Helena, Montana -- Conrad Burns could be
re-elected to the United States Senate in Montana, according to a poll by
At least 46 per cent of respondents would support the incumbent in
head-to-head contests against two prospective Democratic rivals.
Burns—a Republican—was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1988, and earned
new terms in 1994 and 2000. In the last election, Burns defeated Democratic
candidate Brian Schweitzer with 51 per cent of all cast ballots. Schweitzer
went on to win the Treasure State’s gubernatorial race in November 2002.
Burns holds a six-point advantage over state auditor John Morrison, and a
14-point edge over state Senate president Jon Tester. The two Democrats have
narrowed the gap since May.
The 71-year-old Burns has come under intense scrutiny over a bribery and
corruption probe of lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Burns—who chairs the
subcommittee that oversees the budget of the Bureau of Indian
Affairs—allegedly supported an appropriation that benefited Indian tribes
represented by Abramoff.
Phoenix, Arizona -- Many adults in the
Grand Canyon State believe Janet Napolitano should remain as their head of
government, according to a poll by Rasmussen Reports.
At least 50 per cent of respondents in Arizona would support the incumbent
governor in head-to-head contests against three prospective Republican
Napolitano—a Democrat—has acted as Arizona’s governor since January 2003.
The former state attorney general defeated Republican Matt Salmon in the
November 2002 election by just over 20,000 ballots.
Napolitano holds a 20-point advantage over GOP activist Don Goldwater, a
33-point lead over former state Senate president John Greene, and a 27-point
edge over retired judge Jan Florez
The next gubernatorial election in Arizona is scheduled for November 2006.
Since 1951, Arizona has had six Republican and seven Democratic heads of
Honolulu, Hawaii -- Reaction to a final
report by Gov. Linda Lingle's Economic Momentum Commission, which contains
recommendations aimed at sustaining the state economy over the longer term,
is as diverse as the panel itself.
Many members of Hawaii's business, social and political communities praised
the panel for looking beyond the current robust economy to the future.
Most agree that the recommendations, which covered 11 areas ranging from
housing to taxation, education, work-force development, tourism, energy,
infrastructure, agriculture, health care, the environment and Native
Hawaiian issues, are a good starting point.
The 30-member commission was formed this summer to develop an action plan
for the state. Its members include the leadership of the Legislature as well
as representatives from businesses, labor unions, nonprofits, environmental,
cultural and educational organizations, government and the military.
The commission's report is being delivered to Lingle, leaders of the state
Legislature and county governments and policymakers at the Department of
Education and University of Hawaii.
Lingle's administration is already looking at some of the initiatives
supported by the commission.
Many of the recommendations will be picked up by the Hawaii 2050
Sustainability Plan Task Force, which was created by the Legislature last
year despite Lingle's veto.
Denver, Colorado -- Even though Denver
Mayor John Hickenlooper has repeatedly said that he won't run for governor,
local political insiders can talk of little else.
The mayor is being pressured to run by bigwigs in the Democratic Party who
fear that the current front-runner, former Denver District Attorney Bill
Ritter, couldn't win.
One confidant of the mayor says he is "struggling" to make a decision, and
talking it over with friends and family.
The mayor, who has charmed voters both inside and outside the city limits
with his celebrated geekiness, is widely regarded as one of the state's most
Hickenlooper had an unprecedented 91 percent approval rating in Denver one
year ago in a poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies.
But if Hickenlooper joins the governor's race, he might face a problem.
Historically, many voters outside of Denver are suspicious of the city and
especially its mayor.
For decades, no Denver mayor has gone on to be elected governor.
Denver is politically and culturally out of sync with the rest of the state.
Denver voters passed a liberal marijuana law and voted for John Kerry by 2
Politicians outside Denver, especially Republican ones, doubt that
Hickenlooper's success would hold statewide
Lincoln, Nebraska -- With a new legal
challenge likely of voter-approved term limits on state lawmakers, a
majority of those senators are firm in their support of overturning the
Under the constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2000, senators are
limited to serving two consecutive four-year terms.
Twenty members of the 49-seat, one-house Legislature are barred from seeking
re-election next year.
Sens. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, Dennis Byars of Beatrice and Marian Price of
Lincoln were joined by six voters in filing a lawsuit challenging term
limits directly with the state Supreme Court.
The high court recently refused to hear the case, meaning it will now likely
be filed in a state district court.
The lawsuit alleged that term limits violate their First Amendment free
speech and association rights and 14th Amendment equal protection rights
under the U.S. Constitution.
Nebraska is one of 15 states that limit the terms of state lawmakers.
Supporters say term limits eliminate the “good ol’ boy” system they say is
rife with back-room deals and open to corruption.
During the peak of the term limits movement in the 1990s, 21 states moved to
restrict lawmakers’ tenure.
But courts in Massachusetts, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming threw out term
limits, and lawmakers in Idaho and Utah repealed them.
Nebraska voters approved term limits for state senators and members of
Congress in 1992 and again in 1994.
Both were thrown out after legal challenges.
As for lobbying, only five lawmakers said there should be a restriction on
how soon after leaving office a former state senator can work as a lobbyist.
Last year, just two days after leaving office, former Speaker Curt Bromm of
Wahoo registered as a lobbyist with the Clerk of the Legislature.
Bromm wasn’t the first Nebraska lawmaker to go from senator to lobbyists
Sen. Ron Withem of Papillion resigned as speaker of the Legislature in 1997
to become the University of Nebraska’s main lobbyist.
Speaker Dennis Baack of Kimball resigned from the Legislature in 1993 to
lobby for the Nebraska Community College Association.
Olympia, Washington -- Convicted sex
offenders should face a tougher registration system, including stricter
penalties for scofflaws and fewer loopholes for those who move to
Washington, according to a state task force.
Authorities hope those changes and others will make it easier to track
offenders who dodge registration rules — particularly those who are
homeless, or claim they live on the streets to avoid scrutiny.
The task force’s report previews some of the sex crime-related measures
lawmakers are preparing for the 2006 Legislature, which convenes Jan. 9.
Sex offenders from other states have as long as 30 days before they are
required to report their whereabouts to police, while Washington state
convicts must register within 24 hours of moving.
For those who fail to register, the punishment can include as much as 12
months behind bars.
But officials say little jail time is often served on a first offense.
Carson City, Nevada -- Nevada's $4.6
million statewide voter registration system will not meet the federal
deadline for completion according to Secretary of State Dean Heller.
Currently, Nevada counties use four separate computer systems to compile
voter registration information, with each county responsible for keeping its
own registration numbers.
Exchanging the information among systems is not easy and Nevada has no
statewide registration list.
All states are mandated to have statewide voter registration systems by the
Help America Vote Act of 2002, intended to prevent fraud allegations that
came out of the 2000 presidential election.
Nevada's Aug. 15 primary and Nov. 8 general elections will not be threatened
by the delay, Heller said.
Salt Lake City, Utah -- A Bureau of Land
Management proposal to apply herbicides to nearly 1 million acres in 17
Western states is drawing fire from environmentalists and organic food
Verlin Smith, BLM branch chief for renewable resources in Utah, said the
weed killer is needed to combat the rise of cheat grass, tamarisk, Russian
olive and other invasive species, which he says are strangling rangelands
and wildlife habitat and sucking up precious water resources.
The proposal, which is in a public comment period through Jan. 9, has
generated opposition from those who fear the unknown consequences of the
aerial spraying of herbicides in a wide array of areas, including national
monuments and conservation areas.
BLM officials said they have gone to great lengths to ensure the herbicide
program is safe, and the agency has the backing of ranchers and the
Legislature in Utah.
"This program has taken a long time to develop, and the reason it has is
because the risk assessment took a long time," Smith said. "We spent a long
time analyzing the true risk of using herbicides at that level. We can do
it, and do it safely so long as we follow the label directions and apply the
appropriate mitigation processes. "
Carson, City, Nevada -- Supporters of a new
law allowing Nevadans to buy lower-priced prescription drugs from Canada
were hit Tuesday with an adverse state attorney general's opinion that
favors this country's pharmaceutical industry.
Attorney General George Chanos said in the 19-page opinion that his office
supports the idea of low-cost drugs - but it's clear that state lawmakers
"also intended to ensure that the prescription drugs provided to the
citizens of Nevada were both safe and effective."
Legislators tried to balance the need for affordable drugs with the need for
quality and safety of those drugs, and their policy decisions "now serve as
insurmountable legal obstacles to the importation of virtually any drugs
from Canada," Chanos said in the opinion sought by the state Board of
Nevada's Canadian drug program had been put on hold while the attorney
general studied the new law that states a Canadian pharmacy shall not sell
to a Nevada resident a drug that hasn't been approved by the federal Food
and Drug Administration.
Assembly Majority Leader Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, and Sen. Joe Heck,
R-Henderson, who had key roles in developing the new law, pressed
unsuccessfully for an opinion that would reflect lawmakers' intent to help
Nevadans get safe, affordable drugs.
Denver, Colorado -- Bill Owens is about to
begin his final year as governor of Colorado. Owens says he will end his
24-year career in statehouse politics "pushing right through the tape and
running hard" - as hard as if it were his first campaign for the legislature
A lot has changed in the eight years since Owens was elected Colorado's
first Republican governor in nearly a quarter-century. When he took office
in 1999, Republicans controlled both houses of the legislature. He leaves
office with Democrats in charge and longtime nemesis Rep. Tom Plant of
Nederland chairing the powerful Joint Budget Committee.
Owens says he intends to work with Democrats in his final year.
Meanwhile, longtime Colorado politicos say they don't remember anyone being
courted for political office as intensely as John Hickenlooper, who
obviously loves being Denver's Democratic mayor and has continued to resist.
The main Democrat in the race is former Denver District Attorney Bill
Ritter, who is opposed in some quarters for his anti-abortion stance.
Private surveys show Ritter defeating everyone but Hickenlooper. One
prominent Democrat said last week he'll toss his support to Ritter soon,
regardless of who else is running.
Tucson, Arizona -- A self-proclaimed cigar
aficionado is launching an initiative drive to help preserve his ability and
that of other smokers to light up in restaurants and bars.
The measure would let business owners decide whether their establishments
have to be smoke free. But those who choose to permit customers to indulge
would have to post a "conspicuous sign" that smoking is allowed inside.
These businesses also would have to tell would-be employees that smoking is
allowed, permitting them to decide if they want to work there anyway.
Backers need 122,612 signatures on petitions by July 6 to qualify for the
November ballot. Sponsors say they are negotiating with representatives of
the restaurant and bar industry, as well as at least one major tobacco
company, to finance the cost of the campaign.
Juneau, Alaska -- Alaska's ballot
initiative deadline is just around the corner -- and sponsors are hustling
to collect enough signatures from around the state to meet new requirements.
With a January 9th deadline, sponsors of just two of six active petitions
say they have more than the 31,451 signatures they need for their
initiatives to be considered for the general election next November.
To land a place on the ballot, signatures must be submitted to the state
Division of Elections for certification by the start of the legislative
Signatures must still total at least ten percent of the last election's
turnout. But now -- under a measure approved by voters last year -- the
signatures must come from three-quarters of the state's 40 House districts,
instead of two-thirds.
And within each of those districts, signatures must come from at least seven
percent of those who voted in the last election for that district. The
Division of Elections will have 60 days from January 9th deadline to certify
Olympia, Washington -- A Washington state
lawmaker plans to propose tax breaks for biotech companies that manufacture
drugs or medical devices in the state, two years after the Legislature
renewed a series of tax incentives for high-tech and biotech research and
Rep. Brian Sullivan, D-Mukilteo, said he will sponsor a bill in the upcoming
legislative session that would give biotech companies
business-and-occupation (B&O) tax credits for manufacturing expenses and job
The goal, he said, is to create a "seamless" tax policy "that would
encourage biotech research organizations to consider manufacturing in the
state, as well."
Under a law renewed last year, high-tech and biotech companies are entitled
to sales-tax deferrals and exemptions for qualified investments in
research-and-development facilities, and a business-and-occupation tax
credit for some R&D expenses.
All companies in Washington are also entitled to certain tax breaks for
manufacturing, including sales tax exemptions for qualified investments in
machinery and equipment, and a sales tax deferral and waiver program for
investing in rural areas and community empowerment zones.
Jack Faris, president of the Washington Biotechnology and Biomedical
Association, had a cautious reaction to the biotech manufacturing bill's
chance of success in the short, 60-day legislative session that begins Jan.
9. But he said the WBBA, the state's leading biotech trade group, supported
any efforts to "nourish" the state's biotechnology industry.
Olympia, Washington -- Two lawmakers are
proposing a law that would require cigarettes to be self-extinguishing -
they go out if they are not puffed regularly.
The bills would ban the sale or distribution of any cigarette that's not
"We want to avoid fires caused by people smoking in bed or what-have-you,"
said Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, who is sponsoring the Senate bill.
"I think it's something that makes a lot of sense."
Rep. Geoff Simpson, D-Covington, has proposed similar legislation in the
Three states - New York, California and Vermont - already require
self-extinguishing smokes. Tobacco companies last year rushed to market
cigarettes wrapped in special ultra-thin paper with "speed bump" bands that
inhibit burning unless a smoker draws in air.
Some smokers in New York, the first state to require the cigarettes, have
complained about their cigarettes going out.
Spokesman Dana Bolden for Philip Morris USA said there should be a single,
nationwide standard for such cigarettes. "We're afraid that there might be a
patchwork of various state regulations," he said.
Helena, Montana -- Republican U.S. Sen.
Conrad Burns' lead over two top Democrats has eroded, with a majority of
Montana voters voicing concern over his taking campaign funds from indicted
lobbyist Jack Abramoff's clients, a new poll shows.
One Democratic challenger, state Auditor John Morrison, is within striking
distance of Burns.
If the election were held today, Montana voters favored Burns over Morrison
by a 46 to 40 percent margin, with 14 percent undecided, the poll showed. In
a poll conducted in May, Burns enjoyed a 49 to 34 percent lead over
Morrison, with 17 percent undecided.
Burns leads the other top Democrat, state Senate President Jon Tester, by a
49 to 35 percent margin, with 16 percent undecided, in the December poll.
The May poll showed Burns over Tester by a 50 to 26 percent margin, with 24
Burns is among four members of Congress being investigated by the U.S.
Justice Department over the Abramoff affair.
Burns is seeking his fourth six-year term in the Senate.
Cheyenne, Wyoming -- Fred Parady, former
speaker of the Wyoming House of Representatives, says he's considering
running for state treasurer.
Parady, a Rock Springs Republican, retired last year after 10 years in the
Legislature. He said Friday that he's putting together a committee to
explore the possibility of running for the treasurer's post next year.
Incumbent Treasurer Cynthia Lummis is finishing her second term and is
barred from running again under state term limits.
Parady said Wyoming's investment portfolio has increased significantly in
recent years. Maintaining returns on the state's investments is critical to
preventing the state from having to impose an income tax, he said.
Phoenix, Arizona -- The intent of an
Arizona law providing public campaign financing could be thwarted if a
legislator is allowed to pursue a legal appeal that could extend his court
case past the next election, lawyers for the state told an appellate court
Rep. David Burnell Smith, R-Scottsdale, missed the chance to go to court to
challenge the Citizens Clean Elections Commission's order that he must
forfeit his District 7 seat because he overspent in his publicly funded 2004
primary election campaign, the state lawyers said in papers filed with the
Court of Appeals.
Smith's legal challenge asking the courts to overturn the commission's
action isn't allowed under state law because he originally filed it before
the commission took the final administrative action in his case and because
he then missed a 14-day deadline to file an appeal after the fact, the
Now, the 1998 campaign finance law approved by voters would not be enforced
and its public policy of providing public campaign financing under certain
conditions would be blocked if Smith were allowed to delay his case beyond
the 2006 elections and the swearing-in of the next two-year session of the
Legislature, the state's response to Smith's appeal said.
Smith filed an appeal on Dec. 13, asking the Court of Appeals to let him
stay in office although the commission found that he overspent in his
primary campaign by at least 10 percent.
A three-judge Court of Appeals panel said it will rule by Jan. 17, then put
that ruling on hold for five days so the losing side has time to appeal to
the Arizona Supreme Court while a stay remains in effect.
Denver, Colorado -- State Rep. Mark
Larson's surprise decision to withdraw from a November showdown with
incumbent Jim Isgar, D-Hesperus, for the state Senate's 6th District seat
all but ends Republican hopes of recapturing the Senate, according to a GOP
"This was our best hope," Sen. Steve Johnson, R-Fort Collins, the assistant
minority leader, said Thursday. "Even then, it would have been an uphill
Democrats now hold an 18-17 edge in the upper house.
Larson, who announced his run for the Senate in June, apparently had second
In a telephone interview Thursday, Larson said he learned after he won the
job of representing the 59th District in the Colorado Legislature in 1998
that he was trading the 24-7 truck-stop business for another 24-7 job.
