STATE LEGISLATURES MAGAZINE | April 2018
States, Cities Ban Bump Stocks
For a short time after last year’s mass shooting in Las Vegas, there was bipartisan interest in a federal ban on bump fire stocks, which the shooter used to make his semiautomatic rifles fire at a rate similar to that of a fully automatic weapon. The National Rifle Association stated last fall that bump stocks “should be subject to additional regulations.” And even President Trump said in February that he would direct the U.S. Department of Justice to outlaw the devices.
While Congress’ urgency to act on the devices has waned, three states and at least two cities have acted on their own.
Massachusetts, New Jersey and Washington, along with the cities of Denver and Columbia, S.C., have enacted laws prohibiting the sale and possession of bump stocks. California and New York do not explicitly prohibit the devices, but they may fall under their bans on automatic weapons. This year, California introduced a bill to clarify the issue in statute, and more than 20 other states have considered or are considering bump stock bans.
Massachusetts enacted its ban about a month after the Las Vegas shooting. New Jersey’s bill became law in January. “While Congress is twiddling its thumbs, New Jersey will step up,” Senator Raymond Lesniak (D), the bill’s sponsor, said.
Opponents argue that many of the bills are too broad, include other commonly owned accessories and could turn responsible gun owners into criminals.
The bans likely would hold up in court, a legal scholar told The Associated Press.
“I don’t see a real constitutional issue. I just wonder about actually getting these devices out of circulation for people who already have them,” Joyce Malcolm, a professor at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia School of Law, said.
No one knows how many of the devices are in circulation. Few were being sold at the time of the Las Vegas shooting, gun dealers told the AP. But demand spiked in the days and weeks afterward.
Since the shooting, positions have hardened on both sides of the issue and Congress has turned to other priorities. If there are further moves to restrict bump stocks, they are likely to be made in the states.
Going to the 'MAT' to Fight Opioid Crisis
As addiction and overdose deaths continue to touch all communities, expanding access to drugs that help treat opioid addiction is the latest strategy states are using to combat this lethal and costly crisis.
Every day, about 142 Americans die of a drug overdose, and two-thirds of those deaths involve prescription opioids and illicit drugs. Especially hard hit are rural areas, where drug overdose rates recently outpaced those in urban areas. Many rural areas have a shortage of health care practitioners who can provide treatment and recovery services for addiction. Historically, physicians, who are more likely to practice in urban areas, were the only providers who could prescribe medication-assisted treatment, known as MAT, for opioid addiction. These medications, such as methadone and buprenorphine, treat opioid dependence and addiction by diminishing withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
The federal Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 extends buprenorphine prescribing privileges to nurse practitioners and physician assistants practicing in an office setting after obtaining a waiver and receiving 24 hours of additional training. Allowing NPs and PAs to prescribe this medication could improve the availability of treatment in rural settings, where they are more likely to work.
States are also enabling greater access to these medications by building on the framework provided by federal laws and regulations. Recently, California and Oregon enacted legislation to allow NPs and PAs to prescribe buprenorphine. Colorado passed legislation in 2017 that provides grants to train NPs and PAs in certain rural counties to expand access to MAT. In Vermont, which already allows NPs and PAs to prescribe buprenorphine, legislators are considering a bill that would allow providers to prescribe the drug to prison inmates. And lawmakers in New Jersey and Tennessee have introduced, but not yet passed, measures extending prescribing privileges to NPs and PAs.
States Fine-Tune the EITC
Last year, state lawmakers introduced more than 200 bills and enacted new laws in at least nine states related to the earned income tax credit. Hawaii, Montana and South Carolina created state credits, and California, Illinois, New Jersey and Rhode Island increased the percentage or reach of their credits.
All this is good news for low-income workers and families.
The federal government, 29 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and some municipalities use these tax credits to support the financial stability of low-income working families, especially those with children. EITCs reduce the tax liability of qualifying taxpayers in an amount determined mostly by their income level, marital status and number of dependent children. The federal policy has been in place since 1975, and Rhode Island enacted the first state credit in 1986.
State EITCs, which are mostly modeled after the federal credit, reduce low-income residents’ state income tax liability. The policies vary somewhat by state in the ways they determine eligibility, in their methods for calculating credits and refunds, in their awareness and outreach efforts, and in data-tracking requirements.
Because many low-income workers don’t know that receiving a state or federal EITC refund requires filing a return, they often miss out on credits that could help them. The average federal credit was $2,455 in 2016, yet 20 percent of eligible workers didn’t claim it, according to the Internal Revenue Service.
In response, several states have made efforts to increase awareness of the program. Iowa and Maine, for example, require that beneficiaries of certain assistance programs be informed of EITC benefits. Laws in Oregon, Vermont and Virginia directly charge state agency heads with leading outreach activities. Oregon requires the commissioner of its Bureau of Labor and Industries to adopt rules requiring employers to share information about state and federal EITCs with their employees. In addition, Iowa, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia, among other states, appropriated funds or implemented measures to help eligible families prepare their tax returns.
