Thursday, June 16, 2011

Today's News Clips, June 15

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News Clips from America Votes

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

News Clips

COLORADO: Nothing incriminating found in Hancock cell records

Chuck Plunkett for the Denver Post

Phone numbers for the former Denver Players and Denver Sugar prostitution businesses and its employees aren't found in any of the hundreds of pages of personal cellphone records released Tuesday by Mayor-elect Michael Hancock.

The two main landline numbers published by the former escort services on their websites and in advertising were not listed as either incoming or outgoing calls recorded in the call inventories Hancock provided for review by The Denver Post and 9News. The inventories provided by Hancock encompassed periods when records kept by a former owner of the prostitution service allege that Hancock was a customer.

The pair of numbers tested were cited by federal investigators in January 2008 as the central numbers.

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FLORIDA: After years of lax regulation, state finally cracks down on ALFs

Mary Ellen Klas for the St. Petersburg Times

TALLAHASSEE — After years of failing to crack down on abuse and neglect in homes for the elderly and disabled, the state agency that regulates assisted living facilities quietly imposed sanctions and $125,000 in fines on 46 of the worst abusers in May in response to an investigation by The Miami Herald.

Gov. Rick Scott announced Tuesday that the Agency for Health Care Administration took administrative action against the assisted living facilities as part of his commitment to "making sure the people who rely on these facilities are protected."

The fines were first imposed on May 4, the final day of The Herald's three-part series "Neglected to Death,'' which detailed how sweeping failures in state oversight of Florida's ALFs had left thousands of elderly and mentally ill residents vulnerable to dangerous and decrepit conditions.

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MICHIGAN: Jeb Bush to testify in Lansing on education changes today

Associated Press

Lansing— Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is coming to Michigan to meet with Republican leaders and testify about how he thinks states should change how they approach education.

Bush founded the Foundation for Excellence in Education after leaving office in 2008 with the goal of igniting "a movement of reform" in every state to transform education.

Bush will testify before the Senate-House Education Committee this morning. He'll also join Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, state superintendent Mike Flanagan and the House and Senate GOP leaders for a news conference to discuss education improvements.

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MINNESOTA: Senate vote keeps ethanol tax credit alive

Jim Spencer for the Star Tribune

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate on Tuesday chose not to kill a multibillion-dollar annual tax credit that now provides major support for ethanol producers and corn farmers in Minnesota and other states.

The measure failed, in part, because of an uprising among senators from Midwestern states that have invested heavily in ethanol. In Minnesota, for example, the industry adds $3 billion to the state economy, supports 8,000 jobs and uses a third of the state's corn crop to produce 1.1 billion gallons of biofuel each year, according to the state Agriculture Department.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar helped lead the fight against an amendment that would have immediately eliminated a 45-cent-per-gallon tax credit for companies that blend ethanol with gasoline. The proposal also would have removed a tariff on imports of foreign ethanol.

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MINNESOTA: Shutdown threatens aid to poor, disabled

Jeremy Olson for the Star Tribune

More than half a million Minnesotans could lose government-funded medical care, child care and food support as of July 1 if the impending state shutdown occurs.

The Department of Human Services started sending notices Tuesday to benefit recipients -- mostly poor and disabled Minnesotans -- about the potential loss of support. While many steps could prevent the wholesale suspension of state benefits -- from a budget agreement, to court intervention, to "lights on" legislation while talks continue -- a human services official said people deserve fair warning.

"By law, we are required to give clients a certain amount of notice" when the status of their benefits changes, said Deputy Human Services Commissioner Anne Barry. "We just hit that point in the monthly calendar when, if we didn't get these notices out on this cycle, we wouldn't have gotten them out before their status changed."

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NEVADA: Measure that blocks government lawyers from unionizing fuels debate

Joe Schoenmann for the Las Vegas Sun

An attempt by state lawmakers to prohibit doctors, lawyers and supervisors whose salaries are paid by taxpayers to unionize has laid the groundwork for a fight over exactly who is covered by the law, one that might not be resolved until the next legislative session.

The governor has yet to sign Senate Bill 98, which implements the restriction on doctors, lawyers and supervisors. But there’s a question about whether it only applies to public-employee attorneys who work on civil, and not criminal, matters.

Civil attorneys defend governmental bodies against lawsuits and monitor the long hours of governmental meetings, where they’re called upon to interpret byzantine code and laws for citizens, staff and elected officials. Criminal attorneys are tasked with bringing cases against alleged burglars, murderers and others.

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NEW HAMPSHIRE: Panel OKs public works budget

Kevin Landrigan for the Nashua Telegraph

CONCORD – House and Senate negotiators have reached an agreement on a two-year public works budget.

The final deal (HB 25) spends slightly less than $90 million in state-backed bonds that is within the debt threshold state Treasurer Katherine Provencher proposed for lawmakers to follow.

