COLORADO: Judge affirms Interior’s right to reject federal oil and gas leases due to environmental impacts
David Williams for the Colorado Independent
Conservation groups were elated Wednesday by a U.S. District Court decision in Wyoming affirming the Interior Department’s ability to weigh environmental impacts when issuing oil and gas leases on public lands – as long as it does so in a timely fashion.
U.S. District Judge Nancy Freudenthal made the ruling in a lawsuit filed by the oil and gas industry over a backlog of U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) leases in Utah and Wyoming. She ruled the DOI can consider impacts to air, water, land and wildlife habitat when deciding whether or not to issue oil and gas leases, but must do so within 60 days of the lease auction.
“This underscores the importance of balanced safeguards put in place by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to ensure that the public gets a say before our lands are put up for sale to the oil and gas industry,” said Bill Eikenberry, a Wyoming rancher and former associate state director of the BLM in Wyoming.
Lansing— The Legislature ended its first 180 days in session late Thursday, altering teacher tenure rules and passing a bill that caps how much taxpayers can pay on health care for public workers and elected officials — including state lawmakers.
Teachers will be easier to fire and demote under the four-bill package passed by the Senate and swiftly approved by the House over strenuous objections from Democrats and teachers.
The reforms roll back decades of union-won protections for teachers, who milled in the halls outside the Senate chamber and thronged the gallery as the votes were cast late Thursday.
MINNESOTA: Broken deals, bitter words and a state shuts down
Baird Helgeson, Mike Kaszuba, Eric Roper and Rachel Stassen-Berger for the Star Tribune
Talks imploded Thursday between DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican legislative leaders in the final hours before a midnight deadline, and Minnesota began a historic government shutdown.
"This is a night of deep sorrow for me," Dayton said in an address at 10 p.m. that was punctuated by jeers and hisses from Republicans, including some lawmakers.
The governor said his last offer would have raised income taxes only on those earning more than $1 million a year -- an estimated 7,700 Minnesotans, or 0.3 percent of all taxpayers, according to the Revenue Department.
NEW HAMPSHIRE: EDITORIAL: Stop sugar-coating the education cuts
To downplay the impact that devastating budget cuts will have on higher education and the state's students, Republicans have had to employ some tortured logic.
Consider Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Morse's argument that it's unfair to blame the Legislature for the financial troubles afflicting New Hampshire's university system, since state funding accounts for such a small share of college budgets. That's a bit like telling a starving man that, since all we ever give you is a slice of bread anyway, giving you half a slice won't make much difference.
New Hampshire was already dead last in the percentage of funding its public universities get from state government before the current budget cut. The $10.2 billion biennial budget, which became law without Gov. John Lynch's signature, cuts annual funding for the university system by $48.4 million or roughly in half.
OHIO: Gov. John Kasich signs two-year state budget, but vetoes seven items first
Joe Guillen for the Plain Dealer
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Gov. John Kasich put the finishing touches on the state budget Thursday, using his veto power to carve out several provisions from the bill before signing it into law.
Kasich's vetoes did not drastically alter the two-year spending plan, but they will play a role in the future sale of six Ohio prisons, the state's fight against childhood obesity and the Ohio Lottery Commission's spending.
In all, the Republican governor vetoed seven items from the $112 billion state budget that is packed with policy changes and is $2 billion lighter because of cuts to schools and local governments.
Tracie Mauriello and Laura Olson for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
HARRISBURG -- With 13 minutes to spare, Gov. Tom Corbett signed a $27.15 billion state budget package into law late Thursday night, narrowly finishing his first spending plan by the June 30 deadline.
While the governor and the Republicans in control of both legislative chambers campaigned on reversing the last administration's pattern of budget fights dragging into the summer, it took lawmakers until the final moments to complete all of the measures that Mr. Corbett required of them.
With the spending, revenue and other budget bills headed to his desk, the governor told lawmakers that they would not be signed into law until he received a measure aimed at constraining the ability of school districts to increase property taxes.
WISCONSIN:WEAC sues over law giving Walker power over DPI rules
Jason Stein for the Journal Sentinel
Madison - Members of state teachers unions sued Thursday to block part of a law giving Gov. Scott Walker veto powers over rules written by other state agencies and elected officials.
The lawsuit is the latest in a series of legal skirmishes between the GOP governor and public employee unions.
