Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE & LOCAL ROUNDUP | Open records decision made on Pittsburgh’s HQ2 proposal; San Francisco’s new interim mayor; ‘Feed Your Soul’ in Louisiana; and a Daylight Saving Time proposal in Florida.
This big story of interest to state and local government leaders is the U.S. Conference of Mayors 86th Annual Winter Meeting in Washington, D.C., which comes at a contentious time for relations between the federal government and some city halls. As mayors gathered in the nation’s capital for the winter meeting on Wednesday, the Justice Department threatened to prosecute state and local governments if they didn’t produce documents related to immigration enforcement. Read more from Route Fifty’s Bill Lucia and Dave Nyczepir and stay tuned for more coverage of the mayoral gathering in D.C. in the days to come.
Here are other stories of state and local interest that caught Route Fifty’s eye ...
NET NEUTRALITY | New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo took action on Wednesday to protect net neutrality in his state by following the lead of Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a fellow Democrat who issued an executive order earlier this week that links state government contracting to net neutrality compliance. Cuomo’s executive order notes that since New York state “is a significant purchaser of internet and broadband services” and “has a responsibility to ensure the efficient procurement of goods and services for the State of New York and its political subdivisions,” the state will “not to enter into any contracts for internet service unless the ISPs agree to adhere to net neutrality principles.” More state-level lawmakers are expected to take legislative action related to net neutrality. “The issue will be contentious, and there will be heated conversations about what role states should take,” according to Danielle Dean, a policy director for the National Conference of State Legislatures. Lawmakers in at least 15 states have introduced bills to protect net neutrality at the state level. [New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo; Route Fifty; Stateline / Pew Charitable Trusts]
AMAZON HQ2 | The Pennsylvania Office of Open Records ruled Wednesday that Pittsburgh’s proposal for Amazon.com, Inc.’s second headquarters campus cannot be withheld by the city and Allegheny County government and must be released. A number of local news organizations had requested the proposal under Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law, but were denied by the city and county, both which said that “trade secrets, confidential proprietary information, real estate appraisals and bidding details” were exempt from public disclosure. Earlier this month, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said that disclosing the proposal would undermine the area’s chances at landing Amazon’s HQ2. “The object is to be successful. Giving out our information to all the other cities, I think, would put us at a competitive disadvantage.” "The proposal cannot be withheld," the OOR ruling said. [WTAE-TV; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]
MAYORAL SUCCESSIONS | The San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday selected Mark Farrell to serve as the city’s new interim mayor until a special election in June to officially replace Ed Lee, who died in December. London Breed, the board president, became acting mayor following Lee’s death, but board members had the option of picking a new interim leader until the special election. The action to select Farrell as a caretaker mayor has roiled supporters of Breed, an African-American woman who has officially thrown her hat into the ring for the special election. Some San Francisco supervisors expressed concerns over separation of powers at City Hall, with Breed serving both as acting mayor and leader of the Board of Supervisors, the city’s legislative branch. [San Francisco Chronicle / SFGate.com]
RESILIENCY | As the Houston area continues to recover from the unprecedented flood disaster that came with Hurricane Harvey in August, Mayor Sylvester Turner released a proposal to strengthen building rules inside and outside the floodplains in the nation’s fourth-largest city. All new construction outside the floodplain would have to be elevated 2 feet off the ground while all new construction in floodplains would need to stand 2 feet above the projected flood level during a 500-year storm. "We need to build a stronger city," the mayor told members of the city council on Wednesday. [Houston Chronicle; KTRK-TV / ABC13]
PUBLIC HEALTH | As the flu season continues, public health officials in South Carolina reported 22 additional deaths bringing the state’s flu death toll to 46 people so far this flu season, which runs October to May. South Carolina saw 93 deaths in the previous flu season. Kentucky, which is in its sixth week of widespread flu activity, has seen 65 deaths so far this season. In Chicago, public health officials are hopeful that they may be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel for this season. “We’re seeing some early signs we may be at the peak or a little past the peak,” said Marielle Fracchione, the medical director of the immunization program at the Chicago Department of Public Health. [The Post and Courier; Herald-Leader / Kentucky.com; Chicago Tribune]
INFRASTRUCTURE | Commuters in Austin, Texas who use the Mopac Expressway have seen the cost of using the tolled express lanes tick upwards during peak travel times, as high as $10 in some cases, as more drivers choose to pay to breeze by congestion in the free, general purpose lanes. “We are having demand at this point that is exceeding capacity in some cases, as seen by the line of people waiting to get in the lane, but, fortunately, once they get in, for the most part, we're seeing traffic flowing, which is the goal of the lane,” said Steve Pustelnyk, communications director for the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority. Increasing toll rates on the express lanes is the way to keep traffic flowing in them, and more Austin commuters seem willing to pay for a quicker ride. But it comes at a time when many Texans are angry with the expansion of toll roads in the state. In the Fort Worth area, a plan to rebuild a section of Interstate 35W with express toll lanes has been a major source of pain for state and local officials. [KTBC-TV / Fox7 Austin; Star-Telegram]
TOURISM | Officials in Louisiana have unveiled a new state tourism slogan: “Feed Your Soul.”
FIRST RESPONDERS | Volunteer fire departments across the nation have been struggling to staff their operations. That includes Saxis Volunteer Fire and Rescue in the northern part of Accomack County on Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Aubrey Justice, president of the volunteer department, told the county’s Board of Supervisors that the department is looking for the county to raise its EMS tax to pay for more Department of Public Safety employees to serve the area. "There is nobody around during the daytime. It's the most populated area in the county—more schools, industries—and being served by fewer DPS personnel." [The Daily Times / DelmarvaNow.com]
PUBLIC LANDS | A proposal by Republicans in the Arizona state legislature would mandate the state examine a lawsuit Utah has filed regarding federal control of public land. If the attorney general sees merit in the case, Arizona could join Utah in its legal challenge this fall. [The Arizona Republic]
DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME | Bills moving through Florida’s House and Senate would, if adopted, call on the state to ask the federal government for permission to make Daylight Saving Time permanent all year in the Sunshine State. “I’ve heard from mayors across the state that it’s going to save them money because they don’t have to light their softball fields at night,” state Sen. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, said during a Senate Community Affairs Committee hearing in Tallahassee. [Herald / Times Tallahassee Bureau]
Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.