Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Santa Monica's 'whack-a-mole' game with Airbnb violators; South Carolina attorney general asked to investigate 'out of state imposters'; a new regional crisis stabilization unit in Arkansas; and Detroit's awful potholes.
Here are state and local government news stories that caught Route Fifty's attention.
GUN VIOLENCE | In the wake of last week’s deadly school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 people, state Senate leaders in Tallahassee on Wednesday tabled two gun-related measures being pushed by Second Amendment activists. In Broward County, where Parkland is located, Sheriff Scott Israel said that deputies assigned to school campuses will start carrying rifles. “We need to be able to defeat any threat on campus,” he told reporters Wednesday. Meanwhile, thousands of students walked out of classrooms across South Florida in a second day of protests at schools there. They were joined by students in other parts of the nation, including in Mesa, Arizona, where 17 minutes of silence were observed for each of the victims who died in Parkland. In Missoula, Montana, students stood in solidarity with victims of gun violence in Florida to “protest Montana’s lenient gun laws” and “bring attention to the lack of security at their high school.” [CBS Miami; Miami Herald; Sun Sentinel; Arizona Republic; Missoulian]
In Idaho, there’s a gun problem of a different kind: suicides. In 2017, 214 people in Idaho took their own life with a firearm. That’s more than the number of people who died in vehicle crashes. Only 15 people were killed in gun-related homicides in Idaho last year. [Idaho Statesman]
CITY HALLS | In Santa Monica, California, the city government is engaged in a game of “whack a mole” when it comes to enforcement of its tough short-term rental ordinance. That’s according to a new city report, which also notes the lengths that violators go to avoid scrutiny—“an array of tactics to outwit investigators, including deleting listings during City Hall business hours and manipulating addresses to appear to be in Los Angeles.” Santa Monica was among the first cities to implement strict regulations on short-term rentals like Airbnb, including requiring hosts to have a commercial business license and users paying a 14 percent hotel tax. [Santa Monica Daily Press; Commercial Property Executive]
The city of Everett, Washington is appealing a federal judge’s temporary ban on its dress code for so-called bikini barista coffee stands. A group of barista and coffee stand owners sued the city, located about 30 miles north of Seattle, saying that their civil rights and freedom of expression were being violated by the local rules. [Everett Herald]
Planners in Fargo, North Dakota have found that the city’s downtown Renaissance Zone program, which includes property and state income tax exemptions, has led to a big economic boost. "It's paying $4.7 million in taxes, which means that if we didn't have that growth, our property tax mill levy would be 11 mills higher. It has saved Fargo taxpayers millions of dollars," according to Jim Gilmour, Fargo’s city planning director. [Prairie Public Radio]
INFORMATION WARFARE | South Carolina legislative leaders have asked the state’s attorney general to launch an inquiry into fraudulent form emails sent to them in support of a buyout of SCANA, an energy utility based in the state. A national oil and gas group that drafted the form emails denies wrongdoing and blamed “out-of-state imposters” who submitted the fraudulent information to their system. The fake messages “only heighten tensions in an escalating information war over South Carolina’s nuclear fiasco.” [The State]
AMAZON HQ2 | As Amazon.com, Inc. continues its search for a city or region to host its second headquarters campus, the speculation of what the retailing giant may be zeroing in on continues. With Amazon keeping its thought process close to vest, an interesting tidbit of information has surfaced via ARLNow.com, a local news site in Arlington County, Virginia. ARLNow reported a surge in traffic from “an internal Amazon.com page devoted to its HQ2 search” to a story about the county being recognized for an environmental award from the U.S. Green Building Council. Arlington is a highly urbanized county across the river from Washington, D.C. and was named among the 20 HQ2 finalists. [ARLNow]
MENTAL HEALTH CARE | Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson will join the Western Arkansas Counseling and Guidance Center next week to open a regional crisis stabilization unit in Sebastian County, where Fort Smith is located, designed to “support law enforcement in diverting the mentally ill from jail to treatment, benefiting these individuals and their families, our hospital emergency room treatment centers, the criminal justice system and our communities,” according to an announcement. [Times Record]
The Nevada Department of Health and Human Services is working to remedy “deplorable conditions” in community homes for the mentally ill that were identified in a recent legislative audit, which found more than 100 corrective actions. [The Nevada Independent]
TRANSPORTATION | Federal inspections have found major problems with New Jersey Transit rail cars, including “fire risks, faulty brakes and electrical hazards,” according an open records request made by Bloomberg. The agency, which operates commuter rail service in New Jersey, appears to have “mostly resolved” the federal findings. The state’s acting transportation commissioner, Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, said at a recent news conference that New Jersey Transit is working closely with federal regulators. “They’re our partner in this, not our punisher.” [Bloomberg]
A convoy of six electric buses made a nearly 800-mile trip and arrived in Albuquerque this weekend where they’ll be put into use on city’s new bus rapid transit line. Delivery of the BYD-manufactured buses had been delayed due to an order backlog at the Lancaster, California manufacturing facility. The electric buses recharged their batteries every 210 miles. [Albuquerque Journal]
It’s pothole season in southeastern Michigan. A particularly awful stretch of Interstate 75 in Detroit stranded “at least dozen” motorists on Wednesday due to blown tires. The Michigan Department of Transportation said that there currently aren’t plans—or funding—to rehabilitate the roadway besides simply filling the potholes. “Decades of underfunding has kept us putting Band-Aids on areas in need of surgery,” according to a MDOT spokeswoman. [Detroit Free Press]
ENVIRONMENT | Large tunnel structures are being erected along Interstate 90, which crosses the Cascade Range in Washington state through Snoqualmie Pass, as part of an effort to allow wildlife to cross over the busy highway unimpeded and connect two important mountain habitats. The $6.2 million project near Snoqualmie Pass is part of a larger initiative to construct 20 animal overpasses along I-90. [Spokesman Review]
Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.
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