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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Virginia passes Equal Rights Amendment … Utah governor stops distribution of condoms with local puns … Rappers Jay-Z and Yo Gotti file lawsuit against Mississippi prisons.
Legislation passed by both chambers of the Tennessee legislature will allow adoption agencies that refuse to work with LGBTQ couples to continue receiving state funding. The bill, which Gov. Bill Lee says he intends to sign immediately, passed by a wide margin in the Senate this week during the first day of the 2020 legislative session. It passed the House last year. The legislation states that child adoption agencies can deny working with a couple if placing a child with them would "violate the agency's written religious or moral convictions or policies." Sen. Paul Rose, the Republican sponsor of the bill, said that “this bill is solely about freedom.” All five Democratic state senators voted against the bill, along with one Republican, Sen. Steve Dickerson, who said that the measure would prevent children from being placed with families in an expeditious manner. “This will have a direct fiscal impact on the state, not to mention the humanitarian impact and emotional impact on those children who ... will now be in a foster setting for a longer time,” he said. LGBTQ advocacy groups and the American Civil Liberties Union wrote to lawmakers and expressed concerns about the bill. "Decades of research consistently show that the quality of adoptive parenting is not determined by the parents’ sexual orientation or faith denomination, but rather their ability to guide and raise their adopted children with qualities like dedication, empathy, adaptability and warmth," the ACLU said in a statement. Currey Cook, counsel and director of Lambda Legal, an LGBTQ civil rights group, said that the bill would worsen the crisis in the foster care system. “The foster care system is at a critical juncture where it is required by new federal law to reduce the number of children placed in harmful group homes and to expand family home options for children who cannot safely return to their family of origin," Cook said. There are approximately 7,500 children in foster care in Tennessee. [FOX Nashville; Associated Press; Tennessean]
EQUAL RIGHTS AMENDMENT | After gaining a majority in both the state House and Senate, Democrats in Virginia have passed the Equal Rights Amendment. The state is the 38th to ratify the amendment, which was first approved by Congress in 1972, and the last needed to get it over the three-fourths threshold required for passage. Because two deadlines for ratification passed decades ago, some argue that Virginia’s ratification is meaningless; others contend that Congress can change the deadline. Sen. Mamie Locke, a Democrat, said that the deadline wouldn’t deter them. “There’s no time limit on equal rights,” she said. Lawsuits are now expected to determine the validity of adding the amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Carol Jenkins, CEO of the ERA Coalition, said that the amendment was first proposed in the 1920s, and the time has come to recognize it. "It's taken almost a century, but it's closer than we have ever been. We're determined to cross the finish line," she said. [Washington Post; ABC News]
UTAH CONDOMS | Utah Gov. Gary Herbert ordered state health officials to stop distributing whimsical condoms created as part of an HIV awareness campaign. All the condoms were packaged with Utah-themed puns like ‘Explore Utah’s Caves,’ ‘Enjoy Your Mountin’,’ and ‘UINTAH sex?’. In an interview conducted before the governor demanded the end of the program, Erin Fratto, of the Utah Department of Health’s Prevention Treatment and Care Program, said that the condoms were meant to destigmatize HIV and get people talking about sexual health. “If the condoms are fun, relatable, sex positive—people are more apt to talk about them, which we’ve already seen,” Fratto said. Herbert was not amused by the puns. “The Governor understands the importance of the Utah Department of Health conducting a campaign to educate Utahns about HIV prevention. He does not, however, approve the use of sexual innuendo as part of a taxpayer-funded campaign,” reads a statement from the governor’s office. The health department has since apologized. “We regret the lewd nature of the branding. We remain committed to running a campaign to help in the prevention of HIV and intend to do so in a manner that better respects taxpayer dollars, and our role as a government agency,” reads a statement from the department. [Salt Lake Tribune; FOX 13]
MISSISSIPPI PRISONS | Rappers Jay-Z and Yo Gotti are suing the head of the Mississippi Department of Corrections and the warden of a state prison on behalf of 29 prisoners. The suit claims that the two officials have failed to maintain safe conditions in their prisons, resulting in at least five incarcerated people dying since December. “These deaths are a direct result of Mississippi’s utter disregard for the people it has incarcerated and their constitutional rights,” reads the lawsuit. "As Mississippi has incarcerated increasing numbers of people, it has dramatically reduced its funding of prisons … [forcing them to] live in squalor, endangering their physical and mental health." Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves and the state Department of Corrections have not commented on the lawsuit. [NBC News; CNN]
SECURITY DEPOSITS | The Cincinnati City Council passed a bill requiring landlords to offer three possible alternatives to cash security deposits when renting a unit. Now, renters will be able to choose between a standard security deposit, rental insurance, an installment payment plan or a reduced security deposit equal to no more than 50% of the first month’s rent. Councilmember P.G. Sittenfeld, the sponsor of the bill, said that money is wasted each year by sitting stagnant in security deposits, and the high initial amount required to rent an apartment can be a barrier to entry for low-income renters. "We today are making a big, bold and exciting change. The impact of this legislation is removing a barrier to housing,” he said. The legislation also creates a rental registry and caps late fees. Mayor John Cranley supported the measure, which will take effect in 90 days. Landlords with 25 units or fewer are exempt. [Cincinnati Enquirer]
Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.
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