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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Nebraska lawmakers wants more lawmakers … Bill in Arizona to restrict acceptable voter IDs … Artificial Christmas tree draws ire in Rhode Island.
A Republican lawmaker in Florida is planning to introduce a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants in the state to obtain driver’s licenses, in the hopes that the new rule could reduce hit-and-run crashes. State Sen. David Simmons, said that the bill is designed to solve a clear problem. “I’m a firm believer in treating people with dignity and respect. I’m not into any kind of characterization of individuals who happen to be here as undocumented as being a group of criminals or thugs. We need to solve a problem here,” he said. The Florida Highway Patrol reported that since January of 2018, there have been more than 100,000 hit-and-run cases, resulting in 215 deaths and 21,000 injuries. There is no data linking undocumented drivers to hit-and-run cases, but proponents of the bill have pointed to other states, including California, that have implemented similar policies and seen decreases in uninsured rates and hit-and-run accidents because undocumented immigrants were less likely to leave the scene. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said that letting undocumented immigrants get licenses won’t help safety. “It’s just fiction because the vast majority of people who hit-and-run are not illegal immigrants without a driver’s license… and the thought that the Florida Legislature would pass legislation that would not only encourage but reward bad behavior is a horrible thought,” he said. Nearly 700,000 undocumented immigrants live in Florida and estimates show that allowing them to obtain licenses could boost state revenue by $68 million. Alexis Davis of the Florida Policy Institute said that number means the policy is common sense. “Not only is it good for them, but also it would be good for the rest of Floridians too,” she said. Some, including Thomas Kennedy with the Florida Immigrant Coalition, were wary of Simmons’ proposal, though, because the lawmaker also supported Florida’s new anti-sanctuary cities law earlier this year. “We’re a little cautious, because Simmons was one of the proponents of SB 168 last session, but at the same time we need bipartisan consensus on this issue. It’s a common-sense proposal from our point of view to have every Florida driver have a license, and so we’re happy that Sen. Simmons agrees with us and we just want to work with him to get this issue done,” he said. [ABC Action News; WGCU]
NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE | Nebraska State Sen. Jim Scheer is proposing that the state Senate, the only legislative body in Nebraska, be expanded from 49 to 55 lawmakers. Scheer said the change, the first expansion in five decades, is needed because rural districts are too large for senators to be accessible to their constituents. “It seems to me, at some point and in some areas, the districts have become so large that senators in those areas don’t have the ability to meet and greet their constituents like those in more compact districts,” he said. Scheer also said that adding more senators would ease the process of redistricting after the 2020 Census, which he believes is likely to show more concentrated populations around urban areas, potentially making rural districts even larger. Former State Sen. Bill Avery said the plan to add more senators wouldn’t help. “Forty-nine is a number that we are used to. Redistricting is a painful process, and it’s always going to be. Changing the number of senators won’t change that,” he said. [Omaha World Herald]
VOTER ID | A new bill in Arizona would strip voters of the right to use utility bills, bank statements, and student IDs as valid forms of identification at the polls. The bill, which would need a supermajority to pass in the state legislature because it affects voting rights, has already received pushback from Secretary of State Katie Hobbs. "It puts unnecessary barriers between voters and their ability to cast a ballot. As we head into this major election year, it's going to create confusion for voters whether or not it becomes law,” she said. Morgan Dick, the deputy director of the Arizona Advocacy Network, said that the bill will have a chilling effect. "This is a solution in search of a problem I'm not aware of. A significant portion of Arizona voters may have left their driver's license at home that day … We're talking about harming Arizona's poorest populations, folks who can't afford to get a new ID to update their current address,” he said. The sponsor of the bill, Republican state Rep. Kelly Townsend, has not yet made a public comment on the legislation. [Phoenix New Times; News 4 Tucson]
CHRISTMAS TREE | The Rhode Island State House chose for the first time to use an artificial Christmas tree for the 2019 holiday season, drawing anger from some state residents. Gov. Gina Raimondo said that the 18-foot tree was chosen for safety reasons. "For whatever reason, we've gotten into trouble with the fire marshal in the past with the real tree and so many lights, so this year, we just decided to play it safe,” she said. Tim Leyden, the owner of a tree farm who has previously donated trees to the State House, said he was insulted by the choice. "It's a tradition that doesn't need to be changed. The State House had always had a live, huge, beautiful tree where people gather around. And it's the smell, it's the aroma. An artificial tree just can't do it,” he said. The National Christmas Tree Association also released a statement in opposition to the choice, noting that an artificial tree would likely end up in a landfill one day. “It is a very unfortunate decision by the governor to choose a tree made from PVC plastic in a Chinese factory over a real Christmas tree grown by a Rhode Island family farm as the centerpiece of the state capitol’s Christmas celebration,” the group said. [NBC 10; ABC 13]
HELICOPTER CRASH | A Black Hawk helicopter crash in Minnesota killed three members of the state National Guard over the weekend. The flight was reportedly a maintenance system test but the circumstances that led to the crash are currently unknown. Gov. Tim Walz, a former member of the Minnesota National Guard, cancelled events to travel to the crash site. “On behalf of all Minnesotans, we offer our deepest sympathies to the families of these warriors. They paid the ultimate price in service to Minnesota and to the United States of America. Words will never ease the pain of this tragic loss and the state of Minnesota is forever in the debt of these warriors,” he said. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune; New York Times]
Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.
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