Realizing that unseating Isgar in November would mean more of the same was
only part of the reason he dropped from the race, Larson said.
Portland, Oregon -- Two men from a wealthy
Portland suburb made their push to build the state's first private casino
official, filing an initiative petition that seeks to change Oregon's
Investment adviser Bruce Studer and attorney Matt Rossman, both of Lake
Oswego, have until July to collect the thousands of signatures needed to put
their proposal for a $490 million gambling and entertainment complex at the
currently inoperative Multnomah Greyhound Park in Wood Village onto the
November 2006 ballot.
The ballot measure would amend the clause in Oregon's constitution that
prohibits non-tribal casinos, and would authorize Studer, Rossman and their
investors to open a single commercial, taxable casino.
The proposal is virtually certain to draw heavy opposition from Oregon's
Indian tribes, which operate nine casinos on reservations throughout the
state and contribute a percentage of profits to public funds.
Portland, Oregon -- At least three people
gathering signatures for four initiatives backed by prominent Oregon
conservatives said Thursday that they were paid by the signature, instead of
by the hour, in violation of state law.
The three plan to file complaints with the state Bureau of Labor and
Industry, and have asked the Elections division of the Secretary of State's
Office to investigate, according to Patty Wentz with Our Oregon, a
progressive political advocacy group.
But Brian Platt, a director of Portland-based B&P Campaign Management Inc.,
the firm that dealt directly with signature gatherers for the four
initiatives, dismissed those making complaints as "disgruntled employees.''
Portland, Oregon -- A state commission
voted Thursday to adopt car and truck emissions rules modeled on
California's, extending the stringent standards to the entire Pacific Coast.
The rules were adopted temporarily. The Oregon Environmental Quality
Commission now has 180 days to make them permanent, which is expected.
When that happens, the tougher rules also will take effect in Washington
state. The Washington Legislature approved the stricter standards but
conditioned implementation on action in Oregon.
Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski had recommended the stricter standards beginning
with the 2009 model year.
Tahlequah, Oklahoma -- Cherokee officials
say they will request arbitration in their dispute with state authorities
over a tobacco compact.
The tribe reports they considered going to an independent arbitrator back in
August, but decided against it at the time because negotiations were
The tribe is asking an arbitrator to rule that the state broke the compact
when it repealed the sales tax on cigarettes, which the tribe says was
forbidden under terms of the compact.
The compact has been in effect since January 2004.
The tribe says that according to the compact, the arbitration process will
ask that each side select one arbitrator and then these two will select a
third arbitrator that is approved by the other two.
Portland, Oregon -- Gov. Ted Kulongoski is
urging the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission to adopt tough new rules
on car and truck emissions that will extend California standards to the
entire Pacific Coast from Mexico to Canada.
Kulongoski has recommended the stricter California standards for cars and
light trucks beginning with the 2009 model year to help reduce pollution
blamed for global warming.
The Washington Legislature has already approved the stricter standards, but
they will not go into effect unless Oregon agrees to them as well.
"The threat of global warming is real," Kulongoski said. "It's fact, not
just idle speculation."
Opponents have gone to court to challenge the request, but Marion County
Circuit Judge Mary James is not expected to rule until mid-January on the
lawsuit filed by Republican Senate Leader Ted Ferrioli, the Alliance of
Automobile Manufacturers and more than a dozen car dealers.
Lincoln, Nebraska -- The Nebraska Supreme
Court denied a request to hear a legal challenge to term limits placed on
state lawmakers by voters in 2000.
The court, without comment, declined to hear a lawsuit filed by Sens. Ernie
Chambers of Omaha, Dennis Byars of Beatrice and Marian Price of Lincoln and
They allege that term limits violate their First Amendment free speech and
association rights and 14th Amendment equal protection rights under the U.S.
That likely means that the lawsuit will have to be filed in a state district
court or federal court.
Under the constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2000, senators are
limited to serving two consecutive four-year terms.
Twenty members of the 49-seat, one-house Legislature are barred from seeking
re-election next year.
Seattle, Washington -- The way beer and
wine is sold in Washington is going to change -- though it isn't known how
just yet -- after a federal judge said in two separate rulings that
Washington's system for distributing beer and wine violates the Constitution
and the Sherman Act.
Costco Wholesale Corp. won a battle against the Washington State Liquor
Control Board, when U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman ruled Washington's
three-tier system for distributing beer and wine breaks federal antitrust
Among other things, Pechman said, Washington state law improperly requires
that producers and distributors of beer and wine mark up prices at least 10
percent above cost.
In a separate ruling on Costco's case, Pechman agreed with the
Issaquah-based discount retailer's claim that the state law that allows
in-state beer and wine producers to ship directly to retailers but prohibits
out-of-state producers from doing so, violates the U.S. Constitution's
Boise, Idaho -- The state's method of
funding schoolhouse construction is unconstitutional, the Idaho Supreme
"We don't know that it will immediately help schools," said, Jim Cobble,
Jerome School District superintendent. "It would be a knee-jerk reaction to
say that it would."
The 21-page ruling scolds the Legislature for quibbling over the details of
a few crumbling schools while failing to look at the big picture -- that the
local bonding system established by lawmakers to pay for school buildings is
insufficient under the Idaho Constitution, leaving many students without a
safe place to learn.
State Rep. Bruce Newcomb, R-Burley, speaker of the House, said the ruling is
not a decision, rather, it identifies a problem within the state's system
for funding schoolhouse construction. He said the ruling suggests, though
not explicitly, that school administrators and the Legislature must work
together to identify solutions to the problem.
Bismarck, North Dakota -- Raising North
Dakota's share of school aid to 70 percent of districts' educational cost
would require almost $300 million in increased spending rise by 2009, a
Department of Public Instruction analyst said.
The increase, supplied by increased sales and income taxes, would be
accompanied by $300 million in local property tax cuts to rejigger school
aid ratios in favor of state money, said Jerry Coleman, the agency's
assistant school finance director.
Coleman spoke to the Legislature's interim Finance and Taxation Committee,
which is exploring ways to reduce local schools' dependence on property
Two members of the panel, Reps. Gil Herbel, R-Grafton, and C.B. "Buck" Haas,
R-Taylor, sponsored a proposal during the 2005 Legislature to increase
school aid by boosting North Dakota's sales and income taxes.
Pierre, South Dakota -- South Dakotans will
vote next year on a proposal that would limit real-estate values for local
Secretary of State Chris Nelson said Wednesday that a petition drive to put
the measure on the 2006 general election ballot has been successful.
Supporters gathered far more than the 33,456 signatures that are needed for
a proposed constitutional amendment, he said.
"We reached that point, and we quit counting," Nelson said, adding that 670
petition sheets with about 20 names each were left over once the required
number of signatures had been verified.
Stacks of petitions were dropped off at Nelson's office on Nov. 3.
State Sen. Bill Napoli, R-Rapid City, is behind the property-tax measure. He
has said property taxes are becoming too high in many places because
valuations are updated each year on the basis of inflated sales prices for
Honolulu, Hawaii -- A politician's dream of
handing out tax cuts and at the same time increasing government spending in
an election year might well become reality as Hawaii's revenues are
projected to exceed expectations.
As they prepare for the legislative session that begins in January, Governor
Lingle and state lawmakers see a flush economy providing that rare
Prudence would dictate some restraint, but having deferred improvements and
trimmed back important projects during lean years, officials should line up
spending priorities with an emphasis on education and school repairs.
Phoenix, Arizona -- A federal judge has set
a January deadline for Arizona to find a way to adequately pay for programs
for English-language learners or face fines of up to $2 million a day.
U.S. District Judge Raner C. Collins gave the state until Jan. 24, or just
15 days following the start of its 2006 legislative session, to resolve the
issue of paying for English-language learners or be fined $500,000 per day
for 30 days. The fines would increase up to $2 million per day if the state
continued to miss the court's deadlines.
The ruling is the latest in the Flores v. Arizona school-finance lawsuit,
which was filed in 1992. Six years ago, the U.S. District Court of Arizona
ruled that the state did not sufficiently fund the education of
In the latest decision, the court added that English-language learners do
not have to pass the state's high school exam to receive a diploma until the
state proves it has fixed the funding problem. Phoenix, Arizona -- A federal
judge has set a January deadline for Arizona to find a way to adequately pay
for programs for English-language learners or face fines of up to $2 million
U.S. District Judge Raner C. Collins gave the state until Jan. 24, or just
15 days following the start of its 2006 legislative session, to resolve the
issue of paying for English-language learners or be fined $500,000 per day
for 30 days. The fines would increase up to $2 million per day if the state
continued to miss the court's deadlines.
The ruling is the latest in the Flores v. Arizona school-finance lawsuit,
which was filed in 1992. Six years ago, the U.S. District Court of Arizona
ruled that the state did not sufficiently fund the education of
In the latest decision, the court added that English-language learners do
not have to pass the state's high school exam to receive a diploma until the
state proves it has fixed the funding problem.
Lakewood, Colorado -- With the 2005
elections over, candidates and voters have turned their attention to the
2006 vote, in which the 7th congressional district is shaping up to be one
of the most competitive races in the country.
The five candidates for the 7th - three Democrats and two Republicans - have
been hustling to gather support, recruit volunteers, raise money, hire
staff, open headquarters, pick up endorsements and generally do everything
they can to get ahead before the race really begins.
The coming election season is expected to bring national political attention
rarely seen in Colorado. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report places the
Colorado 7th among the nine most competitive House races in the nation.
Chris Cillizza, who writes the political insider The Fix blog on
Washingtonpost.com, ranks it at No. 1.
Already, political big-wigs have taken note.
U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Dennis Hastert and Vice President Dick
Cheney have flown to Colorado to raise money for GOP candidate Rick
O'Donnell. More high-profile visits and out-of-state money are on the
Since incumbent Bob Beauprez announced he would run for governor, his
departure has had Democrats salivating at the chance to grab the seat and
has many people expecting a battle.
Phoenix, Arizona -- A state appellate court
on Tuesday put on hold until mid-January on a commission's order ousting a
legislator from office for overspending in his publicly funded 2004 primary
A three-judge Court of Appeals panel scheduled Jan. 9 oral arguments in the
case of Rep. David Burnell Smith, a Scottsdale Republican who is challenging
the Citizens Clean Election Commission's order that he leave office and also
pay monetary penalties.
The commission found that Smith's primary campaign overspent by
approximately $6,000 by incurring costs that weren't paid until he received
his general election funding.
It also ruled that he didn't provide enough details on how he spent the
money. He was ordered to forfeit his office, pay a $10,000 civil fine and
reimburse his public campaign funding of $34,625.
Smith contends his campaign didn't overspend, that he cooperated with the
state's investigation, that the commission doesn't have the authority to
oust him and that he wasn't given his day in court.
Juneau, Alaska -- The Alaska Democratic
Party says official results from the 2004 general election are riddled with
mistakes and discrepancies.
The party is asking the Division of Elections for the electronic data file
of voting results, the record of who voted in the 2004 general election, and
paper results from machines used in early voting.
Party spokeswoman Kay Brown says the results are impossible for the public
to easily read and should be corrected as soon as possible. The former
Anchorage legislator says questions have been swirling ever since the polls
closed about how the results were tabulated.
In one example, when district-by-district vote counts are totaled, President
Bush received more than 292-thousand votes. But his official total was just
under 191-thousand votes. Elections officials dispute that vote results
published on the state's Web site have mistakes. But they acknowledge that
the average person can't make sense of how results are reported without
St. Paul, Minnesota -- A judge struck down
Minnesota's new 75-cent-a-pack charge on cigarettes Tuesday, saying the fee
violated a 1998 settlement with tobacco companies.
Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty, who crafted the charge on the wholesale
price of cigarettes, called for an appeal to the state Supreme Court.
Lawmakers had been counting on more than $400 million over two years from
the "health impact fee."
But several major cigarette companies - including the makers of Marlboro and
Camel brand cigarettes - claimed the charge violated the 1998 tobacco
That deal funneled billions of dollars to the state to cover health costs
caused by smoking, and banned future claims on tobacco companies.
Ramsey County District Judge Michael Fetsch ordered the state to pay refunds
or give credits to the tobacco companies for fees paid since the law took
effect in August.
Pawlenty, a Republican, has called the charge a fee - not a tax - a move
that allowed him to continue to claim he hadn't broken a pledge to raise
taxes. That tactic may have backfired, critics say.
"This is what happens when you get cute with the truth," said state Rep.
Matt Entenza, a Democrat.
Under the 1998 settlement, the state promised not to pursue future
health-cost claims against the tobacco companies. Pawlenty's critics say the
current problem could have been avoided by simply calling the charge a tax
instead of a "health impact fee."
Carson City, Nevada -- A revised version of
a plan to limit government spending and give Nevada voters the final say on
state or local government tax increases was filed Tuesday with the secretary
Secretary of State Dean Heller's office confirmed receipt of the updated
version of the proposed constitutional amendment that state Sen. Bob Beers,
running for governor next year, had filed last week.
Backers of the Tax and Spending Control, or TASC, proposal must collect
83,157 signatures, or 10 percent of the voter turnout in the 2004 election,
to get the plan on the 2006 ballot. The plan also would need voter approval
Beers, R-Las Vegas, said last week that changes in the initiative petition
were needed to clear up confusion that "a couple of different people" had
with the first version. He also predicted that voters will understand the
proposal despite its complexity.
Pierre, South Dakota -- South Dakota needs
to join a regional tracking system that will supervise the trading of
credits for electricity generated by wind and other renewable energy
sources, members of the state Public Utilities Commission said Monday.
After a meeting with officials of utility companies, the three PUC members
said they will ask the state Legislature to approve a measure that would
allow the commission to take part in such a tracking system.
A similar bill was rejected by the South Dakota House in the final days of
the 2005 legislative session.
Energy credits are earned by the production of electricity from renewable
sources such as wind, solar or hydroelectric power.
Those credits then can be sold to coal-fired plants or other operations that
need the credits to comply with regulations, such as those that require them
to produce a certain amount of their power by renewable energy. Some states
impose such requirements for the use of renewable energy, but South Dakota
Some companies also buy renewable energy credits to show they are using
energy that does not harm the environment.
The money paid for the credits supports wind-powered generators and other
operations that generate electricity from renewable sources.
A tracking system for renewable energy credits would benefit not only South
Dakota developers of wind power, but also the general public, said PUC
Commissioner Dusty Johnson.
Santa Fe, New Mexico -- The Santa Fe
Chamber of Commerce says it will likely endorse an increase in the statewide
minimum wage, a change from last fall when it brought a court challenge
against an increase in the local minimum wage, to $9.50 an hour, set to be
implemented on Jan. 1.
The New Mexico Appeals Court ruled in November that the city council did not
exceed its authority in dictating the wage employers must pay its employees.
The chamber said this week it will not pursue the matter in front of the New
Mexico Supreme Court.
Salt Lake City, Utah -- A state senator has
plans to try to raise the state's minimum wage from $5.15 an hour to $7 an
hour, a move that would give Utah the fifth-highest minimum wage in the
country if the Legislature approves it.
Sen. Ed Mayne wants Utah to join 17 other states and the District of
Columbia in adopting a minimum wage that is higher than the $5.15 federal
If Utah approves Mayne's bill it would become the first state in the
Intermountain West to exceed the federal minimum and one of only a handful
outside the Pacific Coast and Northeast to do so.
Congress last increased the federal minimum wage in 1997, and Mayne believes
the state's workers deserve higher pay to deal with inflation and fight
Honolulu, Hawaii -- Governor Linda Lingle's
latest budget adds about $529 million in operating expenses onto to state's
two-year budget. The budget also includes a plan for $300 million in tax
According to the state Department of Finance, Hawaii is projected to have a
surplus of about 570 million dollars at the close of fiscal year 2006,
ending June 30th.
With a plan including new dental care funding for Medicaid recipients, 40
million dollars for public school repairs, the administration would whittle
that balance down to about 77 million at the end of 2007.
While Democratic lawmakers have balked at the idea of big tax cuts this
session, Governor Lingle said she can't imagine why anyone would not support
cuts. That's because the local cost of living is continuing to rise while
Hawaii's economy remains healthy.
Austin, Texas -- Gov. Rick Perry on Monday
made official his bid to become the longest-serving governor in Texas
“I’ve looked forward to this day for a long time,” he said. “I relish the
chance to again lead the Republican ticket to victory.”
Perry, 55, said he was proud of governing as a fiscal conservative, ordering
an additional $10 million spent on border security and fighting for
increasing funding for education.
“I am going to articulate a clear vision for the future that is based upon
the same conservative convictions that the people of this state have seen me
act upon during my first full term in office,” he said.
While Perry has been governor, the Legislature – controlled by his party —
has failed for two regular sessions and at least two special sessions to fix
the broken school finance system. Now they are under court order to change
the system by June 1.
