TIME LGBT

Alabama Supreme Court Halts Same-Sex Marriage

The Alabama Supreme Court ordered the state's judges to stop issuing marriage licenses to gay couples

(MONTGOMERY, Ala.) — The Alabama Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the state’s probate judges to stop issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, saying a previous federal ruling that gay-marriage bans violate the U.S. Constitution does not preclude them from following state law, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman.

The all-Republican court sided with the argument offered by a pair of conservative organizations when they appealed a decision last month by U.S. District Judge Callie Granade of Mobile, who ruled that both Alabama’s constitutional and statutory bans on same-sex marriage were unconstitutional.

Six justices concurred in the 134-page opinion, which wasn’t signed, but the court’s most outspoken opponent of gay marriage, Chief Justice Roy Moore, recused himself.

Immediately after Granade’s ruling, Moore told probate judges across the state they were not obliged to issue same-sex marriage licenses. His stance created widespread confusion, prompting some judges to refuse to issue the licenses and others to shut down their operations for all couples, gay and straight, until they could get a clear answer.

Justice Jim Main agreed with the result but said he has concerns about procedural aspects “of this highly unusual case.”

In a dissent, Justice Greg Shaw said it was “unfortunate” that federal courts refused to delay gay marriage in the state until the U.S. Supreme Court could settle the issue nationally. But, Shaw said, the state Supreme Court doesn’t have the power to consider the issue.

The court released the decision while Gov. Robert Bentley and most state leaders were assembled in Montgomery for the state of the state address. A spokeswoman for Bentley said the administration was reviewing the decision and had no immediate comment.

Joe Godfrey, executive director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program, said he was “very excited” about the decision blocking judges from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

“We are concerned about the family and the danger that same-sex marriage will have. It will be a devastating blow to the family, which is already struggling,” Godfrey said.

Godfrey said the decision will give “some stability” in Alabama until the U.S Supreme Court rules later this year. An attorney couples who filed suit to allow gay marriages said the court showed “callous disregard” in the decision and overstepped its bounds by declaring that Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriages is constitutional, something the justices hadn’t been asked to consider.

“It is deeply unfortunate that even as nationwide marriage equality is on the horizon, the Alabama Supreme Court is determined to be on the wrong side of history,” said Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

The court’s ruling Tuesday came in response to a request from the Alabama Policy Institute and the Baptist-run Alabama Citizens Action Program to halt same-sex unions after Granade’s ruling.

TIME Law

Tamir Rice’s Family Says Cleveland’s Response to Lawsuit Is ‘Very Disrespectful’

The city's response blamed the boy's death partly on his failure to avoid injury

The family of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy fatally shot by a Cleveland police officer in November, said Tuesday they felt disrespected by the city’s response to a lawsuit over his death.

The city’s response, filed on Friday, had blamed the boy’s death partly on his own actions, stating it had been caused “by the failure … to exercise due care to avoid injury.”

“The city’s answer was very disrespectful to my son, Tamir,” Samaria Rice, the boy’s mother, said at a news conference alongside attorneys, according to Cleveland.com. “I have yet not received an apology from the police department or the city of Cleveland in regards to the killing of my son. And it hurts.”

The family’s attorney, Walter Madison, said the response as written places an adult-like responsibility on children. Cleveland officials have remained mostly silent about the lawsuit, aside from Mayor Frank Jackson, who on Monday apologized for the way the response’s phrasing made it seem like the boy was at fault over his own death.

Rice was killed Nov. 22 after officers responded to reports of someone in a park with a gun, shooting him less than two seconds after their arrival. The boy was later found to have been holding a pellet gun.

[Cleveland.com]

TIME Drugs

Colorado Sold Nearly 5 Million Marijuana Edibles in 2014

Smaller-dose pot-infused cookies, called the Rookie Cookie, sit on the packaging table at The Growing Kitchen, in Boulder. Colorado on Sept. 26, 2014.
Brennan Linsley—AP Smaller-dose pot-infused cookies, called the Rookie Cookie, sit on the packaging table at The Growing Kitchen, in Boulder. Colorado on Sept. 26, 2014.

The state's marijuana overseers issued their first annual report

Colorado just got its first year-long batch of data on the state’s grand experiment with legal marijuana. In the first annual report on supply and demand, Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division disclosed on Friday that 4.8 million edible marijuana products and nearly 150,000 lbs. of marijuana flowers were sold in 2014.

