Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Utah lawmaker hopes the state will ratify the ERA … Tennessee lawmaker questions oversight at juvenile correction facility … Legislation to mandate pledge of allegiance in Arizona.
New Mexico state government needs to fill hundreds of vacant positions, so Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced that her administration will hold a four-day job fair that aims to rapidly hire as many people as possible. From December 11-14, nearly all state agencies will convene at an exposition center to do on-site job interviews and make same-day job offers. The vacancy rate in state government has hovered around 22%. Since Lujan Grisham took office in January, she made it a priority to fill more jobs. The vacancy rate in some areas of government is even higher, with 25% of correctional officer positions sitting unfilled and 42% of positions in the state’s revenue-processing division. Connie Derr, the executive director for AFSCME Council 18, a union that represents employees in 14 state departments, said that low staffing levels are forcing some employees to work double or triple shifts. “Certainly, with corrections and human services there has been tremendous burnout. They’ve had a lot of mandated overtime,” she said. State Personnel Director Pamela Coleman said that Lujan Grisham is trying to create a culture change where employees feel more valued. “When you have a leader who says your work matters, we’re here to help—that makes a difference to people in state government … This is more than a job fair. The governor’s goal is for this to be a come-get-hired fair,” she said. The positions available include probation officers, social workers, fish and game wardens, computer specialists, and attorneys. Job seekers can apply for two jobs per day, and can also interview remotely via video chat. Nora Meyers Sackett, the governor’s spokeswoman, said that there is no target goal for hires, but the governor hopes that fast-track hiring will entice applicants. “We’re really trying to fill as many vacancies as we can,” she said. [KRQE; Albuquerque Journal]
EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT | To date, 37 states have ratified the Equal Rights Amendment, which now needs only one more state legislature to approve it in order to be added to the Constitution. Utah Rep. Karen Kwan, a Democrat, is introducing a measure that, if it passes, would make the state the final one needed to recognize women as a protected class. "I think that we have an opportunity to change the national narrative about how Utah respects women and our unique long history and equal political rights," Kwan said. The movement to ratify the ERA failed 40 years ago in the state due to opposition led by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which reaffirmed its stance against the ERA this week. In an op-ed written by the editorial board of the Deseret News, a publication owned by the church, the group said that “there’s no question Utah and America should uphold and protect women’s rights, but that does not mean ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment, which has raised concerns even among avowed feminists.” Sara Vranes, a Utah leader of Mormons for ERA, said that the news was disappointing. “I think we would do a lot of good if we have equality specifically stated for both men and women,” she said. [KUER; Salt Lake Tribune; KUTV]
JUVENILE OVERSIGHT | One Tennessee lawmaker is questioning the oversight of juvenile correction facilities in the state, following the escape of four teens from the Juvenile Justice Center in Nashville. House Judiciary Chair, Rep. Michael Curcio, said that the state would be “wise to ask questions” about the private operator of the facility, Youth Opportunity Investments. “I have … some very direct questions about the facilities we are using and what those contracts look like,” he said. Youth Opportunity Investments fired three employees over the escape, but Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson said he still has questions about how it happened. "I don't have any indication that a crime has been committed, (or) that there was some overt act to assist in their escape. But, certainly a lot of gross negligence,” he said. The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services said that it is “common practice” to hire private operators to run juvenile detention facilities, and that the department makes four unannounced visits to facilities each year. [WKRN; CNN]
PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE | An Arizona lawmaker introduced legislation to require children to say the pledge of allegiance unless a parent writes a note to excuse them. Arizona schools are already required to designate time for the pledge, but students are not required to participate. Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, said he has not yet reviewed the legislation, but thinks it might be a good idea. "I'm a fan of the Pledge of Allegiance. I would be hopeful that all of our kids, especially our kids in grade school, would begin each day with the pledge,” he said. American Civil Liberties Union spokesperson Marcella Taracen said the proposal is unconstitutional and would fail a legal challenge. “The Supreme Court made it clear decades ago that forcing students to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional. Requiring them to seek parent approval takes away that individual right. What if the student has conflicting views with the parent? … This can really chill their speech because it’s requiring kids to seek that approval,” she said. [AZ Central; Associated Press; KTAR]
EXPEDITED PARDONS | Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced a new project that will speed up the pardon process for formerly incarcerated people. The Expedition Pardon Project will simplify the state’s previously lengthy clemency process for people out of prison who have sufficiently rehabilitated themselves to qualify for record expungement. “There are decent people all over the state who are living in the shadow of a long-past and regretted mistake—people who, despite becoming law-abiding citizens, can’t get ahead because their criminal records are holding them back,” DeWine said. The new program will only apply to those already released from prison or jail, have not committed any additional crimes in the past ten years, have done volunteer work and have a job history, have made a “good faith effort” to repay fines, and have not been convicted of a disqualifying offense like murder or rape. [Cleveland.com; WSYX]
Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.
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