Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Philadelphia holds emergency meeting over gun violence … Amazon steps into Seattle City Council elections … Pennsylvania lawmakers approve funding for new voting machines.
Legislation passed by the Illinois House and Senate calls for $10 million in funding for the Critical Access Pharmacy Program, which would provide support to independent pharmacies in rural areas of the state. State Sen. Andy Manar, a Democrat, said deals negotiated between pharmaceutical companies and pharmacy benefit managers in corporate chains have made it difficult for independent pharmacies to remain an economically viable option for rural residents. “As a result, the small businesses are closing their doors and residents are forced to travel long distances to get the medications they need. This funding is going to be a major boost for rural pharmacies and will help keep them open while we find ways to combat the rising cost of prescription drugs,” Manar said. Under the new program, qualifying independent pharmacies in counties with fewer than 50,000 people would receive payments from the state based on the number of prescriptions they fill each quarter that are reimbursed by the state Medicaid program. The Pharmaceutical Care Management Association opposed the legislation, saying “pharmacy benefit managers advocate on behalf of Illinois’ consumers and health plan sponsors by negotiating with drug manufacturers and drugstores to keep prescription drugs accessible and affordable for patients. Conversely, the independent drugstore lobby’s agenda seeks to weaken PBM tools, add unnecessary regulation, and increase prescription drug costs in Illinois.” The state’s Department of Healthcare and Family Services will implement the program, and released a statement saying they are “pleased to help support local pharmacies that are so often critical to our members and to communities throughout Illinois.” The bill awaits Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s signature. [The Southern Illinoisan; Modern Medicine Network; The Telegraph]
PHILADELPHIA GUN VIOLENCE | City leaders in Philadelphia convened a public emergency meeting last week to discuss the issue of gun violence. The city has seen 612 shootings so far in 2019, and there was a particularly high rate of gun violence over Father’s Day weekend, when 29 people were shot in 48 hours. “We made national news for the wrong reasons. We really hit rock bottom,” said City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, who organized the meeting with District Attorney Larry Krasner and Police Commissioner Richard Ross. “Behind these numbers are people that have families that are devastated by what they see each and every day. It’s not just the carnage that impacts the victims, it is the carnage that is created from young children that have witnessed it and should never see this,” Ross said. While Councilwoman Helen Gym acknowledged the future-oriented plans of the police department, she pleaded with the officials in attendance to take immediate action. She suggested extending hours in recreation centers or libraries near hot spots, fixing blighted properties, and placing crisis response teams and grief counselors in neighborhoods. “Why not go all-in now? We don’t need more task forces,” she said. [Philadelphia Inquirer; CBS Philadelphia]
AMAZON AND LOCAL ELECTIONS | Amazon is taking a greater interest in city council elections in Seattle, where the tech giant is based. Last week, the company held a private event for its employees and 40 city council candidates to “discuss critical issues,” according to Amazon General Counsel David Zapolsky. “I am excited about the enthusiasm that our employees have for supporting a city council that will focus on solving the problems our community faces,” he said. Amazon isn’t directly endorsing any candidates, but the company did donate $200,000 to the Seattle Metro Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee, which has issued endorsements. The company has grown to over 50,000 employees in Seattle, irking some residents and councilmembers who blame Amazon for rising housing costs. Last year, the city council passed a per-employee tax on Seattle’s largest companies in order to pay for affordable housing, and in response, Amazon threatened to slow its growth in the city. “We are...very apprehensive about the future created by the council’s hostile approach and rhetoric toward larger businesses, which forces us to question our growth here,” said Vice President Drew Herdener at the time. Phyllis Porter, a candidate in District 2, who has pledged to help those struggling with housing, said the issues impacting such people wouldn’t apply to well-paid Amazon employees at the meet-and-greet event. “But on the other side, they’re just people like everybody else and they’re going to vote, so they need to hear from us,” she said. [Geekwire; Seattle Times]
VOTING MACHINES | The Pennsylvania legislature passed a bill calling for the state to borrow up to $90 million to help counties buy new voting machines. The bill passed along party lines, with Democrats opposing it because it contains a provision that would eliminate straight-party ticket voting on new machines. Some African American lawmakers said removing straight-party voting would make voting more difficult for voters with limited literacy and English language skills. Only eight states allow straight party voting on their machines. Rep. Donna Bullock, a Democrat, testified in opposition to the change. “I am asking those who believe voters—regardless of the color of their skin, regardless of their economic status, regardless of their political party—that they should be able to vote without any obstacle and in any manner in which they most feel empowered.... to stand and vote ‘no’ today,” she said. But Republicans said Democrats were underestimating voters of color. “This bill was not supposed to take a racial turn. I’m saddened at the racial stereotyping of the black and brown people of my district,” said Rep. Tara Toohil, a Republican. Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, still needs to sign the bill, and while supportive of voting machine upgrades, he has not indicated if he will sign the legislation into law. “We are reviewing the final bill and will announce when he makes a decision,” said J.J. Abbott, Wolf’s press secretary. [Penn Live; Philadelphia Inquirer; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]
SCHOOL SUPPLIES | In June and July, Las Vegas will allow city residents to pay for parking tickets with school supply donations. The city council voted unanimously to allow unopened donations of equal or greater value to the amount of their parking ticket in lieu of cash. Accepted donations, including pencils, index cards, scissors, and rulers, will go to Teachers Exchange, nonprofit that is associated with the Public Education Foundation. This isn’t the first time the city has done this—since 2016, the city council has run occasional programs that allow residents to pay for parking fines with charitable donations. Drivers with safety violations are not eligible to participate. [KCTV; Las Vegas Review-Journal]
Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.