Monday, June 20, 2011

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News Clips from America Votes

Monday, June 20, 2011

News Clips

COLORADO: Financial disclosures for two lawmakers from Colorado show "unethical but not illegal" connections

Allison Sherry for the Denver Post

WASHINGTON — Reps. Scott Tipton and Ed Perlmutter have reported financial interests that potentially conflict with committee assignments in the U.S. House, a situation that an ethics watchdog calls "unethical but not illegal."

Tipton, R-Cortez, and his immediate family have a portfolio of oil and natural-gas stocks and assets worth between $267,014 and $755,055 — including between $52,000 and $130,000 in Exxon Mobil — according to Congress members' personal financial disclosures for 2010 released this week.

Watchdog groups say that kind of personal investment in the energy industry could spark conflicts of interest for Tipton, who serves on the House Natural Resources Committee.

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FLORIDA: Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos faces tough questions in Tampa

Richard Martin for the St. Petersburg Times

TAMPA — Senate President Mike Haridopolos says he has been keeping a busy schedule lately, spending as many as six days a week speaking to people across Florida about the Legislature's accomplishments.

And that's what he started to talk about Friday as the lunch guest of the Tiger Bay Club of Tampa.

But then came the questions. Though the group bills itself on its website as "Hillsborough County's premier bipartisan political club," Haridopolos, a Republican from Merritt Island running for the U.S. Senate, said the queries left him feeling like most of the 72 in attendance were "a little left of center, or far left of center."

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DETROIT: Volunteers drum up support to end emergency manager law

Candice Williams for the Detroit News

Detroit - More than 2,000 volunteers are canvassing several cities throughout the state today to call for an end to the emergency manager law, Public Act 4.

The goal is to collect 300,000 signatures, more than the 161,000 signatures needed to place the issue on the Nov. 2012 ballot, said organizers of the Stand Up for Democracy campaign.

"There's no time to waste," Greg Bowens, spokesman for the campaign, said today as volunteers signed in at AFSCME building in downtown Detroit. "The emergency managers are undermining democracy, breaking contracts around the state. They've already trained 400 people to do the same thing. The law is undemocratic and we want to repeal this as soon as possible."

The group has until spring 2012 to gather the signatures.

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MINNEAPOLIS: DFL courting crossover votes

Baird Helgeson for the Star Tribune

In a dark union office in South St. Paul last week, Vicki Moore was on the hunt for residents willing to crank up the heat on vulnerable Republicans who could become crucial to a budget deal.

Call after call, she made her polished plea: "You've got to call your legislator and tell them how disappointed you are that they refuse to compromise with Governor Dayton."

With their permission, Moore patched the callers through to their legislator's home phone in hopes the caller would chip away at the lawmaker's resolve.

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NEVADA: Harry Reid raises ethics concerns over economic report

Karoun Demirjian for the Las Vegas Sun

WASHINGTON - By the time Byron Georgiou came to Washington, D.C., he had already been a top adviser to a California governor, prosecuted Enron executives and established himself as a top donor to the Senate Democrats.

But it was Harry Reid’s appointment of Georgiou to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission -- tasked with producing the official record and recommendation on how the financial services industry brought down the economy -- that established him as a figure in national politics and gave him an impressive credential he has brandished in his bid to represent Nevada in the U.S. Senate.

But according a senior Democratic aide close to Reid, the Senate majority leader is now seriously rethinking his decision.

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NEW HAMPSHIRE: Tom Fahey's State House Dome: Let the veto-override festivities begin

Tom Fahey for the Union Leader

Forget the budget and all those other bills due for final votes this week.

When the House meets Wednesday, it could have some real fun taking it to Gov. John Lynch over vetoes he signed last week.

The parental notification bill on abortion, repeal of the state minimum wage law and a bill barring enforcement of local fire codes on residential sprinklers are all working their way toward veto overrides.

Not to mention the possibility, again, that Speaker of the House William O'Brien could pull the right-to-work veto override out of his sleeve.

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OHIO: House-Senate budget committee faces major questions on charter schools

Aaron Marshall for the Plain Dealer

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- David Brennan has cast a long shadow over this year's state budget.

The Akron charter-school magnate who has given more than $5 million to Republican politicians dating back to the mid-'80s as he built a 31-school empire was the force behind a series of charter school amendments slipped into the GOP-controlled House's budget bill in late April, House Speaker William G. Batchelder has said.

The amendments -- which would allow for-profit operators to run schools without supervision and operators with terrible track records to open new schools -- were roundly condemned, even by advocates within the charter schools movement.

Facing an uproar, Senate Republicans, who also hold a majority in their chamber, stripped out the provisions and put in new accountability measures. Now, as Senate and House leaders settle in for nearly two weeks of work to unify the two versions of the budget, the issues of how charter schools should be supervised and who should be allowed to open new ones loom as major sticking points.

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NEW JERSEY: Sweeney will again try scaling back worker costs

Maya Rao for the Philadelphia Inquirer

When State Sen. Stephen Sweeney proposed cutting benefits and pay for public workers five years ago, saying they needed to align with those of the private sector, labor leaders hauled out a supersize inflatable rat and ran ads against him.

