Connecting state and local government leaders

Alabama’s Top Lawmakers Face Off in Court; Will Kansas Schools Stay Closed?

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley on the stand.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley on the stand. Todd J. Van Emst / AP Photo


Connecting state and local government leaders

Also in our State and Local Daily Digest: Philadelphia schools acknowledge two Muslim holidays; a highway Coloradans “can’t afford” to use; and Illinois flirts with second budgetless year.

ETHICS | Alabama lawmakers are legally prohibited from accepting money to lobby the governor. But Gov. Robert Bentley testified Wednesday that House Speaker Mike Hubbard discussed economic development projects with him potentially beneficial to a municipal gas utility paying Hubbard $12,000 a month. Hubbard met with Bentley to discuss bringing trucking and aircraft companies to southeast Alabama, the governor testified, which the latter was interested in because of the jobs they could bring to the state. The speaker faces 23 ethics charges of using his position to make $2.3 million in work and investments, but Hubbard maintains the transactions were legal. [The Associated Press]  

EDUCATION | State GOP lawmakers are prepared to defy an order from the Sunflower State’s Supreme Court that has to do with education funding, according to Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce. Last week, the court said the funding system for schools remains unfair for poor districts and gave the Kansas Legislature until June 30 to remedy the problems. If they do not, the court said, schools could be forced to stay closed. But it was uncertain Tuesday whether lawmakers would try to revise the state’s school finance laws with their annual session set to adjourn Wednesday. [The Associated Press via The Topeka Capital-Journal]

RELIGION | The Philadelphia School District has announced that it will be adding two Muslim holidays—Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha—to its official calendar. It is among some of the first cities in the country to make the move. “Philadelphia’s history is based on being a place where religious freedom is part of its founding ethos,” said Mayor Jim Kenney during a press conference at City Hall. The City of Brotherly Love has an estimated 200,000 Muslim residents. []

HIGHWAYS | Longtime critics continue to question toll prices along an expressway that turns 25 years old Wednesday. E-470 runs 47 miles along the eastern perimeter of the Denver metropolitan region. The cost to travel the length of the roadway is now $17.45, or $14 with an ExpressToll account. “Most people who live in the communities along I-25 and I-225 can’t afford to get on E-470. It doesn’t seem to be benefiting them much at all,” said Greg Fulton, president of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association. He added: “It just sits out there by itself.” That said, use of E-470 was up last year. Toll transactions increased about 12 percent to 74.6 million from 66.4 million in 2014. [The Denver Post]

BUDGET | With some schools and state programs on the verge of shutting down, the General Assembly adjourned for the spring without passing a budget for the second straight year. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and majority Democrats appear at an impasse on collective bargaining, workers’ compensation and tax increases, though there’s still time for legislators still working on a compromise to approve a budget before the new fiscal year begins July 1. House Democrats approved a $40 billion budget to keep K-12 education and Medicaid running, which Rauner said he’d veto, and Senate Democrats a $900 million school funding-only bill the House rejected. Because Tuesday’s deadline was missed, a three-fifths majority is now needed to pass a budget, rather than a simple majority. [The Associated Press via The Southern Illinoisan]

EQUAL PAY | There is a significant and growing pay gap between men and women among L.A. County’s workforce. On average, women who work for the county make 76 percent of what their male counterparts bring in for a year—down from 80 percent in 2011. The gap appears to be due to women holding lower paid positions, rather than differences in pay between men and women doing the same jobs. In general, women made up a majority of full-time county employees but were underrepresented in jobs where the average pay was more than $160,000. Only four of 622 fire captains, who make on average almost $245,000 a year in L.A. County, are women. [Los Angeles Times]

PERMITTING | Tiny houses are in, and the county is looking to capitalize by altering permitting regulations to allow homes under 400 square feet anywhere single-family dwellings are already allowed—provided they have a permanent foundation. Some building code minimum standards for dwellings, rooms, ceilings, window dimensions, and stairways were waived due to scale. “As these homes are tiny, they provide quicker exiting and occupants are more aware of the physical configuration of the space thereby alleviating fall and means of egress risks,” according to county staff. [Arizona Daily Star]

HOUSING | Short-term rental platforms like Airbnb and VRBO are eating into Seattle’s already limited housing supply. Now the city council may be adding regulations aimed at preventing landlords from choosing tourists over long-term renters. “We have whole floors of apartment buildings that have been taken off the housing market,” said City Councilmember Tim Burgess. “We have entire buildings that essentially have become hotels.” Under the proposed regulations, only owners listing their primary residence would be allowed to run short-term rentals year-round. Those using a secondary residence would only be allowed to rent out for 90 total nights over one year. [The Seattle Times]

IDENTIFICATION | Municipal ID cards could benefit as many as 50,000 people living in West Texas—the homeless, the poor, immigrants and the elderly among them. Proponents are billing the effort as a way to enhance public safety and reach members of the community who are at risk of being overlooked. The cards could be used to access local public services like libraries and utilities but would not be accepted at a TSA checkpoint, and they cannot be used to vote or to drive. But the proposal seems poised to cause a fight between leaders of border cities like El Paso and Republicans in the Capital, including Gov. Greg Abbott, who want to do away with “sanctuary city policies.” [The Texas Tribune]

SHORTFALL | A second special legislative session to address an estimated $600-million budget shortfall in the Pelican State is now about a week away. And, on Tuesday, Gov. John Bel Edwards voiced optimism that the state’s fiscal difficulties will be dealt with but also referred to Louisiana’s current budget-making process as “a bit of a mess.” Edwards, a first-term Democrat, made his remarks during a meeting with the editorial board of The Advocate. “We have a $600 million shortfall, and there are just not the opportunities out there to go and sweep [money from other funds] and that sort of thing you’ve seen in the past,” the governor said. Hospitals and higher education are among the many areas that would see cuts under a nearly $26 billion budget proposal the state Senate may consider Wednesday. [The Advocate]