February 2007


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83 convicted felons freed as state exceeds jail limit
By Jennifer Sullivan, Seattle Times
Eighty-three convicted criminals — including high-risk sex offenders and violent felons — have been released from two King County jails because they exceeded the total that the state Department of Corrections was allowed to place there. The felons had all been placed in the jails, in Seattle and Kent, because they were accused of violating the terms of their release from prison. A significant number of the offenders had been arrested because they had missed mandatory appointments with community corrections officers, said a spokeswoman for the union that represents the officers. Other violations included failing to attend mandatory drug or mental-health treatment. The mass release on Friday, ordered by the Department of Corrections (DOC), came after repeated complaints from King County about the DOC booking too many people into county facilities.

Lawmakers closing in on brand new tax package
Simplified system, rate reductions called a boon for economy and a magnet for out-of-state companies
By Matt Canham, Salt Lake Tribune
The state is on the brink of adopting a new tax system that is billed as easier to use and more predictable. Oh yeah, and you pay less. The Senate passed a tax package that would totally revamp the income tax and make slight reductions in the sales tax. House Republicans have already adopted the plan in their caucus, but have yet to cast an official vote. Under the compromise reached with Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., the average person may save a few hundred dollars each year, but over the entire taxpayer structure that would equate to a $211 million tax cut. The plan "will be a real boon to Utah's economy and will help make our tax rate more competitive with our surrounding states'," said Huntsman spokesman Mike Mower. Huntsman and Republican leaders in the Legislature adopted some goals for tax changes a few years ago. They wanted a system that would attract companies to relocate, would be easier for an individual to figure out and would be better able to withstand economic downturns. "This package meets all of those goals," said Senate Majority Leader Curtis Bramble. Instead of an income tax system with a variety of tax brackets and more than 20 deductions, the Legislature would move to a single 5 percent tax rate with only a few credits. Credits are taken out after a person figures out his or her tax burden, while deductions are applied beforehand.

Proposal would stop educators from political talk in classrooms
By the Associated Press, Arizona Daily Star
To muzzle instructors who champion political views in classrooms, an Arizona legislator has proposed a law that would punish public school teachers and professors for not being impartial in the classroom.
If the idea were to become law, teachers said they might shy away from teaching controversial issues out of fear of being misunderstood and punished. Senate Majority Leader Thayer Verschoor, R-Gilbert, wrote the bill that has drawn a stream of criticism and support since it received preliminary approval in a Senate committee this month. Verschoor said his bill would protect students who are afraid to clash with instructors.

Perry fires back over vaccine flak
"I wish you all would quit splitting hairs..."
By Joe Stinebaker and Liz Austin Peterson, Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday angrily defended his order to vaccinate Texas schoolgirls against the virus that causes cervical cancer and fended off questions about his relationship with Merck, the vaccine's manufacturer. The Associated Press reported Wednesday that Perry's chief of staff had met with key aides about the vaccine on Oct. 16, the same day Merck's political action committee donated $5,000 to his campaign. Pressed on when he decided to issue the executive order requiring the vaccination, Perry snapped: "I wish you all would quit splitting hairs..." Perry chief of staff Deirdre Delisi's calendar and other documents obtained by the AP show Perry's office began meeting with Merck lobbyists about the vaccine as early as mid-August, months before social conservatives -- who are most outraged by the order -- helped re-elect him in November.

Texas House panel fights HPV vaccine order
Measure would override directive issued by Perry; governor's stance unchanged
By EMILY RAMSHAW, Dallas Morning News
In a highly public rebuke of Gov. Rick Perry, the House Public Health Committee on Wednesday pushed through a bill to supersede his executive order that Texas schoolgirls must be vaccinated for HPV. The decision capped three days of drama on the mandate: Monday's six-hour testimony on the order; Tuesday's announcement by the vaccine's manufacturer, Merck & Co., that it would halt its lobbying effort for Gardasil; and a court decision that same day that could have unfavorable implications for Mr. Perry's executive power over state agencies. In the 6-3 vote, members of the committee gave a strong but divided endorsement of Rep. Dennis Bonnen's bill, which would ban schools from using HPV vaccinations as a condition for admission.

Merck gift coincided with Perry's vaccine meeting
By the Associated Press, Dallas Morning News
Gov. Rick Perry's chief of staff met with key aides about the human papillomavirus vaccine the same day its manufacturer donated money to his campaign, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press. Chief of staff Deirdre Delisi's calendar shows she met with the governor's budget director and three members of his office for an "HPV Vaccine for Children Briefing" on Oct. 16. Also Online That day, New Jersey-based Merck & Co.'s political action committee donated $5,000 to Perry, $2,500 to comptroller candidate Susan Combs and $2,000 to four state lawmakers. The calendar and other documents obtained by the AP show Mr. Perry's office began meeting with Merck lobbyists about the vaccine as early as mid-August, months before social conservatives – who are now those most outraged by the order – helped re-elect him in November.

Bills target death penalty
Lawmakers consider creating task force to check fairness of executions
By MELISSA SANTOS, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Less than a year after the state Supreme Court narrowly upheld Washington's use of the death penalty, some lawmakers wonder why Green River Killer Gary Ridgway -- who murdered at least 48 women -- can cop a plea to spare his life while someone convicted of less can be executed. The Legislature is considering a bill that would stay executions until July 1, 2008, and empanel a task force to review whether the death penalty is imposed fairly and uniformly in Washington.