The numbers will give state officials a baseline for gauging the size of the market, particularly for edibles. In July, the state attempted to estimate how much marijuana would be sold in 2014 and said they really didn’t have a method of estimating edible demand. “The data reported into the system clearly illustrates a strong demand for edibles in general, but especially for retail marijuana edibles,” the authors conclude.

The totals take into account both medical and recreational sales. While more flowering marijuana—the kind one smokes—was sold in the medical market, far more edibles were sold in the recreational market.

Colorado issued licenses to 322 retail stores and 505 medical dispensaries in 2014, according to the report. Just 67 of the state’s 321 jurisdictions, or around 20%, opted to allow medical and retail sales, but those jurisdictions include many of the state’s most populous areas. In February, a poll from Quinnipiac University found that 58% of Colorado residents say they still support the law, while 38% oppose it.

The sales figures for edibles come as Colorado officials struggle with how to regulate the marijuana-laced treats, which can range from pastries to soda pop. Some advocacy groups and state lawmakers want to ban certain types of products—like gummy bears and rainbow belts—that may be especially appealing to children and are indistinguishable from regular candy once removed from the package. Several children showed up in Colorado emergency rooms last year after accidentally ingesting the substance.

But the more value edibles represent, the harder time those advocates are going to have in convincing the industry to shut down or revamp product lines. At one point last year, officials from Colorado’s public health department floated the idea of limiting edibles to tinctures and lozenges, eliminating everything else. But their announcement caused such uproar that officials issued a release clarifying that it was “just” a recommendation and did not represent the view of the governor’s office.

Proponents of the current system argue that cracking down on popular edibles will drive consumers to the underground market—where there is no one regulating THC content or mandating childproof packaging. Eliminating the black market, while bringing in revenue for the state, was one of the selling points when voters decided to legalize marijuana in the first place.

There may also be a legal hurdle. The amendment voters passed in 2012 defined marijuana as: “all parts of the plant of the genus cannabis … and every compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of the plant.” While industry players say that makes every kind of edible fair game, the Denver Post argued in an editorial that “there is no constitutional provision that says edible marijuana must be available as granola, soda pop, or candy bars that look like what children eat.”

Washington, which followed Colorado as the second state to open a recreational marijuana market, has set much stricter limits on the types of allowed edibles. Regulators setting up recreational markets in Oregon and Alaska say that avoiding the edible problems they’ve seen in Colorado will be a big focus of their work in coming months.

TIME States

Police Call Missouri Auditor’s Death an ‘Apparent Suicide’

Missouri Republican Auditor Tom Schweich announces his candidacy for governor in St. Louis. Schweich on Jan. 28, 2015.
Jeff Roberson—;AP Missouri Republican Auditor Tom Schweich announces his candidacy for governor in St. Louis. Schweich on Jan. 28, 2015.

(JEFFERSON CITY, Mo.) — Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich (shyk) is dead in what police are describing as an “apparent suicide” at his suburban St. Louis home.

The shooting occurred just minutes after Schweich had called The Associated Press to invite a reporter to his home for an afternoon interview.

Schweich said he wanted to go public with accusations that the Missouri Republican Party chairman had made anti-Semitic remarks about him. The GOP chairman denied the accusations Thursday.

Clayton police say paramedics responded to an emergency call at 9:48 a.m. and Schweich was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead from a single gunshot wound.

The 54-year-old Schweich had been auditor since 2011 and had recently announced his candidacy for governor in 2016.

TIME Marijuana

D.C.’s Weird New Free Weed Economy

Can a marijuana market that prohibits the sale of the drug work?

Stoners, rejoice: at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, stodgy Washington, D.C., became the latest and strangest frontier in the marijuana legalization movement. It’s now okay for adult residents of the District to possess two ounces of pot, grow up to six plants in their homes and share their bounty with others.

Here’s the wrinkle: there’s still no way to legally buy the drug.

Welcome to Washington’s weird new weed economy. A clash between the capital’s citizens and Congress has left the District without a system dictating how weed can be bought and sold, unlike the first four states that have legalized the drug. Washington has set up a marijuana marketplace without ironing out how the money part will work.

“What we have here is legalization without commercialization,” says Adam Eidinger, who ran the campaign to legalize weed in the nation’s capital. “We have more work to do.”

