Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | California considers lowering voting age … Thousands of birds killed in Montana hailstorm … Pizza spat between New York City mayor and state’s governor.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law a bill that will gradually raise the minimum salary for public school teachers to $40,000 per year. All teachers will transition to the new pay minimum by the first day of school in 2023. After 2023, the law, which is intended to help recruit new teachers to address an educator shortage, requires that the base pay be adjusted to the Consumer Price Index, ensuring it rises with inflation. “As Illinois children head back to school this week and next, this new law says to them and their parents loud and clear: we value teachers,” said Pritzer, a Democrat. He said school districts should be able to afford the increase because of higher state education funding. As it stands, the minimum salary for teachers in the state is $9,000 for those with high school diplomas or associate’s degrees, $10,000 for those with bachelor’s degrees, and $11,000 for those with master’s degrees—all figures that have not been adjusted since 1980. A similar bill proposed last year was vetoed by former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who said that "minimum pay legislation is neither the most efficient nor the most effective way to compensate our teachers." This time, the bill passed with bipartisan majorities in both chambers of the Illinois legislature, and Pritzer signed immediately. State Rep. Katie Stuart, a Democrat, said the measure was long overdue. “Time and time again, I hear that teaching is one of the most important professions in our state, but we have not seen that reflected in how teachers are paid. By establishing a new minimum salary for teachers, we are ensuring that teachers know they are valued here in the state of Illinois,” she said. The states teacher shortage is sizable, as last year there were 1,400 unfilled classroom positions. The state’s budget for this year contains a $375 million increase in K-12 funding, an extension of the eligibility period for teachers returning to the profession after leaving or retiring, and revocation of the requirement that student teachers pass a “basic skills test” in order to receive an education license. Dan Montgomery, president of the Illinois Federation of Teachers, said the higher minimum salary will bring more teachers into the classroom and help retain the ones already there. “Too often new teachers struggle financially, and many are forced to work a second job to make ends meet. This legislation is a major step in improving starting salaries and paying teachers based upon their years of education, which will encourage high-quality professionals to enter and stay in the profession,” he said. [Chicago Tribune; Huffington Post; CBS Chicago; FOX Business]
VOTING AGE | Two proposals in California that would lower the voting age from 18 to 17 has passed a state legislative committee. One change would allow teenagers to vote in a primary or special election if they will turn 18 by the general election (a policy already in place in 22 other states and the District of Columbia), and the other would allow 17-year-olds to vote in all elections. The latter proposal would require passage by a supermajority of the legislature, followed by voter approval on the 2020 ballot. Assemblymember Evan Row, a Democrat who introduced the amendment to give a blanket vote for 17-year-olds, said that young people should be able to weigh in on the issues that impact them, like climate change and gun violence. “Lowering the voting age will give a voice to young people and provide a tool to hold politicians accountable to the issues they care about. Young people are our future, and when we ignore that we do so at our own peril,” he said. Voters between 18 and 24 had the lowest turnout rate of all age groups in the 2018 election, which Sophia Layne, a school board president in Half Moon Bay, said may be due to a lack of civics curriculum in high school. Layne said schools could teach students about the importance of voting at a younger age if the state implemented a lower voting age. “You make that habit like you do with brushing your teeth and reading books, when you’re young and in your home community,” she said. A bill to lower the voting age in California was also introduced in 2017, but failed by a few votes.[CBS Sacramento; Half Moon Bay Review]
MONTANA HAILSTORM | A hailstorm west of Billings, Montana killed 11,000 birds last week, as hail the size of baseballs caused blunt force trauma to the birds. It is estimated that 20% to 30% of the birds at a local lake were killed in the storm, and more may die from disease if carcasses are left to rot. One biologist for the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks department made a hopeful observation, though: “On a positive note, the lake is still covered with waterfowl that are alive and healthy. Life will go on.” Shawn Palmquist, a meterologist for the National Weather Service in Montana, said that 70 mile-per-hour winds and massive hail balls aren’t unheard of in the state. “This isn’t uncommon for us, but it normally happens in June. June is when we have lower freezing levels and can get hail. August is typically more a wind month,” he said. Local residents also reported car and house damage due to the hail, which was flung at high speeds into property. “A neighboring landowner reported baseball-sized hail that broke windows in the area,” said the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks department. [Montana Public Radio; The Independent; The Washington Post]
PIZZA SPAT | After the New York State Department of Taxation shut down a popular pizzeria in New York City for failing to pay over $167,000 in back taxes, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he would address the situation. “Di Fara is THE best pizza place in New York City. It MUST be saved. I’m ready to do anything I can to get them reopened—as are thousands of New York City pizza-lovers. My team and I are looking into how we can help resolve this situation,” he tweeted. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, however, said that de Blasio would not be able to keep the pizzeria in business. “He has no legal authority to forgive state taxes. Now, if he wants to pay $200,000 on behalf of the pizza place, that’s fine. And if he wants to get $200,000 worth of pizza, that’s his business. But he can’t forgive state taxes,” the governor said. Freddi Goldstein, a spokeswoman for the de Blasio administration, said the mayor's office was working with the owners of the 54-year-old pizzeria to try to find a solution. "Di Fara Pizza is an iconic New York institution and the mayor speaks for many when he says it’s the best pizza in the five boroughs," she said. The pizza joint reopened on Thursday. [CBS New York; FOX News]
GUN PERMITS | The mayor of Oklahoma City, David Holt, announced that he signed a petition to put the state’s permitless carry measure, which was signed into law in February, on the 2020 ballot. "Many OKC residents have deep concerns about permitless carry, set to take effect 11/1. Regardless of your stance, a vote settles the debate. A petition is being circulated to provide the option & I just added my name," Holt tweeted. The new law that allows people to carry guns without a permit doesn’t change federal background checks required by law to purchase a firearm, said state Sen. Kim David. “We allow for people in other states to be able to carry in this state without a permit. This bill simply allows law-abiding citizens that wish to carry a weapon to be able to do that in our state also without paying for the permit,” she said. But state Rep. Jason Lowe said that the issue should be left up to voters, so he started circulating a petition. “People in the State of Oklahoma can decide whether this is a good law or not,” he said. [KFOR; KOCO]
Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.
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