Perry said he did by executive order what the Legislature did not
accomplish. He ordered schools to spend at least 65 percent of their budgets
on classroom instruction.
“When the Legislature didn’t act, I did,” he said.
Perry is the third Republican to file for governor in the March primary.
Earlier this month, North Texas consultant Larry Kilgore and South Texas
security expert Rhett R. Smith filed for governor with the party.
A spokesman for Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn said on Monday that
Strayhorn plans to run on the Republican ticket. Strayhorn is considered to
be Perry’s greatest challenge in the March primary.
St. Louis, Missouri -- A second group in
Missouri launched an effort Monday to raise cigarette taxes, but its plan
for the taxes has a different target.
The Missouri Alliance for Health and Justice, made up of advocates for the
poor, filed a petition with the Secretary of State's Office Monday proposing
an increase in cigarette taxes to 80 cents a pack on the November 2006
The group proposes to spend $61 million of the tax revenue on smoking
cessation programs and $198 million to restore Medicaid coverage to those
who lost it earlier this year. The Medicaid spending would draw federal
Secretary of State Robin Carnahan must approve the petition and write the
ballot language. If approved, the group would have until May 9 to gather
about 145,000 valid signatures to qualify the issue on the ballot.
Earlier this year, the Committee for a Healthy Future proposed raising
cigarette taxes to 80 cents per pack, up from the current 17 cents per pack
in Missouri, which is the second-lowest cigarette tax in the nation.
It also calls for increases in other non-cigarette tobacco products. The
funds would be put into a trust fund to be used for smoking prevention and
health-care programs. The Secretary of State already approved that petition
and the group is collecting signatures to qualify the issue for the ballot.
Missouri currently uses 13 of the 17 cent-tax for public education and 4
cents for the health initiatives fund.
Honolulu, Hawaii -- Today Hawaii is gripped
by the politics of personality. Gov. Linda Lingle has learned to manage her
image through the nightly news and more effectively through multiple daily
Not since former mayor and erstwhile candidate for governor Frank Fasi has
one politician's personality so dominated the local public consciousness.
Her press conferences are wonders of advanced planning with special
backdrops, lots of flags and scores of invited guests. The seamless
presentations might not make much news, but the news-watching and
news-reading public cannot escape the onslaught of Lingle's media events. As
a result, in Hawaii when you think leader, you think Lingle.
If elections were decided only on personality, there would be little
rationale for the 2006 governor's race.
Every day that goes by without the Democrats finding a candidate to oppose
the governor makes the eventual Democratic nominee that much weaker,
according to conventional wisdom.
But Democrats are still planning a campaign, although who will slip into the
runner's shoes is still unknown.
Within a matter of a week, Democrats held two more planning meetings to
discuss strategy for next year. Hawaii's senior Sen. Dan Inouye headed up
the first meeting and the isle unions conducted a separate meeting on
The meetings produced neither a breakout plan nor a candidate who can light
up a room.
It is apparent that the Democrats are going to rely on party, not
personality, next year. This does not overly concern Democrats, who can see
a race based on "Democratic loyalty."
Republicans, however, worry that a popular personality has almost no
coattails. Two years ago Lingle's GOP was smashed in local elections. In the
House, the GOP has dwindled from 18 to just 10.
With Lingle unable to grow a GOP base, the battle next year is likely to be
between Lingle and the entire Democratic Party.
Juneau, Alaska -- A $1.2 billion surplus
and not a penny of it set aside just in case it might be needed should the
price of oil tumble or some other calamity befall the state.
That's the plan Gov. Frank Murkowski outlined on Thursday when he presented
Alaskans with his proposed budget for fiscal 2007.
Now he needs to tell Alaskans why he believes this is the smartest course.
Not saving some of that cash windfall will surely, and rightly, be an idea
put under great scrutiny by the Legislature as it debates and revises the
governor's budget proposal.
In wanting to spend all of the surplus, the governor must be banking on the
state being in a solid financial situation in the years before a natural gas
pipeline from the North Slope is built and begins to feed the state
Alaska does have its $30 billion permanent fund, but political and practical
obstacles bar its easy access.
The state does have the Constitutional Budget Reserve, but the $2.2 billion
it presently holds is not as much as it might seem. In one year during the
Knowles administration, half of that amount was withdrawn in one year to
make up for a plummet in oil prices.
Drawing from the budget reserve also comes with an added cost due to the
political bartering necessary to obtain the three-quarters vote to tap it.
Olympia, Washington -- After urging
lawmakers last week to refrain from spending the $1.4 billion budget
surplus, Gov. Christine Gregoire has rolled out a list of new initiatives
that would cost the state nearly $200 million.
And now that Gregoire has paved the way for spending, it appears lawmakers
plan to follow her lead and disregard her call for fiscal restraint.
Conservatives predict that by March, when Democrats finish rewriting the
budget, much of the surplus will have melted away.
Gregoire said she plans to work with the
Legislature much like she did this past session to hammer out the budget. At
that time the Legislature doubled -- and passed -- Gregoire's proposed tax
Helena, Montana -- The special legislative
session was short and left either a sweet or sour aftertaste, depending on
your perspective. It set the stage for the 2006 elections, if not a possible
return to court over school funding.
Lawmakers took only two of the expected four days to muscle through
Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s school funding package and a partial
bailout of pension funds. Few, if any, special sessions have wrapped up
Lawmakers appropriated $71 million on public schools — $36.7 million in
ongoing expenses and $34.5 million in one-time spending. They pumped $125
million of one-time money into state retirement systems that face $1.46
billion in potential deficits.
Schweitzer ran circles around Republicans, who wouldn’t hang together in the
House to block his proposals. Last week and last winter, Schweitzer and
Democrats picked off a couple of House Republicans on key votes, while all
50 House Democrats stood united.
During the 2004 campaign, some wondered how the greenhorn Schweitzer would
deal with the intricacies of the Legislature. The verdict so far: Just fine.
Many of the other 65 Republicans left town fuming. Some GOP leaders hardly
spoke on the floor. Their hearts didn’t seem in it. The fight was out of the
House Republicans passed up one golden chance last week when three of them
joined Democrats on the House Education Committee to kill Republican Rep.
Bill Glaser’s school funding bill. It would have spent far more than
Schweitzer and won support from most key education groups. Pushing this bill
to the floor would have put Democrats in a political vice, but they escaped.
Republicans seem vexed by Schweitzer and still haven’t figured out how to
deal with him effectively. Democrats know the feeling. They were in the same
boat a decade ago when popular Republican Gov. Marc Racicot confounded them.
After more than a decade in power, Republicans don’t yet know how to act as
a minority party. Their duty is to stick together, hold Democrats’ feet to
the fire, offer strong alternatives and take their message across Montana.
That doesn’t seem to be happening now.
Republicans need to quit moping about the 2004 election and whining about
legislative reapportionment. They need to get their heads screwed on right,
find their missing mojo and unite, or they’ll be in worse shape in 2007.
Salem, Oregon -- Oregon is ready to join
the ranks of states with a statewide database of registered voters.
One-third of the states could miss the New Year's Day deadline to meet the
federal requirement, which was set by a 2002 law known as the Help America
The law required states to upgrade their registration and balloting systems.
It was prompted by problems during the 2000 presidential election with
ballots cast and counted, especially in Florida.
Under Oregon's old county-by-county system, a voter could have an active
registration in two counties -- and possibly receive two mail-in ballots --
until elections officials in the voter's new home county cancel the old
registration. A voter can cast only one ballot.
Investigations in Oregon turned up few instances of duplicate voting in
2000, the state's first general election conducted entirely by mail, despite
critics' assertions of widespread abuse.
Boulder City, Nevada -- A project that
would be the largest solar power plant built anywhere in the world in the
last 15 years is set to get under way in Boulder City.
The plant would take advantage of Southern Nevada's abundant sunlight and
bring the state's largest electric utility into compliance with the solar
power component of the state's aggressive renewable energy mandate through
North Carolina-based Solargenix Energy said this week that it will break
ground in January on its 64-megawatt solar power plant, dubbed Nevada Solar
"It's moving forward very well," said John Myles, president and chief
executive of Solargenix, which was still operating as Duke Solar when the
project was first proposed in 2001.
Myles said construction would take 12 to 14 months. One megawatt is
estimated to be enough power to serve about 750 homes. The plant is expected
to cost more than $100 million.
Juneau, Alaska -- Fairbanks businessman and
former state Sen. John Binkley announced Monday that he is running for
Binkley will face former Wasilla Mayor Sarah Palin in the Republican primary
in August. The rest of the field is up in the air.
Would-be candidates, donors and professional political operatives are all
anxiously waiting for Republican Gov. Frank Murkowski to say whether he is
running for re-election.
Binkley said last month that he was going to wait
for Murkowski's decision. But Binkley said Monday that he has since
concluded Murkowski isn't running.
"Any serious candidate would have filed for office by now," Binkley said.
Pierre, South Dakota -- A campaign to
collect 16,728 signatures so South Dakota voters can decide if a retail tax
should be tacked onto alcoholic beverages is struggling.
If enough signatures are turned over to the secretary of state by May 2, the
proposed retail tax on alcohol will be decided in the 2006 general election.
Existing alcohol taxes, which are levied on wholesalers, raise about $10
million a year, with 75 percent going to the state and 25 percent to cities.
Counties get none of those revenues.
County officials have clamored for increased alcohol taxes for years,
arguing that they need the money to help pay for alcohol-related costs of
law enforcement, jails, prosecutions, treatment programs and other services.
However legislators have rejected proposals to buoy county finances by
boosting alcohol taxes. The alcohol industry has adamantly opposed those
South Dakota taxes a gallon of liquor at $3.93.
Santa Fe, New Mexico -- Gov. Bill
Richardson favors boosting the statewide minimum wage above the federal
level, but he still hasn't decided by how much or whether the state should
stop local governments from setting even higher minimums.
Some opponents of raising New Mexico's $5.15-an-hour minimum want
legislation that would pre-empt local governments from imposing their own
wage rules -- as Santa Fe has done.
A coalition of labor, religious and community groups pushing for a statewide
increase -- to $7.50 an hour -- is expected to do battle with business
groups over including a pre-emption clause in any minimum-wage bill next
Representatives of the New Mexico Restaurant Association and the Association
of Commerce and Industry have said they will fight to keep employers from
having to deal with wage laws at the municipal level.
New Mexico House Speaker Ben LujŠn, who plans to sponsor a bill to raise the
state minimum wage to $7.50 an hour, said that he does not want to deal with
the pre-emption issue in his legislation.
Albuquerque voters this year narrowly rejected a proposal that would have
raised that city's minimum wage to $7.50. The ballot measure also included a
workplace-access provision that opponents claimed would allow the public to
LujŠn said if wage-increase opponents want pre-emption legislation, they
would have to introduce a separate bill. Attempts in the Legislature to
prohibit local governments from establishing their own wage minimums have
failed in recent years.
Honolulu, Hawaii -- A state judge has ruled
in favor of thousands of substitute teachers who brought a class-action
lawsuit claiming the Hawaii Department of Education illegally underpaid them
over several years.
The ruling could end up costing the state an estimated $13-$15 million
unless it appeals successfully to the Hawaii Supreme Court.
Circuit Judge Karen Ahn agreed with the plaintiffs that, under a 1996 law,
substitute teachers should have been paid the same daily rate as full-time,
The period of underpayment is from November 2000 to June 2005.
The 1996 law had tied substitute teacher’s pay to a certain class of
Substitutes say the department has never honored that linkage, adding that
subsequent changes made by the department to its teacher classification
system effectively severed it, placing substitute pay on a lower trajectory.
The teachers had originally sought an estimated $25 million in back pay
starting from 1996. However, according to the statute of limitations, the
teachers could claim back pay beginning no earlier than November 2000, two
years before the original suit was filed.
There was no word on whether the state intended to appeal.
Juneau, Alaska -- The governor's budget
plan for the next fiscal year would spend most of the projected $1.12
billion surplus on education and equity in a natural gas pipeline.
About $565 million is marked for future education needs and $400 million
would be set aside for the construction of a gas pipeline expected to cost
at least $20 billion.
Another $130 million is planned for deferred maintenance, public safety and
corrections needs, while the remaining $32 million would be available for
The governor also designated $45 million for a highway from Juneau to a
planned ferry terminal near Skagway.
The total budget spends $3.62 billion in the state general fund, about $500
million more than this fiscal year's plan.
The Alaska Department of Revenue announced the state's revenue forecast for
fiscal year 2006, which figures the price of Alaska North Slope crude oil to
be an average of $57.30 per barrel.
The department's estimation is a 32 percent increase over this year's level
of $43.43 per barrel. It foresees oil to decline to $40.95 per barrel in
fiscal year 2007 and $25.50 per barrel for 2008.
Revenue Commissioner Bill Corbus said political instability in the Middle
East and Venezuela, low U.S. oil supplies and effects from Hurricane Katrina
are some of the reasons why oil will remain high over the next year.
The state collects royalties, production taxes, property taxes and corporate
income taxes from the oil industries' activities in Alaska.
Juneau, Alaska -- Negotiations have been
halted for the next few weeks between Alaska and three oil companies on
terms for $20 billion deal to build a natural gas pipeline in the state's
North Slope region.
Gov. Frank Murkowski described the suspension as a holiday break in the
talks with BP PLC, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil Corp.
Negotiations are to start up again next month in Juneau as the Legislature
prepares to meet for its 2006 session.
Murkowski also said there are some points the two sides have not been able
to close on, and the break will allow the participants to re-energize for
what he hopes will be a final push for a deal, which could cost $20 billion.
Murkowski's negotiators are trying to close a deal with the three North
Slope oil producers on long-term fiscal goals for a natural gas pipeline
from the North Slope, through Canada and to markets in the Midwest.
ConocoPhillips has agreed to the state's base terms; BP and Exxon Mobil have
The companies say long-range tax and royalty issues must be resolved before
the project can continue. The Legislature must also sign off on any contract
after it goes through a public comment period. If a deal is reached, it is
expected to take about 10 years to complete the pipeline.
Honolulu, Hawaii -- Registered nurses at
Kaiser Permanente hospitals and clinics have ratified a three-year contract
that provides a 23 percent pay raise and language ensuring safe staffing
levels. Approximately 500 of 780 eligible nurses voted in the two-day
election, which concluded Wednesday; approximately 91 percent of them voted
to accept the contract.
The vote came as some Kaiser nurses demonstrated this week to replace the
Hawaii Nurses Association with the California Nurses Association as the
Kaiser nurses' collective bargaining representative.
Aggie Pigao Cadiz, executive director of the Hawaii Nurses Association, said
yesterday that the high turnout among nurses and overwhelming vote in favor
of the contract shows that Kaiser nurses are pleased with the association's
"We have continued to build on the gains we made in the last contract and
look forward to doing so in the future," Pigao Cadiz said.
Denver, Colorado -- Republican Gov. Bill
Owens and the Legislature’s top Democrats continued to try to lower
expectations Thursday about how far $3.7 billion can be spread among state
That’s the September estimate of what Referendum C — the measure Colorado
voters approved in November — will allow state government to keep and spend
over the coming five years.
Owens said that by the time Referendum C money is used to restore some of
the spending cut back in recent years and replace money that was borrowed
from various budget accounts, there won’t be money left.
House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver, and Senate President Joan
Fitz-Gerald, D-Jefferson County, who joined Owens earlier this year in
crafting the budget-stabilization compromise that advanced C to the ballot,
agreed with the governor.
Despite their Referendum C alliance during the election campaign, Owens and
the Democratic leaders still appeared Thursday to differ in their
post-election positions about how that additional money can and should be
Omaha, Nebraska -- Nebraska's ban on
corporate farming limited the amount of outside investment in the state's
agricultural businesses over the past 23 years and forced some farmers to
adopt onerous ownership structures.
Supporters also say that the ban made Nebraska's agriculture industry more
responsible because farmers couldn't use corporate structures to shield
themselves from liability.
But it's difficult to quantify what the ban has meant to the state because
the answer depends on a person's perspective.
"The whole debate has been 'Can Nebraska farming be viable if corporate
farming can't come in, or is Nebraska farming viable because corporate
farming hasn't been able to come in?'" said Brad Lubben, an agricultural
policy specialist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
A federal judge ruled Thursday that the ban, known as Initiative 300, is
unconstitutional because it violates the Commerce Clause of the U.S.
Constitution and the Americans With Disabilities Act. The lawsuit
challenging the ban was filed by several ranchers, including former state
Sen. Jim Jones of Eddyville. The plaintiffs said that the ban prevented them
from setting up corporations to keep their operations within their family or
from combining resources with neighbors to control costs, among other
Attorney General Jon Bruning plans to appeal that ruling.
Rapid City, South Dakota -- They each have
their own ideas on how to tackle the issues facing the 2006 South Dakota
Legislature, but many West River lawmakers agreed Thursday that education
funding will top the list of debates.
