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New TrendsWith 46 legislatures in session, ‘ban-the-box’ bills and restricting protests are surprising 2017 trends, but lawmakers are also focusing on prescription drug abuse, gas taxes, and marijuana legalization. 

Until South Dakota and Idaho legislatures close shop in late March, 46 state legislatures are currently in session.

As expected, with 25 states reporting revenue shortfalls at the end of FY2016, many states have adopted or are pondering bills to remedy budget deficits.

StateTrack is also documenting significant numbers of bills related to the following:

  • Tax relief/tax reform
  • Prohibiting sanctuary cities
  • Abortion restrictions
  • Bathroom privacy bills
  • Death penalty
  • “Blue Lives Matter’ bills making crimes against law enforcement hate crimes
  • Gun-owners’ rights vs. gun control
  • Lotteries, online gaming, daily fantasy sports bills
  • Minimum wage and gender equity bills
  • Recouping online sales taxes
  • Autonomous vehicles regulations

Here are five other significant 2017 state legislative trends:


More than 430 bills addressing prescription painkiller addiction, overdose submitted in 46 states

In 2016 lawmakers in 47 states considered 536 bills related to the opioid crisis and prescription drug-abuse prevention. This year, according to State Track, more than 430 bills have been introduced in 46 states.

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Nowhere is addressing the soaring rates of addiction to prescription painkillers such as Percocet, OxyContin and Vicodin, as well as illegal narcotics, including heroin and fentanyl, more of an urgent priority than in Maryland, where Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has signed an executive order declaring the opioid epidemic a state of emergency and allocating $50 million in new funding.

Hogan’s 2017 Heroin and Opioid Prevention, Treatment and Enforcement Initiative is a multi-pronged emergency legislative effort that includes several bills. Among them:

* HB 687, The Distribution of Opioids Resulting in Death Act, would create a new felony, punishable by up to 30 years, for people who provide the drugs that ultimately contribute to an overdose death. The bill has 43 cosponsors and had a first hearing on Feb. 28 before the House Judiciary Committee where it remains.

* HB 1432, The Prescriber Limits Act, which would limit doctors from giving patients no more than a seven day supply of opioids in a prescription, though cancer patients and those in hospice care would be exempt. Sponsored by the House Health and Government Operations Committee, it had a first hearing on March 7.

* SB 1060 and HB 1082, The Heroin and Opioid Education and Community Action Act of 2017 or Start Talking Maryland Act, would, among other things, seek to expand drug courts and drug education programs in schools to include heroin and opioid education, and require schools to store the anti-overdose drug naloxone and train school nurses teachers and staff in how to use it. Sponsored by Sen. Thomas Miller (D-Calvert), the proposal had its first hearing before the Senate Education Health and Environmental Affairs Committee on March 8th.

Governors in four other states have either issued executive initiatives or introduced legislation related to the opioid crisis. Republican Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) called the epidemic “one of the most significant challenges we face” in his inaugural address and said he would hire a director of drug prevention policy. Independent Alaska Gov. Bill Walker in early March rolled out an opioid reform package that would update the state’s database of opioid prescriptions more regularly. Republican New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu said he will introduce a package of proposed reforms by late March and Republican Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval said he will ask his legislature to limit prescriptions to seven days, similar to the way Maryland’s Hogan is doing/

Among the raft of prescription painkiller-related bills proposed or adopted in 46 state legislatures, are noteworthy proposals in Missouri and Arkansas.

* Missouri HB 90 and SB 72: Rep. Holly Rehder’s (R-Sikeston) HB 90, ‘The Narcotics Control Act,’ would authorize the creation a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP). Missouri is the only state in the nation without a PDMP. The bill awaits introduction to the floor after being approved in an 8-4 vote by the Legislative Oversight Committee on Feb. 20.

Sen. Rob Schaaf’s (R-St. Joseph) SB 72, which would discipline health care providers for failing to follow the CDC Guideline for Prescribing Opioids, is pending before the Senate Health and Pensions Committee.

