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At the Border, Local Governments Scramble to House Migrants

Migrant families at the Catholic Charities respite center in McAllen, Texas.

Migrant families at the Catholic Charities respite center in McAllen, Texas. Eric Gay/AP Photo

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Connecting state and local government leaders

STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Pennsylvania considers a gift-ban for lawmakers … Georgia passes law to identify children with dyslexia … Massachusetts enforces ban the box legislation.

The unpredictable influx of asylum-seeking migrants is at times overwhelming the shelters run by nonprofits in border towns throughout Arizona, California, Texas, and New Mexico. Tucson, Arizona officials are considering transforming some public spaces to temporary shelters, as some other border communities have done. Roy Rodriguez, the city manager of McAllen, Texas, believes that local government should not be responsible for housing the 1,000 migrants left in the city each day for the past month. "We need the federal government to take over this operation," he said. Las Cruces, New Mexico currently holds the record for the most money any local government has allocated for aid to migrant families, at $500,000. Other local governments have struggled to fund aid operations due to resistance in their towns, leaving the burden of housing the 153,000 migrants released into border communities in the past five months to nonprofits. Rodriguez understands the anger that some residents feel over this type of funding. "I don’t blame them — these are their tax dollars," he said. "Having said that, I’m going to tell you something else: We don’t intend to stop doing what we’re doing as long as we’ve got people transported to McAllen." Earlier in the month, the federal government announced plans to install tent cities in some border cities to ease the housing crisis. [AZ Central; NBC Dallas-Fort Worth; KOB 4]

FLOODING | Though flooding from the overflowing Mississippi River has receded, a forecast of heavy rains is cause for concern throughout the Midwest. The flooding in Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri has already led to four recorded deaths and is causing major problems with levees, according to Mark Fuchs, a National Weather Service hydrologist. “You’ve got water sitting on levees for long periods of time — that’s no good,” he said. If more rain arrives on top of this historic flooding, there will be nowhere for it to go but up. “We have points in Iowa and Illinois that have been in flood stage for over 30 days, which hasn’t occurred since we started keeping records — and some of them go back 150 years,” said Patrick Burke, a National Weather Service meteorologist. [AP News; USA TODAY]

GIFT-BAN | In Pennsylvania, demonstrators pushing for legislation that would impose a ban on gifts to lawmakers have marched from Philadelphia to the state capitol of Harrisburg, a journey of over 110 miles. The protestors hope to limit the ability of lobbyists to influence lawmakers in the state through free meals and gifts like watches. The group has been active for years, as gift-ban legislation has been introduced but failed to pass. House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody has opposed these bills in the past because he believes they would be cumbersome. But one protestor, Nora Utrech, noted, "The average person, I can’t go buy a car for my representative, I can’t take them out to dinner all the time, I can’t afford that, but these lobbyists can. That’s what they’re paid to do." Lisa Baker, a Republican state senator, has introduced two gift-ban bills, one of which would ban cash gifts and the other of which would ban all gifts except ones $50 or less that don’t come from lobbyists. “Nothing in these two gift ban bills, I don’t believe, would stand in the way of anyone doing their jobs effectively,” Baker said. [CBS 21; WSKG]

DYSLEXIA | George Gov. Brian Kemp has signed a bill into law that requires all kindergarteners to be screened for dyslexia and all new teachers to receive training on how to identify the reading disorder. The law sets up three pilot programs to determine the best way to identify students who face this challenge and provide them with adequate resources. Tina Engberg, who leads the Decoding Dyslexia George group, worked to pass the legislation. “We’re the parents who know our children are dyslexic,” said Engberg. “There are vast numbers of people who don’t yet know that about their child, and this is why [this bill] is so important.” The Southern Regional Education Board in Atlanta estimates that between 190-000 to 380,000 students in George struggle with dyslexia. [The Union-Recorder; Atlanta Journal-Constitution]

BAN THE BOX | Massachusetts this week issued formal warnings to businesses who are in violation of the state’s “ban the box” law, which makes it illegal for employers to ask job applicants about their criminal record during their initial application. The state made public a report that cited 19 businesses who still ask applicants to check a box indicating if they have ever been sentenced for a crime. The state enacted its ban the box legislation in 2010 in an effort to address the high unemployment rate amongst formerly incarcerated people. Attorney General Maura Healey has overseen the process of ensuring compliance. “Jobs are the pathway to economic security and a better life for people," she said. "Some employers we spoke with did not know they were violating the laws by asking certain questions. Now they do." [WBUR]

DRIVERLESS CARS | Legislators in Iowa have advanced legislation to regulate driverless cars, even though it may be years before the cars arrive. State Rep. Ashley Hinson said that the state has to prepare for that future now. “The wheels of technology are turning fast, moving forward and vehicle safety is definitely in question for the future and this bill speaks to many of those things,” Hinson said. Iowa joined 29 other states in regulating driverless cars, with its first legislation focusing on liability insurance. Last week, Florida passed a bill legalizing driverless cars as soon as they become available to ride-share companies and the general public. [Radio Iowa; The Gazette]

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor at Route Fifty. 

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