State Rep. David Campbell, D-Nashua, served as one of the House leaders trying to work out a compromise.

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NEW MEXICO: Hearing on Medicaid hints at conflict to come

Trip Jennings for the New Mexican

Wearing a bright-red top and a blue bandana on her head, Sherri Gonzales looked the picture of health Tuesday. The 31-year-old Albuquerque woman quickly disabused New Mexico state lawmakers.

"I am the face of Medicaid," Gonzales said at the end of a three-hour, at times tense legislative hearing in which state lawmakers grilled Gov. Susana Martinez's Human Services Secretary, Sidonie Squier, on the state's efforts to redesign Medicaid, a government program that provides health insurance for one in four New Mexicans.

Gonzales spoke of caring for her cancer-ridden grandmother until she passed away and then enduring her own cancer diagnosis. "Without that coverage (Medicaid), I would not be here. It's been hell. It's good to see you guys care," Gonzales said.

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OHIO: State Rep. Ron Amstutz says budget will rely on substantially less one-time money: PolitiFact Ohio

Mark Naymik for the Plain Dealer

State Rep. Ron Amstutz, a Republican from Wooster, recently defended Gov. John Kasich’s two-year budget blueprint, which the Republican-controlled House and Senate have left largely intact.

In a letter published May 28 in the Columbus Dispatch, Amstutz said that budget "invests in Ohio’s future and a stable fiscal path toward a stronger Ohio."

Chairman of the powerful House Finance Committee, Amstutz was responding to criticism of the $55.6 billion budget that House Minority Leader Armond Budish made in his own letter to the Dispatch.

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PENNSYLVANIA: Poll shows Santorum trails Romney, Obama in Pa.

Staff for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Former Sen. Rick Santorum, who recently announced his bid for the White House in 2012, is not faring well among his fellow Pennsylvania Republicans or among voters in general, according to a poll released this morning.

The Quinnipiac University poll shows Mr. Santorum trails former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney among Republicans in Pennsylvania, and trails President Barack Obama, 49-38 percent in an early look at the next presidential election.

The poll shows Mr. Romney as the leader among Republicans with 21 percent, followed by Mr. Santorum with 16 percent. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has 11 percent, but no other candidate rates higher than 8 percent.

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WISCONSIN: Supreme Court reinstates collective bargaining law

Patrick Marley and Don Walker for the Journal Sentinel

Madison - Acting with unusual speed, the state Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the reinstatement of Gov. Scott Walker's controversial plan to end most collective bargaining for tens of thousands of public workers.

The court found that a committee of lawmakers was not subject to the state's open meetings law, and so did not violate that law when it hastily approved the collective bargaining measure in March and made it possible for the Senate to take it up. In doing so, the Supreme Court overruled a Dane County judge who had halted the legislation, ending one challenge to the law even as new challenges are likely to emerge.

The changes on collective bargaining will take effect once Secretary of State Doug La Follette arranges for official publication of the stalled bill, and the high court said there was now nothing to preclude him from doing that. La Follette did not return a call Tuesday to say when the law would be published.

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WISCONSIN: Assembly delays budget debate; GOP can't work out changes in private

Jason Stein and Patrick Marley for the Journal Sentinel

Madison - Amid protests and high security, GOP lawmakers worked behind closed doors Tuesday on a state budget deal, but failed to get one in time to start debate on the bill late in the night.

Republican leaders in the Assembly said they would need another day to work on changes such as preserving federal money for transit and broadband access in rural areas. They vowed to come back Wednesday morning to take up Gov. Scott Walker's budget bill for what is expected to be a marathon debate.

"It's a ton of stuff," Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon) said of the changes still being considered.

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MONTANA: Legislature responds to unions' complaint

Charles Johnson for the Billings Gazette

HELENA — An unfair-labor-practice complaint filed against the 2011 Legislature for rejecting negotiated pay raises for state employees is without merit and should be dismissed, a legislative attorney said Wednesday.

It was Gov. Brian Schweitzer and three public employee unions, not the Legislature, that engaged in collective bargaining to agree on a pay plan, Daniel Whyte, a legislative attorney, wrote the state Board of Personnel Appeals.

If the Legislature has a duty to bargain, it did so fully considering and debating House Bill 13, the measure to appropriate money for the pay plan, during the session, Whyte said. The House killed the bill, and it never reached the Senate.

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OREGON: Oregon Senate votes to expand health coverage for low-income women with breast, cervical cancer

Janie Har for the Oregonian

SALEM — Even with a lean state budget, the Oregon Senate unanimously agreed today to expand the number of low-income women eligible for breast cancer or cervical cancer treatment.

Senate Bill 433 now moves to the House. It is estimated to cost $819,000 in general funds, or $3.7 million total funds, in 2011-13; and $3 million in general funds, or $13.9 million total funds in 2013-15.

