Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Police find over 1,000 guns in a home in Los Angeles … Ohio considers nixing film tax credits … New Orleans seeks infrastructure funding.
Denver voters approved a ballot initiative decriminalizing psychedelic mushrooms, making the city the first in the country to take such a step. The referendum passed by a razor thin margin, at 50.56%, and won’t officially legalize psilocybin mushrooms, but bars the police department from arresting anyone over the age of 21 who grows or possesses them. Kevin Matthews, director of the grassroots initiative to bring the item to the ballot, said that the “victory today is a clear signal to the rest of the country that Americans are ready for a conversation around psilocybin.” Members of the Denver office of the DEA, however, say that they will continue to prosecute possession cases for the drug, as under federal law it is still considered a Schedule 1 drug. Jeff Hunt, the director of the Centennial Institute at Colorado Christian University, worries that the passage of this referendum will extend a slippery slope begun by Colorado’s legalization of marijuana about five years ago. “Denver’s becoming the illicit drug capital of the world. Marijuana has brought more problems than it’s solved to our city and our state, and if we continue to go down this track, we’re going to continue to see Colorado get in worse and worse shape.” But supporters say that the main goal of the measure is to make it easier for people with treatment-resistant depression to try out mushrooms, a claim based on new research from the FDA that found mushrooms may be a good therapeutic option. Currently, Iowa, Oregon, and California all have either bills or ballot initiative campaigns that would accomplish the same thing. California tried to bring a ballot initiative last year, but it failed to gain enough signatures. [NPR; Denver 9 News; The Denver Post]
GUNS | After receiving an anonymous tip, the Los Angeles Police Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms raided the home of an individual suspected of illegally selling guns, finding an arsenal with over 1,000 weapons. Rifles, pistols, and ammunition created what LAPD Lt. Chris Ramirez described as an “astounding” collection. “I have never seen so many weapons in my career of 31 years. It's beyond comprehension that somebody can have so many weapons in a residence like this," he said. In a statement, the ATF confirmed that individual appeared to be selling firearms “outside the scope of the federal firearm license that the individual possesses.” Rabbi Chaim Mentz of a nearby synagogue said that the arrest has put his congregation on edge, given the rash of religious shootings that have happened recently. “You don’t want this in your backyard," he said. [The Washington Post; The Los Angeles Times; WTKR]
FILM TAX CREDITS | A bill in Ohio would eliminate tax credits for filmmakers in the state. Wendy Patton, of Policy Matters Ohio, says that the program as it stands isn’t worth it. “The premise is if you put a tax credit for the movies in place, it will attract and build a motion film picture industry. There are a few states that dominate the motion picture industry. And then there’s all the other states. The investment you’d have to do to move the needle is astronomical. The return on state taxpayer money is extremely low,” said Patton. But some local business owners are unhappy about the potential change. "[Film] crews are going out and eating in our restaurants and shopping in our stores and definitely local businesses see a direct impact when those productions are in town. I would hate to see those go away," said Mind Miller, the owner of Film Hamilton. Around 35,000 people are employed directly or indirectly in the state because of the film industry, according to the Motion Picture Association of America. Matt Dolan, a Republican senator, said he will fight for the credit to remain. “When you create unpredictability and instability by removing something that’s working, that’s a wet blanket over economic growth and investment," he said. [Local 2 News; Cleveland.com]
INFRASTRUCTURE | The Louisiana House passed a package of bills designed to support much needed upgrades to New Orleans’ infrastructure, part of a deal worked out by Mayor LaToya Cantrell, Gov. John Bel Edwards and the city tourism industry. State Rep. Neil Abramson from New Orleans said the measures will provide for the city’s “enormous need” to deal with “burst pipes.” (In just the latest incident a week ago, a century-old main water line burst, flooding streets and prompting a boil water advisory in the Uptown area of the city.) About half of the $50 million allocated to the Sewerage and Water Board comes from federal disaster funds managed by the state, to be used for flood preparedness upgrades to prevent future disasters. The legislation also creates a 6.75% tax on short-term rentals, some of which will go towards continual funding for infrastructure, and some of which will be used for marketing efforts by the hospitality industry. City voters will give the final approval to the short-term rental tax, potentially priming a fight with advocates who want the tax revenue to go towards affordable housing. “We say put housing first not because it’s catchy, but because it’s what’s necessary. This doesn’t make any sense to divert any of this money to tourism at all. The tourism industry needs workers, and we’re losing people and [the housing system] isn’t sustainable," said Andreanecia Morris, executive director of HousingNOLA. [The Advocate; NOLA.com
CROSSES IN COURT | The town of Coldspring, Texas, near Houston, decided to keep the crosses displayed in their county courthouse, despite a formal request to remove them. The Freedom From Religion Foundation recently asked the court to remove the four white crosses at the San Jacinto County Courthouse, alleging that their display violates the Constitution. When the county judge and four commissioners held a public meeting to decide on the state of the crosses, almost 600 people arrived to provide over two hours of public comment. “If it offends them, close your eyes when you go by. If you don’t like it, don’t look at it,” said resident David Blevins. But Fritz Faulkner, attorney for the foundation, believes that the display violates the Establishment clause of the Constitution. “These crosses unabashedly create the perception of government endorsement of Christianity,” Faulkner said. [KPRC Houston; FOX News
Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.