California, Hawaii and New Jersey, among others, require state statistical data to be collected and reported. Hawaii’s law, for example, requires the director of taxation to report annually on the number of credits granted, the total dollar amount granted and the average credit value distributed for specific income ranges during the previous year.
Proponents of the earned income tax credit say that research demonstrates its benefits. It reduces poverty, encourages employment, stimulates local economies and improves the long-term health, education and finances of workers and their families. Critics argue that the credits reduce tax revenue, are challenging to administer and discourage workers from progressing in their careers because they lose the credit as earnings increase.
Firearms in Schools
President Donald Trump’s support of arming school staff to prevent tragedies like the recent shooting in Parkland, Fla., has generated much debate among state lawmakers. Several have introduced bills to make it easier to get guns in the hands of teachers should there be a need. At press time, bills had been introduced in Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Washington.
“I can’t comprehend when we secure other places like banks and the state Capitol with armed security, that we leave completely undefended the buildings that house our most precious commodity,” Michigan Representative Gary Glenn (R) says. He is working on legislation to make it easier for school officials with concealed carry permits to carry guns in schools.
Lawmakers in Colorado, however, defeated a bill to make it easier for people with concealed carry permits to go into schools. This was the fourth time Representative Patrick Neville (R) introduced the measure. He was a 15-year-old student at Columbine High School in 1999, when 12 students and one teacher were shot and killed.
A vast majority of states—48—have laws that generally prohibit firearms in schools, but there are several common exceptions.
After the 2012 shooting in Sandy Hook, Conn., five states—Georgia, Kansas, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas—passed legislation allowing school employees to carry firearms; most require the employees to get trained first. Missouri, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas have programs that train school employees who volunteer to carry firearms and serve as school protection officers (though they call it something different in each state). Idaho, Kansas and Wyoming also allow school employees to bring guns, but only if they have received permission beforehand.
Forty-four states specifically allow law enforcement to bring their firearms into schools; 21 of those states also allow school security staff to be armed. California, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Washington and West Virginia allow security guards, but not other school employees, to carry guns.
Seven states allow concealed carry license holders to bring guns into schools, but only Idaho, Indiana and Missouri require them to get permission first. New Hampshire is the only state that allows anyone to carry a gun into a school, although students must first get permission from a school authority. Another 17 states also allow anyone who has received permission to carry a firearm into school. Hawaii is the only state with no laws on who may have firearms in school.
—Jennifer Palmer, Joellen Kralik and Ben Erwin
Wiping the Slate Clean
A common misconception is that once children turn 18, their juvenile delinquency records are expunged so they can go forth with a clean slate. But that’s not always the case, and it can have both immediate and long-term consequences on kids’ future education, employment and other opportunities on the way to adulthood. Juveniles with records can be barred from receiving financial aid, getting a job, joining the military or being admitted into certain licensed professions.
Some juvenile records are sealed rather than destroyed; that makes them available to law enforcement and judges but not the public. All states allow most juveniles to petition to either seal or expunge their records, but these procedures often can be confusing and cumbersome. Sometimes, juveniles are never notified and have no idea whether, when or how they can get their records destroyed.
Last year, at least seven states significantly changed the way they handle these records.
Legislators in Colorado, Illinois and Texas enacted provisions that automatically expunge certain records with no action required by the young person. The new law in Texas, for example, requires expungement of misdemeanor records and the automatic sealing of other records if the young person has reached age 19 with no pending cases or additional convictions.
California, Delaware and Louisiana removed language in their laws that prohibited certain young people from petitioning for sealing or expungement. In Louisiana, juveniles convicted of prostitution offenses can now request that their records be destroyed at any time. In Tennessee, lawmakers required the administrative office of the courts to inform young people when they turn 17 of their rights to petition the court to have their records destroyed. The bill also required the office to create a standard petition form.
So far this year, 24 states have considered nearly 70 bills related to juvenile records. None had passed as of March 1.
First-Gen Students Make Their Mark
A third of all Americans over age 25 earn bachelor’s degrees each year. That’s up from 21 percent in 1990. As that group increases, the portion of “first-generation students” (students whose parents did not go to college) decreases. The share of these students enrolled in college dropped to 33 percent in 2012 from 37 percent in 2000, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Education.
Compared with students who have college-educated parents, first-generation students face greater obstacles to earning a degree. They take fewer high-level math classes and earn fewer Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate credits in high school. They face greater difficulty enrolling in, succeeding in and completing a college degree program. They often require remedial work once at college. They are more likely to be living on their own and need to work while in school.
The report found that 33 percent of first-generation students dropped out before earning a degree, compared with only 14 percent of students with college-educated parents. And we know that college-educated Americans enjoy higher incomes, less unemployment and less poverty than those without a degree.
But for those first-generation students who persevered and earned a degree, life after college was similar to that of other students. There was no statistical difference in full-time employment rates nor in median annual salaries four years after graduation between the students, although a smaller portion (4 percent) of first-generation graduates went on to doctoral or professional programs than their peers with college-educated parents (10 percent).