Thirteen legislators gave a preview of the session at the annual Rapid City
Area Chamber of Commerce pre-legislative crackerbarrel held at Camp Rapid.
Along with education, lawmakers mentioned proposals aimed at drunken drivers
and setting limits on eminent domain, among others.
Denver, Colorado -- Denver Mayor John
Hickenlooper has made it known to his Cabinet officers that he has not ruled out
running for governor, but said that so far he has not found a compelling
reason to enter the race.
The mayor told his top appointees that perhaps he should listen to the
political activists and supporters who are pressuring him to run, said
people who attended the meeting.
"A number of people from both sides of the political aisle continue to
encourage the mayor to consider running," said Lindy Eichenbaum Lent,
Hickenlooper's spokeswoman. "He has learned nothing so far to convince him
to run, as he absolutely loves being mayor of Denver."
The pressure on Hickenlooper to get into the race is rising because
candidates need a year to raise enough money to mount a statewide campaign.
Hickenlooper was scheduled to meet with a prominent Democratic fundraiser
Saturday, a source said Friday.
In recent weeks, privately commissioned polls found Hickenlooper was popular
with voters statewide.
Some Democrats want Hickenlooper or another candidate to get into the race
because they are unsatisfied with former Denver District Attorney Bill
Ritter's opposition to abortion rights.
Phoenix, Arizona -- Gov. Janet Napolitano
could run for president, says the January issue of O, The Oprah Magazine. It
lists Napolitano as one of six women in politics "who could give it a shot."
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.; Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice;
Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin; and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, are
also named. The White House Project, a group that wants a female president,
compiled the list.
The nod comes weeks after Time magazine named Napolitano one of the
country's top governors. O Magazine called eight weeks ago to do research
but didn't say why, Napolitano spokeswoman Jeanine L'Ecuyer said. Napolitano
isn't shopping for Oval Office curtains, though. "She is really enjoying
being governor of Arizona," L'Ecuyer said, "and is completely focused on
Phoenix, Arizona -- A federal judge gave
Arizona an ultimatum Friday: Improve instruction for non-English-speaking
schoolchildren now, or it's going to cost you.
U.S. District Judge Raner Collins ordered lawmakers and Gov. Janet
Napolitano to come up with a financial plan by late January to help educate
students struggling to learn English or be fined $500,000 a day. The penalty
could rise to $2 million a day if they fail to act.
Salem, Oregon -- Gov. Ted Kulongoski is
urging the conversion of Oregon's entire coastline into a national marine
sanctuary to head off oil exploration and other activities that could harm
natural and scenic values.
In a letter to Oregon's congressional delegation, Kulongoski said the move
would allow state and federal agencies to work with fishermen, tribes,
recreational users and others to protect the ecosystem.
Oregon's jurisdiction extends three nautical miles from the beach. The
sanctuary proposal would extend protection an average of about 25 miles to
cover the continental shelf.
It would be the nation's first such sanctuary.
Lakewood, Washington -- A teenage Moroccan
girl who came to Washington state in hopes of getting a good education and
becoming a dentist was instead kept as a slave by her aunt and uncle, who
pulled her out of school and forced her to work without pay at the family's
espresso stand, the FBI says.
Abdenasser Ennassime, also known as Sammy, was arrested at Lake City Park in
Lakewood, and his wife, Tonya, was arrested at their home Friday morning, a
day after a federal grand jury indicted them. Tonya Ennassime is charged
with harboring an alien while her husband is charged with one count of
harboring and one count of forced labor. The girl, now 17, has been living
in a safe house.
Salt Lake City, Utah -- Utah's
congressional delegation achieved a significant, hard-fought victory Friday
in its effort to block a nuclear waste storage site in the state, winning
approval of a wilderness area aimed at blocking a rail line that would
deliver the waste.
The Cedar Mountain wilderness language was approved by leaders of the House
and Senate armed services committees after a weeks-long push by Utah members
of Congress who were aided by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., environmental groups
and Nevada Democratic Sen. Harry Reid.
Austin, Texas -- The U.S. Supreme Court
said Thursday it would hear oral arguments on constitutional challenges to
Texas' redrawn congressional boundaries on March 1.
That means the court will consider whether the current districts are legal
just six days before the state's March 7 primaries. A decision is expected
by the end of June, before the court's summer recess.
If the high court finds Texas' existing congressional districts
unconstitutional, it could send the redistricting map back to the Texas
Legislature. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has said elections will go
forward under the existing districts.
The court will hear arguments from four separate appeals by critics of the
Texas map that have been consolidated in one case.
The Texas Legislature redrew its congressional districts in 2003.
Aspen, Colorado -- Voters overwhelmingly
ousted District Attorney Colleen Truden in a recall election just 11 stormy
months after she took office, and chose one of her former deputies to
"I didn't do anything wrong," Truden said Tuesday night as the votes came
in, "and if you guys (the press) hadn't been printing all these things since
April, I wouldn't be in this position."
Critics accused Truden of dishonesty, nepotism, mismanagement, wasting money
and failing to prosecute enough cases. Seven prosecutors, including five
held over from her predecessor, have resigned.
Truden defended her record and said the complaints came from people who
didn't like her strict management style and from her opponents in the 2004
A Republican in a majority GOP district, Truden is only the second district
attorney in Colorado history to face a recall vote and the first one to
Truden's district -- Garfield, Pitkin and Rio Blanco counties in the western
Colorado mountains -- voted her out by a 4-to-1 ratio.
Former Deputy District Attorney Martin Beeson, who resigned from Truden's
staff in April, was elected to replace her.
Phoenix, Arizona -- Lawyers for the state
and a legislator facing possible ouster in a campaign finance case proposed
that an appellate court act on the lawmaker's appeal by mid-January while
letting the lawmaker stay in office at least until that court rules soon
A joint stipulation, filed late Thursday by lawyers for Rep. David Burnell
Smith on one hand and the state on the other, asked the Court of Appeals to
hear arguments in the case on Jan. 13 under accelerated-appeal rules that
would require the court to issue a ruling the next week.
Smith, R-Scottsdale, filed an appeal Tuesday asking the Court of Appeals to
overturn the Citizens Clean Elections Commission's decision that he forfeit
his office because of overspending by his publicly funded 2004 primary
A trial judge's stay temporarily blocking enforcement of his own order
upholding the commission's decision expires Dec. 21, but the joint
stipulation by Smith and the state asked the Court of Appeals to issue a new
stay through five days after it rules.
That would give Smith time to appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court if he
loses at the Court of Appeals.
Anchorage, Alaska - Education and the gas
pipeline are the areas of state government that should benefit most from the
state’s $1 billion windfall, according to Gov. Frank Murkowski.
When it comes to federal dollars, the governor is
still pushing for the controversial Knik Arm and Ketchikan bridges. These
topics were covered at the governor’s annual budget address.
With more than $1.1 billion in extra state money to spend, Murkowski
proposes to dedicate all but about $150 million of the surplus to an
education fund and to a future equity investment in a natural gas pipeline.
But whether that’s saving or spending is a matter of debate.
State general fund spending would increase under the governor’s budget, from
the amount approved for the current fiscal year number of just over $3.1
billion, to $3.6 billion in the fiscal year that begins next July. While
that’s about a 16 percent increase, Murkowski says half of it would be set
aside now for next year’s K-12 expenses.
Meanwhile, $400 million would constitute a down payment on an eventual $1
billion cash investment in a gas pipeline.
Despite all the extra cash, Murkowski told the group Commonwealth North that
he still wants to see a long-term fiscal plan based on a Percent of Market
Value payout from the Alaska Permanent Fund.
Pierre, South Dakota -- South Dakota's
current strong economy could help shrink its budget deficit to zero by the
budget year beginning in July 2007.
Gov. Mike Rounds told lawmakers during his annual budget address Dec. 6 that
he wants to use $5.3 million in reserves to balance the budget for the next
fiscal year, which begins in July 2006. But he thinks the deficit will
shrink to nothing by the following year. State revenues are growing at a
faster rate than expenses.
"We are on track to eliminate that deficit and be in the black by next
year," Rounds said.
High production and prices for agriculture crops and livestock and continued
growth in housing construction helped contribute to the state's strong
economy, Rounds said.
Consumer demand also is up and the state gained
5,100 new jobs in the last year. Sales tax revenue for the last two months
also grew more than expected, Rounds said. Investments in research and
economic development are starting to pay off as well.
Rounds plans to give schools more money to deal with increased heating costs
projected for this winter.
Education funding for K-12 and higher education will increase by $18.7
million for fiscal year 2007, including a $6.1 million increase in the K-12
funding formula. That is roughly the amount not used in educating K-12
students last year. The amount is the difference between estimated students
and those that actually enrolled.
For fiscal year 2007 Rounds proposed spending $4,364 per student. Schools
with an enrollment less than 200 will receive $5,238 per student
Rounds will address lawmakers again during his annual state of the state
address during the first day of the Legislature Jan. 10. The main run of
this year's session ends on Feb. 28.
Phoenix, Arizona -- As Gov. Janet
Napolitano prepares to run for re-election next year and propose a new state
budget to the Republican-led Legislature in January, the first-term Democrat
is signaling that she wants to use part of a projected budget surplus to
undo several major maneuvers used to avoid red ink during hard times earlier
But Republican lawmakers and others have already been floating tax cuts and
other ideas on how to use a projected surplus that by the June 30 end of the
current fiscal year could be double the $357 million figure projected in
October by legislative budget analysts.
Now, Napolitano is starting to offer her own proposals that could account
for much of the surplus.
Napolitano also said the improved economy means the state can afford to put
more money in its rainy day fund, but it wasn't clear whether she was
referring to a deposit mandated under the current budget or proposing
another one. The reserve was virtually drained to balance the budget.
Santa Fe, New Mexico -- Amid lingering
suspicions from the 2004 elections , New Mexico officials are trying to
address issues of secrecy, accuracy and transparency in vote counting.
A task force that includes lawmakers and county clerks Wednesday finalized
recommendations for how the state should clean up election laws approved by
the Legislature in a rushed session early this year.
It was the group’s last chance before lawmakers convene Jan. 17 to recommend
changes that would be implemented in time for the primary election in June.
But because there are so many needed improvements that committee members and
public activists have identified, the group decided to continue evaluating
the election code after the Legislative session ends.
“There are things that won’t be addressed during the session that we need to
work on,” said Rep. Ed Sandoval, D-Albuquerque , task force co-chairman .
Included in two bills that will be introduced next month is a request to
give county clerks until Dec. 31, 2007, to comply with the state’s new
requirements for “voter verified and auditable paper trail,” unless money
becomes available sooner. The current rule calls for compliance by the end
Chief among the concerns of a dozen county clerks who serve on the task
force is getting help with the additional costs of complying with new state
laws. “Implementing all of this ... is going to put an undue burden on the
county clerks,” said Sen. Dianna Duran, R- Tularosa, a task-force member.
Denver, Colorado -- Loveland Republican
Rep. Jim Welker says he and fellow members of the Republican Study Committee
of Colorado want to make it harder for illegal immigrants to live in this
That group, which includes about 18 of the Legislature’s 47 Republicans, is
expected to introduce seven or eight bills targeting illegal immigration,
Welker said in an interview.
He said, for example, that he is working on a bill to prohibit anyone who’s
living in the United States illegally from making electronic “wire”
transfers of money from Colorado to other countries.
Nationally, “illegal aliens are sending something like $16 billion back to
Mexico” each year, Welker said.
Welker acknowledged, however, that “I’ve run into some snags” because his
proposed Colorado law may conflict with federal laws about wire transfers,
“so the bill may not go anywhere.”
If that’s the case, “I’ll grab onto something else,” Welker said, as part of
the Republican Study Committee’s anti-illegal immigration efforts in next
Welker’s comments came after he and more than two dozen other Colorado state
lawmakers spent much of Monday listening to various public policy experts’
takes on immigration issues.
Denver, Colorado -- A proposal to be
introduced in the Colorado Legislature next month will attempt to keep
residents from falling victim to mortgage and foreclosure fraud.
Rep. Tom Massey, R-Chaffee, and Sen. Jennifer Veiga, D-Adams, have signed on
to sponsor the legislation.
The idea for the legislation comes out of the Colorado Attorney General's
Office. Attorney General John Suthers on Thursday announced the findings of
his mortgage and foreclosure fraud task force that was formed in July.
"Earlier this year, the FBI identified Colorado as one of the top 10
mortgage fraud 'hot spots' in the country," said Suthers. "This is
unacceptable and thanks to the work of the Mortgage and Foreclosure Fraud
Task Force, we are making efforts to remove Colorado from this list."
The task force recommended legislation that would require foreclosure
consultants and equity investors to have written contracts with homeowners.
The contracts should spell out in detail the services to be provided and the
conditions of any transfer of ownership in a property, the task force
The proposed legislation would allow for prosecution under the Colorado
Consumer Protection Act as a misdemeanor.
Honolulu, Hawaii -- Saying the Hawaii
Nurses Association has failed to protect the interest of nurses and
patients, nurses at Kaiser Moanalua Medical Center and Kaiser clinics are
attempting to remove the local nurses union as their collective-bargaining
representative and replace it with a California-based union.
The majority of the approximately 800 Kaiser nurses represented by the
Hawaii union have signed a petition requesting to replace the Hawaii nurses
union with the National Nurses Organizing Committee/California Nurses
Association, said Michelle Paik, a registered nurse at Kaiser Moanalua
The push to break from the Hawaii Nurses Association comes as Kaiser nurses
are voting to finalize a new contract with Kaiser. Votes were scheduled to
be counted last night after press time.
Paik said the attempt to defect from the Hawaii Nurses Association follows
years of dissatisfaction with the organization. The Hawaii union, she said,
has enabled hospitals throughout the state to provide inadequate numbers of
nurses to care safely for patients.
Lynn Kenton, a spokeswoman for Kaiser, said the hospital receives
consistently high marks for patient satisfaction, which she said was a sign
that the hospital is properly staffed.
Idaho Falls, Idaho -- Opponents want to
repeal a new law that will require permits and inspections to install home
entertainment systems, phone lines and other low-voltage electrical devices,
saying it could cost Idaho consumers millions of dollars.
The law, passed nearly unanimously by the Legislature and signed by Gov.
Dirk Kempthorne in April, requires installers to obtain a permit to do the
work and to have an inspector check the work.
Opponents say that means a licensed electrician would be needed to install
cable television, home movie theaters, phone systems, speaker systems,
wireless Internet broadband, surveillance systems and other low-voltage
Opponents estimate more than 500,000 such installations are done each year
in Idaho. They say that with the new law, the fee for each service would run
from $10 to $180, depending on the cost of the installation.
Mark Norviel, manager of networking and communications at Idaho State
University, said he estimates the law could cost the school up to $250,000
next year in licensing, maintenance and repairs.
When the Legislature convenes in January, it will be asked to approve the
rules created under the law. Opponents say if the law isn't repealed, the
rules should at least exempt low-voltage devices.
The Independent Electrical Contractors of Idaho told lawmakers the law would
update the National Electrical Code.
"They are concerned with their own pocketbooks," Norviel said.
Bob Corbell, lobbyist for the electrical contractors, said the law was
needed to make sure that people installing satellite dishes or wireless
Internet know their way around electricity.
Boise, Idaho -- Sales have gone up by about
15 percent a year for the past three years.The Idaho Liquor Dispensary
attributes the increase to population growth in the Treasure Valley and
But no matter how much liquor is sold in Idaho, the amount of tax revenue
the state gets is capped by state law at $8 million. The rest of the tax
revenue goes to city and county governments.
Now some state lawmakers want to change that. They don't want to raise
liquor taxes. They just want to raise the cap so the state will get a bigger
slice of an already growing pie.
As it is now, cities and counties are getting 65 percent of the money.
If the plan is approved, Idaho's cities and counties would not receive less
money annually. The state would simply get a larger share of the increased
revenue that has resulted from the boom in liquor sales.
Helena, Montana -- Democrats rammed their
$71 million school funding plan through the Legislature Thursday, wrapping
up in two days a special session convened to pump money into schools and
public employee pension funds.
Democrats used their majority muscle to enact a plan mostly reflecting the
wishes of Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who called it a good, affordable step
toward addressing a Montana Supreme Court ruling last year that said state
funding of public schools was inadequate.
Republican leaders, however, blasted the plan as a slapdash effort that
threw money at schools without offering any real reforms of a system that
had been declared unconstitutional.
They also ripped Democrats as "rubber stamps" for Schweitzer, accusing them
of squelching any real attempts to modify the governor's funding plan.
A spokesman for the group that organized the lawsuit leading to the Supreme
Court ruling also said it's not satisfied with the session results.
The Democrats' plan increases annual state funding for schools by nearly $37
million next year, a 6 percent increase, which comes on top of a 7 percent
increase approved for the current school year.