The governor at the time, Democrat Jon S. Corzine, sided with the unions, and the Gloucester County Democrat's proposal made as much progress as eastbound traffic on the Atlantic City Expressway on a summer Saturday.

But that was before a recession. Before declining revenue led mayors to decimate police forces and public-works departments. Before a conservative GOP governor, Chris Christie, came to Trenton and pounded away at skyrocketing public benefits.

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WISCONSIN: Budget bill gives Walker more power over Medicaid programs

Guy Boulton for the Journal Sentinel

The new state budget bill grants broader power to Gov. Scott Walker's administration to remake BadgerCare Plus and other state health programs with little legislative oversight, a situation that worries advocates for the roughly 1 million people covered by those programs.

The major question: how the governor's Department of Health Services will use that authority as it cuts a projected $466 million in costs from the programs over the next two years.

"We don't know exactly what will be coming down the pike," said Bob Jacobson, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Council on Children & Families. "And we don't know how we can have a voice in those decisions when the Legislature has been taken out of the picture."

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MONTANA: Medical marijuana injunction hearing starts today

Charles Johnson for the Billings Gazette

HELENA — A hearing begins in District Court here today on a request by the Montana Cannabis Industry Association and others seeking a preliminary injunction to stop implementation of the state’s new medical marijuana law.

The hearing begins at 8:30 a.m. today (Monday) before state District Court Judge James Reynolds of Helena and is scheduled to last two days.

A law passed by the 2011 Legislature and allowed to become law without Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s signature repealed Montana’s 2004 voter-passed law legalizing the use of marijuana for certain medical reasons.

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IDAHO: 102 state workers in Idaho get year-end bonuses

Dan Popkey for the Idaho Statesman

After consulting with the Legislature’s top two leaders, Legislative Services Director Jeff Youtz paid himself and his entire staff one-time bonuses, amounting to $94,633.

Five other agencies gave bonuses to close out fiscal 2011, which ends June 30, for another $72,500. With the exception of four $5,000 retention bonuses at the Department of Finance, all the payments were $2,000 or less.

“It probably doesn’t send the right message to the public,” acknowledged House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale. “But it is important that we retain qualified and experienced staff. If that’s what Jeff thinks he has to do to keep those people happy, that’s his call.”

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OREGON: Oregon inmates' mental health problems outstrip a system never designed to handle them

Les Zaitz for the Oregonian

Year after year, the percentage of prisoners battling psychiatric demons has edged up. Now, seven in 10 of the state's 14,000 inmates need some type of mental health care in a system never designed to provide it.

Corrections Department officials have added 525 beds for mental health care since 2005 for a total of 900 -- more than in the Oregon State Hospital. They've created separate mental health infirmaries within prisons. They've even turned a "supermax" facility into a ward for the most severely ill.

It's not enough.

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MAINE: Anti-immigrant bias assessed in new study

Edward Murphy for the Portland Press-Herald

PORTLAND - The Center for Preventing Hate is winding down its operations, but its last major study is just getting under way.

The New Migration Project will be conducting interviews and focus groups in Portland, Lewiston-Auburn and Washington County to determine whether immigrants and migrants in those communities are suffering discrimination, slurs or hate crimes.

Steve Wessler, the center's executive director, said the communities are part of a broader effort to reduce bias against refugees and immigrants under a two-year grant from the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, with additional funding from the Broadreach Foundation.

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PENNSYLVANIA: Bill in Pennsylvania Senate would appoint board to strip assets from financially troubled Harrisburg

Mikhail Zinshteyn for the American Independent

A Republican state senator in Pennsylvania has proposed a bill that would put the state capital under the control of a three-member “management board” whose role would be to sell off public assets to shore up the city’s large debt.

Sen. Jeffrey Piccola proposed the legislation after Harrisburg officials balked at a list of recommendations brought to them by a state-appointed committee charged with finding cuts to a struggling city’s budget. The committee indicates in its report that Harrisburg owes $220 million despite its 2011 General Fund budget just barely exceeding $55 million.

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FLORIDA: Tea party convention, maybe featuring Bondi, coming to Daytona Beach

Travis Pillow for the Florida Independent

Online message boards and email lists are buzzing with tea party organizers promoting a statewide convention this fall in Daytona Beach.

Some organizers are saying they expect to draw more than 100 like-minded groups from around the state to the Volusia County Ocean Center during the first week of November.

The event’s website lists state Attorney General Pam Bondi as a featured speaker. A spokeswoman for Bondi said she’s interested in attending, but can’t confirm this far ahead of time.

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MICHIGAN: How would Michigan’s high court handle the Emergency Manager law?

Eartha Jane Melzer for the Michigan Messenger

If a legal challenge to the Emergency Manager law makes its way to the Michigan Supreme Court, the conservative majority will be faced with an ideological and political dilemma — a strict interpretation of the Constitution’s contract clause would deliver a victory for collective bargaining.

In an article for Dome magazine, retired Ingham County Circuit Court Judge Lawrence M. Glazer, a former advisor to Gov. James Blanchard, looks at the possible outcomes of various lawsuits expected against initiatives by the Snyder administration.

Public Act 4 — the Emergency Manager law — gives the governor’s appointees unprecedented power over local governments including the ability to end collective bargaining contracts, suspend local officials and dissolve municipalities.

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