Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | California to provide healthcare to undocumented immigrants … Alabama enacts law to ban “free speech zones” on college campuses … Texas raises smoking age to 21.
In a commencement speech at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a plan called “Beyond Carbon,” a $500 million initiative led by his foundation that will work to close every coal power plant in the country by 2030. Bloomberg called the plan “the largest coordinated assault on the climate crisis that our country has ever undertaken,” and told graduates that their generation’s mission “is not to explore deep space and to reach faraway places. It’s to save our own planet, the one we live on, from climate change.” The plan lays out four key strategies: pushing states to phase out coal power plants, stopping construction of new natural gas plants, encouraging governors, legislators, and mayors to pursue green policies, and supporting the campaigns of candidates focused on climate change. West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice tweeted his disagreements with the effort, calling it “short-sighted [and] nonsensical” and saying it would have a “calamitous impact” on workers in his state. “I stand with our State's hundred of thousands energy, oil/gas, coal, pipeline, and utility workers and their families and challenge anyone anywhere who threatens to remove their livelihoods. These industries provide life-sustaining jobs and have made our economy one of the fastest growing in the country,” he tweeted. Bloomberg acknowledged the loss of jobs that his plan would create in mining communities, and pledged funds to worker retraining in alternate industries. “It is a true crisis...We cannot wait to act. Mother Nature doesn’t wait on an election calendar, and neither do we,” he said. [MIT Sloan News; WTAP; WDTV]
HEALTHCARE FOR UNDOCUMENTED | Lawmakers in California are using a budget surplus to provide undocumented immigrants under the age of 26 with healthcare through Medi-Cal, the state’s insurance program for low-income people. "California believes that health is a fundamental right," said state Sen. Holly Mitchell, the Democrat who led budget negotiations. This budget does not, however, provide healthcare for undocumented seniors, as some lawmakers originally proposed. Cynthia Buiza, the executive director of the California Immigrant Policy Center, called the budget bittersweet for immigrants. “The exclusion of undocumented elders from the same health care their U.S. citizen neighbors are eligible for means beloved community members will suffer and die from treatable conditions,” Buiza said. Though California has a surplus of over $20 billion, many Republican legislators voted against additional spending. “I’ve been voting no or abstaining on a lot of spending opportunities. Some people think the glass is half full, I’m looking at it as half empty,” said Republican state Sen. John Moorlach. This budget makes California the first state to allow undocumented adults to enoll in state-funded insurance programs. [The Sacramento Bee; Associated Press]
FREE SPEECH | Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed into law a bill that will bar public universities in the state from making “free speech zones” on campus to confine students or speakers who are deemed hateful or offensive. Instead, the law mandates that universities create new policies that make outdoor areas of the campus “public forums” that are open to debate. Republican State Rep. Matt Fridy commended Ivey on signing the bill, saying that “Alabama’s university campuses should be places where ideas are freely debated and students are exposed to a variety of viewpoints. Unfortunately...college administrators have used unfair, arbitrary speech codes to silence speech that is deemed ‘offensive.’ Oftentimes, politically and religiously conservative groups are targeted.” Most Alabama colleges opposed the legislation, and found an ally in Democratic state Rep. Mary Moore, who said that not all views need to be heard. “We need to get away from this, where you’re forcing people...to listen to information that they don’t want to hear. Especially on our college campuses, that’s a place of learning. And if there’s a disagreement of views, than that occurs in the classroom only,” Moore said. Legislators have promised to meet with college administrators to discuss concerns before the law goes into effect on July 1, 2020. [Alabama Political Reporter; Yellow Hammer News]
SMOKING RESTRICTIONS | Texas late last week finalized a law to prohibit the sale of cigarettes and other tobacco products, including vapes, to people who are under 21. Shelby Massey, the Texas government relations director for the American Heart Association, applauded Gov. Greg Abbott’s signing the legislation. “Thank you...to Governor Abbott and the Texas Legislature for taking this important step to reduce and eventually eliminate the toll of tobacco on young Texans. Delaying the age when young people first begin to use tobacco—the leading cause of preventable death—will reduce the risk they will develop a deadly addiction,” Massey said. In passing this law, Texas joins 14 other states who have also raised the smoking age to 21. Several hundred cities have also raised the age within their boundaries. These local efforts may soon be unnecessary, as at the federal level, a bipartisan bill was introduced last month to raise the minimum age for tobacco purchases to 21. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called youth vaping a “public health crisis” when he introduced the legislation. “We’re in the middle of a national health epidemic,” he said. [CBS Austin; FOX News; KXAN]
JAIL REFORM | After footage was released showing abuse of inmates at a county jail in Cleveland, Ohio, Gov. Mike Dewine called the situation a “crisis” and promised reforms. In one video, correctional officers were seen turning their body cameras off before beating a person in restraints, and in another, correctional officers ignored a man who had overdosed for more than two hours, after which the man died in a hospital. Dewine said that problems like these are bigger than just one jail and may stem from the fact that the state correctional inspection department is understaffed. Dewine promised that the Cuyahoga County Jail, where the abuse occurred, will now receive inspections at least every 30 days. “While we do not have any power or authority to run the jail and we do not desire to run the jail, by keeping the spotlight on the jail with these frequent inspections, we are hopeful it will lead to a permanent change in the culture,” DeWine said. Cuyahoga County officials have not yet released a statement. [KXAN; New York Times; Cleveland.com]
Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.