Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Reform school abuse in Pennsylvania … Ignored police body cam policy in Chicago …Considering a casino deal in Connecticut.
Surveying a national legal landscape already dotted with thousands of cases targeting Purdue Pharma as the main corporate culprit in the country’s opioid crisis, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich on Wednesday filed a lawsuit directly to the nation’s top court. Brnovich told the New York Times that filing the suit, which specifically is aimed at the Sackler family that owns Purdue, straight to the Supreme Court was an “unorthodox” tactic that carried “long-shot” odds of success. But Brnovich said he felt justified in making the move when weighing the gravity of the opioid crisis and the pressing need for compensation, on one side, against the backlog of suits already filed targeting Purdue and the vast amounts of money at stake on the other. “Absent resolution in a single forum, these disputes will be fought over and over in nearly every state in the nation,” the Arizona lawsuit argues. “This is likely to take years, lead to inconsistent judgments and create an inequitable distribution of money damages.” A federal court in Cleveland is already seeking to resolve some 2,000 lawsuits brought by cities, counties and Native American tribes filed against “key players in the opioid crisis,” the Times reported. The Arizona suit accuses the Sackler family, which owns Purdue, of “looting” the company through “illegal transfers” of $4 billion in order to avoid losing that money in lawsuits seeking compensation. A spokesman for the Sackler family said the claims are “inconsistent with the factual record.” Purdue is estimated to have earned more than $30 billion in OxyContin sales. So far, it has paid out $600 million in federal fines and distributed $19.5 million to 26 states, including Arizona, to settle a 2007 lawsuit that detailed the aggressive marketing techniques the company used to sell the drug despite the grave danger it posed to public health. Brnovich said opioid-related deaths in Arizona have risen 76 percent since 2013. He said the Arizona health department has estimated that between June 2017 and June 2019 more than 3,000 Arizonans died from opioid overdose. [New York Times, Arizona Daily Star]
ABUSE | In the wake of horrific revelations of abuse at Glen Mills reform school in Delaware County, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf issued an executive order directing the state to remake the system that oversees juvenile residential programs. “Today is a day of reckoning,” he said Wednesday, after signing the order. “Today, we are being honest that the decades-in-making, outdated, rigid, convoluted system is not working for too many Pennsylvanians.” An investigation by the Philadelphia Inquirer published in February found that counselors at Glen Mills beat children violently, sometimes breaking their bones, and coerced them into lying about their injuries. The state Department of Human Services in April revoked the schools operating licenses. Wolf said he will pursue “extensive regulatory and legislative actions with input from the General Assembly.” His executive order creates a Council on Reform to make policy recommendations, an Office of Advocacy and Reform and a new Child Advocate to “act as an ombudsman for youth in the state’s facilities,” according to the Inquirer. Glen Mills was founded in 1826 as the Philadelphia House of Refuge and is the oldest existing reform school in the country. [Philadelphia Inquirer, AP]
POLICE VIDEO | Chicago police are failing to properly record and review video from officer body cameras, the city’s inspector general has found. A report issued by the inspector this week found officers often failed to wear or turn on their cameras and that commanders were inconsistent in reviewing body camera use and footage, even though the city received $2.2 million from city taxpayers to ensure the city’s police properly carried out the video program. “We’ll be handling this internally to make sure that it gets done and that there’s a level of accountability for those who fail to fulfill their obligations to do those inspections,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot told reporters. “For those individuals who weren’t in compliance, then there will be some accountability with them,” said Police Superintendent Eddie JohnsonJohnson. [2 CBS]
GAMBLING | Connecticut lawmakers have inched closer to green-lighting a Bridgeport tribal casino resort project. But Governor Ned Lamont has yet to support the deal, which he says he thinks falls short of the mark, and MGM Resorts, which has eyed Bridgeport for its own casino project, may sue, reports the Hartford Courant. Lamont said he is seeking a “global resolution that mitigates the likelihood of years of litigation and that positions the state to capitalize on a comprehensive gaming platform.” The proposed legislation would allow the state lottery to offer online ticket sales and the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes—two of the state’s largest employers—to provide internet gambling and conduct casino sports betting through mobile apps. Sports betting would be taxed at 8％; internet gambling at 10％. Supporters of the bill have requested the governor to launch a special session of the Legislature in the fall to take up the measure. [Hartford Courant, Fox61]
URBAN MENTAL HEALTH | A team of scholars headed by professors at the University of Washington and Stanford recently published a framework they hope city officials might use to begin to measure the mental health benefits of nature with an eye to incorporating their findings into city policy and planning. “We have entered the urban century, with two-thirds of humanity projected to be living in cities by 2050,” said senior author Gretchen Daily, faculty director at the Stanford Natural Capital Project. “At the same time, there is an awakening underway today to the many values of nature and the risks and costs of its loss.” The study is available here. [Science Advances, UW News]
John Tomasic is a journalist who lives in Seattle.
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