Catch up quick: 8 things you missed in the states this week

Groundhog Club handler A.J. Dereume holds Punxsutawney Phil, the weather prognosticating groundhog, during the 138th celebration of Groundhog Day on Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pa., Friday, Feb. 2, 2024. Phil’s handlers said that the groundhog has forecast an early spring. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

The German tradition on Candlemas, the feast of the presentation of Jesus described in the Gospel of Luke, holds that if a badger emerges from its den and sees its shadow, four more weeks of winter are ahead.

The Pennsylvania Dutch adapted the holiday to include groundhogs — and, thus, every year, the people of Punxsutawney, Pa., gather at Gobbler’s Knob to see whether their groundhog Phil spots its shadow.

Similar traditions take place in New York (featuring Dunkirk Dave and Staten Island Chuck), West Virginia (French Creek Freddie and Concord Charlie), and New Jersey (Milltown Mel and Essex Ed, retired).

In Bee Cave, Texas, residents look to an armadillo for their weather predictions. In Kansas City, a hedgehog does the work. Buckeye Lake, Ohio, turns to a bass, and Beaumont, Texas, seeks guidance from an alligator. Two cities in Louisiana turn to a nutria, another groundhog-like rodent.

This year, Phil didn’t see his shadow, which means we’re in for an early spring. Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) marked the occasion by naming Phil the state’s official meteorologist.

But Groundhog’s Day can also be a solemn occasion: Friday marked the 10-year anniversary of the tragic accident that led to the death of Staten Island Chuck — actually Charlotte, playing the role of Chuck. That year, organizers handed then-New York Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) the groundhog, and he promptly dropped her. Charlotte was found dead in her cage a week later, the victim of internal trauma.

De Blasio reflected on the incident in an interview with New York Magazine last year: “Why would you want an elected official to hold a groundhog? I don’t know anything about holding groundhogs. So the whole thing is just insane. There’s an original sin here. Don’t hand someone a groundhog, right?”

We confess, this whole essay has just been an excuse to make fun of de Blasio’s entire lack of groundhog-holding skill. Rest in peace, Charlotte.

Here are eight things you missed in the states this week:

TECHNOLOGY: Google is driving legislation in state legislatures this year that would require texting applications on smartphones to come with encryption and other features. Nearly identical bills introduced in Iowa, Ohio, Oklahoma and Wisconsin would require messages to maintain photo and video quality. (Pluribus News)

If you’ve ever texted a photo or video from an iPhone to an Android phone or vice versa, you’ve felt the pain.

DIGITAL PRIVACY: Data privacy laws adopted in more than a dozen states were overly influenced by tech industry lobbyists and do not add robust protections for consumers, advocacy groups say in a new report out this week. All but one of the 14 comprehensive data privacy laws passed in recent years borrow from a Virginia sample bill written by tech lobbyists. (Pluribus News)

GUN POLITICS: The Massachusetts Senate voted 37-3 to pass a sweeping bill that overhauls the state’s gun laws, including provisions to ban ghost guns and codify an assault weapons ban. Senate leaders must now negotiate with the House, which passed its own gun bill. (Boston Globe)

Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) outlined a package of gun control measures in her State of the State address, including proposals to expand background checks to private and advertised gun sales, creating a network of crisis prevention centers and altering extreme risk protection order laws. The proposals come after a mass shooting in Lewiston claimed 18 lives. (Maine Public Radio)

Influential gun rights groups in Maine expressed moderate praise for the legislation, an important factor in a state that has historically backed gun rights.

REPARATIONS: California’s Legislative Black Caucus unveiled a package of 14 bills meant to provide reparations for the descendants of slaves, including measures to restore property seized through discriminatory practices, financial aid for redlined communities and criminal justice reforms. The package does not include any measures that would provide direct monetary compensation. (CalMatters)

SOCIAL MEDIA: The South Carolina House approved new legislation to require minors to get parental consent before opening a social media account. The bill is modeled on Louisiana legislation that is somewhat vague about how social media companies would verify user ages. The House also approved a measure requiring pornographic websites to verify user ages. (South Carolina Daily Gazette)

California Attorney General Rob Bonta (D) has introduced legislation requiring social media companies to display feeds shown to minors in chronological order, rather than those curated by algorithms. Another bill would bar online companies from collecting and selling data from users under 18 without informed consent. (Pluribus News)

The second bill is similar to a proposal out of New York, setting the broad contours around the red state-blue state divide over how to address online privacy for children.

LGBTQ RIGHTS: Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) has introduced legislation defining the words “sex,” “man” and “woman” in state law. The bill requires government agencies to identify people only as “male” or “female,” and would require transgender people to carry unique birth certificates or driver licenses. (Des Moines Register)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE: The Georgia Senate voted Thursday to require cash bail for 30 crimes, including 18 that are always or usually misdemeanors. The bill also limits charitable bail funds or individuals from bailing multiple people out of jail. The measure comes six years after then-Gov. Nathan Deal (R) signed a bill allowing judges to release more people accused of misdemeanors without bail. (Associated Press)

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost (R) and two House Republicans will introduce legislation to allow the state to conduct executions by nitrogen gas, after Alabama carried out an execution that way last week. Gov. Mike DeWine (R) recently told reporters he wasn’t making the death penalty a priority during his remaining years in office. (Cincinnati Enquirer)

POLITICS: The Oregon Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Thursday that 10 state senators who accrued more than 10 unexcused absences in the midst of a walkout last session are ineligible to run for re-election in 2024 or 2026. The senators, nine Republicans and one independent, walked out to block Democratic bills on gun control and abortion rights. (Pluribus News)

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has raised more than $14.2 million to support Proposition 1, a measure to issue $6.4 billion in bonds to pay for housing and treatment facilities to bolster mental health care services. The lone group campaigning against the March 5 measure has raised $1,000. (CalMatters)

The U.S. Justice Department concluded former Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) sexually harassed more than a dozen state employees during his time in office. In a settlement with the DOJ, the state agreed to set up a process to allow employees to file complaints against senior officials. (Los Angeles Times)