COVID-19 | States Rally in Effort to Confront Coronavirus
Coronavirus is wreaking havoc on people and markets worldwide.
Known as COVID-19, the virus was first detected in China last December. By press time on March 10, it had infected nearly 114,000 people and caused more than 4,000 deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. By then, China reported a declining number of new cases but had suffered 78% of the total virus-related deaths and 71% of the infections.
In the United States, there were nearly 650 confirmed cases in at least 36 states, with 25 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A majority of the cases were in California, New York and Washington state.
The Trump administration declared a public health emergency on Jan. 31, allowing states to reassign state, local and tribal personnel to fight the virus. And on Feb. 29, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave approval for states to begin doing their own testing. Scientists continue to work on a vaccine, but that can take time.
Meanwhile, as state and local health departments worked with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, federal authorities and others, state lawmakers were getting involved, too.
In Florida, five House members self-isolated in early March while awaiting test results. They all had been at an event attended by someone who later tested positive for the virus. Florida Speaker Jose Oliva (R) assured his House colleagues that chamber desks and common areas would be sanitized to provide a reasonable assurance of cleanliness.
Some states began preparations early. California, for example, activated the Department of Public Health’s Emergency Response Operations Center in January to coordinate efforts across the state. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services activated its Community Health Emergency Coordination Center on Feb. 3 to support public health agencies and health care providers. In New Jersey, the governor established a task force to prepare the state’s response to the outbreak.
In Massachusetts, the governor signed a midyear spending bill March 4 that appropriated $95,000 to contain, treat and prevent the coronavirus.
—Haley Nicholson and Tahra Johnson
By the Numbers
319% — The amount by which U.S. sales of medical masks increased in the four weeks ending Feb. 22, according to Nielsen’s Retail Measurement Services.
More from NCSL
The coronavirus (COVID-19) resources page at ncsl.org is updated regularly.
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Electric Scooters | Laws Balance Public Safety and Micromobility Needs
Electric scooters have gone from rarity to reality in just two years in many cities across the U.S. The number of rides jumped from near zero in 2017 to around 38.5 million in 2018, according to a recent report from the National Association of City Transportation Officials.
The report found that a typical e-scooter ride is less than a mile in length. Considering that an estimated “48% of all car trips in the most congested U.S. metro areas are less than 3 miles,” according to the traffic data company INRIX, it’s clear there is real potential for scooters to improve mobility and decrease congestion.
As of January, 21 states have enacted laws defining e-scooters and distinguishing them from mopeds and other vehicles requiring registration and insurance. Most states set their e-scooter speed limit at 20 mph, though five states cap it at 15 mph. Seven states require riders to be at least 16 years old, while Utah set its limit at age 8. Twelve states have no operator age limit.
Oregon, where the e-scooter speed limit is 24 mph (the country’s highest), is the only state to require all riders to wear helmets. Four states require only minors to wear them.
Despite growing enthusiasm for micromobility devices, e-scooters have had a sometimes bumpy ride. In New York, for example, Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) vetoed a bill out of concern that its safety requirements didn’t go far enough.
Conflicts between scooter-share providers and local governments have limited their use in some cities. In January, Lime, one of the country’s biggest dockless e-scooter companies, pulled out of four U.S. cities and several markets overseas, citing rules and fees it claimed were preventing profitability. Lime still operates in about 90 U.S. communities.
Others call for further research. A study of nearly 200 Austin, Texas, e-scooter riders injured over a three-month period found that the most prevalent factors contributing to accidents were nighttime riding (an element in 39% of the crashes) and excessive speed (37%). Of the injured, 35% were first-time riders. Interestingly, only two incidents were reported with a bicyclist or pedestrian, and a relatively few 10% of riders collided with a vehicle.
Meanwhile, companies are rolling out new options like sit-down scooters and mopeds. Will legislatures increase safety requirements? Ban sidewalk riding? Their responses will reflect a need to balance public safety concerns and mobility needs.
—Douglas Shinkle and Shelly Oren
Did You Know?
Mobility Data Specification, a software tool created by the Los Angeles transportation department, collects data from every scooter and e-bike ride in the city. It’s now used in more than 50 U.S. cities.
Health | Citing Risk to Teens, Lawmakers Tax Vaping Products
Vaping has taken the tobacco market by storm, and states are scrambling to adapt. Electronic cigarettes and other devices let users inhale vapor containing nicotine or other substances. The devices can be used with many flavor solutions, are affordable and are widely available.
They’re also increasingly popular with young people. In a survey published in the November 2019 JAMA, 27.5% of high school students and 10.5% of middle schoolers said they’d used e-cigarettes in the past month. The total number of young vapers last year was estimated to be 5.3 million, up from about 3.5 million in 2018, the study reported.
Concerned about potential health risks to young vapers, lawmakers have banned flavors considered to be targeted at kids, and they’ve enacted taxes on vaping products or expanded existing tobacco taxes to include e-cigarettes. As of March 4, 21 states and the District of Columbia had such taxes in place.
Lawmakers have used three taxing strategies. Ten states tax a percentage of each product’s price, from 15% to 95%. Illinois’ 15% tax on the wholesale price of e-cigarettes will bring in about $10 million in revenue in fiscal year 2020, according to NCSL’s 2019 “State Tax Actions” survey. The money will be distributed to various health care funds. A handful of states in this category extended their general “other tobacco product” taxes to include e-cigarettes. A second group of states applies a tax at a flat rate per milliliter of e-liquid or per cartridge. A third group uses a combination of these approaches.