The legislation should cover treatment costs for an additional 144 low-income women currently ineligible for help, said Senate Majority Leader Diane Rosenbaum, D-Portland. She said that poor women without insurance are 41 percent more likely to receive a late-stage diagnosis, and three times more likely to die.

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MAINE: Maine voters scorn big-ticket capital projects

Kelley Bouchard for the Portland Press Herald

Voters in Falmouth, Gorham and Regional School Unit 5 rejected big-ticket capital projects at the polls on Tuesday, showing concern for their pocketbooks in tight economic times.

Falmouth voters turned down a $5.65 proposal to convert two old elementary schools into a community center and a public library, leading one voter to say that town spending was going "crazy."

In Gorham, 80 percent of ballots were cast against a plan to borrow $3 million to build a synthetic-turf athletic field and make improvements to the Narragansett Elementary School and the public safety building. The field proposal drew the most concern, with one voter calling it "fluff."

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MAINE: Maine moves closer to allow charter schools to operate

Mikhail Zinshteyn for the American Independent

In Maine today, the Senate advanced a preliminary bill that would push the state to allow charter schools to operate. The measure now moves to the state House.

A copy of the bill can be found here. The Sun Journal reports:

Proponents say charter schools bring flexibility and innovation to Maine education, offering students and parents the choice of a private school-like education without having to pay tuition. Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, the bill’s lead sponsor, said charters can tailor their curriculum to create specialized schools, such as an arts-based elementary school or a one that focuses on agriculture. Mason described Maine’s current public education system as “one size fits all” that doesn’t work for every student.”Sometimes we have square pegs that don’t fit in the round holes,” he said.

Opponents have countered that charters aren’t the panacea to education problems. They said charters, which are publicly funded, take students and resources from traditional public schools that are already underfunded. If successful, critics say, charters can destroy the public schools in their communities. Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, said charters in other states like Massachusetts were “hoovering up” high-performing students from public schools, leaving them with fewer students but the same costs to keep the facilities running.

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FLORIDA: Three abortion bills could become law within the next two weeks

Ashley Lopez for the Florida Independent

Gov. Rick Scott has two weeks to sign House Bills 501, 1127 and 1247 before they automatically become law:

House Bill 501 loosens up restrictions on where funds collected through the sale of Choose Life, Inc. license plates are spent. Some fear that some of the money could go to crisis pregnancy centers in Florida.

House Bill 1127 is the mandatory-ultrasound bill. The legislation will require all doctors to perform on ultrasound on women before providing any abortion service, whether it is medically necessary or not. The bill provides an opt-out provision for viewing or listening to a description of the ultrasound.

House Bill 1247 would impose more restrictions on minors seeking a judicial bypass for the mandatory parental-consent-for-abortion law. If the bill is signed, young women will only be able to appeal to courts where they reside (which some argue infringes on privacy rights). The bill also requires that young women be lectured by judges hearing the appeal, and the bill also extends waiting periods for a ruling on the appeal.

Similar legislation was once sought by the husband of the current bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland. Stargel’s husband was a state representative before becoming a circuit court judge — the position he holds now. Judge Stargel is among a handful of people who decide whether or not a young woman may receive a judicial bypass. It is on the record that not only did he, prior to becoming a judge, favor legislation that makes it harder for these women to get a bypass, but that his wife incorporated many of the provisions he sought as a legislator in her own bill. She claims that the bill is an effort to lighten “burdens on the courts.”

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MICHIGAN: Report: $23 million in campaign ads unreported

Eartha Jane Melzer for the Michigan Messenger

Michigan voters were subjected to almost $23 million worth of anonymously-funded television advertisements during the 2010 election, according to a new report by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

The Michigan Secretary of State does not require disclosure of the funders of an ad unless it explicitly tells someone how to vote.

For the last ten years MCFN has gathered records of ad buys from television stations in order to track spending on campaigns.

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MINNESOTA: Backers of gay marriage ban seek to prevent disclosure about campaign spending, donors

Andy Birkey for the Minnesota Independent

The groups behind a ballot measure that would put a ban on same-sex marriage in the Minnesota Constitution urged the Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board on Tuesday to retain a rule that would allow corporations to make unlimited contributions in support of the ballot measure. The Minnesota Family Council (MFC) testified that it shouldn’t have to disclose any of its donors in the campaign to pass the amendment, while Minnesota for Marriage, of which MFC and the National Organization for Marriage are a part, brought in attorneys from the Citizens United Supreme Court case to argue that political spending by corporations on the amendment push should be shielded from disclosure laws.

The campaign finance board met to evaluate a 1998 advisory opinion on ballot measures that said corporations did not have to disclose spending on ballot campaigns. With the advent of new state statutes passed in the last few years, however, that opinion may need to be changed.

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