Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Texas Secretary of State resigns … Oklahoma settles lawsuit with opioid maker … Oakland considers decriminalizing psychedelics.
In Spokane, Washington, a group convened to host a fundraiser for a movement to create the 51st state—one that would be Christian conservative and occupy parts of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Washington, and Oregon. Several elected officials from the area spoke in support, including Washington state Rep. Matt Shea and Spokane city councilor Mike Fagan, the Spokesman-Review reported. Shea’s legislative assistant, Rene Holaday, was direct in describing the passion for the new state, which would be called Liberty. “It’s either going to be bloodshed or Liberty State,” she said. In late 2018, Shea faced nationwide criticism for a leaked document he wrote called “Biblical Basis for War,” which called for ending abortion and same-sex marriage, along with the notation to “kill all males” if people didn’t comply. (Shea afterwards said the document was taken out of context and was just notes for sermons.) At the event, several people were denied entry, including Jay Pounder, a former security guard for Shea who has since spoke critically of him. “[This event] affects everyone in the state,” he said. “And the idea is, people just need to be aware of what’s going on in their government. We just want to be aware of what’s going on. That’s it. We wanted people of all different walks and backgrounds to come and listen to their presentation.” Fagan, the city council member, later told the Spokane newspaper that he really focused on the idea of a proposed state. Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell also attended the fundraiser. “It’s certainly something that’s worth listening to,” said Haskell, who believes that a new state could form with the approval of the Washington state legislature because “it’s clearly provided for in the law.” While Shea has filed legislation to create Liberty State, it was never taken up by the Washington legislature. The U.S. Constitution requires that new states created out of existing states not only receive approval of state legislatures, but also must be accepted by Congress. [Spokesman-Review; Peninsula Daily News; Spokesman-Review]
SECRETARY OF STATE | Texas Secretary of State David Whitley stepped down from his position on Monday because the state senate declined to confirm him during their legislative session. Whitley held the position for less than six months, and was blocked from official confirmation by the Democratic minority in the Senate. Whitley could not get to the two-thirds vote needed for confirmation because many Democrats disapproved of the way he handled a review of the state’s voter rolls earlier this year. The process caused controversy in January when 98,000 names were tagged for review, but almost a quarter were flagged in error, and even more were flagged because they were naturalized citizens. Whitley apologized, saying “I recognize this caused some confusion about our intentions, which were at all times aimed at maintaining the accuracy and integrity of the voter rolls. To the extent my actions missed that mark, I apologize.” But Democrats were unconvinced. “The damage done by his actions requires a clear message to the voters of Texas: All eligible voters should be assisted by the state’s highest election officer in exercising their right to vote, not targeted for suppression by the state’s leadership,” said Democratic Sen. José Rodríguez. [The Texas Tribune; The Austin Statesman; The Washington Post]
OPIOID LAWSUIT | Just two days before the first opioid lawsuit is set to head to trial, drug maker Teva settled with the state of Oklahoma for $85 million. Two months ago, the state also settled for $270 million with Purdue Pharma, another defendant in the lawsuit. That leaves the court battle this week between Oklahoma and Johnson & Johnson alone. Attorney General Mike Hunter first brought the suit in 2017. “Nearly all Oklahomans have been negatively impacted by this deadly crisis and we look forward to [proving] our case against Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries,” Hunter said. In settling, Teva said that they were not admitting wrongdoing, and that the company “has not contributed to the abuse of opioids in Oklahoma in any way.” The funds from both settlements will go towards treatment, research, and helping cities and counties fund their deterrence efforts. The trial will be a test of states’ abilities to obtain large amounts from opioid manufacturers and distributors, as 41 other states and at least 1,600 municipalities have sued the opioid industry for billions of dollars. [The Washington Post; CNN; The Insurance Journal]
PSYCHEDELIC DRUGS | Following the decriminalization of magic mushrooms by voters in Denver, Oakland, California may become the second city to make the drug legal if a resolution passes the city council this week. The proposal would instruct law enforcement to stop investigating and prosecuting people in the city who use any psychedelic derived from plants or fungi, but not those who use synthetic drugs like LSD or MDMA. Organizers are hopeful that the measure will pass. "We already have support from at least five members of the Council, but our goal is to get eight out of eight to show unanimous support, because this affects all communities in Oakland," Carlos Plazola, an organizer with Decriminalize Nature. More broadly, there is also an initiative underway to bring a full state ballot measure to decriminalize psilocybin, commonly known as magic mushrooms, in California. [The San Francisco Chronicle; NBC Bay Area; Forbes]
REGULATING DEER | The Alabama House voted to ban the importation of deer into the state, following recommendations from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. The bill targets municipal, county, or state owned zoos, as well as privately owned circuses and pet shops, in an effort to fight the spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD), a contagion that causes neurological degeneration in elk, moose, and deer. Though the state does not have CWD currently, it has appeared in other states and is a cause for concern amongst hunters and conservationists alike. The bill has also passed the Senate and is now headed to Gov. Kay Ivey for signing. Earlier in the legislative session, the state also passed new hunting regulations that would make it easier for people in the state to hunt deer. Republican Sen. Jack Williams, who struggles with deer on his farm and plant nursery, said that the new bills will be helpful for farmers. “The polling we had before it was passed was about 84% in favor,” he said. [Alabama Political Reporter; Cullman Times]
Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.