N.Y.’s Minimum Wage Set to Increase; Plan to Lift Anti-Nepotism Rules in Utah City Runs Awry

A demonstration in favor of the $15 minimum wage in New York City.

A demonstration in favor of the $15 minimum wage in New York City.


Connecting state and local government leaders

Also in our State and Local news digest: Colorado town saved by marijuana; dead dolphins on Gulf Coast; and a New Jersey town’s controversial motto and seal.

MINIMUM WAGE | Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation on Monday that will gradually raise New York state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour. When exactly the pay floor hits that level will vary based on location and business-size. But, for much of the state, the minimum wage will rise in increments to $12.50 in December 2020. After that, it will go up on an indexed schedule set by the state government until it reaches $15. In New York City the minimum wage will increase to the $15 level by December of 2018 for businesses with 11 or more employees. The legislation Cuomo signed also phases in paid family leave, which will top out at 67 percent of a worker’s average weekly wage in 2021, capped at 67 percent of the statewide average weekly wage. [WCBS-TV]

WORKFORCE | It’s not always easy to fill part-time and seasonal jobs in local governments. But a plan to roll back Draper City’s anti-nepotism rules so the city to hire the family members of elected or appointed officials has not gone over well with residents, some who have said it could be exploited by city leaders. "Maybe before these things are proposed, we could think a little more about that so that we don't have to suffer the embarrassment that our city I think has suffered," one resident said. [The Salt Lake Tribune]

CIVIC IDENTITY | This small south Jersey town is facing criticism from a national atheist organization that its official seal and motto, “a good place to live and play, work and pray,” is too religious. "Including a cross and church on the seal, as well as declaring the city a place to pray are exclusionary to non-Christians," according to a legal fellow with the Freedom From Religion Foundation. The town’s mayor disagrees: “It doesn't tell you who to pray to, it just says it's a good place to pray." [NJ.com]

BUDGET | Illinois isn’t the best at paying its bills on time, and that’s led to about $900 million in late-payment penalties over the past six years. The state has been running without a budget since July 1, and the problem isn’t going away anytime soon. Interest on $2.8 billion in state employee health care bills alone has risen to $176 million. “At its core, it is the result of the state of Illinois not having a sufficient budget for the last decade to address either unforeseen developments or under-appropriating areas of known expenditure,” said Civic Federation President Laurence Msall. [The State-Journal Register]

WILDLIFE | Three months into 2016, and 47 dolphins have washed up dead on the Mississippi Gulf Coast’s beaches—already 12 more than last year’s total. More alarming is that nine were newborns, and scientists suspect red tide is threatening the U.S.’s largest dolphin population. Agricultural fertilizers carried by the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico has triggered an algae bloom that makes fish the dolphins eat toxic. "These animals are the canary in the mine,” said Moby Solangi, the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies’ director. “They reflect what's going on in the environment and they are mammals like you and I, so whatever happens to them, will ultimately happen to us.” [WWL-TV]

MARIJUANA | This town on Colorado’s Western Slope, located near Grand Junction, used to generate plenty of funding from oil and gas revenues. But that money has mostly dried up. Now, DeBeque’s fiscal health depends on marijuana. Although the expansion of recreational marijuana dispensaries was initially greeted with trepidation by some in DeBeque,  "[n]ow that the tax dollars are coming in, I think they have changed their minds," said the owner of Kush Gardens. "Dollar per dollar, the impact we are having is much stronger here." [Los Angeles Times]

CRIMINAL JUSTICE | Louisiana’s stiff habitual offender laws could send a man accused of shoplifting $31.00 worth of candy to prison for 20 years to life. The Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office chose to charge Jacobia Grimes under a state law that boosts what would otherwise be a misdemeanor to a felony, due to Grimes’ five prior shoplifting convictions. Grimes appeared before Criminal District Court Judge Franz Zibilich who found the situation “a little over the top,” adding “[i]t’s not even funny. Twenty years to life for a Snickers bar, or two or three or four.”  [The Advocate]

FORECLOSURES | Residents whose homes were foreclosed upon have sued Wayne County and several suburban Detroit jurisdictions in federal court alleging that they didn’t get official notice that their homes were going up on the auction block. Through a public records request from The Detroit News, a review of 1,000 foreclosure notices sent to homeowners in late 2014 found that half are still listed as “in transit” by the U.S. Postal Service and were never delivered to homeowners. [The Detroit News]

ENVIRONMENT | On some mountains in Alaska, woody shrubs like alder and willows have been discovered at higher elevations than where they would normally be found, according to new research. That includes Wolverine Peak in Chugach State Park near Anchorage. “I’ve lived here for 20 years and I’ve watched that area get shrubbier and shrubbier,” said Alaska Pacific University biology and mathematics professor Roman Dial said. [Alaska Dispatch News]

GAMBLING | The MGM National Harbor casino is slated to open later this year, but some local officials worry the area isn’t equipped to handle the increased traffic congestion. Several nearby landowners are building or renovating in preparation for the grand opening, which promises to bring special events like boxing matches. But National Harbor already boasts nearly 2,000 residents, 7,000 workers and 11 million visitors annually since the recession, and a 300-room hotel with a 3,000-seat theater promises to be a watershed. “When Tanger Outlets opened, people couldn’t get their kids to the school on time or get to a doctor’s appointment,” said county Councilman Obie Patterson. “I don’t want to see that happen again.” [The Washington Post]