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WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • April 25, 2017
AP: Investigation shows Peru backsliding on illegal logging
The Associated Press reports that never before had so much lumber been denied entry at a U.S. port on evidence that it was harvested illegally. Homeland Security investigators in Houston, acting on intelligence from their Peruvian counterparts, halted 1,770 metric tons of Amazon rainforest wood — enough to cover three football fields. The October 2015 impoundment from a rusty freighter was a rare victory in the battle to preserve tropical forests and a blow against organized criminal logging in Peru, where the World Bank says 80 percent of timber exports are illegal. But the triumph was short-lived. The driving force behind the operation, the chief of Peru's forest inspection service, was soon dismissed — on the same day the U.S. ambassador visited him for a pep talk — and forced by death threats to flee to the United States.
Santa Fe New Mexican: Falsehoods create confusion in soda-tax fight
The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that in radio ads airing on stations across Santa Fe, local mom Leah Chavez encourages city residents to vote in favor of a proposed tax on sodas and other sugary beverages to pay to send hundreds of children to preschool each year. “It’s only a 2-cent tax,” Chavez says in the one-minute radio spot. Her claim is false, but proponents continue to air the ad. The proposal actually calls for a 2-cents-per-ounce tax, not just 2 cents. The ad could leave the impression that a 12-ounce bottle of soda, for instance, would cost only 2 cents more when, in fact, the tax could add nearly a quarter to the cost. The inaccuracy by the advocacy group, which Chavez insists was unintentional, has given a rival organization, Better Way for Santa Fe & Pre-K, a political action committee working to defeat the proposed tax, ammunition to charge proponents with spreading misleading information. But both sides have been stretching the truth.
Sacramento Bee: Efforts to kill tax board have failed for 90 years
The Sacramento Bee reports a California tax agency called “duplicative” or worse for nearly a century by government reformers had its closest call with destruction when the Terminator came looking for it. Armed with a 2,500-page report urging a consolidation of government offices, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2004 took aim in part at the Board of Equalization with a pitch to merge most of its work with other tax-collecting departments. He had allies among lawmakers, including then-Assemblywoman Lois Wolk. She carried a bill that year that would have stripped the elected tax board of its mandate as California’s tax court. Yet 13 years later, the Board of Equalization is still a standalone agency with five elected leaders, 4,700 employees and a $617 million annual budget. In fact, it manages about 10 more tax and fee programs than it oversaw in Schwarzenegger’s term.
Stamford Advocate: City reaches agreement with cops on body cameras
The Stamford Advocate reports a shelved pilot program for body cameras will soon relaunch after the city reached an agreement with the police union over pay and policies for use. The department’s 275 officers will not receive extra compensation for wearing the cameras, which the union argued was a change in working conditions. But the agreement immediately pays officers outstanding money they are owed. “We’re satisfied with this deal,” police union head Kris Engstrand said. “The deal allowed the pilot program to go forward.” It could be several weeks before officers resume the training halted late last year following a grievance by the Stamford Police Association. “I was disappointed that this very important program for the protection of Stamford’s finest as well as the public was held up for negotiations, but I’m happy we got this hurdle out of the way and can begin moving forward again,” Mayor David Martin said.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: VA leaders botched plan to fix backlog
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that leaders of a Veterans Affairs project to clear a backlog of hundreds of thousands of health care applications deliberately suppressed critical information from VA hospitals that would have allowed them to help veterans gain access to care. According to interviews, internal records and recordings of private meetings obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution,
VA officials acted in their own interest and harmed veterans as they pursued a plan to rapidly delete the backlogged applications. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., who chairs the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, has asked the VA secretary to fix the enrollment problems so veterans don’t suffer from the agency’s mistakes. The backlog project launched 13 months ago followed a scathing inspector general’s investigation that criticized the agency’s national health care enrollment center headquartered in Atlanta.
Des Moines Register: Is wind power saving or wrecking rural Iowa?
The Des Moines Register reports wind power has come to define Iowa in much the same way as corn, soybeans and pigs, but not everyone is happy about it. Politicians and power companies tout the state's growing clean energy and its many benefits, including jobs, property tax revenues and $20 million annually that farmers and rural landowners earn in lease payments for hosting the giant turbines. The state's growing amount of green energy — Iowa leads the nation with 37 percent of its annual electricity portfolio — has helped attract billions of dollars in capital investment from Facebook, Microsoft and Google data centers and hundreds of jobs in the Des Moines area and Council Bluffs. But Iowa's growing energy harvest has birthed a new wave of opposition from critics who call wind turbines noisy, over-subsidized eyesores that can be dangerous. And groups have popped up across Iowa, most notably in Black Hawk and Palo Alto counties, seeking to stop local wind development.
Times Picayune: Mystery pest destroys Mississippi Delta marsh
Cleveland Plain Dealer: Nursing home inspectors seriously understaffed
The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports the agency that provides Ohio's nursing home inspectors -- the officials charged with making sure the state's most vulnerable receive proper care -- is understaffed by at least a dozen employees and, for years, has failed to meet federal deadlines for evaluating facilities. The state's 153 inspectors, also known as surveyors, play a vital role: They examine Ohio's 960 nursing homes to ensure that residents live in a safe environment; they investigate more than 2,000 complaints a year; and they review more than 600 assisted-living centers. A key deadline for inspecting the state's nursing homes has not been met since fiscal year 2011, records show. Ohio is the fourth worst in the nation in terms of the average interval between inspections of the same facility, according to records The Plain Dealer obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
Philadelphia Inquirer: Death, rapes and broken bones at treatment center
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that shortly after David Hess died in a struggle with staffers at Wordsworth last fall, the state shuttered the West Philadelphia facility, decrying it as “an immediate and serious danger” to the children who lived there. The death of Hess, 17 – ruled a homicide – was yet another violent chapter in a hidden history of abuse at the city’s only residential treatment center for troubled young people. In the last decade, at least 49 sex crimes have been reported at Wordsworth, including 12 rapes and 23 accounts of sexual abuse, an Inquirer and Daily News investigation has found. Interviews, court records, state inspection reports, and police records reveal a trail of injuries to children, from broken bones to assaults to the suffocation death of Hess. Along the way, lawyers, licensing inspectors, and others found conditions there appalling and sounded the alarm with little success.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Some attorneys don’t use private investigators
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that across Wisconsin, dozens of lawyers representing the state’s poorest defendants are routinely not using private investigators, potentially exposing their clients to greater risk of conviction and longer stints in prison. A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation has found that taken together, those lawyers have represented more than 5,000 court-appointed clients since the 2010 budget year, some charged with murder, sexual assault and armed robbery. Veterans of the criminal justice system say investigators serve a vital role, safeguarding a defendant from bad or sloppy police work. The Journal Sentinel’s investigation examined private lawyers who accept felony case appointments through the state to represent poor clients. Those lawyers were appointed to about 11,000 felony cases each year, or roughly one-third of all indigent defendants facing felony charges. Public defenders, who are state employees, represent the rest.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • April 18, 2017
AP: Peacekeepers as Predators: The U.N.'s sex abuse crisis
The Associated Press reports it investigation of U.N. missions during the past 12 years found nearly 2,000 allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeepers and other personnel around the world — signaling the crisis is much larger than previously known. More than 300 of the allegations involved children, the AP found, but only a fraction of the alleged perpetrators served jail time. Legally, the U.N. is in a bind. It has no jurisdiction over peacekeepers, leaving punishment to the countries that contribute the troops. The AP interviewed alleged victims, current and former U.N. officials and investigators and sought answers from 23 countries on the number of peacekeepers who faced such allegations and, what if anything, was done to investigate. With rare exceptions, few nations responded to repeated requests, while the names of those found guilty are kept confidential, making accountability impossible to determine.
AP: Manafort firm received Ukraine ledger payout
The Associated Press reports that a handwritten ledger surfaced in Ukraine last August with dollar amounts and dates next to the name of Paul Manafort, who was then Donald Trump's campaign chairman. Ukrainian investigators called it evidence of off-the-books payments from a pro-Russian political party — and part of a larger pattern of corruption under the country's former president. Manafort, who worked for the party as an international political consultant, has publicly questioned the ledger's authenticity. Now, financial records newly obtained by The Associated Press confirm that at least $1.2 million in payments listed in the ledger next to Manafort's name were actually received by his consulting firm in the United States. They include payments in 2007 and 2009, providing the first evidence that Manafort's firm received at least some money listed in the so-called Black Ledger.
Arizona Republic: Arizona firefighters are a power in local elections
The Arizona Republic reports that in 2015 and 2016, firefighter union political-action committees across the state donated hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars to mayoral or city council candidates they often had never met. In total, 31 firefighter union PACs donated more than a quarter-million dollars to 59 city council and mayoral candidates in Arizona. More than half of the donations went to 10 individuals, eight of whom are active or retired firefighters, according to an Arizona Republic analysis of local and state campaign finance data. Firefighter leaders say their campaign donations are noble efforts to ensure their communities are run by politicians who will do the best job for the community — people who will provide firefighters with the resources they need to save lives during emergencies. Others question the power and legality of city employees so actively involved in electing council members — the people who will decide matters such as their wages and department budgets.
Santa Fe New Mexican: Firms with state business among AG’s key donors
The Santa Fe New Mexican reports law firms the state Attorney General’s Office has relied on to represent New Mexico in lawsuits over defective products and deceptive marketing by private companies also are proving to be key financial backers for the attorney general as he weighs a run for governor. Most of the more than $211,000 that Democrat Hector Balderas raised over the past six months came from donors outside New Mexico, with more than $40,000 coming from attorneys at one law firm, according to an examination by The New Mexican of his latest campaign finance report, filed last week. The examination shows a network of contributors stretching well beyond the Land of Enchantment that could help make Balderas a force in the race for the state’s highest office. But the large donations from firms that have worked with the New Mexico government or represent it in ongoing cases also raise questions about the ties between private lawyers and the state’s top prosecutor.
Indianapolis Star: Success of needle exchanges for drug users vary
The Indianapolis Star reports Indiana could soon see needle exchange programs popping up statewide in an attempt to stem rising rates of hepatitis C and stave off another HIV epidemic linked to intravenous drug use like the one Scott County faced two years ago. But if the nine programs underway in Indiana are any indication, the success of future programs will vary widely. Earlier this month, the Indiana General Assembly passed a bill allowing local governments to establish syringe or needle exchange programs without having to receive state approval. The measure, which the governor has said he supports, will open the door for programs that differ from county to county. Already wide variations exist among the state’s needle exchange programs. Some have thrived, reaching hundreds of people. Others serve only a few dozen people or are struggling to get off the ground. Some are open several days a week, others once a month.
Des Moines Register: Iowa targeting problem bars to tackle drunk driving
The Des Moines Register reports it has learned that Iowa's alcohol-enforcement agency, concerned with the rising toll taken by drunken drivers, is preparing a campaign to crack down on bars and restaurants that serve intoxicated customers. As fatalities in Iowa mount — at least 84 people died in 2016 alone in alcohol-related crashes — the state has focused its attention on keeping intoxicated people from getting behind the wheel, with Gov. Terry Branstad was expected to sign a sobriety monitoring bill into law April 17. But the state's Alcoholic Beverages Division also has quietly ramped up efforts to hold alcoholic beverage license-holders more accountable. The division currently is investigating two establishments that might have over-served individuals involved in alcohol-related fatalities, officials said, declining to identify the businesses.
