Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Denver mayor’s video apology; Utah lawmaker proposes ‘safe on red’ bill; New Mexico’s rape-kit backlog; and turning biogas into energy in Kansas.
Here are state and local government news that caught Route Fifty’s attention ...
WORKFORCE | Walking around the Boylan Heights neighborhood in Raleigh, North Carolina on Wednesday, Route Fifty noticed a hot pink lawn sign posted by Wake County Public School System outside a local school. The message: “Flex Hours. Flashy Company Car. Bus Drivers Wanted.” Like many jurisdictions around the nation, Wake County, the second most-populous jurisdiction in North Carolina, has been dealing with a bus-driver shortage thanks to “uncompetitive salaries” and a high turnover rate. In September, the Wake County school board voted to use $2.2 million in state funding to increase bus driver pay. It’s a common problem across the nation. In Delaware, the Indian River school district is currently six drivers short, but needs more than 10 drivers to adequately cover existing routes and the need for substitute drivers. The reason for the shortage there is similar: Low pay and split shifts. In Albemarle County, Virginia, which recently held a job fair to fill vacant school bus driver positions, the local district has only had enough drivers for one month out of the past eight years. [The News & Observer; Delaware Public Media; WVIR-TV / NBC29]
LAW ENFORCEMENT | While 48 states have laws generally prohibiting firearms at K-12 schools, “there are several common exceptions written into the laws,” according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In at least 19 states—Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont and West Virginia—there are statutes that allow anyone to carry a firearm at a school as long as they have permission from a state authority. [NCSL via Medium]
New Mexico has the highest number of untested rape kits per capita in the nation, something that has recently attracted national media attention from NBC. Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, who as state auditor found 54,000 untested rape kits in the state, signed an executive order in January calling on the Albuquerque Police Department and the Albuquerque Sexual Assault Evidence Response Team to create a plan to clear the city’s rape kit backlog. “If we put the same kind of effort that we did into building a new fountain downtown, we could have eliminated half the rape backlog,” Keller said. [NBC News; Albuquerque Journal]
#METOO | Denver Mayor Michael Hancock released “an extraordinary video apology” on Tuesday for what’s been described as “inappropriate” behavior involving Denver Police Det. Leslie Branch-Wise, who was part of the mayor’s security detail at the time. In the video, the mayor said that “text messages in 2012 blurred the lines between being a friend and being a boss.” However, Hancock said, “let me be clear: My behavior did not involve sexual advances or inappropriate physical contact.” [KMGH-TV / The Denver Channel; Westword; YouTube]
Democratic leaders in North Carolina are calling on one of their own, state Rep. Duane Hall, to step down after detailed allegations surfaced of “persistent sexual innuendo from the three-term legislator and, in some cases, repeated, unwanted sexual overtures.” State Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin said: “These are serious allegations and Representative Hall should step down.” [North Carolina Policy Watch]
TRANSPORTATION SAFETY | A Utah House committee this week approved a “safe on red” proposal that would allow motorists to proceed through a red traffic signal after a complete stop if there isn’t any other traffic coming. “This is a safe-on-red bill. It’s not a run-a-red-light bill,” according to the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Ken Ivory. The Utah Department of Transportation opposes the bill, which now advances to the full House. [The Salt Lake Tribune]
While a full investigation into a fatal Amtrak crash in Cayce, South Carolina is still underway, the National Transportation Safety Board has released a preliminary report into the collision, where a passenger train slammed into a CSX freight train on a rail siding on Feb. 4, killing an Amtrak conductor and engineer. The findings in the preliminary report “mirror a NTSB safety recommendation released earlier this month” which asked the Federal Railroad Administration “issue an emergency order providing instructions for railroads to follow when signal suspensions are in effect and a switch has been reported relined for a main track.” The Amtrak train had been traveling along tracks under the jurisdiction of CSX when it left the main track at a switch that took it onto the rail siding. [The State]
MARIJUANA | While 57 percent of California voters in 2016 gave the thumbs up to the introduction of legalized recreational marijuana in the state, that enthusiasm did not extend to local elected officials in Calaveras County, located southeast of Sacramento. After marijuana growers flocked to the area following the 2016 vote, the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors voted to ban all marijuana cultivation in their jurisdiction. “We’ve spent everything we have to survive and make it as legitimate as we can,” said one medical marijuana cultivator. The county is facing lawsuits seeking to overturn the ban. [Los Angeles Times; Calaveras Enterprise]
ENVIRONMENT | This month, the South Wastewater Treatment Plant in Dodge City, Kansas has started to produce methanol from raw biogas “captured from the covered anaerobic lagoons” that will be turned into fuel additives in the Netherlands. [Dodge City Daily Globe]
A bill introduced in the Michigan House would make large ground-water withdrawals easier in the state allowing farms and companies to skip a modeling tool used by the Department of Environmental Quality to assess such proposals. Instead, applicants could “gain approval by submitting their own experts' analyses that streams and fish would not be adversely impacted.” [Detroit Free Press]
Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.