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Four more governors have joined a growing list of Republican-led states sending personnel to the U.S.-Mexico border. But is it effective? Plus, more news to use from around the country in this week's State and Local Roundup.
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It’s Friday, June 2, and we’d like to welcome you to the weekly State and Local Roundup. There’s plenty to keep tabs on, with an unprecedented state intervention in local elections, another state lifting degree requirements amid a government workforce shortage, and lessons from overseas for the housing crisis. But first we’ll start with the border.
Sending help … Republican governors in four states this week announced that they will send state National Guard soldiers or other state law enforcement officers to the U.S. border with Mexico.
Arkansas, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia are sending nearly 300 personnel to help with border security in Texas. They join Florida, Iowa, Mississippi, Nebraska and Tennessee in lending support.
“The ongoing border crisis facing our nation has turned every state into a border state,” Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin said in a news release. “As leadership solutions at the federal level fall short, states are answering the call to secure our southern border, reduce the flow of fentanyl, combat human trafficking and address the humanitarian crisis.”
Are these deployments necessary? … President Joe Biden has already sent roughly 3,500 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to help U.S. Customs and Border Protection with data entry, warehouse support and other administrative duties so the CBP can focus on fieldwork. (Military forces are prohibited by law from actually patrolling the border.) The latest deployment was early last month in anticipation of a surge of migrants following the end of coronavirus pandemic-era restrictions.
According to the CBP, encounters have increased, but are still lower than this time last year.
The Virginia deployment and others have specifically been in support of Texas’ Operation Lone Star, which is separate from the active duty and National Guard troops working with the CBP.
But critics have questioned the effectiveness of the $3 billion and counting operation, pointing to some arrests, including for low-level amounts of marijuana during traffic stops, that appear to have little to do with border security.
EMAC … The states lending troops are answering a request for help from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, which facilitates state-level mutual aid nationwide.
The compact allows states to reach out to each other—instead of to the federal government—to get the resources they need. EMAC got its start in the early 1990s, at a time when federal disaster relief programs were failing badly. The catalyst for the compact was the devastation wrought by Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 storm. Local officials had repeatedly asked for federal help, but little came. A year after the disaster, Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles proposed a mutual aid system among nearby states and 19 states in the region ultimately joined. By 1995, they decided to allow any state to join, and Congress ratified the Emergency Management Assistance Compact the next year.
Under EMAC, the governor of the affected state must declare an emergency or a disaster before requesting help. The state asking for help is responsible for reimbursing states that send aid. Abbott declared a disaster for 34 counties based on an increase of illegal immigration at the Texas-Mexico border in 2021.
Takeaway … These deployments have added up in costs, their efficacy unestablished and have taken a toll on the people called up. There have been several reports of low morale among the troops in the Texas National Guard, who have complained of late paychecks, having little to do, and the hardships of being away from their families for year-long deployments.
Military.com initially wrote after Abbott launched Operation Lone Star that National Guard troops were essentially “caught in the middle, between state politicians and federal political appointees.”
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. We’ll see you next week.
News to Use
Trends, Common Challenges, Cool Ideas, FYIs, and Notable Events
- A new trend? States interfering in local elections. Texas Republicans muscled through legislation allowing unprecedented state interventions into elections in Harris County, the most populous county in Texas and home to Houston, threatening to drastically overhaul elections in the Democratic stronghold. The bills, which are now headed to the governor’s desk, would eliminate Harris County’s chief elections official and allow state officials to intervene and supervise the county’s elections in response to administrative complaints. The Republican effort in Texas mirrors strategies recently used by GOP-led legislatures in Florida and Georgia to gain control of local elections, and could signal state lawmakers’ intention to seek control in counties beyond Harris. Last week, Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee said the county was preparing to sue the state over the new measures.
- Degree requirements lifted in Virginia. Gov. Glenn Youngkin is scrapping college degree requirements for most Virginia state government jobs, joining a trend that started in Maryland last year as a way to address staff shortages and expand opportunities for workers. Starting July 1, state agencies will no longer require degrees or give preference to job candidates who have them for 90% of state jobs. Virginia, whose state agencies advertise about 20,000 job opportunities a year, is the seventh state to follow Maryland’s lead. The trend has emerged as Americans debate the value of higher education given soaring tuition costs and the burden of student debt.
