Kemp Signs Bill to Give Georgia Taxpayers a More than $1 Billion Refund

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a measure Wednesday to give a one-time tax refund to eligible Georgia taxpayers.

Taxpayers who are single or married and filing separately will receive a $250 refund under House Bill 1302. Heads of households will receive a $375 refund, while married taxpayers who file jointly will receive a $500 refund.

The Georgia Department of Revenue will credit taxpayers with the refund once they file their 2021 taxes, which are due April 18. Taxpayers who already have filed their 2021 taxes will receive a refund based on what they indicated on their tax returns.

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Michigan House Approves Cutting 27-Cent Gas Tax for Six Months

Andrew Beeler of Michigan

The Michigan House on Wednesday voted 63-39 on a bill aiming to suspend the state’s 27.2-cent per gallon fuel tax for six months.

For the first time since 2008, gas prices broke $4 per gallon nationwide.

If passed by the Senate and signed into law, House Bill 5570 would suspend the state fuel tax on gas, diesel, and alternative fuels starting April 1, 2022, through September 30, 2022.

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Governor Lee Proposes $626 Million in Transportation Spending in Tennessee Budget

construction worker holding a stop sign

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s proposed fiscal year 2023 budget includes $626.5 million in road projects for the Tennessee Department of Transportation.

The proposal includes 22 new projects that are categorized under the State Highway Partnership Program ($226 million), Rural Interchange Improvement Program ($176 million), IMPROVE Act Acceleration ($100 million) and economic development projects ($77 million).

The economic development projects, in what are characterized as some of the state’s fastest-growing counties, include a Cleveland Street extension and Interstate-24 underpass in Davidson County ($40 million), a Sullivan County alignment project ($22 million) and widening State Road 334 in Blount County ($15 million).

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Georgia State Employees Could See $5K Pay Raise

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp speaking

As lawmakers convene in Atlanta on Monday for the start of a new legislative session, Gov. Brian Kemp wants to give state employees $5,000 raises and increase their benefits.

Two budgets are passed through the General Assembly every legislative session. Lawmakers must review and approve spending for the remainder of the current fiscal year, also known as the Amended Fiscal Year (AFY) budget, and approve the budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

Kemp told state agencies in August not to propose spending increases for the next two years as a safeguard against uncertainty during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Republicans Move to Ban Federal Funds to States, Cities That Allow Non-Citizens to Vote

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is leading a coalition of Republicans in Congress to sponsor legislation that would ban federal funding to states or localities that allow foreigners to vote in U.S. elections.

The new legislation, dubbed the Protecting Our Democracy by Preventing Foreign Citizens from Voting Act, was introduced after many liberal municipalities from San Francisco to New York have moved in 2021 to allow non-citizens to cast ballots in local elections

“It’s ridiculous that states are allowing foreign citizens to vote,” Rubio said. “However, if states and localities do let those who are not U.S. citizens to vote in elections, they shouldn’t get U.S. citizen taxpayer money.”

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State Attorney Generals Launch Investigation into Instagram’s Effects on Kids

Young person on Instagram

A bipartisan coalition of state attorneys general launched a probe into Instagram on Thursday to examine whether the company violated state-level consumer protection laws.

The states are investigating whether Meta (formerly known as Facebook), which owns Instagram, promoted the image-sharing platform “to children and young adults” despite being aware of its negative effects, according to statements from the attorneys general. The probe cites internal Facebook communications and research leaked by former Facebook employee Frances Haugen and published by The Wall Street Journal showing Meta was aware that use of Instagram could contribute to body image and mental health issues among teens.

“When social media platforms treat our children as mere commodities to manipulate for longer screen time engagement and data extraction, it becomes imperative for state attorneys general to engage our investigative authority under our consumer protection laws,” Republican Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson said in a statement.

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Minnesota Lawmakers to Push for Legalized Sports Betting Next Session

Surrounded by states that have legalized sports betting, some Minnesota lawmakers will push to create additional tax revenue and entertainment next session.

Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids, held a press conference to announce his plan to pursue legalized sports betting.

“Minnesotans deserve the chance to engage in safe and legal sports betting right here in Minnesota,” Stephenson said. “That is why I am announcing I will lead an effort to legalize sports betting during the next regular session of the Legislature.”