It also adds $34.5 million in one-time money next year for building
maintenance, energy costs and Indian Education for All, a program to teach
American Indian culture to all students in Montana.
Money for the plan will come from an unprecedented state treasury surplus
that's expected to exceed $400 million next year. The surplus is the result
of higher-than-expected tax revenue from income and oil-and-gas taxes.
Republicans tried several times Thursday to add more money to the plan,
particularly to help smaller schools, but were repeatedly rebuffed by
Democrats voting as a bloc in the House and Senate.
Schweitzer made it clear he did not want to spend more than the $71 million
proposal, saying the money will be needed for future expenses such as a
growing prison population, programs for the needy and bailing out the
state's debt-ridden employee pension plans.
Democrats also said the bill is a good start toward resolving years of
neglect on state funding of schools.
Schweitzer also said the plan doesn't raise taxes, although it could lead to
slight property tax increases to cover higher teacher retirement costs in
If ongoing funds lead to higher teacher salaries, county property taxes will
have to pick up a portion of higher pension costs caused by that salary
Republicans said the plan also missed an opportunity to actually reduce
local property taxes.
Reno, Nevada -- The Nevada State Board of
Pharmacy agreed to defer to the state Legislature a decision about whether
pharmacists in the state should be allowed to refuse to fill a prescription
based on moral or religious beliefs.
The board in October in Las Vegas debated a proposal that would have allowed
pharmacists in the state to refuse to fill a prescription because it
violates a "genuine principle or tenet of conscience," which some advocates
say could limit access to birth control and HIV/AIDS-related medications.
Nevada law and pharmacy board regulations do not address so-called
"conscience clause" regulations for pharmacists.
Under the proposal, pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions would have
been required to arrange to have them filled by another pharmacist "without
delay" and would not have been allowed to discuss their objections with
In addition, a pharmacy could not have disciplined pharmacists for refusing
to fill a prescription as long as they reported their objections to their
employers in advance.
Nevada Assembly member Sheila Leslie (D) appealed to the board to allow the
Legislature to address the issue.
Lincoln, Nebraska -- Two groups asked the
Nebraska Supreme Court for permission to intervene in a legal challenge to
term limits placed on state lawmakers by voters in 2000.
U.S. Term Limits and Don't Touch Term Limits asked for permission to file a
so-called friend-of-the-court brief in the case, which three state senators
and a group of voters filed directly with the high court earlier this month.
Under the constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2000, senators are
limited to serving two consecutive four-year terms.
Twenty members of the 49-seat, one-house Legislature are barred from seeking
re-election next year.
Don Stenberg, a Republican U.S. Senate candidate who served three terms as
Nebraska's attorney general, is helping represent the term limits groups.
"The people of Nebraska have spoken," Stenberg said. "They want term limits.
They want citizen legislators. The voice of the people should and must be
Stenberg also criticized state lawmakers fighting term limits.
"They think Nebraska voters don't know what they are doing," Stenberg said.
"They think Nebraska voters don't understand the `complexities' of this
issue. And, most importantly, they don't want to give up their power."
Senators Ernie Chambers of Omaha, Dennis Byars of Beatrice and Marian Price
of Lincoln were joined by six voters in filing the lawsuit.
They allege that term limits violate their First Amendment free speech and
association rights and 14th Amendment equal protection rights under the U.S.
Olympia, Washington -- Washington would
become the second state in the country to allow online voter registration
under a measure proposed Wednesday by Secretary of State Sam Reed.
Reed said the plan - currently used only in Arizona - would be a
"significant innovation" for the state, and urged lawmakers to sponsor the
idea in the upcoming legislative session.
The new statewide voter registration database going online next month will
already be connected to the state Department of Licensing, which has
people's signatures and photos on file. Voters would be able to fill out an
application on the Secretary of State's Web site.
Las Vegas, Nevada -- By submitting a short
stack of papers to the secretary of state on Monday, state Sen. Bob Beers
fired the first salvo in a political battle that will be unlike any seen in
recent Nevada history.
Sen. Beers, a Republican candidate for governor in next year's election,
launched a petition that could place constitutional caps on state and local
government budgets, bolster emergency reserves, let voters decide tax and
spending issues and refund surplus revenue to taxpayers. If his network of
staff and volunteers can collect the signatures of 83,184 registered Nevada
voters by June, the Tax and Spending Control initiative -- TASC -- will
qualify for the November ballot.
And if voters approve the question next year and again in 2008, the era of
runaway government growth in the Silver State will end.
TASC would restrict budget growth to the combined
rates of population growth and inflation, unless voters agree to waive the
cap. Had this TASC restriction been in place over the past decade, state
spending still would have increased 93 percent. Instead, the budget grew by
a nation-leading 147.5 percent.
Juneau, Alaska -- State Sen. Gene
Therriault will introduce a bill to issue the one-time checks as a way to
help citizens meet rising energy costs. The checks could be used on
Therriault has gotten mixed feedback from colleagues in the state
Oil prices are the reason for the state's expected $1.2 billion surplus --
since most of the general fund is from taxes and royalties on oil.
Therriault's plan includes more than the $250 checks, including sending $6
million to the rural energy subsidy program and $10 million to the Low
Income Weatherization Program.
A spokesman for Gov. Frank Murkowski said the governor hadn't formed an
opinion on the plan.
Honolulu, Hawaii -- The Hawaii Legislature
did the unofficial math on the eve of the official arithmetic by the Hawaii
Public Utilities Commission.
The gas cap is based on New York Harbor, Los Angeles and Gulf Coast spot
market prices, averaged together over five trading sessions through Tuesday.
The cap rose 7 cents this week after several weeks of incremental declines.
Cheyenne, Wyoming -- A key legislative
committee has voted down a proposal to give Wyoming's five top elected
officials $10,000 annual pay raises.
The Management Council, the administrative arm of the Legislature, on
Tuesday voted 7-6 not to endorse draft legislation to increase the salaries
of the governor, auditor, treasurer, secretary of state and superintendent
of public instruction.
Salaries for the posts were last increased in January 2003. The governor
earns $105,000 a year and the other four officials earn $92,000 a year each.
Tucson, Arizona -- Someone is about to get
a promotion or a fast-track seat in the Arizona Legislature.
Paula Aboud and state Reps. Ted Downing and David Bradley are vying for the
District 28 seat former Sen. Gabrielle Giffords left this month to run for
retiring U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe's seat in Congress.
Kolbe is a Republican. Giffords will seek the Democratic nomination in
September's congressional primary.
Her appointed replacement in the Senate must be a Democrat.
Last night, Democratic precinct committee members from throughout the
legislative district approved the three candidates.
The Pima County Board of Supervisors will choose one to replace Giffords.
Salt Lake City, Utah -- Utah state
government is losing some of its most veteran and senior workers this month
— nearly all early retirements coming because of a new law that on Jan. 1
cuts back health-care insurance for retired state employees.
The Utah Public Employees Association, the main state union, last week lost
a court battle to stop the provisions of HB213 from taking effect.
The law changes how workers can convert unused sick leave into
post-retirement health insurance. State workers with 30 years or more must
retire by the end of the year or lose free insurance coverage for up to 10
Denver, Colorado -- Lawmakers from five
states discussed national immigration issues Monday but found little common
ground other than their dissatisfaction with the government’s policies.
The fiercest critique of U.S. immigration policy came from Russell Pearce, a
Republican in the Arizona Legislature who termed the flood of illegal
immigrants an “invasion.”
“We have a national crisis, and we have a massive failure in government,”
Pearce told the audience in the packed Old Supreme Court Chambers in the
Lawmakers from Colorado, Nevada, Utah and Texas also attended the forum, the
second immigration-related event this year organized by Colorado lawmakers
along with national organizations.
Immigration issues are certain to surface when the Colorado Legislature
starts its 120-day annual session in January. Among the proposals up for
consideration is one from Rep. Dave Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs, to ban
the state government from providing services to illegal immigrants. A
citizens group is pressing to put a similar measure on the ballot.
Most government agencies do not ask clients for proof of legal residency.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma -- Nearly all the
money raised by an organization pushing a taxpayer bill of rights is from
out-of-state groups, despite a grassroots direct mail plea for money.
Oklahomans in Action Inc. reported raising more than $350,000, most of it in
large donations from groups such as the Colorado Club for Growth and the
National Taxpayers Union.
When its next campaign finance report is filed today, Oklahomans in Action
will likely report spending and raising about $500,000, the group's chairman
"The groups from out of state? Thank God for them," Oklahomans in Action
Chairman Rick Carpenter said. "If someone wants to come in and help Oklahoma
solve some of its governmental problems, then we'd be stupid not to take
Wasilla, Alaska -- Before each meeting,
Wasilla Planning Commission Chairman Stan Tucker calls on one of his fellow
commissioners, Greg Koskela, to pray.
"I think we need all the help we can get," Tucker said.
Koskela commonly closes his prayers with a phrase like, "We ask this in
That's the part that caught the attention of the American Civil Liberties
Union. The ACLU wrote the commission Nov. 2, asking the chairman to stop
opening and closing the meetings with sectarian prayer.
Singling out Christ, according to the ACLU, amounts to sectarianism.
Olympia, Washington -- The group that wants
to build a NASCAR race track near Bremerton will make its pitch to state
lawmakers next month when the Legislature convenes.
But the head of the Senate budget committee, Margarita Prentice of Renton,
says there's no support for the plan to pay about half the cost through
Supporters say the $345 million project would bring money to the area from
The Speedway Corporation wants to make the sport truly nationwide. It also
plans to build a race track at New York, where it would pay the entire cost.
Jefferson City, Missouri -- Election
officials in four Midwestern states have reached an agreement aimed partly
at making sure people aren't registered to vote in multiple states.
The agreement among secretaries of state in Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and
Nebraska calls for the creation of a task force to study ways of
cross-checking voter registration rolls in the various states.
The task force also is to study joint training of election officials,
testing of election systems and ways to improve election security
procedures, as well as the creation of standard rules for international
The agreement comes less than a month after the U.S. Justice Department
sued Missouri claiming the state had failed to take reasonable steps to keep
its voter rolls up to date. As a result, the Justice Department claimed,
Missouri's voter rolls may include some people who have died or moved and
exclude others who should still be eligible to vote.
Des Moines, Iowa
-- Population shifts to warmer weather could result in Iowa losing one
of its U-S House seats after the 2010 census.
That's according to
a Washington-based consultant that specializes in redistricting.
Services predicts Iowa, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania will lose seats,
based on 2004 census population estimates. Arizona, Florida, Texas and Utah
would gain seats.
If it happens, it
would be the second House seat Iowa has lost since the 1990 census.
Officials with the state's Democratic and Republican parties say there has
been no discussion yet among their leaders on the implications of losing
another congressional seat.
Portland, Oregon -- For the first time since hinting that he might
consider a run for re-election, former Oregon governor John Kitzhaber is
talking about why he wants to get back into politics.
Kitzhaber was one of Oregon's most popular governors, known for wearing
jeans and for his down-to-earth attitude.
He still has not decided whether to run or not, but he did tell KATU News
in an exclusive interview that he is seriously considering it and even
called the current governor to let him know.
He said the main reason is that he wants to completely revamp the health
care system and not just in Oregon.
Carson City, Nevada -- State Sen. Bob Beers, running for governor
next year, filed paperwork Monday for a proposed constitutional change to
limit government spending and give Nevada voters the final say on state or
local government tax increases.
The Tax and Spending Control, or TASC, proposal was filed with the
secretary of state. Backers must collect 83,157 signatures, or 10 percent of
the voter turnout in the 2004 election, to get the plan on the 2006 ballot.
The plan also would need voter approval in 2008.
Asked whether he hoped to bolster his bid for governor by pushing the
ballot plan at the same time, Beers said TASC "is more important than who's
While a governor would have at most two four-year terms to try holding
down taxes and government spending, "This will permanently take the decision
out of the hands of special interests and politicians and put it in the
hands of taxpayers," he said.
Beers added that fiscally prudent government entities "will have no
problem complying with this. They won't even notice this."
Beers also predicted that voters will understand the proposal. "The polls
show it's popular," he said, noting an October survey conducted for the Las
Vegas Review-Journal showed 58 percent support for the plan.
Under the Nevada proposal, most state and local governments would need
voter approval for any new tax or rate increase, extension of an expiring
tax or a tax policy change that would produce a revenue gain.
Any increases in state spending would be limited by the percentage
changes in the consumer price index and population growth, unless voters
allow spending above that level.
The plan also would return excess revenues to taxpayers if those revenues
are higher than the constitutional spending limit and the ceilings of new
emergency reserve and budget stabilization funds.
Denver, Colorado -- Lawmakers from Colorado,
Utah, Nevada and Arizona convened a regional conference on immigration
Monday, saying they need to find solutions to the problems they share.
"I don't think the status quo is defensible or sustainable," said Colorado
House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver.
He said lawmakers need to study the benefits of illegal immigration as well
as the costs.
Texas state Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, a Democrat from San Antonio and
president-elect of the National Conference of State Legislatures, said
lawmakers need to get past the emotional issues swirling around immigration
"What we see is a lot of the emotional response and not some clear
thinking," she told a crowd packed into the Old Supreme Court Chambers at
the Colorado Capitol.
Texas was not an official participant in the conference sponsored by NCSL
and the Colorado Legislature. Officials from New Mexico were also invited,
but did not attend.
Colorado Republicans, who have made immigration reform a key part of their
agenda next year, said the forum was put together by Democrats without their
The Republican Study Committee of Colorado held its own hearings on
immigration Nov. 16. The committee includes 18 of the Legislature's 47
Dakota -- Officials from nine school districts argue
that North Dakota's Legislature has not provided enough money for schools to
achieve the state constitution's education quality standards. The lawsuit,
filed in Northwest District Court in Williston, contends the aid provided by
the state is unfairly distributed among schools.
Last week, Northwest District Judge David Nelson denied a state motion for
summary judgment, which would have dismissed the suit without a trial. The
trial is now scheduled to begin Feb. 27.
Whether the state's education funding system is ultimately changed or not,
at least supporters of changes will have the chance to prove their case in
open court. Supporters of the current system say any changes should come
about through the legislative process, but that's been tried and has failed
through the years.
Supporters of the lawsuit contend that all they want is children in Edgeley
to have the same chance at a quality education as the children in Minot.
They seek a uniform education for all students, and the current system
doesn't allow that.
Austin, Texas -- Criminal charges against Rep. Tom DeLay hinge on
prosecutors' efforts to apply a money laundering law intended to hinder the
drug trade to state campaign finances.
DeLay is accused of laundering $190,000 in "dirty" corporate money -
corporate money is generally illegal in Texas elections - through his
political action committee to the national GOP and back to seven Republican
candidates for the state House. The swap was an effort to conceal the source
of the money, prosecutors contend.
Houston attorney David Berg, an active Texas Democrat, called the charges "a
very odd application of the money laundering statute."
"What the Legislature wanted was to attack drug dealing. There was no intent
for the statute to be applied this wide," Berg said.
One count of money laundering and one count of conspiracy to launder money
remain the only charges against DeLay after a judge dismissed another
conspiracy charge last week.
To get a conviction against DeLay and two associates, Travis County
prosecutors will have to prove the men knowingly raised or converted
corporate cash with the intent of getting around the state's ban on using
such money in campaigns for elective office.
The case against DeLay, Ellis and Colyandro essentially is an alleged
campaign finance violation focused on a state law that prohibits corporate
money from being used in campaigns for elective office.
Corporate money can be legally raised by a political committee to pay for
Phoenix, Arizona -- The debate over Arizona's immigration woes
will get more aggressive in the coming year as state lawmakers facing
re-election campaigns feel pressure to fix problems long thought of as the
sole province of the federal government.
Beginning in January, the Legislature will consider proposals to punish
employers who hire illegal immigrants, fund a new 50- to 100-person squad of
the state police to crack down on border problems and prohibit immigrants
from receiving state-funded job training, key lawmakers said.
That's just the start of the proposals legislators will consider.
Republican Rep. Russell Pearce of Mesa, the Legislature's most vocal
proponent for restricting immigration, said he will propose buying a $50
million radar to spot illegal border-crossers and a measure to cut off
shared state income tax revenue for cities that discourage police officers
from inquiring about people's immigration status.
Republican lawmakers said they expect Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano, who
enjoys a strong job approval rating as she moves into an election year, to
veto some of the new measures as she did after the last session.
If a measure gets vetoed, there's a good chance it might end up on the
ballot for a vote of the people, who are frustrated with Arizona's huge
health care and education costs for illegal workers and their families.
Juneau, Alaska -- Gov. Frank Murkowski doesn't sound worried about
his dismal poll numbers.
The Republican governor's potential challengers have problems as well, if
polls are to be believed. The Democratic field is in flux until former Gov.
Tony Knowles makes up his mind about whether he is running.
