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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Pennsylvania prison mystery illnesses … Arizona teacher vacancies … and San Francisco’s fake safe-injection site.
Good morning, it’s Thursday, Sept. 6, 2018. State attorneys general lead Route Fifty’s state and local government news roundup but scroll down for more news from places like Grady County, Oklahoma; Bellefonte, Pennsylvania; and Phoenix, Arizona. Let’s get to it ...
STATE GOVERNMENT | A group of Republican state attorneys general, led by Ken Paxton of Texas, faced off against a group of Democratic AGs, led by California’s Xavier Becerra, in a federal courtroom in Fort Worth on Wednesday in an effort to block the federal government “from implementing, regulating, enforcing, or otherwise acting under the authority” of the Affordable Care Act. “Paxton’s central argument is that when, in 2017,the Republican-led U.S. Congress got rid of the tax penalty levied on those who don’t have health insurance, the entire law was rendered unconstitutional.” But Paxton’s legal argument is “not a foregone conclusion,” according to some observers, like University of Michigan law professor Nicholas Bagley, who told KUT’s Texas Standard: “I think the likelihood of an injunction taking effect immediately is quite low. Even if the judge thinks an injunction is appropriate, the judge is likely to stay that decision…to allow the Blue states to take an appeal.” [Kaiser Health News; Texas Tribune; Texas Standard / KUT]
- Bellefonte, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections hopes that a lockdown for all state prisons can conclude by next week after “50 staff members reported feeling sick or ill,” though it’s not yet known for sure what may have caused the illnesses. Gov. Tom Wolf and Corrections Secretary John Wetzel on Wednesday announced new protocols for mail and visitors. [Centre Daily Times; The Morning Call]
- Martinsville, Indiana: Leaders in the Hoosier State will tap $1 billion in one-time funds from the deal with the operator of the Indiana Toll Road to hike tolls by 35 percent for trucks and other heavy vehicles. "The majority of the traffic is from out-of-state," Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said. "We're capturing other people's money." [The Times of NW Indiana; Bond Buyer]
- Montgomery, Alabama: The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday launched its Smart Justice 50 State Blueprints project aimed at reducing incarceration rates in prisons. If Alabama pursued the sentencing changes as laid out by the ACLU, the state “could reduce the number of people in prisons, jails and other Department of Corrections facilities from about 28,000 to less than 16,000 by 2025.” [ACLU; AL.com]
- Jefferson City, Missouri: Missouri Department of Transportation Director Patrick McKenna voiced his support for Proposal D, a voter referendum on the November ballot that will raise the state’s fuel taxes to help fund infrastructure improvements. Missouri’s gas tax hasn’t been raised since 1996. “Even though it doesn’t solve the entire problem, it trends us in the right direction across the board,” McKenna said. “It’s really useful in the way that we can purchase construction in the way that we could back in 1996.” [MissouriNet]
- Phoenix, Arizona: A new report from the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association shows that “nearly one in four teaching vacancies that school districts had this year remain unfilled four weeks into the academic year.” [Capitol Media Services / Arizona Capitol Times]
LOCAL GOVERNMENT | In Seattle, the King County Council on Wednesday gave the green light to advance a controversial plan for taxpayer-funded renovations at Safeco Field that have been requested by the owners of the Seattle Mariners. The 5-4 vote was a contentious one as some councilmembers had revolted against the originally proposed $180 million in funding for renovations at the ballpark. The plan that was approved would provide $135 million for renovations. A vote for final approval is scheduled for Sept. 17. [The Seattle Times; Crosscut]
- Grady County, Oklahoma: State Auditor Gary Jones told an assemblage of Grady County officials on Wednesday that his office is in “gathering mode” to investigate the alleged overpayment of county officials. "We're going to have to go back and look and see each of the budgets, when this was approved each year, whether it was approved each year, look at the minutes to make those determinations," Jones said. [The Express-Star]
- Dallas, Texas: The Dallas City Council on Wednesday approved a measure that would bump up starting salaries for police officers and fire-rescue personnel to $60,000. [Dallas Morning News]
- San Francisco, California: As the federal government looks to crack down on local governments that open safe-injection sites, “a mock safe injection site opened to the public for four days in the heart of the Tenderloin District” last week. [CityLab]
- New York City, New York: Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is scheduled to be on NBC’s “Today” show Thursday morning to talk about her recently adopted daughter, Miranda. [WRC / NBC Washington]
Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.