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Supreme Court Rejects Appeal by Maine Healthcare Workers Challenging Vaccine Mandate

Healthcare workers

The Supreme Court on Friday rejected an emergency appeal from Maine healthcare workers attempting to block the state’s vaccine mandate.

The group of unvaccinated workers argued that the law violated their First Amendment rights because the law doesn’t have a religious exemption.

According to the Associated Press, Maine is one of three states including New York and Rhode Island that have vaccine mandates that lack religious exemptions for healthcare workers.

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John Deere Strike Poses Problems for Georgia Farmers

John Deere tractor in a field

Georgia farmers already weathering crop shortages from a deep freeze during the spring could face another challenge this harvest season, according to the Georgia Farm Bureau.

More than 10,000 John Deere workers are on strike at 14 plants across the nation, including in Grovetown, near Augusta. Farmers have reported having a hard time finding parts for tractors and planters, and the sale of some tractors is on hold amid negotiations between union workers and John Deere.

A spokesperson for United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW), Brian Rothenberg, said Thursday negotiations with the company were “ongoing.” Workers are demanding more pay and better benefits. Some workers told Farm Journal Magazine the strike could go on until the end of the year. It is reportedly the largest private-sector strike in two years.

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Ohio Ranks As One of the Least Safe States in Terms of COVID

Man getting COVID vaccine

With rankings near the bottom in five key categories, Ohio stands as one of the least safe states during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recently released report.

WalletHub, a personal finance website, ranked Ohio the fifth-least safe state in the nation based on data from five key areas, including COVID-19 transmission, positive tests, hospitalizations, deaths and the percentage of the eligible population vaccinated.

Ohio’s highest ranking was in transmission rate, which still ranked 35th. Its death rate was 41st, while vaccination rate (42nd), positive test rate (43rd) and hospitalization rate (44th) were among the worst in the country.

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Arizona Police Recruiting in Washington Days After Vaccine Mandate

Arizona state trooper SUV in desert

Arizona’s state police force is in the Pacific Northwest in an attempt to bolster its ranks. The push comes on the heels of news that Washington Gov. Jay Inslee isn’t allowing exceptions to his vaccine mandate.

The Arizona Department of Public Safety announced that they would be in Washington from Sept. 7 through Sept. 19 to recruit potential new officers. 

Their counterpart, the Washington State Patrol, shared Arizona’s announcement on Twitter. 

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Ohio Lawmakers Want Local School Mask Mandates to End

Mike Loychik

An Ohio lawmaker wants to remove the mask-wearing decision for K-12 students across the state from local school boards by having the state prohibit any district from requiring masks.

Rep. Mike Loychik, R-Bazetta, said he plans to introduce legislation to stop school districts across the state from mandating students wear masks, saying parents in his district are upset school boards have required masks as the school year begins.

Lakeview and Warren school boards, each in Loychik’s district, voted to require masks for students.

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Virginia Won’t Require Masks at Schools, Encourages Local Mask Rules

Little girl wearing pink mask, hair up in a braid, sitting at a table

Toward the end of the month, a state-imposed mask mandate at Virginia schools will no longer be enforced, but the state’s Department of Health is encouraging school divisions to create mask policies.

On July 25, the public health order forcing schools to require face coverings will expire and will not be renewed. However, the VDH issued guidelines that strongly recommend school divisions impose mask mandates for students, staff and teachers.

“Virginia has followed the science throughout this pandemic, and that’s what we continue to do,” Gov. Ralph Northam said in a statement. “This guidance takes into consideration recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics, and will provide necessary flexibility for school divisions while ensuring a safe, healthy, and world-class learning environment for Virginia’s students. Again, I strongly urge every eligible Virginian to get vaccinated. Getting your shot will protect you, your family, and your community—and it is the only way we can beat this pandemic once and for all.”

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Tennessee Spends Nearly $4M Annually to Educate Unaccompanied Minors

Tennessee has spent nearly $60 million over 15 years educating children who entered the state as unaccompanied minors, according to the state’s Fiscal Review Committee estimates.

Krista Lee Carsner, executive director of the Tennessee General Assembly’s Fiscal Review Committee, presented her cost estimate research to the state’s Study Committee on Refugee Issues, saying 8,800 unaccompanied minors have come to live in the state since fiscal year 2015.

