Connecting state and local government leaders
Also in our State and Local Daily Digest: Florida’s Everglades are at an environmental “tipping point”; snowplow driver shortage in Maine; and Oklahoma governor’s sales tax expansion.
PUBLIC EMPLOYEES | A divide-and-conquer strategy to strip collective bargaining rights from most public employees—with the exception of “public safety workers”—on the part of Republican lawmakers in Iowa has backfired. The idea was to compartmentalize the public workforce into two groups, those who work in public safety, whose union rights are more politically risky to go after, and those who don’t. But those same public safety employees aren’t having it. Helmeted firefighters, police officers and sheriffs have flocked to committee hearings at the State Capitol to speak against the plan. One law enforcement officer explained that under the plan, many sheriff’s deputies wouldn’t even be classified as “public safety” workers because of the number of jailers and clerks in their bargaining unit. The GOP plan only categorizes workers as being “public safety” employees if the majority of people in the bargaining unit are police or firefighters. “Half of law enforcement folks I work with are Republicans,” said John Thomas, a Mitchellville police officer. “And we voted for Republicans because of conservative values. But we didn’t vote for Republicans to get stabbed in the back while we’re trying to dodge cars and bullets.” [Iowa Starting Line; Quad City Times]
IMMIGRATION | Amid new federal immigration enforcement in Texas and elsewhere around the nation, Austin Mayor Steve Adler released an open letter to his community on Tuesday about “secretive raids” from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which he said are “sowing distrust” in his community.
From part of Adler’s open letter:
These secretive raids are occurring without any coordination with the Austin Police Department or the Travis County Sheriff’s Office. One consequence of this is the fear and panic among many of our neighbors who do not pose threats to our community. Some family members are disappearing with their whereabouts unknown. Some parents, fearful of apprehension, aren’t sure of what will happen to their US-born citizen children, not to mention the home they’ve owned for years and into which they’ve placed all their family savings. These raids are sowing distrust, not just with ICE but even with local law enforcement, and that makes our community less safe.
ENVIRONMENT | The lead investigator of one of the longest and largest studies of the Everglades in South Florida says the vast wetlands region is at an environmental “tipping point” and is “spinning into a self-perpetuating cycle of decline.” Two forces are accelerating the changes: rising sea levels and reduced flow of freshwater from Florida’s interior. [The Miami Herald]
TRANSPORTATION | As the Maine Department of Transportation has worked to clear roadways in recent days after two major winter storms, there’s a continued shortage of snowplow drivers in the southern part of the state. “In a lot of the state, we are stabilizing the workforce this winter. But in the southern tip we are still struggling a little bit,” said Dale Doughty, maintenance and operations director for the Maine DOT. [Portland Press Herald]
A stretch of U.S. Route 50 east of Sacramento will be “closed indefinitely” as crews work to clear major mudslides along a 12-mile stretch of the highway. The mountainous road provides the main route between Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe. [The Sacramento Bee]
STATE BUDGETS | Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin’s $7.9 billion budget proposal includes new or increased taxes, including “sales tax modernization” that would expand the state’s sales tax to include currently untaxed services, like visits to doctors, funeral services, cable television, tattoos and taxidermy, among other services. State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones told a League of Women Voters gathering in Stillwater last week that Fallin’s proposal isn’t realistic and would difficult to gain the legislature’s approval. [CNHI News Oklahoma; NewsOK; Stillwater News Press]
At a time when Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens has proposed funding cuts for nursing homes and higher education, the state’s new lieutenant governor is seeking additional funding for his office. On Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Mike Parson, told lawmakers the extra funding is needed to cover mileage costs, an additional employee and possible out of state travel. He’s requesting an added $125,000 for his office’s $463,000 budget. “All I want to do is do my job. There’s nothing in there for myself,” Parson said. “There is no security detail. There is no vehicle. I provide my own vehicle.” [St. Louis Post-Dispatch]
DRONES | An Assemblyman in Anchorage, Alaska, wants to add drones to the list of public nuisances, an act that would bar the devices from flying within 50 feet of a house or business without permission from the property owner. Anchorage has not yet adopted any regulations on drones, but Assemblyman Patrick Flynn says he sees his measure as the first of many steps his city could take to oversee the use of this technology. [Alaska Dispatch News]