Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Catholic priest condemns Rhode Island lawmakers over abortion vote … New York prepares for coronavirus … Arizona considers mental health legislation.
For the first time since 1993, the U.S. House of Representatives will vote this month to decide whether Washington, D.C., should become the 51st state. Washington is home to more than 700,000 people, making it more populous than Wyoming or Vermont, yet it has no representation in the Senate and its representative doesn’t have real voting powers. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s only representative, said that allowing D.C. to become a state would ensure residents receive “equal representation” in the federal government. "What the framers fought for has been achieved everywhere in the United States except in our own nation's capitol. No taxation without representation,” she said. Though the bill Norton introduced has 224 co-sponsors in the House, meaning it will pass the chamber, its prospects in the Senate aren’t hopeful. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called giving D.C. statehood “full-bore socialism” and said that “as long as I’m the majority leader of the Senate, none of that stuff is going anywhere.” Advocates for statehood at the local level say that the issue shouldn’t be a partisan one—the city’s voters are overwhelmingly Democratic—and that not allowing statehood amounts to voter suppression of the majority-minority city. D.C. Council chairman Phil Mendelson pointed out that city residents pay more in federal taxes than some states and serve in the U.S. military. "We do everything that we're asked of by the federal government but we do not have that fundamental right . . . to full representation," Mendelson said. [DCist; USA TODAY]
CATHOLIC CONSEQUENCES | In 2019, Rhode Island’s legislature passed a bill dubbed the “Reproductive Privacy Act” to guarantee women in the state the right to an abortion. Now a priest has said that lawmakers who voted for the bill—65 Democrats and one Republican—will no longer be welcomed to take communion or serve as godparents at his church. In a letter published last week, the Rev. Richard Bucci, a Catholic priest, said that he wants lawmakers to “take responsibility” for their votes. “In accord with the teaching of the Catholic Church for 2000 years, the following members of the legislature may NOT receive Holy Communion … In addition, they will not be allowed to act as witnesses to marriage, godparents, or lectors at weddings, funerals, or any other church function,” the letter reads, before it names the 66 lawmakers. The ban only applies to Bucci’s parish. When asked if the Catholic Church supports the ban, Carolyn Cronin, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Providence, did not give a direct answer. “Because the Church entrusts to each pastor the duty of teaching, sanctifying, and governing his parish, the daily pastoral and administrative decisions are made at the local parish level,” she said. Rep. Carol McEntee, a Democrat who voted for the bill and attends services at Bucci’s church, called him “unfit to be a priest” and asked him to resign. He needs “to be reminded that the U.S. Constitution requires the separation of church and state. We as legislators have an obligation to the people of Rhode Island to vote for legislation that reflects the opinion of the majority of Rhode Islanders, and not allow our religious beliefs to get in the way of our civic obligation as elected officials,” she said. [Providence Journal; Washington Post]
CORONAVIRUS | New York state and city officials are preparing for potential cases of coronavirus. Twelve people in New York have been tested for coronavirus, and while 11 results have come back negative, one is still pending final confirmation from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mayor Bill de Blasio said that the first suspected case involves a patient who recently traveled to China and “presented with fever and cough or shortness of breath without another common cause, like influenza and other cold viruses, identified on testing.” Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the creation of a new hotline staffed by health department experts who will answer residents’ questions about the coronavirus. “In situations like this, we take every precaution necessary to ensure the safety of New Yorkers. At the same time, perspective is key—and I want to remind people that New York currently has zero confirmed cases of this virus. We want all New Yorkers to know that the State and its agencies and authorities are on top of this situation and we will continue doing everything we can to keep people safe,” he said. [WETM; Gotham Gazette]
MENTAL HEALTH | The Arizona state legislature is considering a bill that would allow students in kindergarten through eighth grade to have excused absences for mental health reasons. The bill would require the state Department of Education to develop guidelines for determining what would constitute a break for mental health reasons. [FOX 10]
FENTANYL | To combat a growing fentanyl and counterfeit pill crisis, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced that the city would host 25 naloxone trainings to teach people how to use the overdose-reversal drug. The city will also distribute 700 naloxone kits. “Fentanyl and counterfeit oxycodone pills laced with fentanyl are spreading throughout our communities, and we must continue to combat this growing crisis. Naloxone can reverse overdoses—these kits can truly save people’s lives,” Durkan said. [KOMO News]
Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.