Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Spotlight on Baltimore pipeline deal … Los Angeles Sheriff putting aside misconduct investigations … Washington state works on debt-collection bills.
Michigan will continue wrestling with the public policy question of whether faith-based adoption agencies can continue to work under state contracts if they refuse to place children with same-sex couples. On Monday, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty announced that it had filed a lawsuit against Michigan and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on behalf of St. Vincent Catholic Charities and two families the charity has served. The suit comes after news last month that Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel settled with the American Civil Liberties Union in a suit on the same basic issue, agreeing to defend LGBTQ couples against any bias by refusing to contract with groups that refuse to fully serve them. The settlement came after Michigan under the previous AG initially argued that state law protected religious organizations from government interference. It now says the state law protecting religious organizations does not outweigh federal protections against discrimination. But lawyers for St. Vincent told CNN the organization doesn’t “stand in the way” of same sex couples. In fact, they say it refers them to other agencies “better suited to meeting their needs.” [Deseret News, CNN]
PIPELINE DEAL | Despite local opposition and an environmental lawsuit filed last week, Baltimore City Council is on track to green light a deal struck between the city and Baltimore Gas & Electric that would allow the utility for the next 25 years to use a pipeline constructed through a city park for what critics say is the cut-rate price of $2 million. The city’s Department of Recreation and Parks originally valued the franchise agreement at $14 million. The franchise fee is meant to pay for the damage pipeline construction did to Gwynns Falls Leakin Park, where BG&E plowed up 2.2 miles of land and clear cut 700 mature-growth trees. The Leakin Park project is estimated to have cost the utility $31 million and is part of a system-wide six-year infrastructure upgrade being completed by BG&E. [Baltimore Brew, Baltimore Business Journal]
INTERNAL INVESTIGATIONS | The office of Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has been quietly inactivating investigations into employee misconduct, according to a report issued late last week by the LA County Office of Inspector General. Watchdogs said they are alarmed that 45 investigations were inactivated in the first two months of the year, including some that center on criminal allegations of child abuse, domestic violence, and having sex with inmates. The Sheriff’s Department didn’t dispute the findings of the report but said its authors delivered only a “superficial snapshot” of the involved cases. [Los Angeles Times]
CONSUMER DEBT | Washington state lawmakers by wide margin have passed a suite of bills aimed to help struggling consumers climb out of debt. The proposals are meant to add more balance to Washington’s debt-collection laws, some of the most punishing in the country. The bills come on the heels of a Seattle Times investigation on the ways Washington, unlike many other states, has failed to update laws to better allow consumers to break out of the ruinous cycle of debt, where fines, steep interest rates and court costs pile up on one side of the ledger for people already struggling to balance their books. [Seattle Times]
BAIL BONDS | Bail bonds companies this week demanded a court hearing through which they hope to avoid paying back an estimated $6 million to tens of thousands of customers. Last month, Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon ordered the bond firms to write partial-refund checks to people he claimed had been overcharged by the industry over the last 14 years. [New Orleans Advocate]
ARMED MAYOR | Pennsylvania state police on Monday arrested Kevin Gross, the 38-year-old mayor of Derry Borough, east of Pittsburgh. Police say the mayor’s teenage son scuffled with other teenagers at a local park over graffiti and a marker. The mayor is accused of intervening in the dispute, pointing a loaded revolver at four of the teenagers involved and ordering three girls to put down their phones and a boy to lie on the ground. Gross faces multiple charges, including harassment, aggravated assault and recklessly endangering another person. [KDKA]
John Tomasic is a journalist who lives in Seattle.