Amid Rat Crises Overwhelming California Cities, the State Considers Pesticide Ban

California cities are teeming with rats.

California cities are teeming with rats. Florian Bott/Shutterstock

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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Equifax to pay up to $700 million over data breach … Calls for Tennessee House Speaker to step down amid bribery scandal … Seattle debates how to use soda tax revenue.

California cities are teeming with rats, but the state may soon ban common pesticides meant to kill the animals. According to a report put out by a political action committee, which included surveying 23 rodent control companies, cities have seen between a 50 to 100 percent increase in the rate populations in the last year. (However, despite this finding, a San Diego County office said its staffers had taken fewer complaints than in past years.) The rat population in some cities is a particular problem given that many homeless communities in the state are highly susceptible to diseases that rats carry, including medieval ones like typhus. However, rat poison seems to have hurt local wildlife, as many cougars and mountain lions have died recently, potentially as a result of ingesting the poison, or ingesting rats that had consumed the poison. Now, some localities fear for the safety of children, who may be exposed to either rats or rat poison when playing outside. “When you’re at the stage where you have to close down your playground because you’re worried about exposing children to rats and the disease they harbor, you need to use your full arsenal,” said Niamh Quinn, a scientist at the University of California Cooperative Extension. Several California lawmakers have tried introducing bills to ban certain pesticides in recent years, but none have passed and all have been opposed by pest control companies, apartment owners, and restaurant associations. That may change with a new bill that has already passed the House and is expected to be voted on by the Senate soon. “This bill will make significant progress in preventing our wildlife from incidental poisoning while ensuring the public health of residents of California is protected,” said Assemblyman Richard Bloom, the Democrat who wrote the most recent bill. [Sacramento Bee; San Diego Union-Tribune; PCT Online]

DATA BREACH | Equifax, the credit bureau that in 2017 experienced a data breach so severe that it exposed the social security numbers, drivers licenses, and other personal information of over 147 million Americans, has agreed to pay up to $700 million to settle consumer claims. The money will be paid in fines to the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission, as well as to 50 states and the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Included in the settlement is a fund of up to $425 million to compensate consumers. The hackers who were involved in the attack, which took Equifax two months to discover and an additional two months to inform the public about, have never been identified. “This comprehensive settlement is a positive step for U.S. consumers and Equifax as we move forward from the 2017 cybersecurity incident,” CEO Mark Begor said in a statement. FTC Chairman Joe Simons said that this is the largest settlement ever reached related to a data breach and lambasted Equifax for their negligence. “Equifax failed to take basic steps that may have prevented the breach that affected approximately 147 million consumers. This settlement requires that the company take steps to improve its data security going forward, and will ensure that consumers harmed by this breach can receive help protecting themselves from identity theft and fraud,” Simons said. [New York Times; Gizmodo; Associated Press; ABC 7]

TENNESSEE SPEAKER | Democratic lawmakers are calling for Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada, a Republican, to step down amid allegations that he bribed other lawmakers to vote a certain way on school vouchers. State Rep. John Mark Windle, a Democrat, said that Casada suggested he could be promoted from colonel to general in the Tennessee National Guard if he voted in favor of the bill to allow vouchers. Casada denied “promising” the promotion, but would not say if he spoke to Windle about his vote. Several other Republican legislators have now also come forward to say Casada attempted to bribe them, but the scandal represents only the latest headache for Casada, who has only been speaker for six months. His campaign finances are facing a probe from state agencies over questions about the legality of some expenses, and he has faced criticism for exchanging sexually explicit texts about women with his former chief of staff. He is already set to resign as speaker on August 2 because of the text message revelations. But Democrats are saying he should resign immediately in light of the bribery allegations. "Unfortunately in years past, we've had elected officials in this state go to prison for selling pardons and paroles. Now, we have allegations of selling stars, of promotion in the Tennessee National Guard to the rank of general. He needs to leave the Tennessee General Assembly immediately. There is no place in the Tennessee General Assembly for bribery,” said Rep. Bo Mitchell, a Democrat. [Tennessean; News Channel 5]

SODA TAX | The Seattle City Council is sparring with Mayor Jenny Durkan over how to use the revenue raised by the city’s soda tax, which went into effect last year. The Council voted 7-1 this week to reserve all $22 million raised by the tax in a special fund for healthy food and education initiatives in low-income communities most affected by the tax. But Durkan’s administration had already figured $7 million in revenue from the tax  could be tapped for the city’s general fund, which covers everything from cops to homeless services. Durkan said the change will carve a hole in next year’s budget, and plans to veto the Council restrictions, even though a veto-proof majority of seven council members passed the measure. “I am disappointed that despite the warnings of their own staff, City Council is creating a budget gap of more than $7 million. Because Council has refused to fund these vital programs or put forward a balanced plan, I will veto this bill," Durkan said. Councilmembers have called Durkan’s position a “manufactured crisis.” Representatives of social service agencies are afraid they will see cuts to their funding as a result of the feud. “All I can say is we don't want to be part of your fight. All we want to do is be sure that our funding is restored. We don't care if it's the mayor, we don't care if it's the council,” said Susan Yang, executive director of the Denise Louie Education Center. [Seattle Times; KIRO 7]

TEACHER RAISES | The Virginia Speaker of the House, Republican Kirk Cox, is encouraging the state legislature to continue increasing teacher pay, following a 5% raise that teachers received earlier this year. The raise, which was approved in February, came after massive teacher protests in the state. Now, Cox is advocating for the legislature to continue boosting teacher pay in the coming years, as well as incentivizing public colleges to freeze tuition hikes. “The future of education in the Commonwealth of Virginia cannot be left to chance. These two goals–freezing tuition and raising teacher pay–represent the kind of targeted, but significant investments that I think we need to make in our Commonwealth’s system of education,” Cox said. Chris Braunlich, president of the Thomas Jefferson Institute, a free-market think tank based in Virginia, said that the state should make teacher salaries competitive with the rest of the nation and with other occupations. “In a state with 2.9 percent unemployment, employees have choices and they can more easily gravitate to other career fields. It is equally important to work on reforming the compensation system to reward high-quality teachers and encourage those in ‘hard to staff’ fields, and I hope the General Assembly takes a serious look at that in the next session.” [The Center Square; Richmond Times-Dispatch]

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.

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