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STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Chicago’s consent decree with Illinois AG … Arkansas governor defends Medicaid work rules … and a Portland flash-bang grenade burn tort claim.
Good morning, it’s Friday. Sept. 14, 2018. With Hurricane Florence pushing into North Carolina and South Carolina, there was already a lot going on in the world of emergency management. Then came Thursday’s series of natural gas explosions in Massachusetts, which leads Route Fifty’s state and local government news roundup. Scroll down for more stories from places like Little Rock, Arkansas; Reno, Nevada; and Montpelier, Vermont.
MASSACHUSETTS GAS EXPLOSIONS | First responders in Massachusetts on Thursday faced a chaotic scene in three cities north of Boston—Lawrence, Andover and North Andover—after several dozen natural gas explosions that started fires in local neighborhoods. Neighborhoods served by Columbia Gas were evacuated as gas lines and electricity were turned off in hopes of stopping additional blasts. At least one person was killed and several more were injured in the explosions. At a press conference Thursday night, Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera said that his city’s firefighters have been “supported by tons of mutual aid” from the commonwealth and neighboring local jurisdictions. First responders are “making sure that every street in every neighborhood is safe.” According to Andover Fire Chief Michael Mansfield: "I've been in the fire service for almost 39 years and I've never seen anything like this in my entire career." An official investigation is getting underway to determine the exact cause of the explosions, but the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency “blamed the fires on gas lines that had become over-pressurized.” [Lowell Sun; @TicToc / Bloomberg; CNN; NECN]
STATE GOVERNMENT | Compared to the rest of the 50 states, Vermont has the 12th lowest obesity rate in the nation. But the bad news for the Green Mountain State: “The state’s adult obesity rate has continued to move upward and now stands at 27.6 percent—up from 17 percent in 2000 and 10.7 percent in 1990.” That’s according to the annual “State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America" report from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation which “highlights the latest obesity trends as well as strategies, policies, programs, and practices that can reverse the epidemic.” [VTDigger; Trust for America’s Health]
- Little Rock, Arkansas: At a press conference on Wednesday, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson detailed his administration’s outreach efforts to Medicaid beneficiaries regarding new work requirements and said “essentially, that loss of coverage was on those who lost it, not the state.” Arkansas officials recently reported that 4,353 people in the state did not comply with the new work requirements. [Arkansas Times; Route Fifty]
- Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Gov. Scott Walker has asked state senators to return to the State Capitol in the coming months to approve tax incentives for Kimberly-Clark Corp., which are aimed at getting the company keep “at least one of its two area plants open.” While the state Assembly has already approved the tax incentives, it faces stiff resistance in among some of Walker’s fellow Republicans in the state Senate, meaning the governor likely needs Democratic votes to secure the tax incentives package. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]
- Montgomery, Alabama: A report from by Alabama State Auditor Jim Zeigler found that state agencies “are missing almost $200,000 in state property for the latest quarter” including “stolen computers and wrecked state vehicles.” [Alabama State Auditor’s Office via WTVY]
- Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: The Oklahoma Department of Transportation has installed two electric vehicle charging stations in the parking lot of the agency’s main office. [Transportation Today]
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LOCAL GOVERNMENT | At a Thursday morning news conference In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and police Superintendent Eddie Johnson announced an agreement on a proposed consent decree between the state and the city, “a judicially enforceable order likely to govern the police force for years to come,” according to the Chicago Tribune. The mayor said in an announcement: “I want to commend everyone who stepped forward, worked diligently and shared their experiences and expertise to help us reach this inflection point for Chicago police reform.” Madigan said: “The consent decree is a unique opportunity to achieve real and lasting reform of the Chicago Police Department. The consent decree will support Chicago’s people and police with the goal of promoting safe and effective policing that builds respect and trust between residents and the police.” [Chicago Tribune; City of Chicago]
- Dallas, Texas: Civil rights activists gathered at Dallas City Hall on Wednesday to demand the creation of “a citizens' police review board with the power to subpoena and discipline officers.” The calls for action follow last week’s fatal shooting of Botham Jean by an off-duty Dallas police officer. [Dallas Observer]
- Portland, Oregon: A protester who suffered third-degree chemical burns from a flash bang grenade fired by police during an Aug. 4 protest has filed a tort claim against the city, a legal move that ”sets up a future lawsuit, which will add to a growing number of complaints that allege Portland police mishandle protests.” [Willamette Week]
- Reno, Nevada: The Reno City Council on Wednesday delayed a decision on whether to approve a 4,700-unit housing development in the city’s “last remaining natural floodplain,” which has raised questions about “the developer's plans for replacing floodwater storage capacity.” [Reno Gazette Journal]
- Somerville, Massachusetts: In a Facebook message, Mayor Joe Curtatone said the city would observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Oct. 8. “The arc of history bends not only toward justice, but toward reason. Columbus Day is a relic of an outdated and oversimplified version of history. We all know there’s more to the story than a nursery rhyme. In Somerville, we will now pay tribute to a history that runs much deeper than the events of 1492.” [Joe Curtatone / Facebook]
Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.