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Good morning, it’s Thursday, February 15, 2024. In today’s edition, Oregon lawmakers seek to roll back drug decriminalization; Massachusetts establishes AI task force; Washington moves to extend unemployment benefits to striking workers:

Top Stories

Programming note: We’re taking tomorrow off ahead of the long weekend. We’ll see you bright and early on Tuesday morning.

PUBLIC SAFETY: Oregon lawmakers kicked off their legislative session with plans to revise a first-in-the-nation drug decriminalization bill approved by voters in 2020. Democrats are backing a bill to recriminalize fentanyl, meth and heroin as low-level misdemeanors, and to give law enforcement more power to prosecute dealers. Republicans back harsher penalties. (Pluribus News)

Criminal justice advocates don’t like the metaphor of a pendulum swinging back, after years in which states have reduced penalties for a host of crimes. But it’s clear the momentum is no longer behind reduction measures.

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE: Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey (D) has formed an artificial intelligence task force and is proposing a $100 million research and innovation hub to help local businesses compete in AI development. Healey also announced a partnership with Northeastern University to develop AI tools for state government agencies. (Boston Globe)

LGBTQ RIGHTS: The West Virginia House of Delegates approved legislation Wednesday to codify definitions of “man” and “woman,” while ensuring availability of single-sex restrooms and locker rooms. The bill defines sex as someone’s biological sex assigned at birth. (WV Metro News)

LABOR: The Washington House approved legislation to permit workers on strike or locked out over labor disputes to qualify for unemployment insurance benefits. Sen. Karen Keiser (D), the lead Senate sponsor, thinks the bill will make it to the floor, and Gov. Jay Inslee’s (D) office says he backs the proposal. (Washington State Standard)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE: The Idaho House approved a measure to expand the death penalty to cover those convicted of lewd conduct with a minor under age 12. The proposal appears unconstitutional under a 2008 Supreme Court decision in Kennedy v. Louisiana. (Boise State Public Radio) The Kentucky Senate approved new legislation allowing teenagers charged with gun-related offenses to be transferred to adult courts. (Associated Press)

ANTISEMITISM: Florida’s Senate Rules Committee unanimously approved a bill defining antisemitism in state law. The measure adopts a definition from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. One amendment to the bill removed “claims of Jews killing Jesus” as an example of antisemitism. (Florida Politics)

We wrote about the race to define antisemitism in state law, after a massive uptick in anti-Jewish hate, last month.

HOUSING: The Rhode Island House has approved legislation allowing accessory dwelling units, or “granny flats,” to be occupied by someone other than a family member of the property owner. Owners of lots larger than 20,000 square feet would be permitted to add ADUs without special permission. (Providence Journal)

MARIJUANA: Hawaii’s Senate Health and Judiciary Committees approved legislation to legalize recreational marijuana for adults, a measure written by Attorney General Anne Lopez’s office. Gov. Josh Green (D) says he supports the measure. (Hawaii News Now) The South Carolina Senate approved a bill to legalize medical marijuana. Its chances in the House don’t look great. (South Carolina Daily Gazette)

GAMBLING: Alabama’s House Economic Development and Tourism Committee voted Wednesday to create a state lottery, allow casinos and permit online sports betting. The full House could consider the bill as early as today. ( Gov. Kay Ivey (R) said she wants voters to have a say this year. (Yellowhammer News)

In Politics & Business

FLORIDA: The state Supreme Court will not hear a challenge to Florida’s congressional district lines fast enough to impact this year’s elections, but a ruling in a separate federal case is expected any day. Candidates must qualify for office by April 26. The federal court could still order new lines drawn before the 2024 elections. (Florida Politics)

MICHIGAN: The Republican National Committee’s executive board unanimously ruled that former U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R) is the legitimate chair of the Michigan Republican Party. Michigan party leaders ousted former chair Kristina Karamo last month. (Detroit Free Press, Associated Press)

IOWA: The Iowa Senate is advancing legislation to allow state agencies to outsource annual audits, bypassing the state Auditor’s office. Auditor Rob Sand’s (D) office said the measure would allow agencies to shop for compliant auditors. (Des Moines Register)

It bears repeating: Sand is the only Democrat holding statewide office in Iowa.

OHIO: A Franklin County judge has denied a request by some Ohio Republicans to block Speaker Jason Stephens (R) from controlling the Republican caucus’s campaign account. Rep. Derek Merrin (R), who lost the Speaker’s race when Stephens attracted Democratic backers, had sued for control of the account. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)

KENTUCKY: The Senate State and Local Government Committee has advanced legislation to block governors from granting pardons in the run-up to or just after Election Day, after former Gov. Matt Bevin (R) issued more than 600 pardons on his way out the door. If the measure passes, voters would have to approve a constitutional amendment in November. (Associated Press)

Among Bevin’s pardons was a man later convicted in federal court for a drug-related killing. The Louisville Courier Journal won a Pulitzer Prize for their coverage of Bevin’s pardon spree.

By The Numbers

$506 million: The amount states collected in taxes on sports betting in the third quarter of 2023, up 20% from the same period a year before. New York alone collected $188 million in sports betting taxes over that three-month stretch, multiples higher than the next several states. (Pluribus News)

$52.9 million: The amount registered lobbyists spent lobbying Michigan lawmakers and officials in 2023, a 20% increase over two years and $2.9 million more than last year. (MLive)

12: The number of bills Rhode Island legislators passed in both 2022 and 2023 to authorize a friend to serve as a couple’s wedding officiant. An 1896 law required the legislature to authorize a non-ordained adult to act as a wedding officiant. That law was repealed in 2021, but some couples still like the tradition, apparently. (Rhode Island Current)

Off The Wall

Washington is the Evergreen State … right? Newspaper reports dating to 1893 say the state Senate voted to approve a resolution formally adopting the Evergreen State nickname, but there are no legislative records from the time to prove it. The Senate approved legislation from Sen. Jeff Wilson (R) this week re-adopting the nickname once again, just in case. (Sen. Jeff Wilson)

A rare fin whale has washed up on a beach near Astoria, Ore. Researchers released gas built up in the decomposing whale, removing risks that it might explode and injure beachgoers. Officials are going to leave the whale to decompose, for its benefits to the environment. (Oregonian)

This item is nothing more than an excuse to re-up one of the greatest videos of all time, when scientists tried to dynamite a whale corpse near Florence, Ore. It … did not go well.

The Los Angeles Fire Department this week rescued a naked hiker in the hills near Chatsworth. The man sustained minor injuries, but he’s otherwise okay. (CBS News)

Quote of the Day

“We all make mistakes.”

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R), acknowledging an error in appointing former Public Utilities Commission Chairman Sam Randazzo to the panel. State prosecutors have accused Randazzo of accepting a $4.3 million bribe from FirstEnergy, the utility at the heart of a years-long scandal that has engulfed state lawmakers. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)