* Arkansas HB 1024 and HB 1025: Rep. Justin Boyd (R-Fort Smith) sponsored both bills, which passed the House in 34-0 votes on Jan. 26 and Jan. 27. HB 1024 seeks to modify the definition of “chronic non-malignant pain” in the state’s Combating Prescription Drug Abuse Act and would lower dosages, while HB 1025 would give the state’s prescription drug monitoring program access to the names of all Medicaid prescription drug beneficiaries.


Legislators in 21 states ponder proposed increases in gas sales tax

In early March, the Trump Administration held a meeting with 15 cabinet members and other agency leaders to discuss the president’s promised $1 trillion infrastructure plan, which leverages private and public capital to upgrade roads, bridges, airports, tunnels and other infrastructure nationwide.

That’s good news for states, which have shouldered the primary responsibility for infrastructure spending for more than a decade. Of the $44 billion in combined state and federal transportation spending between 2006 to 2016, states accounted for $31.1 billion — roughly 71 percent — of that amount, according to Moody’s Inc.

The primary source for financing road and bridge maintenance and capital improvement is gas taxes. While the federal 18.4 cents per gallon tax has not changed since 1993, state rates range from 8 cents per gallon in Alaska to 58.2 cents in Pennsylvania. Since 1993, legislators in 40 states have raised their gas tax levies, including 19 states and the District of Columbia since 2013.

Gas tax increase bills were prefiled in 12 states before 2017 sessions began. By mid-March, gas hike bills had been proposed in as many as 21 states, including in five traditionally tax-averse Republican-controlled states that haven’t raised their gas tax rates since the 1980s or even earlier: Alaska, Oklahoma, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee. Among the most noteworthy:

* Tennessee’s IMPROVE (Improving Manufacturing, Public Roads and Opportunities for a Vibrant Economy) Act is Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to raise the state gas tax for the first time since 1989, by 7 cents per gallon to 28.4 cents per gallon, increase car registration fees by $5 and place an annual road user fee on electric vehicles to generate an additional $227.8 million a year to address a $6 billion backlog in roadwork.

Hallam’s IMPROVE Act was passed in a 5-4 vote by the House Transportation Subcommittee on March 1 despite vigorous opposition from a vocal “Tank the Tax” movement. Opponents argue that instead of raising taxes, the state should dip into its surplus of almost $2 billion to pay for any infrastructure spending.

* Indiana HB 1002, sponsored by House Roads and Transportation Committee Chair Rep. Ed Soliday (R-Valparaiso), would raise the state gas tax by 10 cents to 28 cents per gallon and increase registration fees by $15, passed the House in a 61-36 vote on Feb. 16. It awaits Senate approval.

Indiana’s 18.4-cent per gallon gas tax hasn’t been raised since 1993 and the state’s transportation department says it needs an additional $1 billion a year to maintain and improve roads and bridges. The bill, which would encourage placing tolls on some roads, faces stiff opposition in the Senate. Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb has been non-committal.

* Kansas HB 2237 would raise the state’s gas tax by 11 cents to 35 cents per gallon and lower the state sales tax on some food from 6.5 percent to 5 percent. The bill is sponsored by the House Taxation Committee, which staged a hearing on the proposal on Feb. 7.

Kansas tax collections have taken a major hit in the wake of Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax cuts and the governor is proposing cutting spending on transportation in order to remedy part of the state’s general fund deficit. As an alternative to that plan, the Rise Up Kansas coalition has proposed the 11-cent gas tax increase to fund transportation, as well as personal income tax reforms, to help remedy the state’s general fund shortfall.

* When the Louisiana lawmakers convene on April 10, they could be presented with a proposed bill seeking to increase the state’s gas sales tax from 20 cents to 43 cents a gallon to address a $13 billion decade-old backlog in maintenance roadwork as well as $16 billion in “mega projects” favored by state residents.

An infrastructure funding task force estimated that an increase of 23 cents per gallon would solve the state’s $700 million transportation revenue shortfall. Another study found that a 19-cent increase would be needed simply to restore purchasing power that the tax has lost since 1990.


Proposals to remove criminal history disclosure from job applications submitted in seven states

More than 150 municipalities and 25 states have adopted “Ban The Box” laws that remove any requirement for candidates to provide their conviction history on an initial job application and delay the background check inquiry until later in the hiring process.