In the case, parents of students and members of the Wisconsin Education Association Council and Madison Teachers Inc. challenge the law for giving Walker the power to veto administrative rules written by any state agency. That law wrongly gives Walker that power over the state Department of Public Instruction headed by state schools superintendent Tony Evers, the action charges.
WASHINGTON: Group tries again to shield names in gay rights fight
Chris Grygiel for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer
A conservative group trying to shield the names of more than 100,000 people who signed petitions trying to block a new law expanding gay rights in Washington state is again trying to keep the information from becoming public.
Protect Marriage Washington, which lost year lost its argument on broad First Amendment claims before the United States Supreme Court, on this week asked a federal court to prevent Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed from publishing the names and addresses of the 138,000 people who signed petitions in 2009 to put Referendum 71 on the ballot.
That measure would’ve overturned the “everything but marriage” same-sex domestic partner law, but Washington voters upheld the new statute. Gay rights groups have said they’ll post the petition signers’ names online, and some fear harassment or threats if their names are revealed.
OREGON: Oregon lawmakers close session, prepare for next year
Harry Esteve for the Oregonian
SALEM -- The Oregon Legislature wrapped up business Thursday, putting final touches on a no-frills budget and heaping praise on each other for what they called the most congenial, businesslike session in many years.
It was a rare daylight adjournment on an uncharacteristically subdued day, accented by lawmakers who strolled the Capitol in jeans, sneakers and aloha shirts, offering hugs and verbal bouquets at every chance. The last day lacked the usual drama of frantic deal-cutting and voting in the wee hours.
"We have been blessedly boring all session," summed up Rep. Vicki Berger, R-Salem.
LEWISTON - Less than two years after their loss in a statewide vote, supporters of gay marriage said Thursday that they are ready to try again.
Betsy Smith, executive director of Equality Maine, told about 150 people who gathered in front of Lewiston City Hall that gay-marriage supporters "lost at the ballot, but we were not defeated."
"We intend to finish the job that we began in 2009 and bring marriage equality to Maine," she said at a news conference announcing that paperwork will be filed with the Secretary of State's Office to begin a petition drive to put gay marriage back on the ballot.
MINNESOTA: Minnesota campaign board rejects NOM attempt to hide donors supporting marriage ban
Andy Birkey for the Minnesota Independent
The Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board ruled today that corporate donations to groups advocating for or against a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage must be disclosed. The Minnesota Family Council (MFC) and the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) argued that supporters of marriage equality would commit violence against their donors if they were made public. On Thursday, the board disagreed.
The campaign finance board met in mid-June to vote on how to implement new independent expenditure rules and how they would apply to the 2012 ballot initiative campaign to ban same-sex marriage in the Minnesota Constitution. NOM and MFC argued that no disclosures should have to be made for fear of reprisal from supporters of marriage equality.
“To require groups, non-profits like the Minnesota Family Council, to disclose their donors and make their donors names public would have a significant chilling effect on free speech. Even in Minnesota already it’s gotten heated in some respects,” Prichard told the board. “The concern is harassment, property damage, a chilling effect. If I know I have to disclose my name, I’m not going to get involved with the Minnesota Family Council.”
FLORIDA: Rick Scott’s plan to privatize Florida state parks getting national attention
Virginia Chamlee for the Florida Independent
The Rick Scott administration’s proposal to privatize portions of state parks is running up against increasing opposition. Now the issue is gaining national attention.
On a recent segment on his progressive talk show, The Big Picture, Thom Hartmann discussed a plan to turn portions of some of Florida’s most renowned state parks over to private corporations — for use as high-impact camping and RV sites.
PENNSYLVANIA: Supporters of school voucher legislation in Pa. show their disappointment
Mikhail Zinshteyn for the American Independent
After an 11th hour deal to patch together competing versions of a school voucher program failed to materialize Wednesday in the Pennsylvania Legislature, supporters of the bills expressed their disappointment.
Orthodox Union, the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization, released a statement:
“It’s a sad day for children and families across the Commonwealth. Those seeking greater educational opportunity and those families struggling to shoulder the financial burden of education are left waiting. While fully funding EITC at its current maximum is a positive sign after years of cuts, the compromise being negotiated would have helped thousands more. We hope for the sake of Pennsylvania’s children, the Legislature can revisit this as soon as possible and agree to help even more families in need.”