The missing link in the cannabis supply chain means the capital’s budding ganjapreneurs are about to get creative. Sure, smokers can take advantage of free seed giveaways and start growing at home. But in the meantime, unless you’re among the .003% of DC residents with a license to patronize one of the capital’s three medical dispensaries, there’s still no way to stroll into a shop and buy pot products. In the absence of traditional commerce, a social marijuana economy is apt to flower.

According to interviews with industry observers and participants, that may mean the formation of cannabis social clubs, where organizers charge admission to private event spaces where growers freely exchange their greenery. Corporations are discussing the viability of organizing sponsored weed swaps. Weed co-ops and farmer’s markets may sprout, just the ones where you get your monthly supply of organic kale or collards.

Entrepreneurs might skirt the sales prohibition by offering health seminars, massages or other services for a fee—and then hand out “free” greenery as a perk. If you’re a black-market pot dealer trawling for new clients, there’s nothing that prevents you from posting up at a bar or a concert and giving away gratis grams with a phone number on the back of the bag. All an enterprising businessman has to do is plausibly skirt the restriction against directly exchanging pot for money, goods or services.

“People are going to rush into the breach here and try to take advantage,” says Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “And some will not do it right.”

All this haziness is partly the product of a clash between D.C. residents and their killjoy overlords. Last November, voters in the District overwhelmingly approved Initiative 71, a ballot measure that legalized pot use. But because of a rule that bars the city from spending money to implement ballot measures, it couldn’t set up a regulatory system. That was supposed to come later, and the city council was ready to proceed, says Eidinger. During the lame-duck session, however, a small cadre of Congressmen intervened, preventing the capital from establishing rules to govern the sale and taxation of the drug.

As legalization loomed this week, members of Congress appeared to dangle the threat of jail time over Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser. Republicans Jason Chaffetz and Mark Meadows of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform fired off a letter to Bowser calling D.C.’s decision to proceed with legalization in defiance of Congress a “knowing and willful violation of the law.”

Bowser dug in, announcing at a Wednesday afternoon press conference that the city would move ahead on schedule. The legislative branch’s attempt to overrule the will of the city is “offensive to the American value of self-governance and … disrespectful to the 650,000 taxpaying Americans living in the District,” says D.C. council member Brianne Nadeau. “If they lock up the mayor, they better take me too.”

Rep. Andy Harris, a Maryland Republican who helped lead the fight against the initiative, says Congress doesn’t “take lightly interfering in D.C. home rule” and did so only because the District is “making a clearly bad decision.”

Harris urged the Department of Justice to intervene to stop the law from taking effect. But he notes lawmakers have little recourse in the matter if that doesn’t happen. “I don’t know,” Harris says. “We’re unclear what the next step could be.”

Meanwhile, the green rush is on. Over the weekend, more than 1,000 people are expected to descend on a Holiday Inn near the U.S. Capitol for a cannabis convention that includes a trade show, job fair, growing seminar and marketing instruction. The event, which costs up to $149 for attendees who want to learn to grow their own bud, is being put on by ComfyTree, a business based in Benton Harbor, Mich.

“This is something that will have a dramatic impact on D.C.,” predicts Tiffany Bowden, the co-founder and chief happiness officer of ComfyTree. “It’s going to be a significant amount of money—not just in terms of your direct transfer of goods, because you’re not technically allowed to sell cannabis, but there’s also going to be a boom in the hydroponics sector because of the new inspiration for home growing. There’s going to be a boom for head shops…There’s going to be a boom in peripheral areas—bakeries, edibles, cooking classes.”

All that’s missing in the Washington pot economy are traditional stores and sellers.

With reporting by Alex Rogers

TIME States

Outage Halts Internet, Cell Service in Northern Arizona

Issue involved service provider CenturyLink

(FLAGSTAFF, Ariz.) — People across northern Arizona were without Internet and cellphone access Wednesday afternoon because of an outage involving service provider CenturyLink.

The problem was first reported around noon and was affecting people in an area from just north of Phoenix up to Flagstaff, about 100 miles away, CenturyLink spokesman Alex Juarez said.

The company believes a cut fiber-optic line is the cause, but that hasn’t been confirmed. The line supports various cellphone and Internet providers that serve northern Arizona.

With their data connections not working, many businesses were only able to accept cash or had to manually take down credit card information.

Officials from CenturyLink Inc. said they could not provide an estimate of how many people were affected or when service would be restored.