Fifteen states — including Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont and Wisconsin in 2016 — “ban the box” on employment applications for public positions and board certifications. Nine states — Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont — have adopted laws that remove the conviction history question on all job applications.

At least seven states are considering “Ban The Box” bills in 2017 with six proposals now in committee awaiting introductions onto statehouse floors. Two Mississippi bills — SB 2824 and SB 2302 — seeking to ban criminal history checks in the preliminary job application process and to expunge certain nonviolent felony convictions have already died in committee.

Still alive: West Virginia HB 2380, the Ban-the-Box Act, which was assigned to the House Industry and Labor Committee on Feb. 13; California AB 1008, assigned to the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee on March 9; South Carolina H 3062, assigned to the House Labor, Commerce and Industry Committee on Jan. 12; Connecticut HB 5283, the Ban-the-Box Act, assigned to the Joint Labor and Public Employees Committee on Jan. 6; Kentucky HB 76, the “Ban the Box – The Criminal Record Employment Discrimination Act,” assigned to the House Rules, Calendar and Operations Committee on March 6; and North Carolina H 233, the Ban-the-Box Act, introduced in the House on March 6.


Lawmakers in 18 states introduce bills restricting, criminalizing protest

Since the election of President Trump, lawmakers in at least 18 states have introduced bills designed to restrict mass protests, including proposals to make blocking traffic a felony, allow cities to sue protesters, label protests as “economic terrorism and give police the authority to use “any means necessary” to remove protesters blocking traffic.

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By mid-March, bills in at least four states seeking to impose limits of public demonstrations and penalties on protesters who block traffic, damage property or threaten elected and law enforcement officials had been withdrawn or voted down. At least 10 proposals in eight states were in committee.

Among those pulled or defeated:

* North Dakota HB 1203, authored by Rep. Keith Kempenich (R-Bowman) and six cosponsors, would allow motorists to run over and kill any protester obstructing a highway as long as a driver does so accidentally. Proposal was defeated in a 50-41 vote on Feb. 13.

* Arizona SB 1142, sponsored by Sen. Sonny Borrelli (R-Lake Havasu City), would expand the state’s racketeering laws to also include rioting. Senate approved proposal in a  17-13 party-line vote on Feb. 22  but Arizona House Speaker J.D. Mesnard said his chamber will not consider the bill, meaning it is effectively dead.

* Virginia SB 1055, sponsored by Sen. Richard Stuart (R-Westmoreland), would stiffen penalties for demonstrators who stay at the scene of a riot or unlawful assembly. It was defeated in the Senate on Jan. 23 in a 26-14 vote.

* Michigan Rep. Gary Glenn (R-Midland) introduced and then shelved an anti-picketing law that would increase penalties against protestors and would make it easier for businesses to sue individual protestors for their actions.

Among anti-protesting bills still being considered are three in Minnesota:

* Minnesota HB 1066, sponsored by Rep. Kathy Lohmer (R-Stillwater), would make intentionally obstructing traffic on highways a gross misdemeanor rather than a simple misdemeanor. The bill was introduced into the House on Feb. 9.

* Minnesota HF 34, the Minnesota Public Safety Personnel Protection Act, sponsored by Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington), would mandate a penalty of no less than 12 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000 to any protester who obstructs police or other public employees. The bill is pending in the House Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee.

* Minnesota HF 322, authored by Rep. Nick Zerwas (R-Elk River) and 27 co-sponsors, would allow governmental “units,” such as cities or the state, to sue protesters for public safety costs spent on responding to them if they are convicted of unlawful assembly or committing a public nuisance. The bill is pending in the House Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee.

* Indiana SB 285, sponsored by Sen. Jim Tomes (R-Wadesville), would empower police to use “any means necessary” to clear protesters from roadways. The bill, dubbed the “Block Traffic and You Die Act,” passed the Senate in a 34-16 vote on Feb. 28 and is pending before the House Rules and Legislative Procedures Committee.

* Washington SB 5009, sponsored by Sen. Doug Ericksen (R-Ferndale), would reclassify as felony “economic terrorism” any civil disobedience, including blocking traffic or sitting on railroad tracks, that disrupts economic activity. The bill remains in the Senate Law & Justice Committee.