Louisville Courier-Journal: Kentucky among worst for student loan defaults
The Louisville Courier-Journal reports Kentucky and India rank at the top in defaulted student loans during the most recent rankings from the U.S. Department of Education. Despite a stepped-up effort to curb debt loads for college students and a crackdown on for-profit technology and career centers that have been accused of preying on vulnerable students, Kentucky ranked 49th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Indiana was 47th. A loan is considered in default if payments lapse for nine months in a row. In Kentucky, of 78,112 borrowers who took loans, about 12,150 were listed as in default, a rate of 16 percent. In Indiana, the rate was a bit lower, with 171,454 borrowers and 24,474 in default, or 14 percent, compared with the national average of about 11 percent. Massachusetts has the lowest rate, at slightly over 6 percent, while New Mexico is the worst at nearly 19 percent. T
Maine Sunday Telegram: Deeper EPA cuts pose a particular menace to Maine
The Maine Sunday Telegram reports the deeper cuts proposed by the Trump administration would slash funding for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund cleanup activities and eliminate its support for monitoring and cleanup efforts in Casco Bay and for beach water testing across Maine. When taken in conjunction with previously reported proposals to eliminate federal funding for the University of Maine’s Sea Grant program and the Wells Reserve at Laudholm Farm via the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, critics say the president’s budget proposals are a serious threat to Maine’s coastal economy, which is dependent on maintaining a clean environment. Environmental advocates and Maine’s entire congressional delegation are expressing grave concern about the cuts.
Minneapolis Star Tribune: States move to protect internet privacy
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports legislators in Minnesota and at least nine other states are racing to enact online privacy protections after President Donald Trump signed a law that allows internet providers to collect and sell information about customers without their consent. “It’s clearly a fight that’s going to be happening nationally,” said Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park. Days before Trump signed the federal bill. Latz persuaded the state Senate to support a measure that would give Minnesotans new online privacy safeguards. Privacy advocates warn that the erasure of landmark privacy regulations could be the beginning of a dramatic erosion of rules governing internet access by Republicans. New privacy rules would have taken effect in December. They were meant to limit broadband and wireless companies’ ability to sell customer information — browsing habits, location information and app usage history — to advertisers and other third parties.
Kansas City Star: Union leaders’ salaries and perks climb as membership sinks
The Kansas City Star reports that under scrutiny for lavish spending practices and a lack of accountability, leaders of the Boilermakers union five years ago took steps to show they were being good stewards of members’ dues. They made across-the-board pay cuts and eliminated some positions — including that of the president’s then 23-year-old son, whose salary and expenses totaled $124,000. But a recent examination of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers found that things appear to have returned to business as usual. Six-figure salaries for officers and their relatives. Fine dining, stays in posh hotels and expensive hunting retreats. Cars as parting gifts for retired employees, and hundreds of thousands spent on promotional events and videos. All while membership continues its downward spiral and the pension fund struggles to stay afloat.
New York Times: With Trump appointees, many potential conflicts of interest
The New York Times reports President Donald Trump is populating the White House and federal agencies with former lobbyists, lawyers and consultants who in many cases are helping to craft new policies for the same industries in which they recently earned a paycheck. The potential conflicts are arising across the executive branch, according to an analysis of recently released financial disclosures, lobbying records and interviews with current and former ethics officials by The New York Times in collaboration with ProPublica. In at least two cases, the appointments may have already led to violations of the administration’s own ethics rules. But evaluating if and when such violations have occurred has become almost impossible because the Trump administration is secretly issuing waivers to the rules.
Columbus Dispatch: Out of town investors buying up central Ohio apartments
The Columbus Dispatch reports that in the past three years, investment firms searching for bargains outside the nation’s largest cities have paid more than $1.2 billion for 145 central Ohio complexes containing 30,000 apartments, according to Yardi Matrix, a commercial real-estate data company that tracks complexes with at least 50 apartments. “Interest from investors is incredibly strong,” said D.J. Effler, senior vice president of Bellwether Enterprise’s Columbus office. Last year, it arranged financing for more than 60 real-estate deals. “There’s no limit to the amount of capital in search of good multifamily properties in Columbus,” Effler said. Investor interest has pushed prices for apartments to record highs in recent years: Last year, investors paid an average of $53,422 per Columbus-area apartment, up from $29,373 just five years earlier, according to Yardi.
Oregonian: EPA busy scuttling rules, planning cut backs in pro-business shift
The Oregonian reports that to understand the radical changes underway at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to really get a feel for the pro-industry revolution underway inside the nation's primary environmental watchdog, go to West, a town of 2,800 in sun-baked Texas. A 2013 explosion at a fertilizer plant flattened parts of the city, killing 15 people — 10 of them firefighters — and injuring 200 others. The volunteers had no idea that the tons of ammonium nitrate stored on site could explode. In response, the EPA early this year adopted new rules requiring plant owners to disclose the presence of dangerous chemicals to the locals and coordinate with emergency responders. The chemical industry objected, saying it was too expensive and potentially dangerous to force that kind of disclosure. Late last month, with the Trump administration in charge, the EPA ditched the rule.
American-Statesman: State agency-funded research often favors development
The American Statesman reports that when Texas officials two years ago dismissed the possibility that endangered songbirds lived in a strip of southwest Travis County earmarked for a major highway, they relied on a familiar tool — environmental research they had commissioned. That road, Texas 45 Southwest, the subject of a decades-long battle pitting environmentalists against developers, is now under construction even as a court considers a challenge over how the Texas Department of Transportation conducted its environmental assessment. TxDOT, along with other state agencies, often pays for research — sometimes mandated by federal law, sometimes called for by state lawmakers — that minimizes potential adverse effects from proposed development, according to an American-Statesman review based on copies of contracts, solicitations for research and published reports based on that research, obtained through the Texas Public Information Act.
Seattle Times: City neglected to collect $3.4 million payment from developer
The Seattle Times reports that for almost four years, city officials neglected to collect a $3.4 million payment for affordable housing from the developer of a high-profile, luxury condominium project. They secured the money with interest from the Insignia Towers project last year only after auditors reviewing the city’s Incentive Zoning program discovered the oversight. In the meantime, two 41-story towers were built, condos began selling for more than $500,000 each and Seattle struggled with a painful affordable-housing shortage. The lapse in the Insignia Towers case is one of several significant findings in a new report that City Councilmember Mike O’Brien calls disappointing and embarrassing. Scrutinizing the Incentive Zoning program and affordable-housing contributions at O’Brien’s request, Office of the City Auditor identified missing developer contributions, late payments, documentation discrepancies, uncollected fees and other issues.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • April 13, 2017
Baltimore Sun: Baltimore still waits for change after Freddie Gray’s death
The Baltimore Sun reports how in the days and weeks after the death of Freddie Gray shook Baltimore, leaders and activists spoke of seizing the moment to confront some of the city's most vexing challenges: entrenched poverty, mistrust between police and the community, criminal violence. Two years after Gray's death, some wonder if Baltimore let slip an opportunity to achieve lasting change. The six police officers who were charged in Gray's arrest and death walked free. Promised funding for community-based initiatives has dried up. Crime has risen to startling levels, and arrests are down. And much of the city remains mired in poverty. But others say they see reasons to hang on to optimism — perhaps none stronger than a judge's approval Friday of a consent decree that will direct reforms in the Baltimore Police Department.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Welfare workers failed in child neglect case
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports state child welfare officials got a complaint about child neglect three months before 2-year-old James Vessell Jr. died. It wasn't the first one they had gotten about his mother, who previously had four of her six children removed from her custody and had been reported to the state repeatedly for more than a decade. From 2001 to October 2016, the agency received two dozen calls from people who had concerns about the safety of children in her home. Despite that history, child welfare workers failed to fully investigate allegations that James and his brother were being neglected within the time frame set by the state Department of Children and Families. The case was still pending when the toddler overdosed on his mother's pills in January, agency records show. Under the agency rules, such complaints are supposed to be investigated within 60 days.
Newark Star Ledger: Could N.J. homeowners lose cherished tax deduction?
The Newark Star Ledger reports that if New Jersey homeowners have any consolation for paying the nation's highest property taxes, it's that Uncle Sam picks up part of the tab. Taxpayers who itemize on their federal income tax returns can deduct the income and property taxes they pay to state and local governments. And that feature benefits New Jersey residents more than those in most other states. That break may be in jeopardy as Republicans seek to overhaul the tax code, eliminate deductions, and reduce tax rates, most notably those paid by the wealthiest Americans. More than 4 in 10 New Jersey taxpayers itemized rather than took the standard deduction on their 2014 federal returns, behind only Maryland and Connecticut, according to the Tax Foundation, a research group in Washington.
Toledo Blade: Fake signs, real fine in Whitehouse
The Toledo Blade reports a Whitehouse police officer pulled over Thomas Villagomez III at roughly midnight on Waterville Street on Dec. 19, 2015. Villagomez said he was heading to Kroger outside of town for some last minute Christmas shopping after watching the newest Star Wars movie, which had opened the day before. The officer used radar to clock Villagomez at 46 mph — 11 over the posted limit. Once Villagomez was stopped, the officer found less than 100 grams of marijuana in the car along with drug paraphernalia. Villagomez pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor the following Jan. 12, and his driver’s license was suspended for six months. The posted 35-mph limit, however, is fake and contrary to state law, which sets a 50-mph limit for that part of Waterville Street because it’s part of State Rt. 64. The sign was installed with the intent to slow traffic as it approaches the village downtown.
Los Angeles Times: Taxpayers paid $50 million for misconduct claims
The Los Angeles Times reports how, in one case, Los Angeles County paid more than $6 million to a woman who had been raped by a sheriff’s deputy during a traffic stop. In another, it took more than $7 million to resolve multiple lawsuits after deputies in West Hollywood mistakenly shot two hostages, killing one and seriously wounding the other. Those payouts from 2016 helped drive a dramatic increase in the cost of resolving legal claims against the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department during the last five years, according to records reviewed by The Times. The county’s annual payouts have jumped from $5.6 million to nearly $51 million over that time. The judgments and settlements often involved allegations of serious misconduct against law enforcement officers, including sexual assault, excessive force, shooting unarmed suspects and wrongful imprisonment.
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Looking into the dark web of private data
The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reports that evidence has emerged that sensitive personal information may have been stolen by hackers who broke into Rochester-based Excellus’s computer networks. What’s more, some of that consumer data may be for sale in the hidden corners of the internet. The suspects? Try Black Vine and TheDarkOverlord. The accusations were cited two weeks ago as new evidence by lawyers trying to recover from a significant legal setback in their suit against Excellus. The provocative allegations raise the possibility that millions of people — many of them in the Rochester region — could be vulnerable to identity theft and other financial crimes as a result of the Excellus security breach. Excellus Blue Cross Blue Shield and its parent company, Lifetime Healthcare, revealed in September 2015 that an unknown party had infiltrated its computer systems and spent as much as 1½ years rummaging around without being detected.
Austin American-Statesman: How will border wall affect those in its shadow?
The Austin American-Statesman reports that most of the 1,250 miles of new border wall President Donald Trump has pledged to build would be in Texas, where only about 10 percent of the border is fenced in. But Texas is unique among border states: The border is marked by the wild undulations of the Rio Grande and is crowded with private land and parcels. Flooding concerns and property disputes forced the existing fence to be built up to a mile from the river’s edge. That’s left wildlife sanctuaries, nature trails, cemeteries, soccer fields and family homes caught in a no-man’s land between wall and river. A team of five American-Statesman reporters and photographers traveled nearly the entire length of the Texas-Mexico border to examine how the existing border fence is affecting communities in the Rio Grande Valley, and to study the impact the coming border wall would have in places like Big Bend and Falcon Lake.