But in the November SurveyUSA poll, Murkowski had just a 26 percent approval
Murkowski's approval ratings have been in the dumps since shortly after he
took office in 2002. He has made decisions that angered identifiable
pressure groups: cutting out the longevity bonus for many of the elderly,
dropping direct state payments to local governments; raising oil taxes.
Controversial acts like insisting on buying a state jet probably haven't
Murkowski is well aware of his poll numbers. But he said the state is in
good shape and he thinks he does have a strong support base.
"Incidentally, I'm moving up in the polling. I'm ahead of my friend from
California, Schwarzenegger," Murkowski said last month.
That was true at the time. Murkowski rose to 46th in the October SurveyUSA
poll -- one position above California's movie-star governor. Schwarzenegger
has gotten into politically bruising battles with union nurses and teachers.
But Murkowski was back in the 49th position in November.
Huron, South Dakota -- Ron Volesky, Lakota, says he will be the
next governor of his state and he has an important agenda to work with
Volesky, a Democrat and a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, made a
run for governor in 2002 but fell short in the primary elections. He was
tagged by the state Democratic Party to run for attorney general.
South Dakota is primarily a Republican state, with the Legislature,
governor's office and attorney general's office occupied by Republicans.
Only four legislators are American Indian, and with the current set
districts there will never be more American Indian legislators.
Volesky says he would not only work to put more American Indians in state
jobs, but would appoint American Indians to the judiciary.
Volesky proposes a positive change in state government toward American
Indian issues, including improvements in race relations, he said. Volesky
served for 16 years in the state Legislature and introduced numerous bills
regarding racial profiling and economic development, none of which passed.
Honolulu, Hawaii -- Governor Lingle wants to bring back the tax
cut bills that foundered last year.
With revenues up for the state Lingle issued an announcement late this
summer pushing for a revival of the host of tax relief bills that were
tabled last session.
But House Majority Leader Marcus Oshiro says the state also needs to look
ahead and prepare for less federal money coming to Hawaii as the result of
He says those cuts could include Medicaid, Medicare, public education as
well as transportation. Higher fuel costs will also boost construction costs
for the state.
Honolulu, Hawaii -- Gov. Linda Lingle returned this week from a
transcontinental fundraising and politics trip, including stops in
California for a Republican Governors Association meeting and fundraisers in
Houston, Philadelphia and New York City.
Packing a campaign checkbook that already boasts $2.4 million, Lingle has
concentrated on raising more money for her 2006 re-election campaign.
According to reports filed with the state Campaign Spending Commission,
Lingle has held 125 fundraising events in the last four years. Since
becoming governor, Lingle has held 17 mainland fundraisers, with ticket
prices ranging from $500 to $6,000.
According to Lingle's reports filed with the Campaign Spending Commission,
Lingle took in $1.8 million from all donors this year. Of that, she has
picked up $475,540, or more than 26 percent, from mainland contributors.
The most money, $290,000, came from California. New York and Washington,
D.C., donors were the next most generous, giving a total of $34,000 each.
Olympia, Washington -- Washington's graying government work force
expects to get a comfortable pension when retirement rolls around in the
next decade, but the state pension system faces a "time bomb" — a $4 billion
In recent years, lawmakers have financed pensions on the cheap, skipping
payments and relying on Wall Street investments to keep the system
relatively healthy. It was a painless, if imprudent, way to help balance
state and local budgets during the post-9-11 recession that hammered
Now that the state economy has rebounded and a robust $1.45 billion surplus
is projected, Gov. Christine Gregoire and lawmakers have decided to
contribute hundreds of millions to chip away at the problem.
Helena, Montana -- Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer's school funding
proposal would hike annual state funding by $31.2 million next year, an
approximate 5 percent increase. He also is proposing another $33.5 million
in one-time funds, primarily for building maintenance and jump-starting
Indian Education for All, a program to instruct all students on Native
The money is in response to a Montana Supreme Court ruling that said state
funding for schools has been unconstitutionally inadequate.
The coalition of school groups that sued the state have said if Schweitzer’s
plan is considered the final solution, it will be back in court, arguing
that it falls short of what’s needed.
But, regardless of any future court action, Schweitzer’s plan will be
front-and-center at this week’s special session of the Legislature, which
must decide whether to approve, reject or modify the governor’s plan. The
session begins Wednesday.
Austin, Texas -- Battling the freezing weather, author and
humorist Kinky Friedman joined a handful of supporters outside the Texas
Secretary of State's office Thursday to celebrate his official filing as an
independent candidate for governor in next year's election.
"I'm on my way to the Governor's Mansion," Friedman said.
Because he's running as an independent, he must collect 45,539 signatures
from registered voters who do not participate in the Republican or
Democratic primaries. He cannot start the petition drive until after the
Friedman said people all over Texas have embraced his campaign.
Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn has said she will challenge incumbent
Gov. Rick Perry in the GOP primary.
Former Houston Congressman Chris Bell plans to seek the Democratic
nomination for governor. Former state Supreme Court Justice Bob Gammage said
he probably will join Bell in pursuit of the Democratic nomination.
Houston, Texas -- The display of the King James Bible at the
Harris County Courthouse isn't the largest of memorials. But its nearly
50-year presence there once again is sparking larger-than-life questions:
Should religious symbols have a place in public life? If so, under what
Arguing before a three-person federal appeals panel, attorneys for Kay
Staley, a self-described "humanist," said the Bible display at the civil
courthouse in downtown Houston amounts to government endorsement of religion
and, as such, violates the First Amendment principle of the separation of
church and state.
Attorneys for the state and for Harris County countered that the display is
secular in nature and was built as a memorial in 1956 to a Houston
philanthropist and man of faith, William Mosher.
The case before the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Kay Staley vs. Harris
County, has sparked intense passions over the role of religion in public
Kahului, Hawaii -- Two Maui gas retailers aren’t happy that next
week’s wholesale gasoline prices will be rising 7 cents a gallon after an
eight-week period of falling prices.
“Any increase I don’t like. Anything that makes the product higher, I don’t
like. It’s not good for the business,” said Paul Hanada, owner of Aloha
Shell and Ilima Shell in Kahului.
Alvin Makimoto, owner of Uptown Chevron Foodmart and Car Wash, said simply
that the price hike is “junk.”
“I don’t know what else to say. Everyone is better off with the lower gas
prices,” Makimoto said.
The state Public Utilities Commission posted the new cap prices Wednesday,
setting the weekly maximum wholesale price at $1.5364 – 7.09 cents higher
than this week’s price.
Anchorage, Alaska - For the first time since he lost last year’s
contentious race for the U.S. Senate, a Democratic Party press release
touted a public appearance by former two-term governor Tony Knowles.
Gov. Frank Murkowski remains the second least popular governor in America,
according to tracking polls by the firm Survey USA. Murkowski often says
that Knowles’ eight years in office were a time of malaise and drift.
Knowles is noncommittal about a contest to see which governor Alaskans
“I believe Alaskans think we need a change, and I’m going to participate in
one way or another on getting Alaska back in the right direction,” said
So while Murkowski falters in polls, he also could face a test from Knowles.
Murkowski has not yet said whether he is running for reelection. The only
declared candidate on the Republican side is former Wasilla mayor Sara Palin.
Juneau, Alaska -- A recent estimate shows the state could net a
jaw-dropping $1.5 billion budget surplus because of a spike in oil prices.
Some legislators, such as Sens. Gene Therriault, R-North Pole and Albert
Kookesh, D-Angoon, are eyeing the state's projected surplus as a way to help
Alaska residents with their skyrocketing fuel bills this year.
"It's kind of nice, going into a session when you have lots of money ... and
the opportunity to do something good," Kookesh said.
Legislators may consider a couple of ideas: a one-time $500 fuel "dividend"
for all Alaskans who received a permanent fund check in 2004; or creating a
permanent endowment, using half of the $1.5 billion surplus to provide
long-term energy-cost relief to Alaskans.
Another idea from Senate Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz is to use part of
the budget surplus to fund alternate energy projects - such as wind and
hydroelectric power - to reduce remote villages' reliance on expensive
Salt Lake City, Utah -- Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. (R) is calling for
$60 million in tax cuts next year as part of "reforming" the state's income
tax and removing or reducing the sales tax on food.
"Our feeling is a tax cut comes as lawmakers tie into income tax reform and
as they tie into reducing or eliminating the sales tax on food," said Mike
Mower, deputy chief of staff and Huntsman spokesman.
That likely means Huntsman, who campaigned on taking the sales tax off food,
will end up backing either reducing the state sales tax rate on unprepared
food or offering an income tax credit or rebate to low-income Utahns for the
food tax they pay each year.
Utah House Speaker Greg Curtis said GOP House leaders want a bigger tax cut
than what Huntsman will suggest. "I don't think that $60 million is
sufficient tax relief. We think it should be more like $100 million, with
half going to removing the sales tax from food."
Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, who has called for getting rid of
the food tax, said "a more cautious approach might be better than a more
aggressive approach" because he believes the growth in tax revenues might be
Utah is seeing near-record tax surpluses this year — perhaps as much as $300
million by the time the state's fiscal year ends June 30. In the first four
months of this fiscal year, taxes are already coming in $90 million above
Over the past 10 years, the state budget has grown by 62 percent. And
conservative legislators want tax cuts to slow the growth of government.
Bismarck, North Dakota -- A judge has refused to dismiss a lawsuit
against North Dakota's education finance system, ruling that a group of
schools should have a chance to prove their claims that it is inadequate and
Nine school districts, including Williston, where the lawsuit is filed,
argue North Dakota's Legislature has not provided enough state money for
local schools to meet the state constitution's education quality standards.
The lawsuit contends the state aid that is provided is distributed unfairly
In a two-page order, Northwest District Judge David Nelson denied a state
motion for summary judgment, which would have dismissed the lawsuit without
The trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 27. Nelson listened to dismissal
arguments during a Nov. 23 hearing in Williston.
Cheyenne, Wyoming -- After six weeks of trial, both sides rested
Tuesday in the case in which school districts accuse the state of
Judge Nicholas Kalokathis must now decide whether the school districts are
correct in their claim that the state has failed to abide by past court
orders to provide adequate funding.
Most of Wyoming's 48 school districts as well as the Wyoming School Boards
Association and the Wyoming Education Association are pressing the lawsuit.
They maintain that the state has failed to follow court orders on funding.
The coalition maintains that the state system doesn't do enough to cover
costs, including hiring and training teachers and maintenance of buildings.
The state has asked the judge to dismiss the coalition's case, saying any
dispute over school funding will be moot when the Legislature adopts a new
funding formula early next year.
Salt Lake City, Utah -- The Utah Legislature doles out spectacular
benefits for its part-time employees, i.e. lawmakers.
Legislators who work for six years get 60 percent of their health care paid
for in retirement. If they work for 10, it’s free. That includes
supplemental insurance to cover what Medicare doesn’t in old age.
Utah’s lawmakers provide themselves with that insurance using taxpayer
dollars. And that’s raising some hackles now that those same lawmakers have
axed retirement health care for state employees.
Salt Lake City, Utah -- Utah schools are expected to take in
another 14,700 students next school year, and it's going to cost nearly $67
million extra, the State Office of Education reports.
But that's just a fraction of an unprecedented $3.1 billion budget the State
Board of Education is seeking from the Utah Legislature. To make that dream
come true, the Legislature would have to hand over an extra $347 million — a
12.7 percent increase over last year's funding.
The budget request mostly hinges on a 5 percent increase in the weighted
pupil unit, the state's basic per-student funding formula. That would cost
Growth also is a big part of it. Of the nearly 14,700 new students expected
next fall, 6,000 would be moving in from out of state, state education
finance and budgeting specialist Patty Murphy said.
The rest of the budget would fund various programs, including $16 million to
make sure fourth- through sixth-graders master pivotal math concepts
introduced at that age, and $6.1 million to help high school students
struggling to pass the basic skills test required for high school
Laramie, Wyoming -- Gov. Dave Freudenthal (D) says he expects to
run for a second term, but will not make a final decision until after the
forthcoming legislative session.
“I think we will; I expect to,” Freudenthal said in response to a question
at a University of Wyoming political science class attended by students and
“I think I’ll cross that bridge in some reliable fashion after the
legislative session,” said the governor, who will be up for re-election next
He said he did not want to go into the lawmaking session as a “lame duck”
governor with diminished political power, so “even if I wasn’t planning on
running, I would want to act like I was.”
He said he has no interest in running for federal office, and “when I’m
through with this I expect to go back and practice law. It remains the thing
I like to do best in my life.”
Phoenix, Arizona -- Advocates for early childhood services
launched an initiative campaign Wednesday asking voters to dramatically
increase the state's tobacco taxes to fund preschool programs, health
screenings and other services.
The "First Things First" initiative, if it qualifies for the November 2006
ballot and is approved by voters, would increase by 80 cents the state's
current $1.18 tax per pack - an increase of nearly 68 percent. Tax on other
tobacco products also would rise.
Supporters say the tax would raise a projected $150 million annually, with
most of the money distributed as grants by regional boards according to each
Some money would be allotted on a statewide basis and up to 10 percent of
the total money could be used for administrative costs on the state and
"All children deserve to have the opportunity to start school on an equal
footing and science is telling us that we can't wait until kindergarten to
prepare them," said Nadine Mathis Basha, a state Board of Education member
who is chair of the initiative campaign and wife of supermarket magnate
Supporters must collect approximately 122,612 signatures of registered
voters by July to get the measure on the ballot.
State law requires that initiative backers include a financing method in any
proposal that would incur costs, and campaign spokesman Steve Roman said
supporters considered other ways such as raising taxes on alcohol to raise
the money but decided after conducting polling that a tobacco tax increase
was "the avenue of the least resistance."
Cheyenne, Wyoming -- The number of illegal immigrants is growing
in Wyoming because of the upsurge in the state's energy and construction
industries, according to labor and sociology experts.
However, reliable figures are hard to come by, they say.
"We just know there's a growing number of people who work here but have not
formally come to establishing a residence here," said Tom Gallagher, a
sociologist with the Wyoming Department of Employment.
Agency research indicates that nonstate residents, legal or otherwise, make
up 23 percent of the workforce.
Pierre, South Dakota -- Next year's proposed state budget unveiled
Tuesday by Gov. Mike Rounds won general praise from both fellow Republicans
and from Democratic legislators.
As explained by the chief executive, the spending package should finally
eliminate the financial pinch that has plagued the state for several years.
In short, revenues have fallen short of expenditures, and state reserves
have been used to plug those holes.
"It looks like he's trying to do the best he can with the money we have
available," said Rep. Jim Putnam, R-Armour, head of the House Appropriations
Rounds' priorities of education and efforts to help the needy are solid,
Senate Democratic Leader Garry Moore of Yankton said the governor's budget
plan is reasonable. But Moore said he believes the Legislature can do more
for schools than Rounds has proposed for the next fiscal year.
"I see no reason why we can't give education another $130 per student, over
and above the $127 increase the governor is proposing," Moore said.
Salem, Oregon -- A citizen panel that's taking a look at what ails
the Oregon Legislature heard a plea Tuesday from State Treasurer Randall
Edwards to have lawmakers meet in annual sessions, rather than every other
year, with deadlines to prevent runaway sessions.
Edwards, himself a former House member, said Oregon's biennial system,
dating back to 1858, no longer effectively serves a state that has
experienced major growth and where state government has become a
Plus, he said the every-other-year arrangement prevents the Legislature from
quickly responding to important issues that can crop up, such as a judge's
recent ruling that struck down the voter-enacted Measure 37 property rights
The next regular session of the Legislature doesn't convene until January
2007, he noted, and "no one seems interested in calling a special session"
of the Legislature to tackle the thorny property rights issue.
Denver, Colorado -- The state government of Colorado has canceled
a $10.5m contract with IT services and consulting provider Accenture Ltd,
and has threatened to terminate another deal valued at $40m.
Earlier this week, Accenture's contract to build a new computer system to
track voter registration was ended, with Colorado's election officials
saying that the company's work "did not meet the state's expectations".
Accenture had already received $1.5m from Colorado for its work under the
deal, and the state will now miss the January 1 federal deadline to have the
new electoral system in place.
Accenture hit back by claiming that Colorado officials had delayed making
decisions on changes to the system, and had terminated the deal before
testing the latest updates submitted by Accenture. The company also pointed
out that it was working on, or had already completed, similar voter
registration databases in Wisconsin, Wyoming and Pennsylvania.
Hamilton, Bermuda-based Accenture's separate contract with Colorado's
Department of Labor and Employment is also reportedly in trouble. Under the
terms of the deal, Accenture is creating a new system to track unemployment
taxes and benefits in the state.
However, the project is now running approximately two years behind schedule,
and last month the client threatened to kick Accenture off the contract.
Colorado officials are said to be particularly concerned that the key aspect
of the system, namely bringing together the tax and benefits aspects of the
unemployment records, is still unfinished.
