atkins says he worries it will fall into children’s hands.

6. Who Moved the Capitol?

Little is known about Alabama’s first Capitol, a two-story brick building carved out of the wilderness in the town of Cahawba in 1819. This summer, archaeologists used high-tech equipment to locate buried artifacts, hoping to determine the old Capitol’s exact location and other clues to its brief life. Yellow fever, heavy rains and economic troubles decimated the town, so the capital was moved to Tuscaloosa in 1825, then to Montgomery in 1846. The Cahawba statehouse itself collapsed in 1833, apparently done in by soft bricks. A few old liquor bottles have been found, but historian Linda Derry told the Associated Press she hesitates to point the finger at lawmakers, saying early Cahawba was home to a rough-and-tumble crowd in general.

7. Cheapest States

Kentucky was No. 1 in a CNBC ranking of the cheapest states in which to live. The business news provider said the decline in Kentucky’s coal industry contributed to the low cost of living in 2014. The ranking was based on the Council for Community and Economic Research C2ER Cost of Living Index, 2013. The least expensive states are, in order: Kentucky, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, West Virginia, Mississippi, Indiana, Alabama, Tennessee and South Carolina.

Average cost of consumer staples in America:

Home: $294,127

Half-gallon of milk: $2.34

T-bone steak: $10.19

Monthly energy bill: $163.40

Doctor visit: $101.16

8. The Doctor Is In

Psychiatrists can perform remote video evaluations of mentally disturbed patients in emergency rooms all across rural South Carolina, eliminating the need for face-to-face exams and greatly reducing the backlog of such cases. South Carolina’s five-year-old tele-psychiatry program, which received $4 million from the General Assembly, has been so successful that North Carolina launched a similar one in 2010, and a dozen other states plan to follow suit. In all states, patients deemed dangerous to themselves or others must be examined by a psychiatrist before being released from the hospital. In South Carolina, 20 hospitals now share seven psychiatrists on call nearly around the clock for the video exams. A University of South Carolina School of Medicine study showed the program has cut wait times dramatically, doubled participation in drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and reduced costs by about $1,400 per consult, for a total of nearly $28 million.

9. Yogurt for ’Yorkers

Further evidence for those who argue New York City is the nation’s cultural capital: Lawmakers have designated yogurt the official state snack food. The bill, sponsored by Senator Michael Ranzenhofer (R), states that yogurt is “a good source of protein, calcium, vitamin B-2, B-12, potassium and magnesium … Yogurt is also an important economic driver across our state; New York is now the No. 1 processor of yogurt in the country.” Late-night talk show hosts poked fun at the measure, but lawmakers ignored the callous display of lactose intolerance and pointed out yogurt’s superiority over other states’ less healthful official snacks.

Other Official State Snacks:

Illinois—popcorn

South Carolina—boiled peanuts

Texas—chips and salsa

Utah—Jell-O

10. Tony's Law Has Claws

Louisiana lawmakers grabbed a tiger by the tail when they passed a bill “exempting certain persons from the requirements of the big exotic cat rules.” Specifically, it allows the owner of the Tiger Truck Stop outside Baton Rouge to keep his 14-year-old Bengal tiger, Tony, as a roadside attraction. The 550-pound cat lives in a 40-foot by-80-foot enclosure next to the parking lot. State veterinarians have said he is healthy, but animal rights groups say Tony is being exploited and have taken legal steps over the years to remove him. Truck stop owner Michael Sandlin, who’s raised tigers since 1988, told the Times-Picayune that “the threat of him being drug away to some strange place—never petted, never sweet-talked to again … I would not stand by and see that happen to that tiger.” Bill sponsor Senator Rick Ward (R) says Sandlin is law-abiding and responsible. Animal rights activists vow to challenge the new law, ensuring more fur will fly before the case is settled.

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