Chicago Tribune: Kids poisoned by lead in privately run subsidized housing
The Chicago Tribune reports that as private landlords increasingly take over the government's role of housing low-income families, dozens of children have been poisoned by brain-damaging lead while living in homes and apartments declared safe by the Chicago Housing Authority. Taxpayers often still paid the rent. Federal law requires the CHA to inspect subsidized homes before tenants move in and at least once a year afterward. But since 2010, the housing authority has approved occupancy at 187 homes where at least one child was later diagnosed with lead poisoning, according to a Tribune analysis of thousands of pages of inspection reports, monthly payments, court documents and property records. The CHA paid the landlords of those hazardous homes more than $5.6 million in federal rent subsidies after clearing them to participate in the Housing Choice Voucher program, the Tribune analysis found.
San Francisco Chronicle: In Richmond, high number of homicides go unsolved
The San Francisco Chronicle reports unsolved killings are not unusual in Richmond, the East Bay city of 110,000 residents. Once considered one of the nation’s most dangerous cities, Richmond has made strides in recent years to decrease violent crime and improve community relations. But suspects were arrested and charged in fewer than 1 in 3 homicides from 2011 through 2016, a Chronicle examination of federal and local police data shows, even as the number of homicides has experienced a long-term decline. Richmond police, according to state Department of Justice data, cleared just 28 percent of 90 homicides from 2011 through 2015, one of the worst clearance rates among California cities that averaged 10 or more homicides annually. Richmond police dispute that figure, saying a technical error in 2015 caused the state to misreport their crime data. But city police records obtained by The Chronicle show that from 2011 through 2016, roughly 40 percent of the 119 homicides in Richmond were cleared, a rate still well below national, statewide and Contra Costa County averages for that period.
New York Times: Education gap between rich and poor growing wider
The New York Times reports from Santa Monica, California, that of all the inequalities between rich and poor public schools, one of the more glaring divides is PTA fund-raising, which in schools with well-heeled parents can generate hundreds of thousands of dollars a year or more. Several years ago, the Santa Monica-Malibu school board came up with a solution: Pool most donations from across the district and distribute them equally to all the schools. This has paid big benefits to the needier schools in this wealthy district, like the Edison Language Academy in Santa Monica, where half the children qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The funding program is considered a national model, and has many enthusiastic supporters. But for some locals it is a sore point that has helped fuel a long-simmering secession movement in which Malibu — more solidly affluent than Santa Monica — would create its own district, allowing it to keep all of its donations in its own schools.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • April 5, 2017
AP: With Trump approval, Pentagon expands war fighting authority
The Associated Press reports that week by week, country by country, the Pentagon is quietly seizing more control over war fighting decisions, sending hundreds more troops to war with little public debate and seeking greater authority to battle extremists across the Middle East and Africa. Last week, it was Somalia, where President Donald Trump gave the U.S. military more authority to conduct offensive airstrikes on al-Qaida-linked militants. This week, it could be Yemen, where military leaders want to provide more help for the United Arab Emirates’ battle against Iranian-backed rebels. Key decisions on Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan are looming, from ending troop number limits to loosening rules that guide commanders in the field. The changes in Trump’s first two months in office underscore his willingness to let the Pentagon manage its own day-to-day combat.
Tennessean: Analysis: Possible double dipping at the state house
The Tennessean reports Tennessee lawmakers spent thousands of dollars in campaign donations in 2016 on expenses, including food and gas, that may already have been paid for by state taxpayers, according to an analysis by the USA TODAY NETWORK-Tennessee. Dozens of lawmakers — including House and Senate leadership — received nearly $32,000 in daily legislative payments, or per diems, on days when they used campaign money to buy similar items. Lawmakers receive these per diems and mileage reimbursements in addition to their annual salaries. “What you’re talking about is double dipping,” said former Rep. David Shepard, who served in the legislature for 16 years before retiring in 2016.
Columbus Dispatch: Ohio awards millions in unbid IT contracts
The Columbus Dispatch reports how time after time state purchasing analysts warned that the pricey pending contracts were improper. “This position was unbid” ... ”No competitive procurement was issued” ... “The rates seem to be excessive” ... “The agency did not complete any competitive process” ... ”This position could have been filled ... with rates at least $63 less per hour.” And, time after time, their superiors at the Ohio Department of Administrative Services overrode those concerns to award millions of dollars in no-bid, information-technology contracts, frequently paying more than $200 an hour — often to a company employing one-time Administrative Services executives, a Dispatch investigation found. The supervisors also repeatedly disregarded the agency’s own purchasing policy and sidestepped approval of the bipartisan state Controlling Board that serves as a check on spending on non-competitive contracts.
Minneapolis Star Tribune: With GOP in power, gun advocates make their move
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports Donald Trump’s election and surging Republican power in state legislatures are fueling a drive to dramatically expand gun rights across the nation. At least 41 states, including Minnesota, are considering or have already passed measures this year to expand access to guns. Some would allow residents to carry handguns, either openly or concealed, without a government permit. Others would allow guns in places where they are currently banned, including schools, government buildings like post offices and libraries, and college campuses. At the same time, gun control activists with fewer allies in political power are pushing to broaden background checks and ensure that weapons are removed from homes during domestic violence arrests. The new president left no doubt as a candidate that he strongly supports loosening gun restrictions.
Honolulu Star Advertiser: Prosecutor’s facility for abused women criticized
The Honolulu Star Advertiser reports the Honolulu prosecutor’s safe house for female victims of domestic violence, sex assault and human trafficking has been open for only six months but already is a flashpoint for criticism locally and nationally. At the center of the controversy is the prosecutor’s policy of providing secured shelter in exchange for the women’s testimony against their alleged abusers. No other county prosecutor or district attorney in the nation does that. To stay in the Honolulu apartment complex, which has around-the-clock security, restricted access and video monitors throughout, the single women approved for the voluntary program must cooperate in the criminal prosecution and follow strict rules, which prosecutors say are necessary to protect the victims and others at the facility.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Unelected Atlanta agencies give big tax breaks
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports unelected economic development boards in metro Atlanta are giving huge tax breaks for everything from the construction of new apartment complexes to expansions by Fortune 500 companies, forfeiting public money that would otherwise go to school, city and county governments. Over the past three years, about $500 million in property tax breaks have been awarded to businesses in DeKalb, Fulton, Gwinnett and Cobb counties and the city of Atlanta, according to an analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The boards hold vast power to cut property taxes in the name of economic growth, with no approval required from city councils or county commissions. Critics say the inducements handed out are often unnecessary and wasteful. They also question whether such incentives are fair to everyone else who has to pay a full tax bill.
Miami Herald: Where did $1.3 billion for affordable housing go?
The Miami Herald reports Florida has an affordable housing problem but you wouldn’t know it from the proposed budgets that emerged from state lawmakers. For the 10th year in a row, the governor and legislature are proposing to sweep money from the affordable housing trust funds into the general revenue fund to spend on other purposes. Since the start of the Great Recession, that has added up to $1.3 billion. This year, the trust funds will collect about $292 million for affordable housing from the documentary stamp taxes on real estate transactions. The draft Senate budget released last week allocates $162.4 million of the funds into affordable housing while the House and Gov. Rick Scott propose spending even less of the proceeds on housing — $44 million. Nearly one million very low-income Florida households pay more than 50 percent of their incomes for housing. The state has the third highest homeless population — 34,000 — in the nation.
San Francisco Chronicle: Oakland wary of shutting down problem properties
The San Francisco Chronicle reports Oakland officials, under pressure to protect vulnerable residents after the Ghost Ship warehouse fire, have largely abstained from deploying their most potent tool against problem properties: the red tag. In the three months after the inferno killed 36 people in an illegally converted building — the deadliest California fire in more than a century — inspectors slapped the crimson do-not-enter notice on just four Oakland properties, according to city records obtained by The Chronicle. The city’s reluctance to clear residents out of dangerous buildings arose again last week after a massive fire swept through an occupied three-story halfway house on San Pablo Avenue in West Oakland. Four people died, and more than 80 were displaced. Emails released by the city Friday showed that firefighters had urged their command staff to shut down the building as early as January but Fire Department managers cited the building for deficiencies, allowing the residents to remain.
Chicago Tribune: Taxpayers pay big bonuses to poorly operated lottery firm
The Chicago Tribune reports Illinois taxpayers have funded about $2 million in "retention" bonuses for employees of a private firm managing the lottery despite the firm performing so poorly Illinois is working to replace it. A Tribune investigation has found the state approved paying bonuses as part of a complicated deal it struck in 2015 with the firm, Northstar Lottery Group. Northstar agreed to end its 10-year deal early if the state met a host of conditions, including paying Northstar "disentanglement" fees, which included the bonuses. Records show Northstar offered an unspecified number of employees 30 to 50 percent of their base pay as a bonus for continuing to work through set periods. The bonus increased to 60 percent of base pay for those continuing to work the first half of this year.
Oregonian: He says he wasn’t insane. He faked it to avoid prison
The Oregonian reports that after feigning insanity for years to stay out of a prison cell, Tony Montwheeler finally confessed his scheme. Then, no longer judged mentally ill, he walked free from the Oregon State Hospital even though officials were told he was dangerous. Police say that a month later Montwheeler kidnapped his ex-wife in Idaho, drove her to an Ontario convenience store and stabbed her to death in the front seat of his pickup. Available records establish that Montwheeler ran a medical con for 20 years, insisting to a string of state psychiatrists and psychologists that he was mentally ill. He did so to evade state prison, where he would be sent if he was convicted of kidnapping his first wife and son in Baker City in 1996. Because he was found to be guilty but insane, he was treated as a patient instead of a convict. He cost taxpayers millions for hospitalization and housing expenses as he moved around rural Oregon, working odd jobs and committing one crime after another - all while under the state's supervision.
Kansas City Star: States ban requiring fire extinguishers in new homes
The Kansas City Star reports that thanks to the lobbying efforts of the National Association of Home Builders, most new house and duplexes in all 50 states except California and Maryland continue to be built without sprinklers. Bowing to the wishes of local and national home builders groups, Missouri, Kansas and 29 other states have in the past several years passed laws banning local governments from enacting their own fire sprinkler requirements for private homes. Seventeen other states have chosen to let cities and counties decide whether to adopt the sprinkler standard. Most have not required sprinklers. Lawmakers justify their decision to limit local government power by citing individuals’ freedom of choice and the financial burden of installing sprinkler systems. Depending on the size of the home, a system can cost a few thousands dollars, based on an average price of $1.35 a square foot in a 2013 study. But experts say they can be installed for less than half that.
Arizona Republic: Voucher program benefit students in affluent areas
The Arizona Republic reports that as Arizona’s school-voucher program has expanded rapidly in the past year, students using taxpayer aid to transfer from public to private schools are abandoning higher-performing districts in more-affluent areas. The findings undercut a key contention of the lawmakers and advocacy groups pressing to expand the state's ESA program: that financially disadvantaged families from struggling schools reap the benefit of expanded school choice. Critics, meanwhile, argue the program is largely being used by more-affluent families to subsidize their private-school tuition bills. The ESA program allows parents to take 90 percent of the money that would have gone to their school district and put it toward private school, home schooling and other educational programs.