Carsner estimated Tennessee spent an average of $3.9 million annually on education for those minors and the highest estimated year was a cost of $13.9 million. The state also spent nearly $85,000 annually on TennCare health care costs for those minors, Carsner said.

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15 Governors Oppose Biden Plan to ‘Conserve’ 30 Percent of All US Land and Water by 2030

Scenery of the mountains and waterways in Asheville, North Carolina

Governors from 15 states are sounding the alarm over an executive order issued by President Joe Biden tasking his administration to “conserve” 30% of all land and water in the U.S. by 2030.

Known as the “30 x 30 plan,” the directive is part of a United Nations Agenda 2030 land and sustainable development goal, which directs nations to conserve land and water to combat climate change.

Biden refers to the policy as part of the United State’s acceptance of rejoining the Paris Agreement, a deal former President Donald Trump pulled out of.

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Virginia Extends Expanded Childcare Subsidies for the Rest of the Year

Additional childcare subsidies provided during the COVID-19 pandemic will be extended until the end of 2021, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Wednesday.

The state program, which provides financial assistance for childcare services, temporarily loosened the eligibility requirements through July 31, 2021. Northam directed the Virginia Department of Education to continue covering copayments through December 31, using federal COVID-19 relief funds.

“Access to high-quality child care is not only critical to the health and safety of Virginia’s children, but it is also important for advancing a strong, equitable recovery,” Northam said in a statement. “Extending these resources through the end of 2021 will help close the affordability gap for parents and providers, allowing thousands of Virginians to return to work, support their families, and grow our economy.”

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61 Percent of U.S. Counties now Second Amendment Sanctuaries: Analysis

The majority of all U.S. counties have been designated as Second Amendment sanctuaries, according to an analysis by SanctuaryCounties.com.

As of June 20, there are 1,930 counties “protected by Second Amendment Sanctuary legislation at either the state or county level,” representing 61% of 3,141 counties and county equivalents in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Texas was the 21st state to pass a constitutional carry bill, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law, and becomes effective Sept. 1. And while some state legislatures are not taking the same action, county officials have chosen to enact their own legislation. Roughly 1,137 counties “have taken it upon themselves to pass Second Amendment Sanctuary legislation and likely hundreds of cities, townships, boroughs, etc. have done so at their level as well,” the site states.

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Tennessee’s Public School Enrollment Mirrors National Decline

Group of young students

Tennessee matched the national trend as public school enrollment this past school year was down 2.9% in the state compared with the 2019-2020 school year, according to preliminary data released by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

The decline in enrollment will not affect state funding for Tennessee’s public schools in the short term. Gov. Bill Lee signed a bill that holds harmless Tennessee’s public schools in the state’s funding formula for the 2021-22 school year despite changes in enrollment. Funding is determined by school enrollment from the previous year.

Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, said he expects that adjustment to be a one-year, one-time exception to the Basic Education Program state funding formula, expected to cost the state an additional $8.9 million, according to the bill’s fiscal note.

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Ohio Ranks Low in Actual Independence

Ohio State flag

Celebrating Independence Day means a little more for some states than others, at least in terms of being independent and self-sufficient.

A report from personal finance website WalletHub showed which states were the most-self-sufficient, and Ohio ranked 36th in where Americans are the most self-reliant despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

To determine the ranking, WalletHub compared five sources of dependency: consumer finances, the government, the job market, international trade and personal vices. Those categories were broken down into 39 key indicators.

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Michigan Employment Numbers Pick Up Pace for State’s Pandemic Recovery

Blue Collar worker with hard hat on

Michigan’s recovery from the massive unemployment endured during the COVID-19 pandemic is among the fastest in the country, last week’s employment numbers indicate.

That assessment is according to a recently released WalletHub report, which ranked the state fifth nationwide for progress made between the previous week and the week of June 21, 2021, and fourth nationwide for the smallest increase in initial unemployment claims between the beginning of 2020 and the week of June 21, 2021.

Michigan was ranked 13th nationwide for quickest unemployment recovery since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.

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Michigan House Votes to Suspend $300 Weekly Federal Unemployment Payments

David Martin

The Michigan House of Representatives voted to approve House Bill 4434, which would end the state’s participation in the federal unemployment program.

