Connecting state and local government leaders
What the U.S. Supreme Court rulings mean for states and localities; watching the debt limit drama; and more news to use from around the country in this week's State and Local Roundup.
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It’s Friday, May 26, and we’d like to welcome you to the weekly State and Local Roundup. As we slide into the three-day weekend, there is a lot from this week to reflect on and a lot to keep tabs on going into Memorial Day. We here at Route Fifty are breaking from our usual approach of detailing one big story in favor of highlighting a few.
First, will he or won’t he? North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum is likely running for president. The two-term Republican governor, who is expected to launch his campaign in the coming weeks, “would enter the race somewhere between afterthought and asterisk. One poll this week placed him at 1%, far behind [Florida Gov. Ron] DeSantis and front-running former President Donald Trump,” reports NBC News.
Burgum, a former software company CEO, first ran for governor in 2016 as a political neophyte with no party endorsements and only 10% support in local polls. Burgum faced a tough primary opponent in Wayne Stenehjem, then North Dakota’s attorney general, who had been backed by the Republican establishment. But Burgum ended up winning by 20 percentage points.
The U.S. Supreme Court released two decisions yesterday that could have big impacts on state and local governments.
Tyler v. Hennepin County was one of the last cases to be heard by the high court and one of the first decisions issued. In that decision, the court unanimously ruled that a Minnesota county violated the Fifth Amendment when it kept the excess proceeds from the sale of an elderly woman’s home.
The court ultimately blocked states from allowing counties to keep surplus funds from the homes they sell after residents fail to pay property taxes. The catch here—and the good news for local governments—is that it remains constitutional for states to keep the remaining equity, if they still allow a property owner to claim the excess proceeds for a certain amount of time following the sale.
In the other ruling, the justices issued a convoluted but technically unanimous decision on the Clean Water Act. The court significantly scaled back the types of places that are subject to the act, in a setback for environmentalists and the Biden administration.
Conservatives on the court say the decision preserves state authority to regulate land and water use. But liberal justices worry the ruling will gut efforts to curb water pollution.
Deal or default? It is unclear whether President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy will reach a deal today. What is clear is that, if a deal emerges, it won’t be voted on until next week. Lawmakers have already started heading home for the long weekend.
One major issue at stake for state and local governments is progress on one of the biggest issues they face: the housing crisis. A likely deal to freeze spending and/or claw back unspent Covid relief funds would be a blow to rental assistance efforts and the ability to build affordable housing, among other things.
Furthermore, cities worry a default could mean they would be unable to afford to pay the money owed to creditors and they’d have to put off critical needs, such as fixing broken streets.
And ICYMI, big news here at Route Fifty. We are merging with GCN, which covers technology for state and local governments.
GCN and Route Fifty have coordinated coverage on state and local government as sibling publications since September 2021. Route Fifty has focused on issues and challenges facing senior government executives and elected officials, while GCN has served the technologists who are driving the digital transformation of state, city and county governments.
That partnership has been productive, but it’s become increasingly clear that these two audiences are better served together. So in the coming weeks, GCN will be merging into Route Fifty. Learn more about it here.
Keep reading below. We’ve pulled what we thought were some of the biggest headlines in state and local government this week. There’s plenty to keep tabs on, with the Swifties wielding their influence in Massachusetts, a Texas House committee recommending impeachment for the state attorney general, Minnesota passing a massive spending bill, and more preemption efforts—the “Death Star bill” in Texas and the curfew bill in Ohio.
Keep reading as there’s more news to use below, and make sure to come back here every Friday for the week’s highlights. If you don’t already and would prefer to get it in your inbox, you can subscribe to this newsletter here. Have a lovely Memorial Day weekend. We’ll see you next week.
News to Use
Trends, Common Challenges, Cool Ideas, FYIs, and Notable Events
- The power of Swifties continues to grow. Two Massachusetts lawmakers have introduced a “Taylor Swift bill” to protect ticket buyers from hefty surprise fees. The bill would force licensed ticket retailers and resellers to provide the total cost of the ticket up-front and prohibit real-time price changes.
- Texas House recommends impeachment of AG. In an unprecedented move, a Texas House committee voted Thursday to recommend that Attorney General Ken Paxton be impeached and removed from office, citing a yearslong pattern of alleged misconduct and lawbreaking. The impeachment resolution contained 20 articles listing the committee's allegations in support of impeachment—including misapplication of public resources, bribery and obstruction of justice. Two-thirds of senators would have to vote for removal for Paxton to lose his office. This has happened only twice in Texas history.