Washington Post: U-Va. flags VIP applicants for special handling
The Washington Post reports that the University of Virginia’s fundraising team for years has sought to help children of wealthy alumni and prominent donors who apply for admission, flagging their cases internally for special handling. Records obtained by the newspaper from the U-Va. advancement office, which oversees fundraising for the prestigious public flagship, reveal nearly a decade of efforts to monitor admission bids and in some cases assist those in jeopardy of rejection. U-Va. denies that the advancement office held any sway over admissions decisions. But the documents show the office kept meticulous notes on the status of certain VIP applicants and steps taken on their behalf. Within U-Va., the records were known as an annual “watch list.” They provide a case study of what is regarded as an open secret in higher education: that schools do pay attention when an applicant’s family has given them money — or might in the future.
Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/at-u-va-a-watch-list-flags-vip-applicants-for-special-handling/2017/04/01/9482b256-106e-11e7-9d5a-a83e627dc120_story.html?hpid=hp_hp-top-table-main_uvalist-715pm%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.7cf1c4d02c86
Los Angeles Times: Police arrests plummeting in California
The Los Angeles Times reports police officers began making fewer arrests in 2013. The following year, the Los Angeles Police Department’s arrest numbers dipped even lower and continued to fall, dropping by 25 percent from 2013 to 2015. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the San Diego Police Department also saw significant drops in arrests during that period. The statewide numbers are just as striking: Police recorded the lowest number of arrests in nearly 50 years, according to the California attorney general’s office, with about 1.1 million arrests in 2015 compared with 1.5 million in 2006. It is unclear why officers are making fewer arrests. Some in law enforcement cite diminished manpower and changes in deployment strategies. Others say officers have lost motivation in the face of increased scrutiny — from the public as well as their supervisors.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • March 31, 2017
The Associated Press reported it has learned President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics. The White House on Wednesday, March 22, acknowledged the AP's revelations had "started to catch a lot of buzz" but brushed them aside, though some members of Congress expressed alarm. Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government, even as U.S.-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse.
The Newark Star Ledger reports courts handling immigration matters are overwhelmed across the country, with backlogs of pending cases now at an all-time high, according to U.S. Department of Justice officials. Through the end of January, there were 542,646 pending cases, according to the Justice Department's Executive Office for Immigration Review, or EOIR, and those numbers continue to climb. New York, the busiest court in the nation, currently has 72,344 cases on the docket. Newark was sixth among the nearly 60 courts, with 27,228 pending cases, not including the more than 740 cases involving those facing the possibility of more immediate deportation, which are held at the Elizabeth Detention Center.Despite the sudden explosion of hard-edged immigration enforcement under the Trump White House, though, the court backlog has been growing for quite some time.
The Akron Beacon Journals reports that for a state hit hard by a national heroin epidemic and one that’s fighting back with Medicaid expansion dollars, Ohio is home to one in six Americans who could lose access to drug addiction and mental health services if President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress take another crack at repealing the Affordable Care Act. Though the GOP replacement plan has stalled in the House, Ohio would have lost more than most for two reasons: it’s among 32 states that accepted Medicaid expansion as part of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law and opioid-related overdose deaths are twice as common in Ohio as the national average. Health care economists Sherry Glied of New York University and Richard G. Frank of the Harvard Medical School estimate that 1.3 million Americans could lose mental health and drug addiction services accessed today through Medicaid-funded and private health insurance gained under the Affordable Care Act. That includes 220,000 Ohioans.
The Maine Sunday Telegram reports the grisly trend – fatalities from drug overdoses in Maine reached an all-time high in 2016 – only seems to be getting worse. In a 10-part examination the newspaper lays out the ramifications of the crisis, mining answers from the human toll by telling the stories of those lost. The death toll reached 378 in 2016, driven almost entirely by opioids – prescription painkillers, heroin and now fentanyl, a powerful synthetic. More than one victim per day. More than car accidents. Or suicide. Or breast cancer. Only four years ago, there were 176 overdose deaths, less than half the 2016 total. Twenty years ago, just 34 people died from drug overdoses. But in the last few years, the crisis has been more acute here than almost anywhere else. From 2013 to 2014, Maine saw the third-highest increase in any state, 27 percent.
The Des Moines Register reports that more than 1,100 people have been killed since 2005 in alcohol-related traffic crashes in Iowa, according to state Department of Public Safety data. That's an average of more than 90 deaths a year. Nearly one-third of the drivers charged with vehicular homicide while intoxicated in those fatal crashes are repeat drunken drivers. Many had been arrested multiple times, the Register's analysis of Iowa Judicial Branch data shows. "Iowa is a great place to live if you are a drunk," said Pam Baugh, whose teenage son, Jonathan, was killed in 2006 by a repeat drunken driver. "You can commit offense after offense after offense, and nothing will happen to you." The Register's analysis comprises more than 203,000 Iowa intoxicated driving records from 2005 through 2016.
The Boston Globe reports how seven recent incidents involving Department of Mental Health clients illuminate a growing concern inside the state agency: that the department is releasing a steady stream of people with serious mental illness to live in the community without proper supervision. While thousands with serious mental illness struggle to get any help, the roughly 21,000 Department of Mental Health clients are promised treatment at state-run facilities and state-funded programs in the community that are operated by private vendors. Having successfully completed an onerous application process, they’re supposed to have access to the best care the state has to offer. The string of incidents raises questions about whether the department is doing enough to ensure the safety of its clients and the public.
When Howard University Hospital opened its doors as Freedmen’s in Northwest D.C. in 1862, it stood out for the medical care it offered freed slaves and became an incubator for some of the country’s brightest African American physicians. But over the past decade, the once-grand hospital that was the go-to place for the city’s middle-class black patients has been beset by financial troubles, empty beds and an exodus of respected physicians and administrators, many of whom said they are fed up with the way it is run. The facility has faced layoffs, accreditation issues, and sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuits, and it has paid out at least $27 million in malpractice or wrongful-death settlements since 2007, a Washington Post examination has found.
The Chicago Tribune reports that in a stunning breakdown of the city's police disciplinary system, Chicago officers found at fault for misconduct have escaped punishment for years because authorities lost track of their cases. A Tribune investigation found that all of the officers were found to have committed misconduct years ago and were ordered suspended. That, in itself, is a rare outcome of Chicago's notoriously lax police oversight investigations. But the Tribune — which has been untangling these old cases for several months — found that even after punishments were recommended, years passed and none was served because the Police Department and the city agency that investigates officer misconduct lost cases in their startlingly disjointed system.
The Arizona Republic reports employees at a federal power agency in Phoenix were using U.S. government purchase cards to buy millions of dollars’ worth of items from sporting good stores like Bass Pro Shop or Cabela's, and from specialty auto shops. Ammunition. Scopes for assault rifles. Engine superchargers. Radar detectors.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports the school voucher programs that some federal and state officials want to expand have mixed test results in Ohio that make it unclear how much more students learn than if they had stayed in their local public schools. Ohio's voucher programs, which give families grants to help pay tuition at private schools, have a low bar to clear to look successful. Neither the state's main voucher program, EdChoice, and a Cleveland-only program are competing with high-scoring suburban districts. Both were created to let families avoid schools the state considered to be failing, so they only have to beat the lowest-rated schools. But the private schools receiving voucher dollars have mixed results, even when compared to these "failing" public schools.
The Seattle Times reports nurses have gone for years to Olympia to implore lawmakers to understand that staffing problems were placing patient care at risk. There are constant staff shortages that force nurses to forgo meals and bathroom breaks in order to properly care for patients. There are the 12-hour nursing shifts that grow longer due to scheduling issues. There are nurse-to-patient ratios that seem to grow more dangerous. Nurses returned to Olympia this week to reiterate those messages to the Legislature yet again. But this time they have more optimism that lawmakers are listening. Lawmakers have been moving forward two bills that would address issues of staffing levels, overtime and rest breaks. Both measures have passed the state House and are getting attention in the state Senate. The issue of nurse staffing was a component in a recent Seattle Times investigation of the neuroscience institute based at Swedish’s Cherry Hill facility.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports a 2016 air pollution case against 3M Corp. represented the first time under Attorney General Brad Schimel the Justice Department allowed a company to make upgrades to a facility but avoid paying a financial penalty as part of the settlement. Minnesota-based 3M agreed to make $665,000 in improvements at two facilities in Wausau for air pollution violations in 2014 and 2015, according to court records. Unlike other major pollution cases, Schimel and his staff did not also seek forfeitures with 3M — a company that employs hundreds of workers at plants in Wausau, Menomonie, Cumberland and Prairie du Chien. Former state Department of Natural Resources Secretary George Meyer and former Assistant Attorney General Tom Dawson were critical of the agency for relying solely on the use of a compliance tool known as a supplemental environmental project.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • March 23, 2017
Dallas Morning News: Bribery trial shines light on lobbying
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Reports of drug side effects increase fivefold
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports more than 1 million reports of drug side effects were filed with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2015, a fivefold increase since 2004. According to an analysis by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and MedPage Today, numbers aren’t final for 2016, but are expected to match that all-time high. Drugs used to treat diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, a type of cancer and diabetes are among those with the greatest number of reports. Many of the drugs are for conditions that occur in 1 percent or less of the population, but several have seen increasing use in recent years. For years, the FDA’s adverse events system has been derided because of its largely voluntary nature — only drug companies, not doctors or patients, are required to report problems. As a result, the system likely only was capturing a small percentage of cases.
Austin American-Statesman: Extra pay for Texas judges could take big jump
The Austin-American Statesman reports two bills being considered by state lawmakers have the potential to boost by 60 percent a controversial salary supplement offered to constitutional county judges — the biggest pay rate jump being proposed for any of the state’s judges. An American-Statesman investigation in 2016 found that some county judges exploited a little-known law that allows them to enhance their salaries by more than $25,000 with virtually no oversight. If both of the pending bills pass, that would rise to $40,000. Despite the title, constitutional judges are the top administrative officers in Texas counties, elected to oversee budgets and preside over county commissioners courts. They are often compared to city mayors. The state constitution also empowers them to perform many courtroom functions, and their work hearing cases can be essential, especially in smaller or isolated counties lacking jurists with law school training.
Oregonian: Bogus statistics undercut city program to help Portland renters
The Oregonian reports it all started with make-believe numbers. The Portland Housing Bureau wanted city money to clean up code violations at low-income apartments east of 82nd Avenue. It sounded like a worthy idea, but bureau officials wildly inflated how many apartment buildings would be eligible. They claimed 400 properties in east Portland had been flagged for urgent repairs, when the actual number at the time was 19, according to an analysis by The Oregonian/OregonLive.
Then, after winning nearly $500,000 from the City Council last year, bureau officials banked the money and let it sit. They haven't repaired a single unit. The amount could have paid for nearly four dozen homeless shelter beds for a year, for example, or helped nearly 100 families avoid eviction.
Cleveland Plain Dealer: Ohio nursing homes among nation’s lowest rated
The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports how nurses at Normandy Manor of Rocky River accidentally poisoned Susanne Lawrence. They gave her 20 times the prescribed dosage of oxycodone, or 500 milligrams, according to state and federal reports. They failed to read the label on the drug and did not dilute it, investigators said, adding that Lawrence died hours after her last dosage on July 7, 2015. She was 83. Dozens of other residents in Ohio nursing homes have died over the past few years in incidents involving their care, a Plain Dealer review of inspection reports shows. A federal statistical measure, meanwhile, rates Ohio's nursing homes among the nation's lowest in quality of care. "It's a real crisis in Ohio for elderly residents,'' said Brian Lee, a national authority on nursing home care based in Austin, Texas. But some Ohio nursing home administrators and advocates say the rating system is flawed.
St. Louis Post Dispatch: Who gets the most police security in St. Louis?
The St. Louis Post Dispatch reports the St. Louis Police Department has two main strategies to better deter and solve crimes plaguing the city and hurting its national image: Add police officers and expand surveillance technology. This was made clear by Chief Sam Dotson in an announcement March 9. inside the police department’s Real Time Crime Center. Soulard, a historic neighborhood filled with bars and restaurants and year-round events that pull in thousands of visitors, was getting 16 state-of-the-art surveillance cameras that will tie directly into the center’s expansive wall of television screens and banks of computers. City police have about 500 cameras overall in the system. But an aerial map of the city displaying the camera networks highlighted a stark disparity between wealthier neighborhoods and poorer ones that are most afflicted by serious crimes and shootings.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune: Limits on access to day care records proposed
The Minneapolis Tribune reports Minnesota legislators are working to restrict public access to enforcement reports of family day care providers accused of violating standards, a move they hope will slow the dramatic exit of child care operators from the state. Day care operators are pressuring legislators to make the changes, saying their reputations can be tarnished by violation reports that remain available online, even after proving to be erroneous or dismissed on appeal. Measures advancing through the House and Senate would carve a special exemption in Minnesota’s public records law for the nearly 9,000 family child cares, by keeping licensing actions nonpublic until the appeal process is complete.
Toledo Blade: Trump budget would halt Amtrak service to Ohio
The Toledo Blade reports Amtrak passenger train service would end in Ohio if the Trump Administration’s proposed budget is approved. Toledo’s Amtrak station and all of its counterparts in the state would lose their trains as part of the proposal unveiled last week, but trains in several Michigan corridors would be preserved.
The President’s budget proposal calls for all long-distance trains to be eliminated so Amtrak can concentrate on improving the efficiency of its shorter corridors. Eliminating the long-distance routes would bring an end to all intercity train service in half the 46 states Amtrak now serves, including three routes that cross parts of Ohio and all service in the Deep South, Great Plains, and Intermountain West. Only routes along the Northeast Corridor and neighboring states from North Carolina to Maine, along the Pacific Coast, and radiating from Chicago would remain. The latter group would include Amtrak’s Chicago-based routes running out to Grand Rapids, Port Huron, and Pontiac, Mich., via Detroit.
Maine Sunday Telegram: Health care: Elderly, rural Mainers have most to lose
The Maine Sunday Telegram reports more than 25,000 older Mainers who have Affordable Care Act insurance could pay up to seven times as much for health insurance under the proposed Republican health care bill under consideration in the House. Mainers in their 50s and early 60s living in the state’s poorest, most rural counties would be hardest-hit by the Republican bill to replace Obamacare, according to a Maine Sunday Telegram analysis of data from the Congressional Budget Office and the Kaiser Family Foundation, with premiums that could soar from a couple of hundred dollars monthly to more than $1,300 each month. Of the 79,400 Mainers who currently receive insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act, almost one-third, or 25,391, are between the ages of 55 and 64, the group that experts say would be hit disproportionately hard by the replacement bill.
Chicago Tribune: Chicago minority areas see the most bike tickets
The Chicago Tribune reports that as Chicago police ramp up their ticketing of bicyclists, more than twice as many citations are being written in African-American communities than in white or Latino areas. A Tribune review of police statistics has found the top 10 community areas for bike tickets from 2008 to Sept. 22, 2016, include seven that are majority African-American and three that are majority Latino. Police say the citations are in the interests of public safety. African-American bike advocates say the higher number of tickets in some South and West side areas could be caused in part by the lack of bike infrastructure like protected bike lanes, leading cyclists to take to the sidewalk to avoid traffic on busy streets. But some bike advocates and an elected official expressed concern that police may be unfairly targeting cyclists in black communities while going easier on law-breaking cyclists in white areas. Blacks, Latinos and whites each make up about a third of the city's residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Arizona Republic: Hundreds sentenced to life with parole. It doesn't exist
The Arizona Republic reports that murder is ugly, and murderers are not sympathetic characters. But justice is justice, and a deal is a deal. We expect the men and women who administer the criminal justice system — prosecutors, defense attorneys, and especially judges — to know the law and to apply it fairly. Yet, for more than 20 years they have been cutting plea deals and meting out a sentence that was abolished in 1993: Life with a chance of parole after 25 or 35 years. Some of those deals are about to come due. Between January 1994 and January 2016, a study by The Republic found, half of Arizona murder defendants sentenced to less than natural life sentences — at least 248 current prisoners in the Arizona Department of Corrections — were given sentences of life in prison with a chance of parole after 25 or 35 years.
Des Moines Register: Iowan fights Medicaid firm trying to cut in-home help
The Des Moines Register reports a private Medicaid company was trying to reduce the amount of time aides are paid to help Jamie Campbell who needs extensive assistance because he is paralyzed from the neck down. Medicaid pays about $10.50 per hour for aides to help him live in his house instead of in a nursing home. Their duties include cooking for him, dressing him, cleaning his house, running errands, giving him his medicine and emptying his urine bag. A national Medicaid management company, UnitedHealthcare, is trying to trim those services, Campbell told an official from the state’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman’s office. Campbell, 44, knows others are also facing such cuts from the three private companies Iowa hired last year to manage the state’s $4 billion Medicaid system. He’s one of nearly 7,400 Iowans with disabilities who use Medicaid’s Consumer Directed Attendant Care program.
Orlando Sentinel: Fingerprint examiner’s alleged mistakes go back years
The Orlando Sentinel reports that when the Orange-Osceola State Attorney’s Office sent a letter to defense attorneys in February warning them that their clients’ cases may have been affected by Orange County Sheriff’s Office employee Marco Palacio’s alleged mistakes, it described the errors as “performance issues … clerical errors, failure to identify prints of value and the mislabeling of print cards.” The personnel file of the latent print examiner reveals that errors had been made for years before prosecutors were made aware — potentially affecting more than 2,500 cases. In his role, Palacio acted as an expert examiner of crime scene fingerprints and handprints to determine whether they matched those of suspects. The Orange-Osceola Public Defender’s Office is reviewing more than 1,675 criminal cases in which Palacio was involved to ensure no clients were harmed by his errors. The remaining cases may be reviewed by private practice attorneys.
Los Angeles Times: Immigration crack down worsening farm labor shortage
The Los Angeles Times reports a growing number of agricultural businessmen say they face an urgent shortage of workers. The flow of labor began drying up when President Barack Obama tightened the border. Now President Donald Trump is promising to deport more people, raid more companies and build a wall on the southern border. That has made California farms a proving ground for the Trump team’s theory that by cutting off the flow of immigrants they will free up more jobs for American-born workers and push up their wages. So far, the results aren’t encouraging for farmers or domestic workers. Farmers are being forced to make difficult choices about whether to abandon some of the state’s hallmark fruits and vegetables, move operations abroad, import workers under a special visa or replace them altogether with machines.
San Diego Union Tribune: Why health care is so expensive with no fix likely
The San Diego Union Tribune reports practically everyone knows health care in the United States is the most expensive in the world, but few really understand why. At the moment, the GOP-led push in Congress and the White House to overhaul Obamacare is focusing on premiums and deductibles, coverage rates and co-pays. Yet they are just the mechanisms of paying for a system that continues to consume a larger percentage of the nation’s gross domestic product than in any other highly industrialized country. For example, a study from the Commonwealth Fund, a nonpartisan health-care think tank, said the United States spent $9,086 per person in 2013 on medical expenses — $2,761 more than Switzerland, the next-highest spender on the list of 13 wealthy nations. The Commonwealth study found that among industrialized nations, there were significant pricing differences for many medical procedures. An MRI scan in the U.S. cost $1,145 on average in 2013, compared with $138 in Switzerland, $350 in Australia and $461 in the Netherlands. An appendectomy cost $6,645 in New Zealand and $13,910 in America.
New York Times: Door-busting drug raids leave a trail of blood
The New York Times reports that as policing has militarized to fight a faltering war on drugs, few tactics have proved as dangerous as the use of forcible-entry raids to serve narcotics search warrants, which regularly introduce staggering levels of violence into missions that might be accomplished through patient stakeouts or simple knocks at the door. Thousands of times a year, these “dynamic entry” raids exploit the element of surprise to effect seizures and arrests of neighborhood drug dealers. But they have also led time and again to avoidable deaths, gruesome injuries, demolished property, enduring trauma, blackened reputations and multimillion-dollar legal settlements at taxpayer expense, an investigation by The New York Times found. A Times’s investigation, which relied on dozens of open-record requests and thousands of pages from police and court files, found that at least 81 civilians and 13 law enforcement officers died in such raids from 2010 through 2016. Scores of others were maimed or wounded.
Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/03/18/us/forced-entry-warrant-drug-raid.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=second-column-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • March 9, 2017AP: Solitary confinement suits cost New Mexico counties millions
The Associated Press reported that George Abila won a nearly $2 million lawsuit against New Mexico's Eddy County over his treatment while held in solitary confinement. Former jail inmates have now won more than $20 million in judgments in recent years against New Mexico counties over their treatment in solitary. With more cases pending, state lawmakers are debating a proposal that would ban solitary confinement for juveniles, pregnant women and inmates with mental illness. Abila’s case, filed in 2014 after Abila's release, marked at least the fifth in as many years in New Mexico to result in a major payout for a former jail inmate held in solitary, a practice that has come under broad scrutiny nationwide amid growing evidence that the mentally ill are routinely housed in segregation. This report was made in collaboration with the CJ Project, an initiative to broaden the news coverage of criminal justice issues affecting New Mexico's communities of color.
Rockford Register Star: Black students overrepresented in disciplinary actions
The Rockford Register Star reports that across the country, in Illinois and throughout the Rock River Valley, students of color are disciplined at a much higher rate than white students, in some cases by a ratio as high as 4-to-1. A Rockford Register Star analysis of suspension and expulsion data from Rockford Public Schools, the region's largest and most diverse school system, revealed a pronounced racial disparity. The Register Star submitted a Freedom of Information Act request late last year for an accounting of all in-school and out-of-school suspensions and expulsions by race for the past five years. The document contained nearly 148,000 individual disciplinary actions. Black students accounted for the majority of all discipline all five years. To Margaret Stapleton, community justice director for the Chicago-based Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, the data is "a canary in a coal mine.
Modesto Bee: County’s pension reforms could hinder recruiting new CEO
The Modesto Bee reports Stanislaus County was a leader in reducing public employee pensions that have been a major contributor to government budget deficits in California. Faced with rising costs of funding pension benefits for employees seven years ago, the county negotiated agreements with labor groups that created less-lucrative benefits for new employees hired on or after Jan. 1, 2011. But those reforms now hamstring the county when the Sheriff’s Department tries to hire peace officers from other agencies. It makes it more difficult to hire qualified professionals to manage county departments or hire the next chief executive officer for Stanislaus County, officials said.
