Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Protesters disrupt hearing over Texas bill meant to prevent protests … New Orleans passes measure to clear homeless camps … Nebraska moves to ban shackling of pregnant women in prison.
Wisconsin lawmakers are considering legislation that would make it the first state to allow cash tips to be exempted from taxes. The bill would allow waiters, valets, golf caddies, drivers, baristas, hotel workers, and others who are tipped in cash to not report tips on state income taxes, but would still require them to report their full income on federal taxes. Under current Wisconsin law, restaurants can pay waiters as little as $2.33 per hour if they are supplementing that income with tips. Republican Rep. Cody Horlacher is the sponsor of the legislation. "You are busting your tail, and at the end of the night, you would walk out with however much and you need to report that to the government even though the government has had nothing to do with helping you actually bus those tables, take those bags," he said. Republican state Sen. Andre Jacque says the legislation is designed to handle what people are already doing. “This really deals with the reality that cash tips are already underreported in our income system,” he said. Nick Marvin, the assistant general manager at a Wisconsin bar, is excited for the potential change. “It’s something that should have happened quite a long time ago,” said Marvin. “I think it will bring more people into the restaurant business.” [Wisconsin Public Radio; Channel 3000 News; WAOW]
PROTESTERS | A Texas House session was interrupted last week by protestors during a debate over a bill that would elevate tampering with infrastructure like pipelines from a misdemeanor to a felony. The bill is aimed at preventing protests during infrastructure projects. The protestors in the House were mostly Native Americans, who say that pipelines often run through their tribal lands without allowing them to consult on these projects. Republican Rep. Chris Paddie, the bill sponsor, said that the measure “simply seeks to increase these penalties in an effort to deter these individuals from committing these crimes. This bill does not affect those who choose to peacefully protest for any reason. It attaches liability to those who potentially damage or destroy critical infrastructure facilities.” The protestors also noted that the proposed route for the border wall runs through sacred tribal sites and burial grounds, prompting some, like Juan Mancias, to erect camps on the border to monitor the wall’s construction. “What we want to let them know is that if they’re going to exterminate us, we should have equal representation, because that’s what they’re doing. This is ethnic cleansing. They’re not listening to the Native tribes. We’re not getting consulted,” Mancias said. The bill passed regardless, in what is considered a victory for oil and gas companies. [Indian Country Today; Austin Statesman]
HOMELESSNESS | The New Orleans City Council approved a measure to clear homeless camps once a day and store the personal property collected by the police department in the sweeps. The measure passed over the objections of Mayor LaToya Cantrell, who said that she does not “support any efforts that distract from engaging and developing real solutions that meet people where they are and deal with the very real issues they are facing.” Councilman Joe Giarrusso, who sponsored the measure, said the concern is overblown. “To correct an inaccurate record, this ordinance does not criminalize homelessness, nor does it violate anyone’s constitutional rights,” he said. UNITY, a homeless services operation, spoke against the measure. “The ordinance will increase the amount of time and attention spent on removing homeless people’s possessions and moving homeless people around, neither of which will reduce homelessness,” said Joe Heeren-Mueller of UNITY. In other homelessness news, Denver voters last week rejected a measure that would allow homeless people to camp anywhere in the city. [The New Orleans Advocate; The Lens]
PREGNANT PRISONERS | A bill in Nebraska would ban the use of shackles on pregnant women in prison, similar to legislation already found in 22 other states. The bill, which received first round approval, is sponsored by Democratic state Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, who said that restraints can harm women and their babies, especially when they are used during labor, delivery and recovery. "This bill at least allows some shred of dignity for a woman who's about to give birth to a child," Cavanaugh said. "And I think we as a state, and we as a body, owe that to all women, all mothers." The bill advanced unanimously. In December 2018, President Trump signed a ban on the shackling of pregnant women in federal prisons. [Omaha World Herald; Lincoln Star Journal]
BOARD OF ELECTIONS | The North Carolina State Board of Elections is undergoing a shake-up, as longtime director Kim Strach is expected to be ousted from her position, WRAL reported. Strach served on the board for nearly 20 years, and spent the past nine as its director. The Board of Elections is allowed to remove her under a new state law that was the result of a long court battle between Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and Republican leaders in the state legislature, as each fought for control over the Board. The board recently oversaw the election re-do in the North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District following the revelation that a member of Republican candidate Mark Harris’ staff illegally handled absentee ballots. [WRAL; WUNC]
Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.