“I can only tell you we’re working as fast as possible. We truly apologize for the inconvenience,” he said.

According to Juarez, technicians from the Monroe, Louisiana-based company were going through a long, tedious process of inspecting the line “mile by mile.” If it’s found that a fiber line has been cut or damaged, workers will have to repair it.

Meanwhile, residents around Flagstaff tried to go about their daily business.

Kate Hance and Jessie Hutchison stopped at a Wells Fargo ATM to get cash because the local ice cream shop couldn’t take credit cards. They left empty-handed because the outage also put cash machines out of service.

“It’s moderately annoying, but it’s not going to ruin my day,” Hutchison said.

Staff at Bookmans Entertainment Exchange in Flagstaff said they tried for about 45 minutes to restore their Internet connection before employees realized their equipment wasn’t the problem.

Students, business people and those on lunch breaks often go to the popular bookstore and cafe to do homework, listen to music, watch movies and browse jobs online. Some set down their computers Wednesday only to walk out minutes later after learning Internet service was down.

Staff suggested to kids bewildered by the technical problem to go read a book.

Cordell Charley just finished some online banking when the outage happened and shut off his computer to grab lunch.

“You just feel lost,” he said. “It’s like, what happened?”

At Flagstaff City Hall, employees were unable make or receive calls at their desks.

“It’s quieter than usual,” said Stephanie Smith, assistant to the city manager. “The good thing is there is still lots of work to get done even without phones ringing. It is different when you don’t have that technology piece.”

The city is relying on the Arizona Department of Public Safety to assist with dispatching police and fire services. The city’s waste water plants and wells operate on systems that were unaffected by the outage.

In Prescott Valley, about 75 miles north of Phoenix, the outage affected several services. Authorities said 911 service was being supplemented with hand-held radios and alternate phone numbers. Water and sewer facilities switched to manual operations, and residents could make utility and court payments with cash only.

___

Associated Press writer Terry Tang in Phoenix contributed to this report.

TIME Crime

Georgia Shooting Leaves 3 Dead, 2 Wounded, Questions Unanswered

Joey Terrell
Habersham County Sheriff's Department/AP Sheriff Joey Terrell of Habersham County, Ga.

The gunfight apparently pitted a former sheriff's deputy against the sheriff

Authorities were attempting to piece together Monday the sequence of events in a shooting incident in Georgia over the weekend that left three people dead and a sheriff and his deputy injured.

Habersham County Sheriff Joey Terrell and deputy William Zigan found a woman dead on Sunday while investigating a domestic disturbance at the Clarkesville home of former deputy Anthony Gianquinta, according to local news reports. The woman was later identified as Gianquinta’s ex-wife.

The officers fled the scene after a suspect, believed to be Gianquinta, shot and wounded both of them. When law enforcement officials returned to the scene later, Gianquinta and a third, unidentified man were both dead on the premises.

Both Terrell and Zigan were hospitalized at Northeast Georgia Medical Center and were said to be improving.

[NBC News]

TIME infectious diease

2 Superbug Deaths Reported in North Carolina

The bacteria is thought to kill 50% of those infected

Two North Carolina residents have died in recent months from a deadly “superbug,” out of the approximately 15 who have been treated.

Carolinas HealthCare System told the Associated Press it has begun an aggressive effort to combat the superbug, formally known as Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae, which includes isolating the infected and using special cleaning procedures in rooms where they have stayed. Hospital officials cited patient privacy laws to explain why the deaths were not reported earlier.

The bacteria, which is thought to kill 50% of those infected, was recently revealed to have infected two patients who died in a California hospital. More than 100 more were thought to have been potentially exposed.

MORE: What You Need to Know About the California ‘Superbug’

[AP]

TIME governors

Governors in D.C.: Beset By Lobbyists, Riven By Partisanship

U.S. President Barack Obama toasts attendees from the National Governors Association at a dinner in the White House
Mike Theiler—Reuters U.S. President Barack Obama, center, raises his glass to toast attendees from the National Governors Association (NGA) at a dinner in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 22, 2015

As gubernatorial staff grumble, influence-brokers descend

For three days last week, the nation’s Governors from both parties scurried with their security details down swanky hotel hallways in Washington, D.C., with legions of well-dressed men and women wearing orange lanyards in hot pursuit. The marked followers, who wore name tags identifying their employers on the orange cords, were ubiquitous at the annual winter meeting of the National Governors Association (NGA). They could also be found huddled over restaurant tables with the state leaders, or cozied up next to officials on lobby sofas. More would tug on gubernatorial sleeves at the private receptions and in the hallways of the conference center.