- GOP senate boycott in Oregon could torpedo rest of session. Gov. Tina Kotek said Wednesday that her negotiations with Republicans boycotting the state Senate ended up in deadlock, after they continued to insist that Democrats kill or substantially pare back a bill that would expand access to abortion and other reproductive care for children under the age of 15. Democrats, who hold a majority in both chambers of the legislature, are unwilling to make those changes. The development increases the risk that hundreds of bills, including many with bipartisan support, will die. “I’m reporting today my deep disappointment that we are at an impasse with about a month left in the session,” Kotek told journalists at The Oregonian/OregonLive. “We are back at square one.”
- Lessons from Vienna on the housing crisis. Experts refer to Vienna’s world-famous municipal housing, known as the Gemeindebauten, as “social housing,” a phrase that captures how it and other limited-profit housing are a widely shared social benefit that welcomes the middle class, not just the poor. In Vienna, a whopping 80% of residents qualify for public housing. Plus, once residents have a contract, it never expires, even if they get richer. Housing experts believe that this approach leads to greater economic diversity within public housing—and better outcomes for the people living in it.
- There’s a new interim AG in Texas. Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday appointed Fort Worth lawyer and former Secretary of State John Scott as interim Texas attorney general, temporarily replacing Ken Paxton. Paxton is suspended as attorney general pending the outcome of his impeachment trial in the state Senate. Scott previously served as deputy attorney general for civil litigation when Abbott served as attorney general. Scott has more than 34 years of legal experience and has argued more than 100 cases in state and federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court.
- Washington AG sues makers of ‘forever chemicals.’ Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson claimed companies that made and sold firefighting foam used for decades hid potential health risks and that it contributed to drinking water pollution around the state. The allegations come in a lawsuit Ferguson filed on Tuesday. The case centers on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, often referred to as “forever chemicals” because of how they resist breaking down in the environment. Ferguson is far from alone in going after companies like 3M and DuPont on PFAS claims. Reporting by Bloomberg Law last year turned up at least 6,400 PFAS-related lawsuits filed in federal courts between July 2005 and March 2022. Hundreds of cases are now part of “multidistrict litigation” before a South Carolina U.S. District Court.
- People without housing vs. people with disabilities. Portland’s city government reached a tentative agreement to clear more homeless campsites from city sidewalks, settling a lawsuit from 10 residents who have, or care for people with, physical disabilities. As part of a proposed settlement, the city agreed to prioritize removing campsites that obstruct sidewalks, extend its ban on city employees handing out tents and tarps to homeless residents, and remove at least 500 camps from sidewalks each year. The city also will make it easier for people with physical disabilities to report obstructed sidewalks. The Portland City Council must approve the settlement and will consider it at its meeting Wednesday. But its terms drew condemnation from advocacy groups both for people experiencing homelessness and people with disabilities.
- Maryland makes hate crime task force permanent. With a Maryland hate crimes task force funded by a federal grant set to expire next year, legislation to make it a permanent group went into effect Thursday. The Commission on Hate Crime Response and Prevention is managed by the state attorney general’s office and composed of state agencies, nonprofit organizations and community leaders. It has been tasked with developing “strategies to prevent and respond to hate crime activity and evaluate state laws and policies relating to hate crimes.” It will also provide annual reports to the general assembly and state Department of Education with recommendations to address hate crimes. Hate crimes surged nearly 12% nationwide between 2020 and 2021, according to FBI statistics released in March.
Picture of the Week
Still facing a possible federal takeover, the New York City Department of Correction has recently rolled back several practices intended to hold the embattled jail system accountable. This week, the agency said it would no longer notify the press when someone who is incarcerated dies. The reversal of the de Blasio-era practice was a drastic move. Last year, 19 people in city jails died in custody or shortly after being released—the highest rate of death in two decades. In 2023 so far, three people are known to have died at Rikers. It was also the latest move that some lawmakers and criminal justice advocates said erodes transparency and accountability in New York City jails, reports City & State New York, our sister publication. (Image from Leonardo Munoz/VIEWpress via Getty Images)
Government in Numbers
The number of bills the Massachusetts Legislature has passed into law since state lawmakers opened their two-year session in early January. The slow start is likely historic, and, current and former Beacon Hill officials told the Boston Globe, reflective of a Democratic-controlled body where power is overly concentrated at the top and where leaders increasingly rely on hulking, omnibus legislation to move important policy.
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