Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Georgia governor will have to testify about minority voter registration comments … Virginia governor proposes $22 million to combat black maternal mortality … South Carolina senator proposes a total ban on offshore drilling.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a plan to require high school seniors in his state to take a civics exam. The test would be similar to the U.S. citizenship test that immigrants take in order to become naturalized citizens. DeSantis is directing state Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to create and institute the test, although his administration emphasized it would not be a requirement to graduate. “Survey after survey, it paints the same dismal picture. Younger Americans, people who are 25 and under, they lack basic knowledge of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, broader civics ... We have to do better,” DeSantis said. Florida already has some of the most extensive civics education in the country, including a seventh grade civics class culminating in a state exam, and a civic literacy test that is required for all Florida college and university students. Stephen Masyada, the interim executive director of the Lou Frey Institute of Politics and Government at the University of Central Florida, said he supports the idea of expanding civics education, but is wary of a new test that would be modeled after the naturalization test. “From our perspective, the middle school civics exam is more rigorous and a better exam than the naturalization test that is being proposed here. The naturalization test, it’s just a straight memorization test and all the answers already found online. All the knowledge in the world is not enough to make you a good citizen if you don’t know what do with that knowledge,” Masyada said. The Florida Education Association, the state’s teacher’s union, tweeted their disapproval of the plan. “The best way to increase student knowledge of civics is not with additional testing but by freeing up their teachers from the constraints of ... Florida’s accountability system,” the union wrote. [Tampa Bay Times; Naples Daily News]
VOTER REGISTRATION | A federal judge has ordered Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp to testify about comments he made regarding minority voter registration as part of a lawsuit brought by Fair Fight Action, an organization founded by Democrat Stacey Abrams, who lost to Kemp in 2018. Prior to winning the governor’s race, Kemp was secretary of state and Georgia’s chief election officer. The lawsuit accuses Kemp of using voter purges, absentee ballot cancellations, precinct closures, and other obstacles as a means of reducing the turnout of minority voters. U.S. District Judge Steve Jones said that Kemp will have to testify about a specific comment he made in 2014, when the secretary of state said that “the Democrats are working hard … registering all these minority voters that are out there and others that are sitting on the sidelines, if they can do that they can win this November. But we’ve got to do the exact same thing.” Kemp’s lawyers said that he was simply pressing for more Republicans to register, but Jones ruled that “only then-Secretary Kemp can explain what he actually meant.” [Atlanta Journal-Constitution; NBC News]
MATERNAL MORTALITY | Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is proposing $22 million for initiatives that would improve women’s health and reduce the maternal mortality rate, particularly for black women. The money would be divided up among efforts to expand Medicaid coverage for mothers in the year after their pregnancy, to study the possibility of coverage of doulas during childbirth, and to increase access to contraception. Northam, a Democrat, said that he is hopeful the spending plan will pass when the General Assembly reconvenes for the 2020 session, when it will be Democratically-controlled for the first time in decades. “It is unacceptable that in this country and in our commonwealth, maternal mortality rates are on the rise. This disparity is greatest among black women. We want to make sure that all of our children across the commonwealth of Virginia, all of our families, are taken care of,” he said. [Associated Press; Washington Post]
OFFSHORE DRILLING | Twenty-eight out of 46 state senators in South Carolina are cosponsoring a bill that would prohibit the state from issuing any permits for offshore drilling infrastructure. In April, the state senate overwhelmingly passed a year-long moratorium on licenses and permits for offshore drilling of oil and gas, driven by a concern that an oil spill could endanger the state’s $20 billion coastal tourism economy. At the time, state Sen. Marlon Kimpson, a Democrat, said that continued drilling was a threat. “Once we open this door, we could all be impacted with significant economic damages to our coast,’’ he said. If the current bill, introduced by Republican state Sen. Chip Campsen, passes in the 2020 session, it would make the ban permanent. “Offshore drilling would inevitably result in massive industrialization of our coastline. It would damage our coast’s rich natural, historic, cultural and economic resources. I am pleased twenty-eight Senate colleagues joined me in a bipartisan effort to protect South Carolina’s coast from offshore drilling,” he said. The senators are supported by environmental groups and the state’s Small Business Chamber of Commerce. [WCSC; The State]
VOTING RIGHTS | In his inaugural address, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said that he would restore the voting rights of more than 100,000 people who have been convicted of felonies. The newly elected Democrat is following in the footsteps of his father, former Gov. Steve Beshear, who issued an executive order in 2015 restoring the voting rights of people convicted of certain felonies. Former Republican Gov. Matt Bevin rescinded the order and said the issue should be decided by the state legislature. Beshear said that he plans to sign an executive order this Thursday. "Men and women who have done wrong in the past but are doing right now … deserve to participate in our great democracy. By taking this step, by restoring these voting rights, we declare that everyone in Kentucky counts. We all matter,” he said. [CBS News; Lexington Herald Leader]
Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.