The interlopers were officially called “corporate fellows” in the lingo of the event, but most Americans would probably just recognize them better as lobbyists—well-paid ear-benders working to place their clients’ interests before the state’s most powerful elected leader. They form the backbone of the policy arm of the NGA, which has played a role in crafting some of the most significant bipartisan policy solutions in the nation’s history, like the now-fraught Common Core education standards. And their constant presence was one of the few unifying presences at an organization increasingly riven by partisan divisions.

But in recent years, governors and staff say, even the constant presence of influence peddlers has begun to wear on the members of the NGA, as the organization has lost influence, driven by concerns about a slow-moving organization and growing polarization among the governors, who increasingly favor party-specific Governor gatherings.

“It’s a lobbyist-fest,” said the chief of staff to one governor of the NGA. “And worse yet, the organization isn’t accountable to anyone.”

In recent years, both the Democratic and Republican Governors Associations, known by the acronyms DGA and RGA, have built out their policy teams, as both parties’ governors have become more ideologically polarized. They view the NGA as a bloated bureaucracy—it still uses triplicate copy paper for on-site registrations—that produces few results, or worse, policies they don’t support. Republican governors have been saddled by the organization’s role in framing Common Core, while Democratic governors have bristled at the organization’s more GOP-friendly positions on immigration and healthcare.

“The most valuable commodity any governor has is their time,” said former RGA Executive Director Phil Cox. “They have to ask the question, ‘What are we getting out of this?’ At RGA and DGA, it is pretty clear. Their time and engagement results in substantial and effective political and policy support. At NGA, it is less clear. In recent years, it is difficult to point to substantive bipartisan accomplishments.”

Since Common Core, the group’s policy initiatives have faded in ambition and significance. This year’s chair’s initiative, called “Delivering Results,” focused on boosting government efficiency, while one of the group’s key legislative priorities is passing the so-called Marketplace Fairness Act, which would allow states to charge sale tax on Internet purchases.

“We’re not competitors with RGA and DGA,” said NGA Deputy Director David Quam, who said the group has “a very active agenda this year.” “Their job is to get governors elected. Our job is to help bring them together and come to policy positions that can really solve issues at the state level and the federal level. We’re probably more relevant now than ever because all the action’s in the states.”

According to a spokesperson, last year, the organization held more than 80 meetings in states with nearly 3,100 state officials on issues such as economic development, education, health care and governance.

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry pulled his state out of the organization more than a decade ago, and has been followed by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, and others. Democrats, like former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, have considered quitting the organization, but have yet to take the leap. Dues-paying New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has never attended a session, according to fellow governors, while California’s Gov. Jerry Brown has frequently skipped the meetings. Quam called the trend “old news.”

“The biggest thing keeping governors engaged in NGA is a sense that they want to support their colleagues who are in leadership,” said a person close to Democratic governors.

The NGA considers all governors members in their organization by virtue of their election, even if they’ve decided against paying dues. Governors are charged membership in the organization based on the population size of their states, with the largest states paying more than $175,000 before travel costs are added. The money is usually paid out of a governor’s budget, funds they could use to hire additional staff or use for other initiatives.

The annual Washington conference is the more business heavy of the two meetings a year. The summer gathering, which rotates around the country, includes leisure activities. In 2013 in Milwaukee, governors were offered the chance to ride to the Harley Davidson museum on motorcycles as part of a motorcade with veterans, and were treated to a fireworks display over Lake Michigan after a fancy dinner reception. The 2014 meeting in Nashville featured a performance by country music star Carrie Underwood and a private reception at the Country Music Hall of Fame.

One former senior DGA official called the group “the spleen of political organizations.”

“They’re infuriated when a Governor pops their mouth off about something ‘political,’ but then turn around and do politically insane things like sell access to Governors to Chinese government officials,” the operative said, referencing the 2011 meeting which brought together Chinese governors at an event at the Chinese embassy in Washington. The 2015 meeting included a reception at the Canadian embassy.

According to the event program, 122 companies were represented as corporate fellows at this meeting, including Bank of America, IBM, McKinsey & Company, and UPS.

