Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Arizona prison whistleblower asks for more transparency … Idaho cuts one-third of its administrative code … California takes action on homelessness.
After a months-long probe, investigators could not determine whether or not Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is pictured in a racist photo involving black face and a KKK outfit. The photo, included on Northam's page of the 1984 medical school yearbook of Eastern Virginia Medical School (EVMS), resurfaced in February. The governor first said that he appeared in the photo under his name in the yearbook and apologized, before walking back his statement and saying that it actually wasn’t him. In their report, investigators hired by EVMS said that "no individual that we interviewed has told us from personal knowledge that the governor is in the photograph, and no individual with knowledge has come forward to us to report that the governor is in the photograph.” In a statement released Wednesday, Gov. Northam once again said that he was not the person in the photo, but apologized for his actions. “I felt it was important to take accountability for the photo’s presence on my page, but rather than providing clarity, I instead deepened pain and confusion,” he said. He then promised to better focus his administration’s actions during his term, and said that he is “committed to working to build a better and more equitable Virginia for all who call it home.” The investigation also found that the former and current presidents at the medical school knew about the existence of the photo, as well as other photos in the same yearbook that are racist and misogynistic. EVMS President Richard V. Homan said the school shares “the outrage, alarm and sadness voiced by our alumni, the press and many on social media.” [NBC News; Richmond Times-Dispatch]
WHISTLEBLOWER | A whistleblower in Arizona is asking the governor to be more transparent about his plans to address the concerns she raised about security in state prisons. Sgt. Gabriella Contreras, a correctional worker in the state’s Lewis prison, reported that cell doors in the facility don’t lock properly, allowing people to escape. After downloading video showing the problem, Contreras claims that she lost a week of work and a promotion in retaliation. "My deputy wanted to try and intimidate me and try to make it seem like I was a criminal, that they could press charges on me for, you know, getting this evidence out there, or obtaining it and having it my possession. They never addressed actually what was on the video as far as the inmates actually being able to come out of their cells,” she said. Now, she is calling for a “whole new administration” and wants Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey to be more transparent about his plans for changes in the Department of Corrections. In a statement, the governor’s office said that their investigation "will review security issues occurring at Lewis Prison and other state prisons…[and] will put forward recommendations to prevent a situation like this from ever happening again." They did not provide a timeline for the investigation. [ABC 15; AZ Family News]
ADMINISTRATIVE CODE | Idaho Gov. Brad Little plans to simplify the state’s administrative code, following a vote by the legislature not to reauthorize the rules. The governor is now exercising executive authority to ensure the rules remain in place, but plans to cut one-third of them that are out-dated or irrelevant. Little said that the changes will make state regulations simpler and more user-friendly. “Identifying one-third of rule chapters to cut or simplify in four weeks is no small feat, and the hard work within my administration helps to improve transparency and invigorates public confidence in state government,” he said. Alex Adams, administrator of the Division of Financial Management, noted that the move is unprecedented. “There really isn’t a script for how to handle this because this is the first time this has happened in state history,” Adams said. [CBS Idaho; The Spokesman-Review]
HOMELESSNESS | California will soon have a new homelessness task force, which will seek to find measures the government can take to address their status as the state with the highest percentage of homeless residents. Gov. Gavin Newsom explained that the move is long overdue. "The state of California has never had a homeless plan. [It] has been nowhere to be found on the issue of homelessness, nowhere," he said. Newsom assigned leadership of the task force to Mark Ridley-Thomas, a Los Angeles supervisor, and Darrell Steinberg, the mayor of Sacramento. Part of the group’s mandate is to travel throughout the state, looking for programs that are working and could potentially be scaled. In addition to the task force, the governor hopes to set aside close to $1 billion in the state’s budget to address homelessness. The plan would send $650 million to local governments for homelessness emergency aid, $150 million for increasing the number of mental health professionals in the state, $40 million to provide rapid rehousing for students, and $20 million to create a legal assistance fund for eviction prevention. Oakland already has plans for the additional money. "By the end of the year it will help us nearly double our shelter capacity," said Mayor Libby Schaaf. [ABC 7 News; San Jose Mercury News]
SUBPOENA POWER | The Nebraska Supreme Court heard arguments for a lawsuit in which the Nebraska Attorney General sued the state legislature's Judiciary Committee for subpoenaing Department of Correctional Services Director Scott Frakes over questions about his department’s lethal injection protocol. Last session, Frakes refused to speak to the legislature about where his department obtained the drugs to execute prisoners. Assistant Attorney General Ryan Post argued the Judiciary Committee had overstepped in issuing the subpoena. Attorney Patrick Guinan, the attorney representing the state senators, called the case a constitutional turf war. "We're here today to set the property lines between the executive, judicial and legislative branches of government,” Guinan said. [Lincoln Star Journal]
Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.