Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Washington state will consider CBD in food … Maryland governor introduces new anti-corruption legislation … Oregon attorney general announces a focus on labor trafficking.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is telling state employees that a new state law means they can no longer make payroll donations to Planned Parenthood during the state’s annual charity drive. In a non-binding legal opinion, Paxton interpreted a law that went into effect last year prohibiting the state and local governments from entering into “resource transactions” with abortion providers, which has also affected local government partnerships with Planned Parenthood for sex education curriculum. State employees in Texas can make payroll deductions to an approved list of nonprofits during an annual drive in September and October. In 2018, the program raised $7.1 million from 33,000 employees, of which Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas received $180,000. Sarah Wheat, chief external affairs officer for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, said that the group has feared this would be the result of the law. “This has always been our greatest concern about [the law]. I think [“resource transactions” is an] intentionally vague political term that is dismantling these longtime partnerships in different ways,” Wheat said. In his opinion, Paxton wrote that including an organization in the charity drive “involves a transaction that conveys value to the charity in the form of both employee donations and the service of processing those donations through the state payroll system.” State employees are not barred from donating to Planned Parenthood outside of the payroll system, but advocates argue that automatic deductions from salary checks is a more effective organizing method. Sam Robles, advocacy director of Progress Texas, said that the ban from the charity drive oversteps into individual’s financial decisions. “The state is limiting state employees’ First Amendment options in order to align with conservatives’ larger anti-abortion extremist agenda,” Robles said. [Texas Observer; Texas Tribune]
CBD IN FOOD | A Washington state legislator has introduced a bill that would make CBD, the non-psychoactive formula derived from marijuana and hemp plants, a legal food ingredient. The state Department of Agriculture, however, is warning that CBD should not be added to ingestible products, and noted that the product is still banned by the Food and Drug Administration. “We still have concerns about allowing CBD in food. A state-led effort to allow food ingredients not allowed by the FDA would be complicated to enforce and put processors and markets at risk,” said Chris McGann, an agriculture department spokesperson. Demand for CBD has led more farmers in the state to plant hemp for use in CBD teas, chocolates, and gummies, but Bonny Jo Peterson, the Washington director of the Industrial Hemp Association said the bill was “useless” without the FDA clearing CBD for use in food. “It still wouldn’t stop the FDA from coming in and saying, ‘Hey, you can’t do this,’” she said. [Capitol Press]
ANTI-CORRUPTION | Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced a package of anti-corruption legislation, following the filing of criminal charges against three politicians from the state in recent months. Two state legislators and former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh have all been charged in recent months with various corruption and bribery crimes. Two have pleaded guilty to some counts, while court documents indicate another has worked out a plea deal with prosecutors. Hogan’s “Ethics and Accountability in Government Act" would increase penalties for bribery of public officials and authorize a state ethics commission to impose civil penalties against state employees and public officials without first going to court. “This is the third session in a row where we’ve started the session with indictments of legislators. I would say everybody should be concerned. What I believe the overall theme of this legislative session should be about is increasing accountability,” Hogan, a Republican, said. State Del. Vaughn Stewart, a Democrat, said he first wants the governor to disclose more information about his involvement with the real estate firm he founded, which has been run by his brother since Hogan took office. “I hope that he’s going to put his money where his mouth is,” Stewart said. [Baltimore Sun; Associated Press]
LABOR TRAFFICKING | Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum has announced the creation of a new labor trafficking task force. Rosenblum said that despite a state anti-labor trafficking law going into effect 13 years ago, not a single case has been prosecuted under it. Labor trafficking involves the use of threats or violence to force people to work, and is most frequently found among domestic servants, farmworkers, factory workers, and day laborers. “Human trafficking includes both sex trafficking and labor trafficking, but almost all of our public awareness focuses on sex trafficking. What we hear so far is that labor trafficking is very real, and it is happening under the radar in all corners of the state … While significant work has been done to understand the impact of labor trafficking at the national level, there has been no organized attempt to gather information in Oregon,” Rosenblum said. The group will investigate and make recommendations to state lawmakers and law enforcement on how to identify handle cases of labor trafficking. [Oregon Live; Salem Reporter]
OPIOID SETTLEMENT | Oklahoma has reached a settlement with drug company Endo Pharmaceuticals for the company’s alleged role in the opioid crisis. Endo will pay the state $8.75 million and agreed to not employ sales representatives to promote opioids in the state or support information promoting opioids in the state. Attorney General Mike Hunter said that the money will be held by the legislature until appropriated. “The money from this settlement as well as the money from other settlements will allow us to begin abating Oklahoma’s problem. …. We look forward to working with members of the legislature and executive branch to ensure this money goes toward helping those who have been affected by or those who continue to struggle with opioid addiction,” Hunter said. Endo has also agreed to an $11 million settlement in a different opioid lawsuit brought by two Ohio municipalities. [Oklahoma News 4; Insurance Journal]
Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.