Connecting state and local government leaders

Arizona Bans Local Drone Laws; Denver Railroad Crossings Experience Glitches


Connecting state and local government leaders

Also in our State and Local Daily Digest: 25 Connecticut police officers minorities might want to avoid; Detroit blight removal program investigated; and can D.C. spend money without Congress?

DRONES | Existing local government drone laws in Arizona will be invalidated, and any new ones will be barred under state legislation Gov. Doug Ducey signed Wednesday. Businesses were among the backers of a statewide policy—notably Amazon. The online retailer has floated the idea of delivering merchandise using drones in coming years, a plan that would be complicated by a mish-mash of local regulations. The bill Ducey signed does allow localities to ban drones in their parks, as long as there’s at least one park where they can be flown. []

RAIL SAFETY | Because of problems with safety gates on a new $1.2 billion train line that runs between the city’s Union Station and its airport, the Regional Transportation District has had to post flaggers around the clock at 10 rail crossings. Glitches have included gates that did not fully close before trains approached crossings and other gates that went down even when there was not a train nearing an intersection. The problems are said to have been addressed, but the crossings have not been officially certified as safe. Colorado’s Public Utilities Commission oversees road-rail crossings in the state. "At this point, the crossings are safe," said a commission spokesman. "We believe the measures put in place ensures safety." [The Denver Post]

TRAFFIC STOPS | A new state-commissioned study has identified 25 police officers who have been stopping minorities at significantly higher rates than their peers. Twelve of the officers were in two local police departments, one in a suburb of New Haven and another in a suburb of Hartford. Local police chiefs did not immediately identify the officers and called the data flawed. State officials highlighted the fact that most departments in the study did not exhibit disparities. "It doesn't show any widespread bias," Michael Lawlor, state undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning said. "It's not a guilty/not guilty analysis. It's, here are the numbers ... and let policymakers and managers work with it." [The Associated Press via ABC News]

INVESTIGATIONS | A blight removal program is under investigation by the FBI, the law enforcement agency confirmed Wednesday. That revelation comes after the Special Inspector General for the federal Troubled Asset Relief Program sent a subpoena for records about the program late last month. The demolition initiative has faced scrutiny over costs and bidding practices. The city’s inspector general is also conducting a probe into part of it. Detroit has received $170 million in federal funds to help pay for the demolition of blighted properties, and since 2014 has removed more than 8,600 homes. [The Detroit News]

ANIMAL WELFARE | Lions and tigers and bears may be getting new protections in the Steel City. The goal of new legislation being considered by the City Council is to reduce exploitation of exotic animals in traveling shows and carnivals. The bill, introduced by Council President Bruce Kraus, would ban camels, elephants, monkeys and other wild or exotic animals—including the previously mentioned lions, tigers and bears—from appearing in public performances. The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, as well as the National Aviary—no strangers to criticism from animal rights activists—would be exempt. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]

SPENDING | Republicans in the House of Representatives are unsure if the District of Columbia’s government has the power to spend its citizens’ tax dollars without getting Congressional approval first. Mayor Muriel Bowser is refusing to submit D.C.’s budget to Congress, following a favorable ruling on the District’s “budget autonomy,” but House Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republican leaders won’t let this issue go without a fight. An oversight committee chaired by Rep. Mark Meadows, a Republican from North Carolina, will examine the District’s actions on Thursday. According to one spokeswoman for Ryan, "[T]he speaker supports Chairman Meadows' efforts to show the unlawfulness of the D.C. Budget Autonomy Act.” [The Associated Press via ABC News]

UBER | The city is researching Newark, New Jersey’s deal with Uber before establishing parameters under which ride-hailing services can serve passengers at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport—the world’s busiest. Uber has objected to the fingerprint checks Atlanta has floated, checks not required at the Newark-Liberty Airport. In Newark, Uber will pay $10 million over 10 years to operate at the airport, but the deal has been questioned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. [Cherokee Tribune & Ledger-News]

FEDERAL FUNDS | With the Tar Heel State and the federal government trading lawsuits over a law that prohibits transgender people from using bathrooms that align with the gender with which they identify, $4 billion in federal education funding could be on the line. The U.S. Justice Department has said the law, House Bill 2, is discriminatory, which could result in the federal dollars getting withheld. Among the biggest chunks of the money are $1.4 billion that goes to public schools and another $800 million that supports federally-backed college student loans. Whether that money will get cut off remains unclear. At a press conference earlier this week, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said it was too soon to say when the federal government might take that step. William Yeomans, who spent over two decades in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and is now a law professor, said of withholding the funds: “It really is a nuclear weapon in these types of disputes and it's one that, I think, everybody would prefer to avoid." [WFAE]

IMMIGRATION | City Council approved IDs for immigrants, the homeless and others that police and other city departments will recognize—a first for any Ohio city. The cards cost $15 and are obtainable with two forms of identification like birth certificates, passports of social services letters. "It will help those who are the most vulnerable feel more a part of the community," said the executive director of the Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati. "It's a general ID card that anyone can apply for, but the beauty of it is that it provides photo identification with a residential address for those who don't have other IDs." [Daily Reporter]

LEAD POISONING | The county will partner with Augustana College to remove lead-based paint from older homes, identifying risk areas and raising funds. Paint is the No. 1 cause of lead poisoning in the Quad Cities, and about 50 children per year test positive for lead in their bloodstreams. Augustana’s Sustainable Working Landscapes Initiative, focused on community problems, will be leveraged to flag 2,000 homes using public data. [Quad City Times]