By the Numbers
27.5% — Number of U.S. high school students who said they’d used e-cigarettes in the past month, according to a November 2019 JAMA study.
Minimum Wage | Hourly Workers See Modest Pay Gains
Minimum wages are up in 2020 for hourly workers in 21 states. Seven states (Alaska, Florida, Minnesota, Montana, Ohio, South Dakota and Vermont) automatically increased their rates based on the cost of living, while 14 states (Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Washington) increased their rates due to previously approved legislation or ballot initiatives.
The federal minimum wage is $7.25.
There’s no agreement on whether higher minimum wages create jobs and grow the economy or hurt workers by forcing businesses to close. Nevertheless, wage hikes occurred in red and blue states alike.
Average hourly earnings grew by 3.1% over the last 12 months, according to the federal jobs report for January.
NCSL is tracking the latest state actions on the minimum wage.
Housing | The Connection Between Home, Health
Where we live matters. Homes full of dangerous chemicals, lead or molds, those with poor air quality or those that expose residents to temperature extremes can lead to high rates of chronic health conditions.
And, of course, it’s difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle, let alone manage mental health and chronic conditions, if one has no home at all. Research demonstrates a strong positive relationship between stable, safe, affordable housing and people’s mental and physical health. And better health results in lower health care costs.
In an Oregon study by CORE, an independent research hub, and Enterprise Community Partners, a population of nearly 10,000 low-income individuals were moved into affordable housing. Medicaid expenditures dropped by 12%, primary care visits increased by 20% and the use of emergency departments fell by 18%.
One promising policy approach is to provide supportive housing—a combination of affordable housing and support services designed to keep people in their homes. Though Medicaid doesn’t cover rent, 37 states incorporate at least some supportive housing services in their Medicaid programs through waivers or state plan amendments. Louisiana’s Medicaid program, for example, helps with rental applications and arranges for move-in and other services.
Private-sector businesses, lenders, investors, community development corporations, housing alliances and foundations, along with federal, state and local governments, all play a role in developing safer, cleaner, more affordable housing. Though the policy discussions often span different levels and branches of government, the connection between housing and health will continue to drive the conversation.
Law Enforcement | States Address Backlog of Sexual Assault Evidence Kits
Stockpiles of untested rape kits are a serious challenge facing America’s justice systems.
Congress passed the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act in 2016 to ensure that, in federal cases (crimes occurring across state lines, in the military, in a federal prison or on federal land), assault survivors’ rape kits would be preserved for the full statute of limitations, or 20 years, for free. It also requires victims to be notified before a kit is disposed of and gives them the ability to preserve it.
Nearly a dozen states have since passed laws similar to the federal version. Nevada, New Mexico and West Virginia passed theirs in 2019. California, Illinois, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont and Washington did so in the last three years.
Pennsylvania and Wyoming passed legislation in 2019 requiring annual audits of all untested rape kits. Alaska, Indiana, Missouri and North Carolina enacted audit requirements in the last five years.
Tracking systems can follow kits from evidence collection to storage. California, Idaho, Michigan and Washington established such systems in 2016. The Michigan State Police now use an internet-based system called “Track-Kit,” which allows individuals to track the location and status of their kits. At least 20 states have passed legislation to develop similar systems.
By the Numbers
1,951 — Number of untested rape kits found in Hawaii law enforcement’s possession in a 2016 audit. In response, the legislature set new deadlines for submitting and testing kits.
Book Review | Rethinking Corporate Tax Incentives
Few names are more recognizable in the state economic development sphere than Timothy Bartik’s. A senior economist at the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research in Kalamazoo, Mich., Bartik has studied the effects of business tax incentives for decades.
His most recent work, “Making Sense of Incentives: Taming Business Incentives to Promote Prosperity,” addresses several long-standing questions: What should incentives accomplish? How can they be designed most effectively? And do the costs outweigh the benefits?
When it comes to the $50 billion that state and local governments dole out in tax incentives annually, Bartik is clear: Overall, these inducements are not paying off. Drawing on piles of research, he casts serious doubt on the effectiveness of incentive programs as currently constructed. How important are tax incentives in influencing business location decisions? Bartik says they tip location decisions for just 1 in 4 incented firms. The rest are getting money to do what they would have done anyway. “At least 75% of the time, incentives are all costs, with no job creation benefits,” Bartik writes.
He isn’t arguing that incentives can’t have positive results, just that there is a lot of room for improvement. Incentives, for example, typically go to out-of-state businesses, but they’re more productive when they benefit locally owned companies. Cash offerings make up more than 90% of all incentive deals, yet customized training services are more effective job creation tools. And, paying out incentives over long terms, which states frequently opt to do, has less influence over business-location decisions than making more payments up front.
“Making Sense of Incentives” includes a host of recommendations for crafting better incentive programs and detailed sections on improving their oversight and evaluation. At a time when the number of company-specific incentive deals worth nine to 10 figures is on the rise, this book is essential reading. Don’t let the subject matter deter you. Bartik’s book is accessible to anyone with a passing interest in economic development.
MAKING SENSE OF INCENTIVES
Taming Business Incentives to Promote Prosperity
By Timothy J. Bartik
178 pages. W.E. Upjohn Institute. $14.99. Free download available at upjohn.org.