Salem, Oregon -- The state AFL-CIO has filed a pair of initiatives
asking voters to change the Oregon Constitution to pare back or end the
kicker tax rebate for corporations.
Separately, Sen. Ryan Deckert, D-Beaverton, who leads the Senate Revenue
Committee, said he may try to broker a deal to end the corporate rebate in
exchange for a pledge to businesses that the Legislature would put the money
into a rainy-day fund or spend it on projects such as higher education
upgrades that businesses favor.
Olympia, Washington -- Citing what she calls "pretty egregious
impacts" of cigarette smoke to the health of Native American women and
youth, Gov. Christine Gregoire has quietly asked the state's Indian tribes
to turn their casinos into tobacco-free zones.
The governor's request was received respectfully at a dinner she held for
Indian leaders in Olympia last month. They promised to take it up with
"It is on the agenda," said W. Ron Allen, chairman of the Jamestown
S'Klallam Tribe and president of the Washington Indian Gaming Association.
Under Initiative 901, which took effect Thursday, cigarettes are off-limits
in bars, public places and card rooms.
Indian casinos, which are not subject to state law, are the only public
places where smoking is still permitted.
Cigarette smokers and cigar afficionados aren't the only ones fuming over
the recently passed statewide indoor smoking ban.
Hookah lounges - where people gather to smoke flavored tobacco out of
elaborate hookahs - say they will likely be forced out of business under the
ban, the most stringent in the country.
Santa Fe, New Mexico -- The governors of New Mexico and
neighboring Chihuahua say they will prod federal officials to approve a new
border crossing and lift the ban on importing U.S. cattle into Mexico.
Govs. Bill Richardson and Jose Reyes Baeza reached the agreements during a
meeting of the New Mexico-Chihuahua Commission, which was created two years
ago to boost trade.
The governors will send a joint letter of support to the U.S. secretary of
state and Mexico's secretary of foreign relations in support of a proposed
border crossing between Sunland Park and Anapra, Mexico.
Carson City, Nevada -- Nevada Appeal editor Barry Smith is leaving
the paper to serve as executive director of the Nevada Press Association.
Tony Hughes, NPA president and publisher of the Mineral County
Independent-News, said Tuesday that Smith will start as director by March 1.
He replaces Kent Lauer, director of the press association for 10 years, who
recently resigned to accept a position in Idaho.
The association represents member newspapers at the state Legislature on
issues such as freedom of the press and open government. It also operates
the Nevada Classified Ad Network, a cooperative venture among its members.
Lincoln, Nebraska -- A Lincoln senator took the first public
counter-punch at Gov. Dave Heineman’s tax cut proposal Tuesday, laying out a
plan he said would be more visible to more Nebraskans and better respond to
economic downturns. Proposed tax cut plans
Sen. David Landis wants to cut car and truck taxes at least in half, instead
of the property, sales and income tax relief Heineman proposed Monday.
Doing so would help a broader range of taxpayers, ensure cuts didn’t go to
out-of-staters and give people relief they could feel, said Landis, chairman
of the Legislature’s Revenue Committee.
It also would be cheaper by maybe $60 million a year, according to rough
estimates, and be adjusted based more on revenue streams than political
factors, Landis said.
His proposal would cut the tax by half or three-quarters, Landis said, while
a piece of the governor’s would reduce income taxes by about 3 percent.
Asked Landis: “Which one will taxpayers notice?”
The response from Heineman’s camp. “The governor continues to support his
comprehensive proposal, and he is confident that his proposal enjoys
significant support from a number of senators.”
Des Moines, Iowa -- House Speaker Christopher Rants, who stood in
the way of the governor's proposed cigarette tax increase during the last
legislative session, looks poised to do the same this January.
Rants, a Republican, said Tuesday there's not enough support in the Iowa
House to pass an 80-cent per pack increase.
Gov. Tom Vilsack wants the increase, in part, to pay for a new insurance
program that would help pay for the most expensive medical care for
employees of small businesses and schools.
"Here's the reality: Do you want to save lives? Do you want fewer kids to
smoke? The research is pretty clear. Raise the cigarette tax. That should be
enough of a reason," Vilsack said.
Republicans appeared set to oppose a tobacco tax increase, which was
contentious during the last legislative session.
Pocatello, Idaho -- Mining, timber and agriculture groups in Idaho
say they're watching the debate over property tax reform closely.
They're concerned any efforts to change the system could result in a shift
of taxes to them.
Some residents have been calling for tax relief, arguing their share of the
overall tax burden has grown faster than it has for other taxpayers,
An interim committee of the Idaho Legislature has made recommendations for
the upcoming session, including a proposal to increase a tax break for
Honolulu, Hawaii -- The Supreme Court of Hawaii overturned the
manslaughter conviction of Tayshea Aiwohi. The 32-year-old woman had been
previously found guilty for causing the death of her newborn son by smoking
crystal methamphetamine three days before his birth and on the morning he
The State's High Court unanimously ruled that Aiwohi's son was an unborn
fetus at the time she abused crystal meth, and therefore not a person.
According to the Honolulu Star Bulletin, Hawaii's penal code states that a
person is defined as "'a human being who has been born and is alive.'
Most states allow for the prosecution of a person for violence against a
pregnant woman resulting in the death of her child after birth.
Thirty-four states have 'fetal homicide' laws allowing prosecution of a
person for causing the death of a fetus. Most infamously, Scott Peterson
faces the death penalty in California for his conviction of two counts of
murder for the deaths of his wife, Laci, and their unborn child."
Juneau, Alaska -- The Reagan legacy of the Teflon Republican is
alive and well in Alaska.
Both the House speaker and Senate president were fined this week by the
state commission that oversees financial activities of elected officials.
It's the latest in a string of Alaska GOP scandals, misdeeds and missteps
that stretches back to 2003, when party chairman Randy Ruedrich broke ethics
laws by using his state Oil & Gas Conservation Commission office to conduct
But while next year is an election year, Republican leaders and political
watchers alike say not to expect a backlash at the polls.
"I think if we ask folks a couple of weeks from now, 90 percent of them
aren't even going to remember it happened," Ruedrich said Friday in an
interview with The Associated Press.
Ruedrich was speaking of the penalties levied against House Speaker John
Harris, R-Valdez, and Senate President Ben Stevens, R-Anchorage, by the
Alaska Public Offices Commission for breaking state laws regulating campaign
contributions and financial disclosures.
Democratic pollster Ivan Moore said Ruedrich's point was well taken.
Mesa, Arizona -- The state Board of Education invoked a new
Arizona law for the first time Monday, approving the financial takeover of a
school district in a secluded community dominated by a polygamist sect.
The board voted 8-1 to approve a settlement between the Colorado City
Unified School District and state officials to immediately place the
district under the financial oversight of an appointed receiver.
Colorado City and neighboring Hildale, Utah, are dominated by the
Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a sect that
practices polygamy and broke away from the mainline Mormon church.
Phoenix, Arizona -- A judge ruled Wednesday that state Rep. David
Burnell Smith must leave office because of campaign finance violations.
If the state prevails on appeal, the Scottsdale Republican would be the
first legislator removed for violations of a state's public campaign finance
funding system law.
Judge Mark Aceto of Maricopa County Superior Court granted a motion filed by
Attorney General Terry Goddard to force Smith from office based on an order
by the Citizens Clean Elections Commission.
Aceto also granted the commission's request to dismiss Smith's lawsuit
challenging the order that he leave office because of approximately $6,000
overspending by his publicly funded 2004 primary election campaign. And he
denied Smith's motion to dismiss the state's request to oust him.
Santa Fe, New Mexico -- After opposing proposed minimum wage laws
in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, the New Mexico Lodging Association says it
might support efforts in January to enact a new statewide minimum wage.
Randy Randall, a Las Cruces hotel owner and chair of NMLA's government
affairs committee, says the association thinks the federal government has
been remiss in not raising the federal minimum wage.
But since that has not happened since 1997, Randall says NMLA would rather
New Mexico's wage be increased statewide than one city at a time.
Phoenix, Arizona -- There is only one intellectually honest and
informed argument against the Arizona Legislature enacting an income-tax
reduction next session: That, instead, there should be a massive increase in
The state sang the fiscal blues so long and so mournfully that the extent of
its remarkable turnaround is still not fully appreciated or accepted.
Last year, state revenues grew 19 percent. Between surpluses and a deposit
to the state's "rainy day fund," the state collected $800 million more in
taxes than it spent to run state government.
This fiscal year, which began in July, continues the same trend. For the
first four months, revenue growth has been nearly as robust at 18 percent.
Legislative budgeters have raised their revenue growth forecast for the year
to 9 percent, which will undoubtedly get blown by very quickly.
Even with that modest boost in anticipated revenues, the state expects to
collect nearly $750 million more than it will spend on state operations. An
additional $200 million is more likely than not.
Even with the tax-cutting in the 1990s, state revenues grew at an average of
7 percent a year. Looking back over several decades, they have trended at
around 10 percent annual growth.
Denver, Colorado -- The conservative Christian group Focus on the
Family says it is withdrawing its funds from Wells Fargo because of the
bank's support of gay organizations.
"Focus on the Family has elected to end its banking relationship with
Wells Fargo, motivated primarily by the bank's ongoing efforts to advance
the radical homosexual agenda," according to a statement on the group's Web
site dated Thursday and attributed to the Focus president and chief
executive, Jim Daly.
Austin, Texas -- The shortage of proven Democratic candidates
willing to run statewide suggests that the party remains unable to compete
with Republicans up and down the ballot, even though Republicans in Texas
and Washington suffered numerous political setbacks this year.
"It's important for us to see how the filing period goes," said Ruben
Hernandez, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party. "We're
optimistic that credible candidates will present themselves."
By this time four years ago, Democrats already had drawn seasoned
politicians to run in several key races. Now, the party appears to be
focused on down-ballot races and peeling off a handful of legislative seats.
"Democrats might win an isolated election due to peculiar circumstances
related to that one election," said Thomas Myers, a political science
professor at Baylor University. "But as far as making any kind of systematic
comeback across the state, I don't see that happening."
The most visible Democrat running statewide so far is gubernatorial
candidate Chris Bell of Houston, a former one-term congressman. Bob Gammage,
who won statewide office as a Texas Supreme Court justice but has been out
of office and the public eye for years, also is weighing a bid.
Democrats have not won a statewide election since 1994, and there is little
reason for up-and-coming mayors or legislators to give up good jobs for
expensive, draining campaigns when recent history is not on their side.
During that time, Republicans have seized on Texans' conservative views on
economic and social issues.
Pollster Mike Baselice, whose Republican clients include Gov. Rick Perry,
says Republicans in statewide races have drawn no worse than 52 percent of
the vote in recent elections, with some Democrats plunging below 40 percent.
Baselice said Republicans hold an approximately 10 percentage point
advantage among voters, an advantage that could dwindle over time should
Hispanic population growth continue and Republican candidates fail to draw
more than 30 percent of the Hispanic vote.
Phoenix, Arizona -- Lobbying by Western Democrats could spur the
party to embrace a proposal for an eight-state Western regional presidential
primary in 2008, a move that many say would elevate regional issues onto the
national agenda during the next presidential campaign.
Proponents circulated petitions for the regional primary and talked it up
among the more than 300 party activists attending the three-day Democratic
National Committee meetings in Phoenix.
Party strategist Michael Stratton of Colorado said there was a "good
likelihood" it would emerge in recommendations due next weekend from a party
commission examining presidential primary issues.
The regional proposal calls for simultaneous primaries or caucuses on Feb.
5, 2008, in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and
It would fall shortly after the Iowa and New Hampshire events, yet early
enough that presidential hopefuls would have to visit Western states and
tackle issues of interest there to win support.
The plan was endorsed last year by the bipartisan Western Governors'
Association and is backed by Democrats for the West, an organization founded
by prominent Western party members.
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a possible 2008 presidential candidate, and
Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, a Republican, have joined forces to promote it.
The issue is not new. Westerners of all political persuasions have long
complained of "fly-over" syndrome, where candidates bounce between Eastern
or Midwestern states and California without stopping to address voters in
the states in between.
Arizona GOP Chairman Matt Salmon said the state party has not taken a
position on the matter, but he expressed concern that it would dilute the
attention Arizona gets with one of the nation's earlier primaries.
Noting that Bush has visited Arizona 13 times, Salmon said Arizona "has
finally become a state with some clout. There's no question in my mind that
we'd be diluted."
Arizona Democratic Chairman Harry Mitchell countered that the regional
primary would increase Arizona's clout with the rest of the West by forcing
candidates to spend more time in the region.
Cheyenne, Wyoming -- While other states struggle with budget
deficits, Wyoming's budget gives the state a more peculiar problem how best
to use a massive surplus.
State budget officials are projecting a one point eight billion dollar
surplus next year. That means the major fight between Governor Dave
Freudenthal and the Legislature of the budget probably will be over how much
The governor's budget proposal, released yesterday, would sock away one
point two billion dollars. House Speaker Randall Luthi and other Republicans
say even that's not enough.
That puts Wyoming in an enviable position.
Bill Pound is executive director of the National Conference of State
Legislatures in Denver. He says Wyoming's surplus is just half of
California's projected surplus. But California has more than 33 million
people, while Wyoming has just over half a million.
Salt Lake City, Utah -- Another state legislator will pick up this
year where Rep. Jim Ferrin left off in an effort to help Utah families pay
for private school.
Rep. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, announced Friday that he will sponsor a bill in
the legislative session that begins Jan.
16 that would provide vouchers to parents who choose private schools for
their children. Ferrin, R-Orem, sponsored similar tuition tax credit bills
that were defeated in the Legislature for the past two years.
"I think it's a superior product, and there's more legislative support for a
voucher," Adams said.
Parents would receive quarterly disbursements, which they would sign over to
schools, and like last year's tuition tax credit bill, the amount would be
determined on a sliding scale based on income.
Last year's bill died with a 40-34 vote on the House floor, but Adams said
legislators are primed to pass a bill this year.
Watertown, South Dakota -- South Dakota public schools need an
extra $820 per student on top of current education spending to reach an
adequate level, the preliminary results of a study commissioned by a group
of 127 school districts says.
The South Dakota Alliance for Education, made up of several education
groups, hired a Denver consulting firm with a history of recommending
spending increases to find out how much a minimum education costs.
At $820 per student, the state would have to provide an additional $102.1
million for education. That number comes from the first part of the study,
which collected data from 41 South Dakota school districts that already were
performing at a high level, said Wayne Lueders, president of the Associated
School Boards of South Dakota.
The ASBSD is one of six advocacy groups that created the South Dakota
Alliance for Education to push for increased school funding. The
organization, which also includes School Administrators of South Dakota,
South Dakota Education Association, ESD+6, Mid-sized School Coalition and
the South Dakota Coalition of Schools, is preparing legislation to fill the
financing gap by phasing in extra funding over a period of years.
State lawmakers who attended a meeting in Watertown, where the study was
released, voiced support for additional education funding but also wondered
where the state would get the extra money.
"I totally agree with the fact that you need more," said Rep. Paul Nelson,
R-Watertown, an educator for three decades. "The question is where to come
up with that money."
Rep. Bob Faehn, R-Watertown, said he was expecting a larger gap.
Salem, Oregon -- Shortly before former Gov. John Kitzhaber left
office in January 2003, he said the state had become "ungovernable" because
excessive partisanship was standing in the way of real solutions to problems
like a growing lack of access to health care.
Now, nearly three years later, Kitzhaber says he's come around to the view
that being governor again might help him "jump start" a renewed debate over
health care — and maybe even bring Republicans and Democrats together in the
"The question I'm asking myself at age 58 is, where can I make the biggest
difference, and how can I get the most traction on moving the health care
debate forward?" Kitzhaber said in an interview Saturday.
For weeks, Kitzhaber has been mulling over a possible challenge to Gov. Ted
Kulongoski — a fellow Democrat — in the 2006 governor's race.
Kitzhaber notched things up on Thursday when he personally phoned Kulongoski
to tell him he's "seriously" considering running against him and that he
plans to announce a decision sometime after Jan. 1.
It wouldn't be the first time Kitzhaber has taken on a sitting Democratic
In 1994, Kitzhaber, then the former Senate president, announced he would
challenge Gov. Barbara Roberts, whose standing in the polls had plummeted.
Roberts dropped out of the race shortly after that, and Kitzhaber went on to
win the first of two terms as governor.
More recently, Kitzhaber in 2003 considered taking on Republican U.S. Sen.
Gordon Smith, but decided against making a Senate bid.
The latest talk of a possible political comeback by Kitzhaber is intriguing
to many. But it's a dismaying prospect to Kulongoski's supporters, given
that Oregon has begun to emerge from an economic recession during
Kulongoski's first term, says Portland pollster Tim Hibbitts.
