Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Michigan legislators block regulations of new cancer treatment … Connecticut legislators call for special session on voter registration … New Jersey governor signs climate resiliency plan.
The Keystone pipeline leaked 383,000 gallons of crude oil in northeast North Dakota last week, covering about a half-acre of wetland. The amount of oil is equivalent to about half an Olympic swimming pool’s volume. The spill—which occurred on a part of the pipeline built a decade ago, not the addition known as “Keystone XL”—was contained, and no residences or drinking water sources were affected, officials said. The Emergency Manager of Walsh County, where the spill occurred, said that the oil sprayed out of the ground before spreading outward. “(It was) basically like a whale blowing out its water up into the air. If you see the site, you can see where it got caught in the wind and drifted over,” said Brent Nelson. The state Department of Environmental Quality estimates that it is one of the largest spills ever to occur in the state. Catherine Collentine, an associate director with the Sierra Club, said that last week’s spill is proof that pipeline leaks are inevitable. “We don’t yet know the extent of the damage from this latest tar sands spill, but what we do know is that this is not the first time this pipeline has spilled toxic tar sands, and it won’t be the last. We’ve always said it’s not a question of whether a pipeline will spill, but when,” she said. TC Energy, the company that owns the pipeline, said it was shut down when the leak was detected. “We are establishing air quality, water and wildlife monitoring and will continue monitoring throughout the response,” the company said. Kandi Mosset-White, Native Energy and Climate Campaign coordinator for the Bemidji-based Indigenous Environmental Network, said that every new spill should encourage further action against the construction of new pipelines. "We shouldn't become complacent. It's not OK that these things happen. It's not OK that there's a spill, that even when a company tells us that they have the highest technology available, it still fails. People shouldn't be OK with that,” she said. [Grand Forks Herald; New York Times; Washington Post]
CANCER TREATMENT | The Michigan legislature blocked proposed regulations of a new cancer treatment used for some blood cancers. A commission within the state Department of Health and Human Services voted unanimously in September to require more stringent accreditation for hospitals that want to use the gene therapy in question, called CAR-T, which was first approved by the FDA in 2017 for the treatment of leukemia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. The Commission was concerned with the treatment’s life-threatening side effects and steep cost, usually around $800,000. Republicans in the legislature who sponsored a resolution to stop the regulations said that the rules could prevent patients from accessing treatment. State Sen. Curt VanderWall said that the treatment might be the best option for patients treated in outpatient settings instead of hospitals. "This treatment ... is bringing patients back from the brink of death and giving them a new chance at life—a chance that shouldn't be taken away by bureaucratic hurdles and unnecessary regulations," he said. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, questioned the legislature’s authority to stop the regulations via a resolution, without passing a law. "The administration is open to a discussion about whether a different standard is needed for the safest setting to provide this cancer treatment, however, we have concerns about the Legislature's legal authority to take this unilateral action, which overrides a decision made by medical experts,” said Tiffany Brown, a spokesperson for the governor. [Associated Press; Modern Healthcare]
SPECIAL SESSION | Thirty members of the Connecticut legislature wrote a letter to Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont asking him to call a special session to pass a bill proposed by his administration that would make it easier for residents to vote. The bill would automatically register eligible voters, unless they decline, digitize voter registration at the Department of Motor Vehicles, and change election rules to allow people on parole to vote. The bill already passed the state House earlier in the year, but stalled in the Senate. At the time, Senate Republican President Pro Tempore Len Fasano said that his caucus didn’t support certain elements of the bill, especially restoring the right to vote to people on parole. “Our caucus has a firm belief that until you pay your debt to society, including the fines, that you shouldn’t be allowed to vote,” he said. Democrats now say they want Republicans to reconsider in a special session. "At a time when many states are implementing restrictive policies that turn voters away, Connecticut has a unique opportunity to become a progressive leader on elections … We believe it is crucial that we act in Special Session to ensure many of the protections you included in your package are in place in time for the 2020 elections, especially in light of threats to our voter enfranchisement,'' the letter to Lamont reads. [Hartford Courant; CT Mirror]
CLIMATE RESILIENCY | New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy signed an executive order last week on the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, committing the state to a plan to combat climate change and protect the state from future natural disasters. Murphy, a Democrat, said the statewide strategy will involve 16 different agencies and require them to produce a report by September 2020 on how to deal with more frequent storms. "Even though we know we’ll never have another Sandy, it would be naive of us to think that we won’t ever see one of Sandy’s siblings in New Jersey … New Jersey is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of sea-level rise and global warming, and today's executive order outlines a bold and comprehensive set of actions to ensure that our communities and infrastructure are more resilient against future storms," he said. The state Department of Environmental Protection will lead the initiative. Commissioner Catherine McCab, who heads the agency, said New Jersey is on the front lines of climate change as a coastal state. "The impacts of climate change are far-ranging and already touch on everyone's life in one way or another,” she said. Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said the move was overdue. "It is a good step forward when it comes to being prepared and stronger than the next storm. However, we still have a long way to go to completing the resiliency plan,” he said. [WHYY; CBS New York]
SUPPORT DOG | A black Labrador retriever was sworn into her new position at the Cook County state attorney’s office as the department’s first canine employee last week. The dog, named Hatty, will emotionally support young children in Illinois who have been victims of sexual assault when they testify in court. Hatty was sworn in by standing on her hind legs and placing her paw on a law book while Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx read an oath. “She will provide a calming presence in court to our absolute most vulnerable victims,” Foxx said. Hatty is expected to work on a 9-5 schedule and support children in 200 cases per year. [The Hill; USA TODAY]
Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.
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