Gibbons denies FBI probe
Report: Investigation focuses on military contractor friend
By ED VOGEL, Las Vegas Review Journal
The FBI is investigating allegations Gov. Jim Gibbons accepted unreported payments or gifts from a friend whose Reno software company Gibbons helped land secret military contracts while he was in Congress, The Wall Street Journal reported. Gibbons denied the accusations on Thursday, saying he never accepted money beyond campaign contributions from businessman Warren Trepp, a longtime friend and owner of Reno-based eTreppid Technologies LLC. The newly elected governor also questioned the article's assertion that the FBI is investigating the matter. "The story in The Wall Street Journal is full of lies, and I'd like them to retract it," Gibbons said during an interview with reporters in his Carson City office. The governor said he has not been contacted by agents. "I would have thought if they wanted to talk to me they would let me know. I am a pretty public figure. It is up to them to come and say, 'We are investigating you.' "

What smoking ban? Some bars defy new law
By Linda Chiem, Pacific Business News
Customers continue to light up in some Hawaii bars and bar owners are getting increasingly bold in their efforts to challenge and overturn Hawaii's three-month-old anti-smoking law. Bar owners are taking advantage of an only-in-Hawaii bureaucratic complication that has stopped the state Department of Health from citing violators: while the law bans indoor smoking, the administrative rules giving the state the authority to actually ticket anyone are still being drafted. Police officers have the authority to cite violators but no bars or smokers have been ticketed since the law took effect Nov. 16.

Ritter veto shocks labor
As union bill goes down, he scolds parties
By Mark P. Couch and Jennifer Brown, Denver Post
Union leader Steve Adams knew the veto was coming. Gov. Bill Ritter's chief of staff had called the president of the Colorado AFL-CIO earlier in the week to say the governor wasn't "feeling too comfortable" about a pro-labor bill passed Monday by the Senate and wondered if a compromise was possible. So when Ritter vetoed House Bill 1072, Adams was still angry. "Here's a governor who makes a commitment, rewards bad behavior and backs out of his commitment," Adams said. "I'm flabbergasted by the whole thing." Breaking from his party and ignoring a campaign pledge, Ritter issued his first veto Friday, rejecting a controversial labor bill that had prompted an outcry from business interests who said it would hamstring the state economically. "There is indeed a new sheriff in town," said Tony Gagliardi, state director for the National Federation of Independent Business. "This could not have been easy for him, given the sizable support he received from organized labor during his campaign. Quite frankly, we are as stunned as we are elated."

Jore a caucus of 1
Ronan lawmaker is first Constitution Party member elected to any legislature
By The Associated Press, Billings Gazette
The pressure on Rep. Rick Jore these days is intense. The polite trout farmer from northwestern Montana is the conservative Constitution Party's highest elected official in the country, after handily beating Democratic incumbent Jeanne Windham last fall for a seat in the Montana House. The win made Jore the first Constitution Party member elected to a statehouse, said James Clymer, the national party chairman. It also put him at the center of a sharply divided Montana House, where 50 Republicans and 49 Democrats are fighting over what to do with a $1 billion projected budget surplus. Jore's vote often determines whether a bill lives or dies.

60% in poll want big Utah tax cut
By Bob Bernick Jr., Deseret Morning News
Sixty percent of Utahns want a significant state tax cut this year, a new poll shows. And GOP Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and Republican legislators are steadily moving toward giving them what they want. A new Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll conducted this past week by Dan Jones & Associates finds that 30 percent of residents don't want any tax cut this year; they'd rather have $1.6 billion in surplus tax revenue go to needy state programs. But 29 percent favor a $110 million tax cut pushed by Huntsman; 9 percent like a $150 million tax cut originally suggested by Senate Republicans; while 22 percent like the GOP House's $300 million tax cut. Add all those tax-cut advocates together and you get 60 percent wanting to see their taxes reduced in some manner this year.

Voucher bill sails through Senate
Plan to create nation's biggest support program for private schools awaits governor's signature
By Nicole Stricker, Salt Lake Tribune
A bill that would create the nation's most expansive school voucher program easily passed the Utah Senate on Friday and awaits only Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s signature before becoming law. In a surprise move, senators suspended the rules to speed HB148's passage and budget prioritization, then passed the measure on a 19-10 vote. "Because it was a major, major policy decision that has a substantial fiscal impact, we felt it was important to get closure on this," said Sen. Curtis Bramble, the Provo majority leader who sponsored HB148 in the Senate. If Huntsman signs the measure, as he has indicated he will, Utah would become the first state to award public education vouchers to families in all income brackets throughout the state. Voucher programs in a handful of other states are limited to low-income students, city school districts or failing schools. "No state has considered a bill that broad," said Rob Boston of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, which tracks and opposes voucher programs. "That's astounding to me."

Perry's surprise move mandates shots for schoolgirls to prevent sex virus that leads to cancer
"Follow the money. It leads to Merck," said Cathie Adams, president of the conservative Texas Eagle Forum
By CHRISTY HOPPE, Dallas Morning News
Gov. Rick Perry – usually a hero to social conservatives – surprised many of them Friday by making Texas the first state to mandate a vaccine for sixth-grade girls to prevent a sexually transmitted infection that leads to most kinds of cervical cancer. In his executive order, Mr. Perry said girls must receive the human papillomavirus vaccine before school starts in September 2008. While noting that parents may opt out of the vaccine for conscience or religious reasons, he said it "provides us with an incredible opportunity to effectively target and prevent cervical cancer." The move was applauded by many women's groups but harshly denounced by social conservatives for its intrusion into parents' control over their kids' health. Some also alleged that Merck – the pharmaceutical company with the only vaccine on the market – was responsible for the initiative. "Follow the money. It leads to Merck," said Cathie Adams, president of the conservative Texas Eagle Forum.


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