- Minnesota’s New Deal. Gov. Tim Walz signed into law the largest budget in state history by far: a $72 billion, two-year budget, where the spending is a roughly 40% increase from the current budget of about $52 billion. Much of the bill passed by the Democratic legislature is one-time spending, including grants to businesses and housing rehabilitation. Democrats are pouring billions more into classrooms, construction projects and new government programs while also raising some taxes. They've codified abortion rights, legalized marijuana, passed stricter gun laws, gave unauthorized immigrants access to driver's licenses and enacted a statewide paid leave program. Republicans in the minority said they have been almost completely cut out of the decision-making process.
- Another day, another preemption bill. A Texas bill to overturn local municipalities' ordinances and bar cities and counties from enacting legislation beyond state law is headed to Gov. Greg Abbott's desk after final approval from House lawmakers last week. Coined as the "Death Star Bill," it preempts local regulations in industries such as agriculture, oil and insurance. The bill's proponents maintain the legislation will "return regulatory powers to the state where they belong." However, officials from larger cities like Houston, Austin, Dallas and San Antonio have opposed the bill, saying it waters down local governments' authority and could impact city ordinances like noise complaints and mandates to protect workers.
- Speaking of preemption, it’s Ohio’s turn. Republican lawmakers have introduced a new bill that would stop local governments from implementing curfews, except in cases for minors or in response to a state of emergency. The GOP sponsors say the curfews hurt businesses. But the move is leaving local officials feeling exasperated by a lack of options against the rise in gun violence. Cities have implemented curfews for decades now in an attempt to curb crime or stop protests from taking place—most recently in Columbus. After repeated shootings in the Short North, the capital’s entertainment district, Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther requested that businesses close at midnight during the weekends.
- Traveling to Florida? Think on it. The NAACP last weekend issued a travel advisory for Florida, joining two other civil rights groups. They warned potential tourists that recent laws and policies championed by DeSantis and Florida lawmakers are “openly hostile toward African Americans, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals.” The NAACP joined the League of United Latin American Citizens and Equality Florida, a gay rights advocacy group, in issuing travel advisories for the Sunshine State, where tourism is one of the state’s largest job sectors. The warning approved Saturday by the NAACP’s board of directors tells tourists that, before traveling to Florida, they should understand the state “devalues and marginalizes the contributions of, and the challenges faced by African Americans and other communities of color.”
- The West has struck a water deal. The states along the Colorado River reached an agreement with the Biden administration to conserve an unprecedented amount of their water supply in exchange for $1.2 billion in federal funding. To stabilize the river, the three states that make up the Lower Basin—California, Arizona and Nevada—have agreed to voluntarily conserve 3 million acre-feet of water over the next three years, which amounts to 13% of these states’ total allocation from the river. The Biden administration has committed to compensating the states for three-quarters of the water savings—or 2.3 million acre-feet. The money from the Inflation Reduction Act would pay farmers, Native American tribes, cities and others who voluntarily forgo their supplies.
Picture of the Week
In the “who knew this was a problem” category, the Georgia Department of Driver Services had to remind Georgians this week on its social media platforms that clothes are required in any official government identification. On Facebook, the social media manager for the department continued the messaging in the comments. One TV anchor who works in Augusta asked, "Joke or did this really need to be said? (I can’t decide but honestly leaning toward the needed-to-be-said part. LOL)." The social media manager responded, "Send help."
Government in Numbers
Happy 140th Birthday, Brooklyn Bridge! Arguably one of New York's most iconic locations, the Brooklyn Bridge was the city’s first suspension bridge. It spans the East River to connect Manhattan and Brooklyn. Construction began in 1869 and was completed on May 24, 1883. Recently, the bridge received an extensive cleaning for the first time since its original construction.
County Wants to Employ Ex-Offenders and ‘Break the Cycle’
A unique jobs website lists available Shelby County government jobs for people with arrest or conviction histories in an effort to fill job vacancies and reduce recidivism.
BY ELIZABETH DAIGNEAU
Funding for Rental Assistance is Ending, But Need Continues
Some states are working to develop programs that will pick up where pandemic-era programs are leaving off.
BY MOLLY BOLAN
NHTSA Proposes a Pass-Fail Pedestrian Safety Rating for Vehicles
The scheme put forward by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration comes as pedestrian deaths are surging nationwide.
BY DANIEL C. VOCK
New Initiative Will Help Cities Reduce Homelessness
The program will “embed” federal officials in six cities to help local officials get people off the streets and into homes more quickly.
BY MOLLY BOLAN
Cities Face Mounting Financial Pressures
On top of the familiar problems—pensions, inflation, pandemic aid ending—officials are also trying to prepare for two potentially devastating scenarios: a recession or the U.S. defaulting on its loans.
BY DANIEL C. VOCK
For Some Convicted Sex Offenders, Finishing Their Sentences Doesn’t Mean They Get Out
Several states are civilly committing sex offenders when their prison terms end. Observers say nationwide data on the practice is needed to shed light on how widespread it is and whether it is effective.
BY RACHEL GOTTLIEB