The bill passed Thursday by a 350-49 vote, and now moves to the Michigan Senate.

House Republicans rallied hard behind the bill, which would immediately halt the federally funded $300 weekly boost to Michigan unemployment checks. The federal program currently is scheduled to cease in September, but legislators argue the additional money is hindering the state’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Michigan House Votes to Suspend $300 Weekly Federal Unemployment Payments

Michigan State Capitol

The Michigan House of Representatives voted to approve House Bill 4434, which would end the state’s participation in the federal unemployment program.

The bill passed Thursday by a 350-49 vote, and now moves to the Michigan Senate.

House Republicans rallied hard behind the bill, which would immediately halt the federally funded $300 weekly boost to Michigan unemployment checks. The federal program currently is scheduled to cease in September, but legislators argue the additional money is hindering the state’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Report: Vax-A-Million Lottery Not Spurring Vaccinations Growth

Millions of dollars, college scholarships and other cash and prize incentives may not be enough to encourage more people around the country to get the COVID-19 vaccination, at least if numbers in Ohio are any indication.

The Associated Press reported the number of new Ohioans receiving at least the first dose of a vaccine fell by nearly half after the state announced its first $1 million and college scholarship winners. After Gov. Mike DeWine’s announcement of the vaccine lottery in early May, the report said vaccination numbers increased by 43% over the previous week.

The report said the number of people receiving the vaccine from May 27 through June 2 dropped about 43%. March and April were the state’s highest months for the number of vaccines, according to The AP.

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Whitmer to Ease Michigan’s COVID-19 Restrictions June 1

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced outdoor capacity limits will disappear after June 1, when indoor capacity limits will increase to 50% under updated public health restrictions.

The state will lift the broad mask and gathering orders July 1, Whitmer said Thursday at Dow Diamond In Midland.

“We look at this as the last moment of this type of orders,” Whitmer said after Michigan has battled COVID-19 for 14 months via a wide range of emergency orders.

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Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Gets $100K Raise

Commissioner: Russell R. McMurry

Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry has received a $100,000 raise, making him one of the highest-paid unelected state officials in Georgia.

The State Transportation Board unanimously approved McMurry’s 29% raise Thursday without debate, increasing his salary from $350,000 to $450,000.

McMurry started his career with the department in 1990. He was the planning director before being appointed commissioner by the board in 2015.

McMurry’s salary in fiscal year 2015 was more than $165,000. McMurry’s salary climbed from $185,000 in fiscal year 2016 to $250,000 in fiscal year 2017 and $336,000 in fiscal year 2018. He used an average of $6,900 in travel expenses over the past six year

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More Than $60 Million to Go to Virginia Schools to Offset Pandemic Learning Losses

To offset learning losses caused by the shutdown of in-person public education, Virginia will be spending more than $60 million in recovery grants for public schools, Gov. Ralph Northam announced.

After public schools in the commonwealth were completely shut down for in-person classes for a period of time, the governor implemented restrictions that required hybrid teaching models that included both virtual and in-person learning for months. Since those guidelines have been lifted, some schools have returned to fully in-person education, while some are still using a hybrid model.

To minimize the learning gaps caused by the closures, the state will provide $62.7 million in LEARNS Education Recovery grants. About $55 million of the funding will come from federal relief and the remaining $7.7 million will come from state funds.

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Whitmer Ends Statewide Mask Mandate for Fully Vaccinated Starting Saturday

group of people wearing masks

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday announced the state health department will align its policy with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest guidance on face coverings starting Saturday at 9 a.m.

“For more than a year, we’ve been following the best data and science to slow the spread of COVID-19 and save lives,” Whitmer said in a statement. “The vast majority of us have trusted the scientists and experts to keep us safe during the pandemic, and it has worked. With millions of Michiganders fully vaccinated, we can now safely and confidently take the next step to get back to normal. The message is clear: vaccines work to protect you and your loved ones. If you have not yet received your vaccine, now is the time to sign up. This pandemic has been one of the toughest challenges of our lifetimes, but we came together as a state to persevere. We have all been working incredibly hard toward getting back to some sense of normalcy, and today’s news makes all of that work worthwhile.”

On Thursday, the CDC released updated guidance recommending “fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in any setting, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.”

