Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | A county in Kansas is sending people to jail for medical debt … Massachusetts attorney general sues vaping company … Bill to end surprise medical billing in Georgia.
A bill that began moving in the Iowa Senate this week would require law enforcement agencies to begin compiling data on crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, as well as other people who aren’t citizens or legal permanent residents. Supporters said the data would help the state pinpoint crime, but opponents said it would lead to racial profiling. The bill's sponsor, state Sen. Jim Carlin, a Republican, said lawmakers have a “duty” to protect Iowa residents. "I want the data to be used to define whether or not there is a problem associated with illegal alien crime. It’s actually my hope that it shows just the opposite … I want to know where it is, I want to know how it’s defined so that we can commit resources to where the problem is. That’s not racially motivated at all. That’s motivated by a concern to protect the citizens of Iowa," Carlin said. If the bill becomes law, the state would collect data on when “nonresident aliens” commit crimes, what crimes were committed, and whether any injuries were sustained as a result of the crime. National studies have found that immigrants commit crimes at a lower rate than native-born Americans. Daniel Zeno, a lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, said his group is against the proposed policy. "We aren’t talking about people who are immigrants from Canada, right? We are talking about people who have brown skin. I mean, let’s be honest. That’s who we’re talking about. This requires racial profiling," he said. Susan Cameron Daemen, a lobbyist for the Iowa State Sheriffs & Deputies Association, said that compiling the data would create too much work for law enforcement. "There is no way that we can collect this data without going through everything, every person, because we would be profiling if we did not go through every single offense," she said. A Senate subcommittee advanced the bill with plans to amend it so that law enforcement would not have to collect data at the time of arrest, instead leaving the task to jails and prisons. [Des Moines Register; Iowa Public Radio]
MEDICAL DEBT | In rural Coffeyville, Kansas, people with unpaid medical bills are being sent to jail. Under a county law, those with unpaid medical bills must appear in court every three months and say that they are too poor to pay their debt. If two hearings are missed, people can be arrested for contempt of court and bail is set at $500. Tres Biggs, who went to jail for failing to appear in court over his bills said he was “scared to death” of the process and had "maybe $50 to $100" at the time. Medical providers have hired attorneys like Michael Hassenplug to collect on the debt. "I'm just doing my job. They want the money collected, and I'm trying to do my job as best I can by following the law,” Hassenplug said. Nusrat Choudhury, the deputy director of the ACLU, condemned the practice. "This raises serious constitutional concerns. What's happening here is a jailhouse shake-down for cash that is the criminalization of private debt,” Choudhury said. [CBS News]
VAPING | Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey filed a lawsuit against Juul Labs, a vape manufacturer, after completing an investigation that she said revealed a marketing campaign designed to get kids hooked on vaping. Healey said that Juul advertised on websites for kids, like Cartoon Network and Seventeen, and the suit alleges that the company sold e-cigarettes to underage children in the state more than 10,000 times. Recent studies found that more than half of teenagers who vape use Juul products. "JUUL bears responsibility for the millions of young people nationwide who are now addicted to e-cigarettes,” Healey said. Juul released a statement saying that they are dedicated to “earning the trust of society by working cooperatively with attorneys general, regulators, public health officials, and other stakeholders to combat underage use and transition adult smokers from combustible cigarettes.” The Pennsylvania attorney general also sued the company this week over how its products are marketed to teenagers, and similar lawsuits have been previously introduced in New York, Minnesota and California. [WCVB; MassLive]
SURPRISE BILLING | Legislation in Georgia would end the practice of “surprise billing,” which describes situations where patients receive large bills from specialty procedures like anesthesiology that were completed by out-of-network providers. The legislation in Georgia would remove patients from the process and have medical providers and insurance companies work out the bills. Gov. Brian Kemp has signaled support for the legislation. “I am committed to working with the General Assembly, patients, providers and insurance carriers to pass this legislation and put patients first,” he said. [Capitol Beat News Service]
STATE BOOK | The Tennessee legislature is considering legislation that would make the Bible the official state book. The same measure passed the legislature in 2016, but was vetoed by the governor, who expressed concerns about the constitutional requirement to maintain a separation of church and state. [WATE]
Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty.