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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Florida combats a blooming Atlantic seagrass ... Suit to require recording of bail hearings in Philadelphia ... New safety rules for outdoor workers during fire season.
Republicans in Michigan have filed a lawsuit to prevent the state’s new citizen redistricting commission from beginning its work. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 15 state residents backed by the Fair Lines America Foundation, a nonprofit tied to the National Republican Redistricting Trust. The residents would be excluded from serving on the commission under rules that bar participation by anyone who “in the last six years was a partisan candidate, elected official, political appointee, lobbyist, campaign consultant and officer or member of the governing body of a political party,” according to the Detroit News. Opponents said that exclusion is wrong. “This is a fundamental question of Michigan citizens’ ability to participate in the political process without being punished for that participation,” said Michigan Freedom Fund Executive Director Tony Daunt. Proponents of the commission said the requirements are the only way to ensure the body is independent and nonpartisan as it draws the boundaries of political districts in the state. “It’s no surprise that politicians – who directly benefit from drawing their own election maps and choosing their own voters – want to undermine the voice of voters again,” said Jamie Lyons-Eddy, director of campaigns and a founding member of Voters Not Politicians. Sixty-one percent of Michigan voters last fall approved the anti-gerrymandering ballot proposal that created the citizen commission. [The Detroit News; Bridge Michigan]
SARGASSUM | That’s the lyrical name for the blooming Atlantic seagrass that has been plaguing Caribbean beach spots for years and that is now piling up on the east Florida shore like damp and buggy mountains of hay. The Miami Herald reports that area beaches are now inundated and that officials are scrambling to find a solution. Efforts to tractor and bulldoze the reedy seaweed under the sand or back into the turf only work temporarily. A proposal to haul it away daily in dump trucks from all 15 miles of Miami-Dade County-maintained beaches included an estimated price tag of $45 million a year. The plan would require “880 truck trips hauling enough grass to fill a football field 10 feet high.” The county opted instead to begin doing targeted removals from popular beach spots that have been hardest hit. Scientists say the great Atlantic sargassum bloom is being fueled by fertilizer running down the Amazon from increased agricultural activity in Brazil combined with the rising ocean temperatures brought by climate change. [Miami Herald, The Atlantic]
BAIL REFORM | A criminal justice group and a journalist have filed suit against Philadelphia’s First Judicial District to force it to lift its ban on courtroom audio recordings, arguing that the restriction violates the First Amendment. The lawsuit focuses on bail hearings, which don’t include stenographers but make important determinations on whether people arrested in the city spend days or months incarcerated or at home while awaiting trial. Maia Jachimowicz, from the Philadelphia Bail Fund, told WHYY that “audio recording will enable to us to shed even more light on the injustice of these life-altering hearings.” Civil rights advocates liken the audio ban to attempts by law enforcement to restrict access to police-camera footage. “Reform requires transparency,” wrote The Advocate, a criminal justice newsletter, in a piece that highlights the audio ban in the Philadelphia courts. [WHYY radio, The Appeal]
WORKER SAFETY | The California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board has implemented new rules to protect outdoor workers when wildfires fill the air with smoke. The temporary rules will be in place while permanent ones are being worked out. Doug Parker, the executive director of Worksafe in Oakland, a labor organization, said the requirement is necessary. “We witnessed workers, particularly agricultural workers, throughout the state that were being exposed to unhealthy amounts of wildfire smoke without adequate protection from their employers,” he said. [San Francisco Chronicle]
CITY COUNCILS | In Evanston, Illinois, Mayor Stephen Hagerty has asked the Cook County sheriff to launch a criminal investigation into the entire City Council, including eight staff members and outside attorneys, to discover who leaked “highly sensitive and confidential information.” Hagerty said he asked the city’s tech department to turn over data tied to documents only the alderman, mayor, city staff and outside legal counsel had access to and that described inappropriate sexual conduct and harassment accusations. The mayor characterized leaking the documents as “official misconduct” that raised concerns about “politics, privacy and the public’s right to know,” WGN TV in Chicago reported.
Across the lake in East Lansing, Michigan, council members are considering a proposal to ban gay-to-straight sexual orientation “conversion” therapy, reports WILX TV. Council member Aaron Stephens pointed to longtime failed legislative efforts to enact a statewide ban. He said that East Lansing residents don’t accept the legitimacy of conversion therapy and that state lawmakers “should do this, so we don't have to do their job for them.” Huntington Woods, Michigan, passed a similar ordinance in June.
And in Maine, the city of Augusta can’t keep its council members in their seats. CentralMaine.com reports that, over the last three weeks, three councilors resigned, announcing that they planned to move away from the city. Augusta reportedly can’t hold an election to replace them until the start of the new year. [WGN, WILX, CentralMaine.com]
John Tomasic is a journalist who lives in Seattle.