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State Redistricting Deadlines in 2021, 2022, and 2023

U.S. Census 2020

The U.S. Census Bureau announced in February that it would deliver the detailed datasets needed for redistricting to the states by Sep. 30, 2021, after the original April 1, 2021, deadline. Some states’ own redistricting deadlines predate the Census Bureau’s projected data delivery date, prompting states to consider postponements or alternative data sources.

State redistricting deadlines generally take one of three forms:

Constitutional deadlines are set out explicitly in state constitutions. Altering these deadlines typically requires either a constitutional amendment or a court order.
Statutory deadlines are set by state legislatures. They are subject to change at the legislature’s discretion.
Redistricting deadlines can also be inferred from candidate filing deadlines. For example, if a state sets its filing deadline for congressional candidates for Feb. 1, 2022, it can be inferred that the congressional maps must be fixed by that point.

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General Assembly OKs Paid Parental Leave for Georgia State Workers

A follow-up attempt by lawmakers to implement paid parental leave for Georgia state employees is on its way to Gov. Brian Kemp.

The measure allows state employees in Georgia to take three weeks of paid parental leave. The House agreed Monday, 153-8, to the Senate’s changes to House Bill 146 after it unanimously passed the Senate last week. A similar measure cleared the House in 2020.

Under HB 146, state or local school board employees who worked at least 700 hours over the six months preceding the requested paid leave date can qualify for the paid time off after the birth of a child, adoption of a child or taking in of a foster child. Paid parental leave would be granted only once a calendar year. State agencies and school boards are able to dictate the policy rules.

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Georgia Legislature Approves $27B Budget for New Fiscal Year

Blake Tillery

The Georgia General Assembly has approved a $27.2 billion spending plan for the 2022 fiscal year, which starts July 1.

The Senate and House agreed to spend more money on health care, education, transportation, state positions, internet access and economic initiatives.

The House approved the measure, 148-21, late Wednesday night after it cleared the Senate unanimously, 52-0. Lawmakers now must send the proposal for state spending through June 30, 2022, to Gov. Brian Kemp for consideration.

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Michigan’s New Unemployment Director Faces Questions from House Oversight Committee

Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency Director Liza Estlund Olson was grilled Thursday morning by the state House Oversight Committee.

Committee members asked pointed questions about recent revelations relating to the departure of Olson’s predecessor, Steve Gray, in November. Gray received a $76,626 payout and another $9,246 in attorney fees and signed a confidentiality agreement with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration.

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Ducey Removes Arizona’s COVID-19 Restrictions on Businesses

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has rescinded the business restrictions he put in place last year to stem the spread of COVID-19. 

Ducey’s latest executive order, which he signed Friday, removes the capacity limits on businesses he had put in place July 9, effective immediately. 

“We’ve learned a lot over the past year,” Ducey said. “Our businesses have done an excellent job at responding to this pandemic in a safe and responsible way. We will always admire the sacrifice they and their employees have made and their vigilance to protect against the virus.”

Ducey said Arizona, unlike many other states, never shut down.

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Tennessee Signed Contract With Consulting Firm While Also Investigating it for Role in Opioid Epidemic

Tennessee entered into a consulting contract with Washington-based McKinsey & Company consulting firm while the state attorney general was investigating the firm for its role in the opioid epidemic, state records show.

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery recently announced the state would receive more than $15 million from a multistate lawsuit settlement with McKinsey over the firm’s role in consulting opioid manufacturers on how to best market and profit from opioid drug sales.

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Commentary: A Deep-Dive into the Other Deep State – Public Sector Unions

by Edward Ring   When government fails, public-sector unions win. When society fragments, public-sector unions consolidate their power. When citizenship itself becomes less meaningful, and the benefits of American citizenship wither, government unions offer an exclusive solidarity. Government unions insulate their members from the challenges facing ordinary private citizens. On…

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Ohio Lawmakers Look into Strengthening State’s Election, Cybersecurity Efforts

by Steven Bittenbender   With election security frequently in the news, the Ohio House Transportation and Public Safety Committee took the opportunity recently to discuss a cybersecurity bill. The panel convened a hearing on Senate Bill 52, which deals with bolstering the state’s cybersecurity. A major part of the initiative…

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