Pluribus AM: New lawsuits over opioid epidemic; Maine lawmakers reach heating aid deal; N.Y. pot sales begin next week

Good morning, it’s Thursday, Dec. 22, 2022. In today’s edition, pot sales in post-pandemic slump; Maine lawmakers reach heating deal; and school enrollment is still below pre-pandemic levels:

Top Stories

MARIJUANA: Tax collections on marijuana-based products fell in California, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington last year, the first such declines after those states legalized recreational pot. Industry analysts say they expect another decline this fiscal year, after pandemic-era highs. Pot sales are still rising in states that only recently allowed legal use. (Pluribus News)

OPIOIDS: Eight local governments in Florida have filed suit against the consulting firm McKinsey & Company over its work marketing opioids. The governments, stretching from Tallahassee to Miami-Dade County, want damages over McKinsey’s work with Purdue Pharma marketing OxyContin. (City & State Florida) Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson (D) has filed suit against Kroger, Albertsons and Rite Aid over their roles in the opioid crisis. (Seattle Times)

TEXAS: A Texas Senate committee set up to make recommendations after the mass shooting at a Uvalde school suggested making so-called straw purchases of firearms a state-level felony. The committee proposed creating review teams to assess school vulnerability, more training centers for school marshal programs that allow teachers to carry firearms, and more funding for security on campuses. (Texas Tribune)

MAINE: Legislators reached agreement Wednesday on a measure to extend heating aid to residents this winter. The bill will send $450 checks to most state residents to help cover higher energy costs and add $40 million to a low-income home energy assistance program. (Bangor Daily News, Associated Press)

ILLINOIS: Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) has signed legislation expanding tax credits for electric vehicle manufacturers and automakers that are transitioning to electric vehicle work. The law gives manufacturers up to 100% off their state income taxes if they are manufacturing in underserved or energy transition areas. (Crain’s Chicago Business) Pritzker also signed a law banning state pension funds from investing in businesses based in Russian or Belarus.

NEW YORK: Legal recreational marijuana sales begin Dec. 29, in time to meet the state’s goal of launching before the new year. The first dispensary, operating by a nonprofit that runs a chain of thrift shops, will open in Manhattan next week. New York regulators have issued three dozen retail licenses so far. (Bloomberg)

CALIFORNIA: The pace of groundwater depletion in the Central Valley is accelerating during the years-long drought, bringing underground water reserves to new lows. Scientists who monitor California’s ground water say the levels have dropped by more than the entire storage capacity of Lake Mead, just since 2003. (Los Angeles Times)

MINNESOTA: Lawmakers have approved $500 million for the renovation and expansion of the 90-year old building where they work. The renovation would add 166,000 square feet to the building, along with security and accessibility features. State House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt (R) called the price tag “shocking.” (MPR News)

PENNSYLVANIA: State Sen. Dan Laughlin (R) will introduce a proposed constitutional amendment to require voters to show a photo identification at the polling place. If the bill makes it through the legislature — temporarily controlled by Republicans, pending the outcome of special elections for three state House seats — it would go before voters for ratification or rejection. (PoliticsPA)

In Politics

MISSISSIPPI: Five Black residents and the NAACP have filed suit challenging state legislative district lines just weeks before candidates can file to run for office next year. The suit says the maps violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by illegally diluting the voting strength of Black voters. (Y’all Politics)

MONTANA: The state redistricting committee has finalized work on legislative district lines. The commission will submit an updated proposal to the legislature next month, giving lawmakers 30 days to comment before the commission sends a final version to the Secretary of State. The proposed maps would likely lock in a substantial Republican majority for the next decade. (Daily Montanan)

ARIZONA: Lawyers representing former TV broadcaster Kari Lake (R) offered no evidence of misconduct in her loss to Gov.-elect Katie Hobbs (D) in the first day of trial Wednesday. Lake alleges an unknown Maricopa County employee intentionally interfered with printers at ballot sites, and that an election systems company added ballots to the tally. She has provided no proof of either claim. (Arizona Republic)

MORE: Two conservative groups are suing to block Proposition 211, which requires disclosure of donors to campaigns or groups that spend more than $50,000 on state elections. The measure passed by a wide margin in November. But the Center for Arizona Policy and the Arizona Free Enterprise Club say it violates donors’ ability to engage in political activities. (AZ Mirror)

PENNSYLVANIA: House Democrats and Republicans have not yet reached agreement over when to hold three special elections that will determine which party controls the chamber after a day of closed-door talks. Judge Renee Cohn Jubelirer, who is hearing a lawsuit brought by House Republican leader Bryan Cutler, had ordered legislators to sit down and work it out. (Associated Press)

NEW HAMPSHIRE: Gov. Chris Sununu (R), fresh off his re-election to a fourth term, is paying for Facebook advertising — and not in New Hampshire. Sununu is airing ads in Iowa and South Carolina, critical early primary states. (WMUR)

REPUBLICANS: Save the date, the Republican National Convention is scheduled for July 15-18, 2024, in Milwaukee. Former RNC chairman and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus is chairing the host committee. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

By The Numbers

73.8 million: The number of Americans who were enrolled in school in 2021, a 1% increase over the first year of the pandemic but well below the 2011 peak of 79 million American students. Children have returned to kindergarten, nursery schools and high schools, but college enrollment remains well below pre-pandemic levels. (Pluribus News)

$4.6 billion: The amount of money Wisconsin has in its general fund bank account, according to Gov. Tony Evers (D), up 300% from the end of the last fiscal year. And things are going to get even better: A projected $6.6 billion surplus this year will boost the general fund balance to $8.4 billion. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

Off The Wall

“Virginia subcommittee on campaign finance reform still failing to complete only job.” A state legislative committee meant to take a comprehensive look at money in politics didn’t hold a single meeting this year. (Virginia Mercury)

San Luis Obispo County in California is experiencing the biggest influx of western monarch butterflies in more than 20 years, just a few years after scientists worried the insect was on the verge of extinction. A research group counted more than 300,000 butterflies over Thanksgiving, up from just 2,000 in 2020. (Sacramento Bee)

Did you feel that magnitude 6.4 earthquake that rattled Humboldt County earlier this week? If you live on the East Coast, you might have felt it about 15 minutes after it occurred. Scientists charted how the quake’s aftershocks rippled across the country in this cool animation.

Quote of the Day

“The people that voiced a need to remove me from office through impeachment really don’t have a grasp on our Constitution, or democracy, or checks and balances. And, unfortunately, they are in the legislature.” 

Outgoing Ohio Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, a Republican who was threatened with impeachment after she voted with Democratic justices to strike down Republican-drawn maps in the decennial redistricting process. (Associated Press)