Part of the reason Kulongoski is getting lukewarm support from Democratic
voters — and creating a possible opening for Kitzhaber — is that some of
Kulongoski's traditional allies in the labor and environmental movements are
unimpressed with his performance so far, Hibbitts said.
"There clearly is some dissatisfaction with Gov. Kulongoski," he said.
Bismarck, North Dakota -- Minnesota's recent tobacco tax increase
has been a boon for North Dakota's treasury, which has seen its expected
collections jump 13.6 percent in four months.
The state Office of Management and Budget, in a monthly report on tax
collections, reported $7.6 million in North Dakota tobacco tax revenues from
July through October. The sum is $915,272 ahead of what was forecast when
the Legislature finished work on the state's two-year budget.
"This appears, in part, to be a result of cross-border buying by Minnesota
residents avoiding the comparatively higher cigarette and tobacco tax rates
in their own state," the agency said in its report.
North Dakota has a 44-cent tax on a pack of cigarettes. On Aug. 1,
Minnesota's tax on a pack rose to $1.23, a 75 cent increase that Minnesota
officially terms a health impact fee.
Las Vegas, Nevada -- Republican Danny Tarkanian launched his
campaign for Nevada Secretary of State on Thursday, calling for voters to
show photo identification at the polls -- a controversial proposal
challenged by civil rights groups across the country.
Tarkanian, 44, is the son of former University of Nevada, Las Vegas
basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian and Las Vegas City Councilwoman Lois
In his bid to become the state's chief elections official, Danny Tarkanian
said he is making his call for a voter identification card the centerpiece
of his campaign.
"I really firmly believe we've gone overboard in trying to make the
political process open," he said. "We have made it conducive for voter
Tarkanian said he would push the Legislature to require showing proof of
citizenship when registering to vote and a photo ID when voting.
A similar proposal failed before the Nevada Legislature this year.
Las Vegas, Nevada -- A proposal that would extend health benefits
to Nevada university system employees' domestic partners is stirring debate
Some regents voiced concerns over the plan being recommended by Chancellor
Jim Rogers and the system's eight college and university presidents. The
schools' faculty senates also back it.
Regent Michael Wixom said he was uncomfortable setting a precedent in Nevada
government by defining domestic partners.
"If we're extending these benefits," Wixom said, "we're recognizing a new
relationship for which there is no precedent. We have to carefully
investigate that, because we're dealing with the very relations that go to
the heart of who we are as a society."
Regents said they wanted more time to consider the proposal and would
revisit it in March for a possible vote.
Under the proposal, couples would swear under penalty of perjury that they
are faithful and monogamous "life partners" who share a residence and are
The system also would develop a partnership certification and require
notification when couples break up.
System officials estimated it would cost 2 percent of the current benefits'
expense - a figure some regents said was grossly underestimated.
Domestic partners make up 7.2 percent of all Nevada households. About 6.5
percent of such households consist of opposite-sex partners and 0.7 percent
consist of same-sex partners.
Lincoln, Nebraska -- Constituents of Sen. Dennis Byars of Beatrice
have filed a lawsuit challenging Nebraska’s voter-approved legislative term
Byars will not join the suit, but he will support the citizens who do, he
said. They also have the support of Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, an ardent
opponent of term limits.
The limits, given the go-ahead by voters in 2000, restrict senators to only
two consecutive terms, or eight years, in office. Once that time is up, they
can’t run for re-election.
Byars and Chambers tested the constitutional provision when they filed for
re-election. Secretary of State John Gale rejected the filings, saying they
Twenty members of the 49-seat, one-house Legislature are barred from
seeking re-election next year.
Helena, Montana -- Lawmakers have mixed feelings about holding a
special Legislative session in January to tackle school funding and other
issues, and their opinions don't necessarily fall along party lines.
House Republicans are requesting a special session starting Jan. 10 to take
up school funding, provide property tax relief and divvy up funds for the
Montana Water Court, which is based in Bozeman.
The proposal is at odds with plans by Gov. Brian Schweitzer to call a
special session the week of Dec. 12.
Schweitzer has said he will only call a special session if bipartisan
agreement can be reached on a school funding solution.
Tucson, Arizona -- State Sen. Gabrielle Giffords is leaving the
state Legislature and will run for U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe's seat in Congress.
Giffords, a 34-year-old Democrat, is the first candidate to enter the race
since Kolbe said that he would not seek a 12th term in 2006.
Her resignation is effective immediately.
Giffords is a Fulbright Scholar who grew up in Tucson and owns Giffords
Capital Management, a commercial property management company here. She has
served two terms in the Senate and one in the House.
Phoenix, Arizona -- Arizona university students and some
legislators may think that putting a lid on tuition is a great idea, but the
Board of Regents doesn’t.
The board responded to state legislators’ demands to study possible outcomes
for limiting tuition for continuing students to no more than inflation.
The board, which regulates the three state universities, unanimously
approved a study on the issue, compiled by regents’ officials and university
representatives, sending it to the Legislature for consideration.
Regents and universities said they would prefer to have leeway to set
tuition as needed. They cited several reasons for needing flexibility, such
as skyrocketing enrollments, state funding cuts, and larger salary offers to
invite faculty and staff to fill vacancies or remain at the universities.
Spokane, Washington -- Mayor Jim West faces recall Tuesday over a
sex-tinged abuse-of-office charge that he offered a City Hall internship to
an 18-year-old he met in a gay chat room.
But the young man West offered a job -- allegedly in anticipation of sex --
never existed. The Gay.com profile West knew as "motobrock" was a ruse used
to track the mayor's online activities.
A local newspaper has published more than 175 articles, editorials and
columns accusing West of pedophilia and using his city-owned computer to
look for dates with men in cities he planned to visit. West has acknowledged
having relationships with young men but has denied doing anything illegal.
Anchorage, Alaska -- House Speaker John Harris was fined nearly
$700 Wednesday for illegally using $7,000 in campaign contributions to help
elect other Republicans and to enhance his bid to lead the state House.
In assessing the penalty, the Alaska Public Offices Commission unanimously
overruled its staff, which had investigated the spending and recommended no
Anchorage, Alaska - Senate President Ben Stevens received a mild
fine from the state's election watchdog today for an incomplete financial
The Alaska Public Offices Commission declined to investigate allegations
of influence-peddling against Stevens.
Sacramento, California -- The Committee to Save Merry Christmas
announced this week that Macy’s Department Stores has agreed to return the
phase “Merry Christmas” to store signage and advertising.
“On behalf of every American who celebrates the real meaning of Christmas,
we applaud Macy’s decision and hope other retailers will follow their lead,”
said Manual Zamorano, chairman of the Committee to Save Merry Christmas.
Macy’s letter of agreement can be found at
On the heels of this major victory, the Committee to Save Merry Christmas
has announced a national boycott against Sears Department Stores for the
2005 Christmas season. “Pro-Christmas Americans should avoid the ‘Bah,
Humbug’ attitude of Sears this Christmas shopping season,” said Zamorano.
Sears has rejected several requests that “Merry Christmas” signs be returned
and posted in their stores and that their advertising both acknowledge and
respect the time-honored phrase “Merry Christmas.”
“Sears is in need of an extreme makeover in regards to their discrimination
and bias against Christmas,” said Zamorano. “Over the past several years,
Sears has systematically removed references to Merry Christmas.
Inviting us to shop for Christmas gifts yet eliminating Merry Christmas
is offensive to the sensibilities of millions of average Americans.
Eliminating ‘Merry Christmas’ is plain wrong. It’s time to remove Sears from
your Christmas shopping list.”
The Committee to Save Merry Christmas is asking Americans to boycott Sears
and shop elsewhere. Americans should contact Sears and urge them to respect
to “Merry Christmas”
“It’s the height of hypocrisy for Sears to make tens of millions of dollars
selling Christmas presents, yet coldly refuse to acknowledge Christmas,”
said Zamorano. “What’s the holiday all about, anyway? Politically-correct
phases like ‘Seasons Greetings’ and ‘Happy Holidays’ are no substitute for
the real thing.”
Salt Lake City, Utah -- A bill that would create a legal framework
for Utah's energy future met with resistance Tuesday - from lawmakers who
want the state to investigate nuclear power, and from Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.,
who doesn't want the Legislature to create a Cabinet-level position to
oversee energy policy.
Two interim committees - Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment, and
Public Utilities and Technology - advanced the bipartisan draft bill crafted
after hundreds of hours of meetings last summer organized by Reps. Ralph
Becker, D-Salt Lake; Roger Barrus, R-Centerville, and David Ure, R-Kamas.
The bill's key components include the philosophical and the practical, and
would designate a state energy officer to encourage development and
promotion of the state's energy resources. The energy officer would report
to the governor and earn up to $115,700 per year.
Bismarck, North Dakota -- A coalition of public health
organizations ranks Minnesota 9th and North Dakota 22nd nationally in
funding programs to protect kids from tobacco.
The report, called "A Broken Promise to Our Children," was released today by
the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Heart Association, American
Cancer Society and American Lung Association.
North Dakota needs to spend between $8.2 million and $16.6 million a year
"to have an effective, comprehensive tobacco prevention campaign," according
to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But the state invests about $3.1 million, only 38 percent of the CDC's
minimum recommendation, according to the report.
Meanwhile, the report said, the tobacco companies are spending a record
$32.1 million a year on marketing in North Dakota alone, or about 10 times
what the state spends on tobacco prevention.
North Dakota's spending on tobacco prevention amounts to 7.4 percent of the
$42 million in tobacco-generated revenue collected by the state each year in
tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes.
Santa Fe, New Mexico -- The New Mexico Court of Appeals on Tuesday
upheld Santa Fe’s minimum-wage law, rejecting arguments that the City
Council exceeded its authority by dictating pay rules for private
In a case that has drawn national attention, a three judge panel ruled
against business groups and some local restaurants, who now must decide
whether to appeal to the state Supreme Court.
The ruling comes two weeks before the City Council is scheduled to vote
on whether to allow a scheduled minimum-wage increase to $9.50 an hour to
take effect Jan. 1.
Santa Fe, New Mexico -- Vickie Perea has started her campaign to
become secretary of state in 2006.
So far, she is the only Republican to announce candidacy for the position. A
few Democrats, all women, are testing the waters.
Sacramento, California -- The California Energy Commission has
decided that due to the state's desire to curb green house gases that the
state's investor owned utilities (IOUs) will not import any electricity
generated by coal from out of state sources.
While this does not outright ban electricity generated from coal plants, the
requirements that coal fired plants emissions be as clean or cleaner that
combined cycle natural gas fired plants pretty much ensures that there will
be few coal plants that meet the condition.
This could be bad news for planned coal plants in Wyoming, Nevada and Idaho.
Given the higher prices for natural gas due to increased demand and the
problems along the Gulf of Mexico, it is likely that electricity prices in
CA (already some of the highest in the nation) will go even higher.
Carson City, Nevada -- State legislators say Nevada's property tax
limit law is better than California's Proposition 13 because when a home is
sold, the new buyer gets the same tax relief as the former owner.
"It makes it in my view a better deal than Proposition 13," Assemblyman Joe
Hardy, R-Boulder City, said Tuesday.
Hardy and other members of the Subcommittee to Study the Taxation of Real
Property will have several meetings during the next year as they review
Nevada's AB489, passed in April, which limits property tax increases on
owner-occupied homes to 3 percent per year. The new law also places an 8
percent limit on commercial and other types of property.
Austin, Texas -- A Texas lawmaker who wants to legalize slot
machines at racetracks in Texas is keeping a close eye on Florida where the
Legislature next week will consider a similar issue.
State Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Mission, had considered traveling to
Florida to take lessons from gambling proponents on how to pass the bills in
the face of opposition, specifically from religious interests who are also
vocal in Texas, he said.
“I was looking for the strategy on how they dealt with the Bible Belt, the
churches,” Flores said.
And like Texas, Florida is struggling to find ways to pay for public
education and Medicaid, both of which could be helped by expanding gambling,
Republican leaders in Texas have not openly supported gambling, and some
Democratic lawmakers have voiced opposition to using gambling to pay for
schools and health care.
Denver, Colorado -- This week's meeting between the legislature's
Joint Budget Committee and Gov. Bill Owens was a mutual admiration session,
with lawmakers thanking the governor for his leadership on Referendum C
fiscal reform and Owens praising lawmakers who participated in shaping the
measure and getting it passed.
For the first time since 2000, state officials will have money to fuss over.
Owens is promoting a budget proposal that would flood the state with
transportation dollars. Legislators surprised by voter rejection of
Referendum D will surely tilt another way, perhaps emphasizing education or
Denver, Colorado -- Voters may be asked next year to decide
whether Colorado should deny state services to undocumented workers.
The proposed constitutional amendment failed to make the 2005 ballot, but
supporters aim to gather the necessary signatures to get it on the 2006
Republican lawmakers who support barring illegal immigrants in the state
from getting such government services as food stamps say the time is right
to change the way the state handles undocumented workers within its borders.
“The political climate wasn’t there (last year),” Rep. Ray Rose, R-Montrose
He and other lawmakers foresee a slew of immigration-related bills on the
horizon for the Colorado Legislature to work through next year.
Helping to lead that charge is Rep. David Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs,
who met this fall with Arizona lawmakers who pushed through Proposition 200,
which prohibits undocumented immigrants from receiving government services
Schultheis said it’s too early to give details about legislation he intends
to push in 2006 to crack down on illegal immigration.
Denver, Colorado -- Voters’ approval of Referendum C was “good
news” for K-12 education, although the money will not help Colorado schools
fully recover from 10 years of underfunding under the Taxpayer’s Bill of
Rights, according to some Coloradolawmakers.
Four state legislators, who represent areas served by the St. Vrain Valley
School District, told the St. Vrain Valley Board of Education at a special
meeting recently that the funds retained through Referendum C would,
however, prevent further program cuts. The money also will help restore
programs that were cut in prior years and help schools keep up with growth,
Referendum C allows the state to retain a projected $3.7 billion of tax
revenue collected over the next five years to pay for transportation
projects; health care for low-income, disabled and elderly Coloradans;
preschool through 12th grade public education; and higher education
Gov. Bill Owens proposes spending an additional $80 million from the overall
budget’s general fund for transportation projects this 2005-06 fiscal year,
money available because Referendum C passed.
Denver, Colorado -- Colorado officials on Wednesday canceled a
contract to build a new computer system to track voter registration and have
threatened to cancel a second contract with the same company to rework the
system the state Labor Department uses to track unemployment benefits.
Both contracts, worth a combined $50 million, are with the global technology
giant Accenture. Both involve the creation of massive new computer systems
that would create more centralized databases that, in theory, would
streamline the work of state government.
Efforts to implement both, state officials say, have been fraught with
problems, including missed deadlines and serious programming flaws.
Phoenix, Arizona -- The nation's attorneys general are putting
finishing touches on a proposal to create a nationwide price-gouging law.
Meeting in Phoenix, the top law enforcement officials from across the
country spent part of Wednesday morning discussing the finer points of how
to define "price gouging" and debating which circumstances should trigger
But there appeared to be little debate about whether there should be a
"All of us agreed this is a necessary piece of legislation, as long as
there's not pre-emption," Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard said. That
means individual states need to be free to pursue their own remedies against
Twenty-eight states have price-gouging laws. Goddard has pursued a similar
law in the Arizona Legislature, but the bill has not made it out of
committee. He promises to be back in 2006 with another attempt.
Juneau, Alaska -- Three times they've busted, but the sponsors of
a plan to legalize video gambling in Alaska aren't ready to fold.
Lt. Gov. Loren Leman for the third time this year denied certification of a
ballot initiative to legalize video lottery terminals, machines that allow
players to wager on such games of chance as poker, slots and keno.
The sponsors, headed by Victoria Scott, the mother of a Las Vegas investor
in casinos and racetracks, have been rejected each time for the same reason:
The initiative is unconstitutional because it would create a special law for
one area of the state.
Seattle, Washington -- Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens might ask himself
how he'd respond if Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell wanted to change the way
oil tankers operate in Prince William Sound, especially if her bill went
against the wishes of most Alaskans.
So he shouldn't be too surprised that Washington politicians have quickly
spoken in a resounding "no" to his efforts on behalf of BP and an increased
oil supply for the company's Puget Sound refinery at Cherry Point. Initial
press reports indicate most Washington state politicians -- and the public,
too -- oppose the proposed refinery expansion and increased tanker traffic
in the Sound.
Democratic Sen. Cantwell has promised to fight Republican Sen. Stevens' bill
using his own weapons -- the rules of the Senate. "I will use every
procedural option granted to me as a United States senator to stop this
unfortunate and misguided legislation from becoming law," she said. Though
more subtle than the Alaska senator's loud voice in delivering an ultimatum,
her message is clear.
She also is scoring big political points on the home front for taking on the
popular cause. Even her likely Republican challenger for re-election in 2006
has told Sen. Stevens the proposed refinery expansion is a dead issue in