Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Colorado may make HIV medication easier to access … Oklahoma lawmakers want ‘MAGA’ license plates … Virginia Senate passes three gun laws.
A state senator in Maryland said that considering over a thousand bills each session is taking up too much of lawmakers’ time and, moving forward, each senator should be limited to sponsoring no more than 20 bills. State Sen. Michael Hough, a Republican, filed a rule change that would cap the amount of legislation that could be considered each session at 940 bills, compared to the 1,056 that were introduced in 2019 and the 1,281 that were introduced in 2018. “Because we hear every bill (in a committee), our time is taken up by legislation that has been defeated time and time again, legislation that has little chance, or legislation that, quite frankly, has not been worked out all the way. Legislation that was very technical and complex was getting lost in the weeds,” Hough said. In the 2019 session, 20 senators introduced 21 or more bills, and four of them proposed more than 40 bills. Hough’s proposal would exempt bills introduced on behalf of the governor’s administration, a chair of a standing committee, an executive department and local bills. Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Democrat, seemed open to the idea of limiting bills. “Time is our biggest constraint. So, figuring out how we can be more efficient is no doubt an absolute priority moving forward,” he said. Democratic Sen. Ronald Young, who has introduced more than 20 bills every year he’s been in the legislature, was supportive of the idea. “I like the rule. You could get down and concentrate on the better bills and really work them,” Young said. Hough’s proposal is based on a rule in California, which similarly imposes a 20-bill limit on senators. [Capital News Service; Maryland Matters]
HIV MEDICATION | State lawmakers in Colorado are considering a bill that would give pharmacists the ability to dispense HIV prevention medications known as PrEP and post-exposure medications known as PEP without a prescription. Advocates say that making the drugs more widely available will decrease infection rates. “While we have seen significant medical advances in HIV prevention in recent years, accessing these life-saving, preventative treatments remains a challenge to many Coloradans,” said Daniel Ramos, the executive director of One Colorado, an advocacy group for LGBTQ people. Some pharmacists have already voiced support for the bill. Pharmacist Dan Scales said that requiring a prescription for exposure medication, which needs to be taken within 72 hours, can make the process of obtaining it overly prohibitive. “When you’re having someone who has an exposure late on a Friday night … there’s just not the availability of prescribers to get them treatment in that short tight window. This is just really about access to medication and not trying to take away the services that the physicians and the nurse practitioners can do,” Scales said. If approved, the legislation would require all pharmacists to receive new training. Legislation to ease access to PrEP and PEP has already passed in California, Iowa, and Washington. [KDVR; Loveland Reporter-Herald]
LICENSE PLATES | Two state lawmakers in Oklahoma are sponsoring legislation to make new specialty license plates that would read “Make America Great Again” and “Keep America Great,” the two slogans of President Trump’s campaign. The plates would have to be approved by the state legislature before they could become one of almost 100 designs that Oklahoma drivers can choose from. State Sen. Nathan Dahm, one of the sponsors, said that the fees from the sales of the plate would be donated to veterans groups and that no money from the sale would go to the Trump 2020 reelection campaign. “This is a way that people can support America and support those ideas of keeping America great. There’s people that are upset with the president just in general, so I understand that people have those feelings, potentially negative feelings towards the president, but the great thing is, here in America, you have freedom of speech,” Dahm said. Some legal experts said that even if the proceeds aren’t going to the Trump campaign, the plates could still violate campaign finance laws if the state uses taxpayer dollars or resources in the production of the plates. “These are political slogans. This has the look and feel of using state resources to support a political candidate, which seems improper . . . and possibly illegal,” said Richard Briffault, a professor at Columbia Law School. The Oklahoma Tax Commission, which oversees the production of specialty plates, bans overly political messages, but that rule does not apply when the state legislature approves specialty plates. [Washington Post; KFOR]
GUN LAWS | Despite protests from gun rights activists, the Virginia Senate passed three gun control laws last week. The bills, which also have support from Democrats in the Assembly, would restore the state’s previous one-handgun-per-month purchasing rule, would require background checks for all gun sales (but not gun transfers), and would give local governments the power to ban guns in public buildings, at certain events, and on public lands. Republicans like state Sen. Bill Stanley spoke out against the bills. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is probably the first assault on the Second Amendment. And we’re going to see many after that,” Stanley said. Sen. Scott Surovell, a Democrat, said that Republicans were exaggerating. He said that the proposal to give local officials a say in where guns can be carried would give them more control, but wouldn’t force them to do anything. “I think the public would be a lot better served if we toned down the hyperbole and focused on the facts,” Surovell said. [Virginia Mercury; WHSV]
CITY COUNCIL UNION | Some city council staffers in New York City are organizing to form a union, hoping to get at least 51% of the roughly 400 people who work for city council members to commit to joining. Organizer Zara Nasir, director of the Council’s Progressive Caucus, said that forming the group has been challenging because it is not attached to a larger union. “Because it’s a new, unaffiliated union, it’s a little bit different. It was, at the beginning, a little bit of a scary decision to make, but it felt like the right one,” Nasir said. Organizers hope to gain the support of Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who can voluntarily recognize the union. Johnson has voiced approval for a union for city council staffers in the past. Louis Cholden-Brown, who works on the Council’s central staff, said that the union could create bigger change. “This is a historic move that we hope will inspire others to do the same,” he said. [New York Daily News]
Emma Coleman is the assistant editor of Route Fifty.