Arizona Republic: Arizona’s food waste could feed millions
The Arizona Republic reports that experts put the amount of food that's thrown away in America as staggering but "invisible." Borderlands Food Bank is one Arizona organization that's helping bring the problem into focus. POWWOW stands for Produce on Wheels without Waste. It’s one of several programs run by Borderlands Food Bank, a Nogales, Ariz.-based non-profit that rescues food before it goes to the landfill. Borderlands is one of a growing number of groups working to fight food waste in America, where more than 25 million people are unsure where their next meal will come from. At its core, food waste is an economic, social and environmental issue. The amount of food that's thrown away in America is staggering.
Maine Sunday Telegram: Portland program offers panhandlers jobs
The Maine Sunday Telegram reports officials in Portland, Maine, are working on a 36-week pilot program to offer day jobs to panhandlers. A city social worker would drive a van around to busy intersections and offer panhandlers a chance to earn $10.68 an hour cleaning up parks and other light labor jobs. They would be paid at the end of each day. Panhandling has been a growing concern in U.S. cities such as Portland, where business owners worry the practice puts a damper on tourism and some residents and visitors complain about panhandlers asking for money on sidewalks and at stoplights. In recent years, panhandlers have spread into smaller communities and staked out street corners in places such as Biddeford, Scarborough, South Portland, Wells, Augusta and Bangor.
Democrat and Chronicle: Opt-out movement remains strong across New York
The Democrat and Chronicle reports the statewide movement by some parents to boycott New York’s standardized tests has been around so long that it is nearing school age itself. More than 1 million students across the state will be eligible to sit for the state’s English language arts and math exams, which will begin later this month and resume in May. If the past two years are any guide, about one in five will refuse. For the fourth consecutive year, tens of thousands of parents across the state appear poised to refuse New York’s standardized exams, which are administered to students in grades 3-8. The so-called opt-out movement has grown from its nascent stages in 2014 — when about 5 percent of eligible students didn’t take the tests — to the past two years, when about 20 percent didn't take them.
Denver Post: Rules relaxed for sex offender in Colorado. Now what?
The Denver Post reports Colorado’s sex offenders have long maintained the state treats them as pariahs, closely monitoring where they live, what they look at, whom they talk to and what they discuss. One claimed in federal court filings that he was warned against keeping a crucifix because it displayed partial nudity. Another, convicted of groping a woman, said he had to write down his thoughts every time he saw a school bus. The idea was to protect children, but the resulting system that cut off offenders from their own families has now been struck down in federal court. That leaves Colorado to create a new sex-offender treatment and management system that defense lawyers say is long overdue but prosecutors worry will put children at risk. Supporters of the changes point to lives disrupted by what they call an outdated and overreaching system.
Houston Chronicle: Energy industry an alluring target for cyberattacks
The Houston Chronicle reports how the Coast Guard conducts sweeps along the waters of the Sabine-Neches waterway for unprotected wireless signals that hackers could use to gain access to oil, gas and petrochemical facilities. Four massive refineries sit along the 79-mile channel that cuts through this stretch of Gulf Coast. It's one of the largest concentration of refineries, pipelines, chemical plants and natural gas terminals in the United States - and an alluring target for espionage, disruption or worse. As national attention focuses on Russian cyberattacks aimed at influencing the last presidential election, oil and gas companies face increasingly sophisticated hackers seeking to steal trade secrets and manipulate industrial sensors and operations.
Des Moines Register: Company has 28 pipelines spills in Iowa since 2000
The Des Moines Register reports the company whose pipeline dumped more than 46,000 gallons of diesel on northern Iowa farmland in January has had more spills than any other pipeline operator in the state over the past 16 years, according to a Des Moines Register analysis. Magellan Midstream Partners pipelines leaked 27 times in Iowa between 2000 and 2016, spewing tens of thousands of gallons of hazardous products, according to Iowa Department of Natural Resources data. Magellan's spills are nearly double the 14 of Enterprise Products Offering, the second most frequent offender. Magellan reported its 28th spill Jan. 25 near Hanlontown, Ia., where a rupture dumped thousands of gallons of diesel onto snow-covered crop fields. The spill immediately stoked foes of the Dakota Access pipeline, whose builders plan to start pumping oil through the 1,172-mile line within weeks.
San Francisco Chronicle: Firm keeps sucking sand from Monterey Bay
The San Francisco Chronicle reports critics are concerned that an anachronistic industry on a remote beach in Monterey Bay is eating away California’s quintessential seacoast. There, surrounded by dune grass, is a dredging boat with rusting anchors and a hydraulic pipeline that stretches toward an inland factory building, where plumes of steam rise from a chimney. The rig sucks up a slurry of sand and seawater that comes in with the tide and pipes it to the plant, where the granules are washed, graded, dried and taken out on trucks destined for golf course bunkers and less romantic consumer products like filtration systems, stucco and grout. The Lapis Sand Plant, in operation since 1906, is the nation’s last coastal sand mine. It is believed to extract roughly 270,000 cubic yards of sand per year from a dredging pond on the beach, according to geologists and oceanographers who have studied the impacts. That’s the equivalent of a large dump truck load every half hour, 24 hours a day.
Chicago Tribune: ATF sting operation accused of racial bias
The Chicago Tribune reports dozens of people are at the center of a brewing legal battle in Chicago's federal court over whether the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' signature sting operation used racial bias in finding its many targets. A team of lawyers led by the University of Chicago Law School is seeking to dismiss charges against more than 40 defendants in Chicago. The undercover probes, a staple of the ATF since the mid-1990s, have ensnared hundreds of defendants across the country. A recently unsealed study by a nationally renowned expert concluded that ATF showed a clear pattern of racial bias in picking its targets for the drug stings. The disparity between minority and white defendants was so large that there was "a zero percent likelihood" it happened by chance, the study found.
Seattle Times: Drinking water wells polluted by fire fighting chemicals
The Seattle Time reports a potentially hazardous chemical, found in firefighting foam, has been discovered in a few wells on Whidbey Island. While the Navy distributes bottled water and plans for expanded testing, homeowners worry about long lasting harm. So far, the Navy has tested more than 170 island wells and found foam contaminants in eight wells at levels above the EPA guideline. Residents who got the bad news have expressed worry, and sometimes anger, as they learn their well water is suddenly off-limits. And as they think about all the water they’ve been drinking for years, homeowners now are researching the health risks — including some types of cancer — linked to perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances — or PFAS. The continuing effort to determine the scope of the well pollution has added a new layer of tension to the Navy’s relations with its Whidbey Island neighbors just as base officials prepare for a major expansion.
Los Angeles Times: L.A. keeps building near freeways despite sickness
The Los Angels Times reports that for more than a decade California air quality officials have warned against building homes within 500 feet of freeways. And with good reason: People there suffer higher rates of asthma, heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer and pre-term births. Recent research has added more health risks to the list, including childhood obesity, autism and dementia. Yet Southern California civic officials have flouted those warnings, allowing a surge in home building near traffic pollution, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis of U.S. Census data, building permits and other government records. In Los Angeles alone officials have approved thousands of new homes within 1,000 feet of a freeway — even as they advised developers that this distance poses health concerns.
Orlando Sentinel: Nursing home inspection reports leave gaps
The Orlando Sentinel reports that if you want to check on conditions at a Florida nursing home where your elderly loved one is living, you might be surprised at what you don’t find in state inspection reports that are legally required to be open to the public, such as dates. Or places. Or pivotal words. The leader of a national watchdog group, Brian Lee of Families For Better Care, calls the heavily censored reports — which cover inspections of nursing homes and assisted living facilities — “shocking.” He first noticed a difference in the amount of information withheld late last year. I’ve been looking at these reports for 20 years, and I know what they used to look like and what they look like now,” said Nathan Carter, an Orlando personal injury attorney whose clients have included nursing home residents and their families. “It has become arbitrary and inconsistent what they redact — but I think it’s all part of a bigger purpose to confuse people and make the reports useless.”
Arizona Daily Star: 200 Tucson cops and firefighters paid over $100,000
The Arizona Daily Star reports that Mre than 200 Tucson police and fire employees were paid over $100,000 in 2016, a good portion of which came from sources of pay other than their base salaries, such as overtime and special-duty, city records show.
The Tucson Police Department paid its employees more than $84 million last year, of which $60 million was base salaries. The Fire Department paid out nearly $53 million, and $38 million of that was base pay. Out of 1,317 Tucson Police Department employees, 148 were paid above $100,000, but only 19 made more than that amount in base pay. The other 129 crossed the threshold with other pay categories and cash benefits, of which there are dozens of different types, including overtime, military pay, vehicle allowance and sick-leave buyback.
Sacramento Bee: California exports its poor to Texas, other states
The Sacramento Bee reports that every year from 2000 through 2015 more people left California than moved in from other states. This migration was not spread evenly across all income groups, a Sacramento Bee review of U.S. Census Bureau data found. The people leaving tend to be relatively poor, and many lack college degrees. Move higher up the income spectrum, and slightly more people are coming than going. About 2.5 million people living close to the official poverty line left California for other states from 2005 through 2015, while 1.7 million people at that income level moved in from other states – for a net loss of 800,000. During the same period, the state experienced a net gain of about 20,000 residents earning at least five times the poverty rate – or $100,000 for a family of three.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • March 2, 2017
AP: Ex-congregants of religious sect reveal years of ungodly abuse
The Associated Press reported 43 former congregants of the Word of Faith Fellowship in the tiny town of Spindale, North Carolina, told the new organization in separate, exclusive interviews that they were regularly punched, smacked, choked, slammed to the floor or thrown through walls in a violent form of deliverance meant to "purify" sinners by beating out devils. Lured by promises of inner peace and eternal life, they flocked to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and found what many said was years of terror waged in the name of the Lord. Victims of the violence were said to include preteens and toddlers — even crying babies, who were vigorously shaken, screamed at and sometimes smacked to banish demons. "I saw so many people beaten over the years. Little kids punched in the face, called Satanists," said Katherine Fetachu, 27, who spent nearly 17 years in the church.
AP: Utah lobbyists treat lawmakers with no scrutiny
The Associated Press reported how half a dozen Utah lawmakers joined a group of lobbyists for dinner in a private dining room in Salt Lake City with the group’s nearly $1,000 bill paid for by their health care-industry clients. Legislators who attended all sit on committees that oversee health issues, but they say no one tried to influence them and it was a routine social event. For members of the public, however, it’s hard to determine exactly how routine it is - the dinner falls into a gap in Utah lobbying laws and isn’t required to be divulged on lobbyist or lawmaker disclosure reports. Utah’s lobbyist reporting laws create an exemption for events that are open to all members of any committee, official task force or party caucus. The Feb. 15 dinner, paid for by health care groups, was open to all members of three health-related committees. John Wonderlich, the executive director of Sunlight Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based open government group, said lobbyist reporting exemptions in other states generally require an event to be widely attended or open to the public, “not a dinner for people specifically that have power over your interests.”
Santa Fe New Mexican: Efforts by lawmakers to rein in small loans just die
The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that in a Roundhouse meeting room packed with lobbyists and a few consumer protection advocates, the House Business and Industry Committee on Friday, Feb. 24, quietly tabled a bill that would have capped the annual percentage rates for payday loans and other small loans at 36 percent. The 11-member panel didn’t vote on the matter. The committee’s chairwoman, Debbie Rodella, D-Española, simply asked her members if anyone objected. No one did. It was an unceremonious end to a proposal that consumer protection advocates have pushed for years, trying to rein in an industry they say preys on the poor with annual percentage rates that can climb as high as 9,000 percent. And no one, not even the bill’s sponsor, who was not present, seemed surprised. And they shouldn’t have been. Since 2010, at least 11 bills that would have capped interest rates on storefront lenders have died without making it out of their initial committees.
