Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Cleveland passes lead regulations … Indiana legislature hires outside counsel in attorney general alleged groping scandal … Anchorage mayor declares civil emergency after state budget cuts.
The North Carolina House and Senate voted unanimously to pass a bill outlawing female genital mutilation in the state. The practice, which is also called female circumcision, is common in parts of Africa and India, but it is not known how prevalent the procedure is in the United States. Unlike male circumcision, which is believed to have some health benefits, female circumcision is usually not done for medical reasons and can cause lifelong pain and reproductive problems. FGM is already a criminal offense in 34 states, banned in 59 countries, and has been deemed a human rights violation by the World Health Organization. State Sen. Joyce Krawiec, a Republican, proposed the bill, which only applies to young girls, but not to adult women. “We don’t know how prevalent it is in our state, or even in our country, but the CDC estimates that there are 500,000 women [in the U.S.] who have either been a victim of this procedure or are at risk of being a victim,” she said. Krawiec added that most people are shocked to find out that it is not already illegal in the entire U.S. That’s because a federal law banning FGM was ruled unconstitutional by a court in 2018. U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman at the time wrote that Congress “overstepped its bounds” in prohibiting the practice in 1996, because FGM is a “‘local criminal activity’ which, in keeping with long-standing tradition and our federal system of government, is for the states to regulate, not Congress.” The bill in North Carolina, which states that the FGM “is a crime that causes a long-lasting impact on the victim's quality of life,” has a “no defense” clause, meaning that those who perform FGM can still be held criminally liable if they did so for cultural reasons. North Carolina’s bill was applauded by United Nations Women Ambassador Jaha Dukureh, who herself underwent FGM as an infant and whose sister died from the procedure. “One circumcision is one too many,” she said, adding that she hopes every state passes its own legislation. [Raleigh News & Observer; The Center Square; Winston Salem Journal]
LEAD POISONING | The Cleveland City Council passed what has been called a historic law aimed at reducing children’s exposure to lead in homes. New provisions require that landlords pay for private inspections and obtain lead-safe certificates for rental units, while property owners will be required to inform buyers about identified lead hazards. For its part, the city will charge property owners for noncompliance and create a lead advisory board and auditor to track progress. The move comes after the city struggled for years with lead, which is present in more than 80% of Cleveland’s older houses. Last year, more than 1,200 children were documented as poisoned by lead, which is believed to be an undercount because of the relatively low screening rate. Councilman Blaine Griffin, who spearheaded the legislation, said that the burden of lead poisoning has largely fallen on black and brown children who live in the inner city. “Sometimes it is not what is happening. It is who it is happening to,” Griffin said. Councilman Mike Polensek said he was disappointed that past efforts to institute a “point-of-sale” lead inspection failed because of real estate lobby opposition. “We didn’t do it and look who got hurt: poor people, poor kids,” he said. Now, the city is working to figure out an implementation plan for the legislation, including applying for a five-year U.S. Housing and Urban Development grant that could provide the city with $9 million to remediate homes that are at a high risk of lead exposure. Councilman Tony Brancatelli, the only person to vote against the measure, opposed on the grounds of the legislation’s uncertain rollout plan. “We’ve designed this ship to take off and we have 18 months to figure out how to land it,” he said. Mt. Sinai Health Care Foundation President Mitchell Balk did not seem worried about feasibility, though. “This will be no small task, but we are all in,” he said. [Cleveland.com; Ideastream]
ALLEGED GROPING SCANDAL | The Indiana legislature hired an outside attorney to represent the General Assembly in a federal lawsuit that alleges Attorney General Curtis Hill groped four women while he was drunk at a party for state lawmakers last year. Hill denies the accusations. A state lawmaker and three legislative staffers filed suit against both Hill and the state last month, citing sexual harassment. Legislators want to intervene in the lawsuit. State House Speaker Brian Bosma, a Republican, said that normally the attorney general would represent state agencies in court, but that would not be appropriate in this situation. “Given the nature of this matter, we believe that independent legal counsel should represent the House and Senate. That's why we hired an experienced employment attorney to intervene in the lawsuit and represent our interests as the employer of three of the four plaintiffs," Bosma said. The suit brought by the women seeks monetary damages, an apology from Hill and him taking back his denials of the accusations, as well as asking the state to put in place stronger sexual harassment policies. Hill has refused calls for his resignation from Gov. Eric Holcomb and other state officials, but will soon face a disciplinary hearing related to his law license. [Associated Press; Law 360]
CIVIL EMERGENCY | Faced with severe budget cuts following Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget vetoes, Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz declared a civil emergency, which will allow the city to better respond to the cuts. One specific event prompted the announcement—a shelter said that they would have to close for four days, forcing 240 homeless people back to the streets, and then reopening at reduced capacity. “This is an unprecedented decision for an unprecedented situation. Existing shelters have lost funding at a time when demand for their services is projected to skyrocket. First responders and health care professionals are anticipating a massive surge in 911 and emergency room calls, and it is imperative that we meet this impending humanitarian crisis with the resources that we deploy when responding to all emergencies,” Berkowitz said. The mayor’s office will present a plan to deal with the impending homelessness crisis and its ripple effects to the Anchorage assembly this week. Assembly member Kameron Perez-Verdia said the city has several options to deal with the challenges. “Those actions can include allocating funding to service providers in Anchorage to address some of the reductions in services. Developing an alternative sheltering option, including establishing temporary sanctioned camps. Or identifying other facilities that can house people temporarily,” said Perez-Verdia. [Anchorage Press; Anchorage Daily News; Alaska Public Radio]
CRYPTOCURRENCY | New York designated the first six members of its newly formed cryptocurrency task force this week, signaling the start of the group that will advise the state on how to “regulate, define, and use” cryptocurrencies like BitCoin. “We’re excited that we’re going to have some of the premier people in blockchain technology and in cryptocurrency to help guide New York State and the country—and maybe the world—on our finding the right level of regulations,” said Assembly member Clyde Vanel, who helped pick the members of the task force. But not all are pleased with the makeup of the task force, which includes a law professor, a cryptocurrency researcher, a representative from Microsoft, and three representatives from large cryptocurrency corporations. Some wish smaller, New York-based companies were represented as well. “There are a number of amazing crypto companies in New York City. Why none of these companies is represented on this list I do not know,” said Preston Byrne, an attorney who specializes in technology startups. [Coin Desk; Finance Magnates]
Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.