The ostensible reason for the meetings—convening governors to share ideas and best practices—is often fleeting. In the corner of the main meeting room, a large case contains name cards for the 55 governors from the states and U.S. territories. But most never leave the box. Few governors attend the public sessions, where issues like healthcare, education, and cyber-security are discussed, instead taking meetings with reporters, donors, or the orange-lanyards interest group representatives. Some registered attendees, like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, didn’t attend a single open committee session this weekend.

“There’s no venue quite like this,” boasted one corporate government affairs executive. “I have meetings with governors stacked up all day.”

Quam said he’s not surprised by the corporate interest in NGA, saying it’s a sign that the states are actually getting things done. “They complain that we don’t give them enough access all the time,” he said of the fellows. The NGA maintains that committee session attendance has been “excellent,” noting that only 8-10 governors serve on each committee.

Alongside the conferences are gatherings of the RGA and DGA, much of whose unlimited fundraising comes from the same corporate fellows who fill the coffers of the NGA. On Saturday night, the DGA threw its annual Taste of the America gala at the Mayflower hotel for its donors. The RGA’s Executive Roundtable huddled Friday with the governors, with an address by former Vice President Dick Cheney.

But the NGA organizers try hard to keep try to keep the partisanship out of the main conference center, sometimes to no avail. Closed-door luncheons of governors in recent years have frequented partisan spats over the Affordable Care Act or immigration policy.

Last year’s press conference following a private meeting with President Barack Obama devolved into a partisan smack-down between Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy. The capstone of the weekend, the annual governor’s dinner at the White House, isn’t even an official NGA event. Hosted by the President and First Lady, all governors are invited to the black tie dinner, as well as to the business meeting with the president set for Monday morning.

MONEY IRAs

This Innovative Idea Could Improve Your Retirement

State governments are starting to step in to help workers save. Here's why that's a good thing.

A rare innovation in retirement saving is taking shape right now in, of all places, Illinois. In January the state became the first to okay an automatic IRA for workers at certain small businesses that don’t offer retirement plans. Those companies will be required to funnel 3% of their employees’ paychecks into a state-run Roth IRA, though workers can opt out.

It may seem surprising that Illinois is breaking ground in this area—after all, the state’s pension plans are among the worst funded in the nation. But Illinois is actually part of a broad movement. Some 30 states, including California and Connecticut, are developing similar savings programs. Says Sarah Mysiewicz Gill, senior legislative representative at AARP: “We’re reaching a critical mass of states.”

A Local Approach

Why are states taking on retirement planning? Half of private-sector employees don’t have an employer plan—a crucial tool for building a nest egg. In fact, just having access to a retirement plan through work makes a huge difference in whether you save. While 90% of those with a workplace plan have put aside money for retirement, only 20% of those without one have, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

So states will face a huge drain on their budgets as workers with no savings reach retirement and need services such as Medicaid and food assistance. “If Washington were moving faster on this, the states wouldn’t have to,” says Illinois state senator Daniel Biss, who sponsored the new IRA.

No question, Congress has long dodged addressing the looming retirement crisis; it has failed to fix Social Security or create a federal automatic IRA, which President Obama proposed again in his most recent State of the Union address. Obama did introduce the myRA last year, which will allow savers without employer plans to put away as much as $15,000 in Treasury securities. But without auto-enrollment, the myRA’s effectiveness will be limited.

The Illinois program may prove to be an appealing prototype. (First it will need approval by the Department of Labor and IRS.) Still, each state is crafting its own version. In Connecticut, the automatic IRA may be paid out as a lifetime annuity or in a lump sum. Indiana is looking at setting up a voluntary plan with a tax credit. “States are a great laboratory for experimentation,” says Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, founder of Georgetown University’s Center for Retirement Initiatives.

Reason to Hope

Of course, it’s far from certain that state savings plans will make much headway: at 3%, Illinois’s minimum contribution is far below the 10% to 15% of pay that retirement experts generally recommend. And a hodgepodge of state IRAs would be less efficient and more costly than a national plan.

That said, states can sometimes get it right. State-run 529 college savings plans have helped countless families with tuition bills. The Massachusetts health care plan was a model for the national plan that has meant coverage for millions. Perhaps the states’ efforts will push retirement savings higher up the federal government’s priority list. If Illinois can lead the way on retirement, anything’s possible.

 

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