Chicago Tribune: Police say some gangs turning to rifles for added firepower
The Chicago Tribune reports the first time 14-year-old Brisa Ramirez remembers hearing rifle fire was when a man was shot dead on a Sunday afternoon outside a Catholic church around the corner from her home in Back of the Yards. The shooting was one of at least 33 in Back of the Yards and Brighton Park over the past nine months that police believe are tied to semi-automatic rifles as several gangs boost their firepower. At least 46 people have been shot in the attacks, 13 fatally. Police say this is the only area of the city where rifles styled after AR-15s and AK-47s are regularly used, a menacing new development in the gang fights. It's unclear how many of the high-powered rifles are on the street, but police suspect they are being passed around by members of four Hispanic gangs in the Deering police district, which covers parts of the South and Southwest sides.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Widow taken for millions sparks debate
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that by the time help arrived, those who Frances Perkins entrusted with her health and financial security had inflicted significant harm on the Marietta widow. The episode is among the largest cases of financial exploitation of a senior in Georgia history and shows how Georgia’s law governing power of attorney leaves the elderly vulnerable to abuse. She lived in squalor with dead rats in her home and suffered from dementia. Over a lifetime, Perkins amassed wealth from family real estate investments and, after her husband died in 1992, she lived frugally spending little from her nest egg of millions. That life changed in September 2011 when, just days shy of her 90th birthday and in early stages of dementia, Perkins signed over financial power of attorney to a man who just a couple years before had been a total stranger. Over a period of two years, Jeff Carr took control of Perkins’ life and stole $3.6 million from her.
Washington Post: Anxiety grows in Florida after Trump’s immigration order
The Washington Post reports that as President Donald Trump moves to turn the full force of the federal government toward deporting undocumented immigrants, a newfound fear of the future has already cast a pall over the tomato farms and strawberry fields in the largely undocumented migrant communities east of Tampa, Florida. Any day could be when deportations ramp up. Children have stopped playing in parks and the streets and businesses have grown quieter, as many have receded into the background, where they feel safe. Trump has repeatedly cast undocumented workers from Mexico as “bad hombres” and “lower-skilled workers with less education who compete directly against vulnerable American workers.” Trump made clear during his campaign that “those here illegally today, who are seeking legal status, they will have one route and one route only: to return home and apply for reentry like everybody else.”
Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/after-trumps-immigration-order-anxiety-grows-in-floridas-vegetable-fields/2017/02/25/1539c4be-f915-11e6-be05-1a3817ac21a5_story.html?hpid=hp_rhp-top-table-main_scaredtown902pm%3Ahomepage%2Fstory&utm_term=.de5872cc78b6
San Francisco Chronicle: Immigration courts clogged with two-year backlog
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that with many more foreigners now facing possible deportation, immigration judges are likely to become overwhelmed with cases. Immigration courts, an arm of the Justice Department, have a nationwide backlog of 542,000 cases. In the San Francisco court, one of four in California, the backlog is more than 39,000. Immigrants free on bond, the practice in most cases, typically wait more than two years for a hearing on whether they will be deported. That’s nearly double the waiting time in 2008. Under the Trump administration, the wait times are about to grow substantially longer for an already overburdened immigration court system. While President Barack Obama’s administration reached near-record levels of deportations by focusing on what it said were immigrants who had committed serious crimes, new Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has ordered removal of immigrants suspected of any crimes.
Columbus Dispatch: Replacement chemical for C8 raises health concerns
The Columbus Dispatch reports that scientists and activists who fought DuPont to stop the use of C8 sense deja vu with the spinoff company, Chemours, and GenX, a chemical that replaced C8. European officials announced that they will begin an intensive investigation of the compound next month. Since 2012, DuPont, and now Chemours, has been using GenX at plants in the United States and elsewhere to make non-stick Teflon and other products. Critics say GenX is no safer than C8 — also known as perfluorooctanoic acid or PFOA — which DuPont used for decades before investigations and lawsuits involving the chemical forced the company to halt production. The company lost four jury verdicts in federal court in Columbus and agreed this month to pay nearly $671 million to settle 3,500 lawsuits. Mid-Ohio Valley residents said they developed cancer and other ailments by drinking water contaminated with C8 that had been dumped in the Ohio River and spewed from smokestacks at DuPont's plant south of Parkersburg, West Virginia.
Arizona Republic: Arizona may face new schools lawsuit over spending cuts
The Arizona Republic reports that less than a year after voters passed Proposition 123 to resolve a $1.6 billion lawsuit over school funding, a new, even larger education lawsuit looms — and almost nobody is talking about it. While the first lawsuit focused on underfunding per-student payments to schools for operational costs such as teacher salaries, this latest dispute centers on nearly a decade of cuts to capital funding for textbooks, technology, buses and building maintenance. Attorneys have warned of a lawsuit for years. Now, they say they could file one within the next month. Gov. Doug Ducey in his budget proposal included an additional $17 million to the School Facilities Board for building maintenance, but he continued hundreds of millions of dollars in annual cuts directly to schools for other school maintenance and soft capital such as technology. Since 2009, ongoing cuts in this area have topped $2 billion.
Toledo Blade: Asian carp continue push towards the Great Lakes
The Toledo Blade reports from Romeoville, Illinois, that while the battle to keep invasive Asian carp from entering the Great Lakes is more than four decades old and the front lines have continued to change, the enemy has not. These aggressive and prolific fish, first brought to this country under the premise that they would be a beneficial ally in efforts to control vegetation in the ponds used for raising native fishes, eventually escaped via flood waters and made their way into the Mississippi River system. On other occasions, Asian carp were likely unintentionally stocked in lakes and ponds, disguised in a shipment of what was believed to be fingerling catfish. Since reaching the Mississippi, Asian carp — primarily the most destructive silver and bighead species — have surged in every direction. Bighead and/or silver carp are now found throughout the Mississippi from New Orleans to Minnesota, and they have spread in the Missouri River system into the Dakotas and on the Ohio River as far upstream as Pittsburg.
Houston Chronicle: Texas builders fear fall out of immigration crackdown
The Houston Chronicle reports that at construction sites across Houston many of the tens of thousands of laborers building or rebuilding the sprawling metro region are immigrants in the country illegally. In Texas, an estimated 400,000 construction workers reside illegally, according to one study. If they were forced to leave the country, contractors say, state construction companies would face a difficult fallout, including higher labor costs, construction delays, and some projects canceled altogether. "Texas lives on immigrant labor," said Jeff Nielsen, executive vice president of the Houston Contractors Association. "Our economy is the way it is partly because cost of living is cheap and the reason for that is labor is cheap." Throughout his presidential campaign, Donald Trump advocated a "deportation force" to track down and remove millions of immigrants here illegally. This week, he moved closer to that goal with a memo instructing federal authorities to broaden the scope of targeted deportations.
Arizona Daily Star: Trump border orders raise questions for Arizona sheriffs
The Arizona Daily Star reports that new federal directives aimed at cracking down on illegal immigration and border-related crime may appear straightforward, but how they are received by local law enforcement is far from simple. The sheriffs of Cochise, Pima and Yuma counties generally support the Trump administration’s evolving border policy, which took a leap forward last week with a memorandum from Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. The sheriff of Santa Cruz County, on the other hand, has a more critical view of the policy. Although all four sheriffs support Kelly’s plan to fight cross-border criminal networks, they all balk at the idea of enforcing immigration laws. And various directives in the memo give the border sheriffs pause. Kelly ordered the hiring of 5,000 more Border Patrol agents, spurring Santa Cruz County Sheriff Antonio Estrada to ask: Why isn’t the federal government hiring more customs officers to catch hard drugs smuggled through ports of entry?
Indianapolis Star: Last bitter days of an Indianapolis ball bearing plant
The Indianapolis Star reports John Feltner is about to lose his job as a machinist at Rexnord Corp., the ball bearings manufacturer that’s about to move work done for generations on Indianapolis’ west side to a new plant in Monterrey, Mexico. The phrase “shipping jobs to Mexico” has become rhetorical gold for politicians, but at Rexnord it's distastefully real. Of late, Feltner and his 350-plus co-workers at the Rockville Road plant have been boxing up machinery and shipping it to Mexico. Workers from Mexico are looking over their shoulders, trying to glean the skills Feltner and his union brothers have accumulated over years, even decades. Skills they’ve used to cut steel with precision and turn it into the mechanisms that turn axles on industrial machines and run conveyor belts for the mining industry and for firms like FedEx. Soon, the workers from Mexico will take what they’ve learned back to Monterrey and apply it to their new jobs. Jobs that union officials say will pay $3 an hour.
Minneapolis Star Tribune: Toxic vapors contaminate properties across state
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports toxic vapor rising from soils contaminated decades ago by industrial solvents is creating new and expensive headaches for property owners across Minnesota. Pollution officials have identified hundreds of sites across the state that are contaminated by “vapor intrusion,” and this month they began rolling out a new set of rules requiring property owners to test for vapors and address them before transferring property. Even as state officials scramble to understand the scope of the problem, business owners are facing millions of dollars in new costs to make their buildings — and their neighbors’ buildings — safe from the carcinogenic fumes that collect inside from widely used solvents long since discarded.
Democrat and Chronicle: Critics seek overhaul of police conduct review
The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reports that Rochester's system for reviewing misconduct allegations against police officers remains heavily tilted toward the police and needs a complete overhaul to create a truly civilian-managed review board, according to a new report from some local civil rights organizations. "Our research indicates a lack of accountability and transparency within the RPD (Rochester Police Department), resulting in continued occurrences of police officer misconduct," states the report, The Case for an Independent Police Accountability System: Transforming the Civilian Review Process in Rochester, New York. The department's internal affairs process "involves the police investigating themselves, and there is no independent review of police misconduct that calls officers to account for their actions or enacts appropriate discipline that would deter the misconduct."
Philadelphia Inquirer: More murders in Philadelphia going unsolved
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports the city’s homicide clearance rate in 2016 dropped below 50 percent -- the lowest the city has seen in at least 15 years, and the third consecutive year that the rate has decreased, according to police statistics. While the Homicide Unit posted a clearance rate above 70 percent as recently as 2012 and 2013 -- nearly 10 points higher than the national average -- last year, when there were 277 murders, the rate was just 45.4 percent, meaning police arrested dozens fewer murder suspects than they had just a few years earlier. Theories for the downturn vary, from a slowly shrinking pool of homicide detectives, to a belief that media coverage of allegations of police brutality has fueled distrust in minority communities, worsening the decades-old challenge of finding cooperating witnesses.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • Feb. 22, 2017
AP: Drugs vanish at some VA hospitals
The Associated Press reported federal authorities are stepping up investigations at Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers due to a sharp increase in opioid theft, missing prescriptions or unauthorized drug use by VA employees since 2009, according to government data obtained by The Associated Press. Doctors, nurses or pharmacy staff at federal hospitals — the vast majority within the VA system — siphoned away controlled substances for their own use or street sales, or drugs intended for patients simply disappeared. Aggravating the problem is that some VA hospitals have been lax in tracking drug supplies. Congressional auditors said spot checks found four VA hospitals skipped monthly inspections of drug stocks or missed other requirements. Investigators said that signals problems for VA's entire network of more than 160 medical centers and 1,000 clinics, coming after auditor warnings about lax oversight dating back to at least 2009.