* Iowa SF 111, authored by Sen. Jake Chapman (R- Adel) and eight co-sponsors, would make it a felony to protest and block highway with speeds posted above 55 mph. Violators could spend up to five years in prison and incur a fine of up to $7,500. The bill is pending before the Senate Transportation Committee.

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* Missouri HB 179, sponsored by Rep. Donald Phillips (R-Kimberling City), would make it a crime to conceal a one’s identity if part of an unlawful assembly or riot. The bill was introduced into the House on Jan. 5 with no action since.

* Colorado SB 17-035, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling), would increase penalties for tampering with equipment associated with oil or gas drilling as part of a protest from a class 2 misdemeanor to a class 6 felony. The bill passed the Senate in a 19-16 vote on Feb. 28 and has been transferred to the House State, Veterans, & Military Affairs Committee.

* North Carolina Sen. Dan Bishop (R-Mecklenburg) has said he will introduce a bill that would make it a crime to “threaten, intimidate or retaliate against a present or former North Carolina official in the course of, or on account of, the performance of his or her duties.” He had not done so as of mid-March.


Despite threats of federal ‘crackdown,’ up to 17 states may legalize marijuana in 2017

Despite implied intent by newly-appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Trump Administration to enforce federal prohibition of marijuana — including in the eight states and the District of Columbia where voters have agreed to legalize recreational use and the 29 states that permit the medicinal use of marijuana — lawmakers in at least 17 states have considered or will consider bills that would legalize adult-use marijuana.

Legislators in Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah and Vermont this year could be the first elected bodies to legalize marijuana by legislation rather than through ballot initiative. Legalizing by constitutional initiative or by another type of voter referendum is also being considered in measures proposed in Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey and New Mexico.

Marijuana legalization bills have failed this year in Mississippi, Wyoming and North Dakota. Bills to repeal voter initiatives approving adult-use legal marijuana are pending in Maine, Massachusetts and Washington. Among the nearly 150 marijuana-related bills now circulating in statehouses:

* Vermont HB 170, authored by Rep. Maxine Grad (D-Moretown) and two cosponsors, would allow adults to grow, consume and share marijuana, but not buy or sell it. They could possess up to two ounces, as well as two mature and seven immature plants, legally.

Vermont in 2016 came close to becoming the first state to legalize recreational marijuana by legislation rather than by ballot measure. The Senate approved SB 241 in February, but it died in the House in April. HB 170 has been pending in the House Judiciary Committee since Feb. 1. Although there appears to be bipartisan legislative support, it is uncertain if newly elected Republican Gov. Phil Scott would sign it.

* Rhode Island SB 277 and HB 5551, joint resolutions creating a 15-member legislative commission to study legalizing marijuana, was approved by the Senate and House judiciary committees in February. The commission is to report its findings to the General Assembly by March 1, 2018. A proposed bill to legalize marijuana failed in 2015.

* Two years after passing a bill to decriminalize cannabis, Delaware lawmakers could be presented with a long-awaited bill to legalize marijuana this year. Senate Majority Whip Margaret Rose Henry (D-Wilmington) says she will introduce a bill proposing to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana in March.

* Kentucky SB 76, sponsored by Sen. Perry Clark’s (D-Louisville), would regulate the cultivation, testing, processing, taxing, and sale of cannabis to persons aged 21 years and older; create, amend, and repeal various sections to conform. Clark has also introduced SB 57, which would create a medical marijuana program in the state., for consideration in the 2017 legislative session. Both bills are pending before the Senate Licensing, Occupations, & Administrative Regulations Committee.

Among other legalization proposals are three in Minnesota, HF 926/927 and SF 1320, which would allow adults more than 21 years old to consume and use marijuana for personal use; Pennsylvania SB 213, which would allow legal personal use of marijuana, lawful operation of marijuana-related facilities, to be regulated by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board; Missouri HJR 21, proposing a constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana for persons 21 years of age or older; Hawaii HB 205 and SB 548, which would authorize persons 21 years of age or older to consume or possess limited amounts of marijuana for personal use; New Jersey A 2068, which would legalize possession and personal use of small amounts of marijuana for persons age 21 and over; and New Mexico SB 278, the Cannabis Revenue & Freedom Act.

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