AP: Hundreds of Texans may have voted improperly
The Associated Press reports Texas election officials have acknowledged that hundreds of people were allowed to bypass the state's toughest-in-the-nation voter ID law and improperly cast ballots in the November presidential election by signing a sworn statement instead of showing a photo ID. The chief election officers in two of the state's largest counties are now considering whether to refer cases to local prosecutors for potential perjury charges or violations of election law. Officials in many other areas say they will simply let the mistakes go, citing widespread confusion among poll workers and voters. The Texas law requires voters to show one of seven approved forms of identification to cast ballots. It was softened in August to allow people without a driver's license or other photo ID to sign an affidavit declaring that they have an impediment to obtaining required identification.
AP: DHS weighed National Guard for immigration roundups
The Associated Press reported the White House has distanced itself from a Department of Homeland Security draft proposal to use the National Guard to round up unauthorized immigrants, but lawmakers said the document offers insight into the Trump administration's internal efforts to enact its promised crackdown on illegal immigration. Administration officials said Feb. 17 the proposal, which called for mobilizing up to 100,000 troops in 11 states, was rejected, and would not be part of plans to carry out President Donald Trump's aggressive immigration policy. If implemented, the National Guard idea, contained in an 11-page memo obtained by The Associated Press, could have led to enforcement action against millions of immigrants living nowhere near the Mexican border. Four states that border on Mexico were included in the proposal — California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas — but it also encompassed seven states contiguous to those four — Oregon, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.
AP Exclusive: If California dam failed, people likely stuck
The Associated Press reported communities immediately downstream of California's Lake Oroville dam would not receive adequate warning or time for evacuations if the 770-foot-tall dam itself — rather than its spillways — were to abruptly fail, the state water agency that operates the nation's tallest dam repeatedly advised federal regulators a half-decade ago. Regulators at the time recommended that state officials implement more public-warning systems, carry out annual public education campaigns and work to improve early detection of any problems at the dam. Six years later, state and local officials have adopted some of the recommendations, including automated warnings via reverse 911 calls to residents. But local officials say the state hasn't tackled other steps that could improve residents' response, such as providing routine community briefings and improving escape routes.
Santa Fe New Mexican: Complaints of overcrowding plague women’s prison
The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that in October, the state moved more than half of New Mexico’s 750 female prison inmates from a privately operated prison near Grants to the Springer Correctional Center, a former boys’ school on 40 acres along the Cimarron River in Colfax County. Prison officials said the campus-style setting — featuring more than 30 buildings, including a gymnasium, dining hall and chapel — would allow the state to better accommodate a growing number of female inmates and was a more conducive place to provide minimum-security prisoners with programs that would help prevent them from returning to prison after their release. But prisoner advocates say the Springer facility is already dangerously overcrowded and understaffed, and many of the prisoners there — most of whom were convicted of drug-related crimes — should already have been released on parole and be reintegrating into their home communities.
Sun Sentinel: Being “under observation” in hospital can cost seniors
The Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel reports that if you’re a senior on Medicare, and you stay at a hospital under “observation status,” you may end up with serious financial pain. That’s because Medicare may not cover some benefits — including post-hospital rehabilitation care in a nursing home — if a hospitalized patient is classified as being under observation vs. being admitted as an inpatient. Medicare Part A, which pays hospital costs, requires beneficiaries to have three consecutive inpatient hospital days to qualify for nursing home care. Observation days don’t count toward that total. It’s a big concern in Florida, where state advocacy groups and health coalitions have pushed for observation status reform.
Washington Post: Sweeping new guidelines for deporting illegal immigrants
The Washington Post reports Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly has signed sweeping new guidelines not released publicly that empower federal authorities to more aggressively detain and deport illegal immigrants inside the United States and at the border. In a pair of memos, Kelly offered more detail on plans for the agency to hire thousands of additional enforcement agents, expand the pool of immigrants who are prioritized for removal, speed up deportation hearings and enlist local law enforcement to help make arrests. The new directives would supersede nearly all of those issued under previous administrations, Kelly said, including measures from President Barack Obama aimed at focusing deportations exclusively on hardened criminals and those with terrorist ties.
Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/memos-signed-by-dhs-secretary-describe-sweeping-new-guidelines-for-deporting-illegal-immigrants/2017/02/18/7538c072-f62c-11e6-8d72-263470bf0401_story.html?utm_term=.bf842e530a49
Minneapolis Star Tribune: Health regulators can’t keep up with abuse reports
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that nearly two years after launching a statewide abuse reporting hot line, Minnesota regulators are overwhelmed by a deluge of new reports alleging abuse and neglect of vulnerable adults in nursing homes, hospitals and other state-licensed facilities. The hot line has produced a surge in maltreatment complaints that far exceeds the investigative resources of the Minnesota Department of Health. As a result, thousands of injuries, assaults, thefts and medical errors alleged by friends and relatives are going uninvestigated — depriving families and facility managers of vital evidence that could be used to improve care. Health investigators have fallen so far behind that Minnesota is running afoul of state and federal laws requiring prompt reviews. In 85 percent of the cases, the agency is failing to complete its investigations within statutory time frames, state data shows.
New York Times: A peak at the exclusive members list at Mar-a-Lago
The New York Times reports that virtually overnight, Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump’s members-only Palm Beach, Florida, club, has been transformed into the part-time capital of American government, a so-called winter White House where Trump has entertained a foreign head of state, health care industry executives and other presidential guests. Trump’s gatherings at Mar-a-Lago have also created an arena for potential political influence rarely seen in American history: a kind of Washington steakhouse on steroids, situated in a sunny playground of the rich and powerful, where members and their guests enjoy a level of access that could elude even the best-connected of lobbyists. Membership lists reviewed by The New York Times show that the club’s nearly 500 paying members include dozens of real estate developers, Wall Street financiers, energy executives and others whose businesses could be affected by Trump’s policies.
Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/18/us/mar-a-lago-trump-ethics-winter-white-house.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=b-lede-package-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Chemicals left in barrels leave workers at risk
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports a group of industrial drum reconditioning plants owned in part by Greif Inc., a $3.3 billion industrial packaging company that entered the business of reconditioning plastic containers and 55-gallon steel drums in 2010, has disregarded safe practices for handling hazardous materials, harming workers and endangering those who live nearby, as well as the environment. The newspaper said its investigation found practices at the six facilities have resulted in workers suffering chemical and heat-related burns, injuries from exploding barrels, breathing difficulties and other health problems. The operations have caused at least one big fire — heavily damaging an Indianapolis facility, endangering nearby residents and firefighters. The plants have been cited repeatedly by regulators for dumping too much mercury in the wastewater and toxic emissions into the neighborhood air.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Guard watched as inmate killed himself
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that officer John Calhoun was on duty in the isolation-segregation unit at Smith State Prison in South Georgia late on a Sunday night when he witnessed a disturbing sight. Inside Cell J1-124, Richard Tavera, a 24-year-old inmate with a history of mental problems, was looping one end of a bedsheet around a sprinkler on the ceiling and the other end around his neck. Calhoun immediately recognized that he was dealing with a life-or-death situation, but he chose not to enter the cell. Instead, following regulations, he called for help. Then he watched and waited as Tavera hanged himself. The state’s lawyers wrote in court filings that the officers did nothing wrong and were only following protocol designed to protect prison staff from inmates who fake illness for nefarious purposes.
Arizona Republic: No more “courtesy holds” for federal immigration agents.
The Arizona Republic reports that not long ago Arizona’s Maricopa County was regarded as the country’s most hostile locality for those living in the United States illegally. With a combination of anti-immigration state laws and a sheriff to enforce them zealously, the county became a deportation machine, its jails accounting for more immigration holds than anywhere else in the country. But less than two months into his tenure as Maricopa County sheriff, Paul Penzone, has unveiled his first major policy change: MCSO jails no longer would detain individuals for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. All inmates, legal residents or not, will be released from jail when the period of time for detention authorized under Arizona state law is up. Until Feb. 17, the jail would issue courtesy “detainers” for the federal government, jailing individuals for up to 48 hours longer than they would otherwise be held for their criminal case, and setting in motion deportation proceedings.
Montgomery Advertiser: Alabama has biggest dam problem in U.S.
The Montgomery Advertiser reports Alabama is the only state without a dam safety program, a program that requires not only annual maintenance and inspection, but crucial record keeping on dams' conditions and how heavily a breach would affect residents downstream. The recent collapse of the Oroville Dam spillway in California aside, Alabama may have the biggest dam problem in the country. After the catastrophe in Oroville, where 200,000 people below the dam were evacuated as a precaution due to a combination of high water level and damage to the spillway, Diana Enright with the Oregon Water Resources Department did something Alabama has no ability to do: She checked her state's dam data. Of Oregon’s 15,000 dams, Enright said 75 are classified as high-hazard — dams that would most likely kill people after a failure. Of those, seven are currently in "unsatisfactory" condition. “Those are more closely inspected,” Enright said. Alabama is the only state in the country that can't check those numbers.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • Feb. 15, 2017
Santa Fe New Mexican: County not utilizing 7-year-old ethics board
The Santa Fe New Mexican reports it hardly mattered when Santa Fe County commissioners in January appointed two new members to the county’s ethics board, filling vacancies that had been open for months. The board was established in 2010 in response to a bribery scandal involving a road-paving firm and a former county official that led to criminal convictions. But county attorneys have never asked the board to investigate a complaint about a potential ethics violation by an appointed or elected official or volunteer. Also tasked with recommending changes to the county’s code of conduct, board members had proposed measures to put more teeth into the rules they’re charged with enforcing. The effort proved fruitless. The terms for two more unpaid volunteers on the five-member watchdog body will expire at the end of February. One of those outgoing board members told The New Mexican that the panel stopped holding regular meetings in the spring of 2016.
Sacramento Bee: Hiring spree in California as pension reform looms
The Sacramento Bee reports that on the eve of major pension changes that would crimp retirement benefits for new hires, a handful of California government agencies went on a holiday hiring spree. Their timing was fortuitous. By beginning work in the waning days of 2012, the employees enrolled in the California Public Employees’ Retirement System just in time to gain a generous pension formula adopted during the dot-com boom of 1999 that allowed most public workers to retire at age 55. By contrast, most employees hired after Jan. 1, 2013, would have to work until age 67 to gain their full benefits. Across the state, 707 people started work at local governments and state departments that participated in CalPERS during the last week of 2012. Another 64 employees from the city of Coalinga joined CalPERS that week, meaning 771 public workers entered the network just in time to become eligible for the expiring benefits.
Sun Sentinel: High price for eye-catching Fort Lauderdale parking garage
The Sun sentinel reports an eye-catching parking garage planned on the beach comes with an eye-catching price. The five-level structure at the base of the Las Olas Boulevard bridge will cost almost $21 million, or $31,460 per parking space. By comparison, the 2016 Miami-area average is $16,600 a space, according to national parking consultant Carl Walker Inc. The Broward County Courthouse garage came in at around $18,487 a space, and a 1,000-space Rick Case dealership garage in Davie cost about $17,155 a space, said Paul Kissinger, who heads up the EDSA architectural firm team of Fort Lauderdale, which designed the new beach garage.
Kissinger said the city's garage, which will begin construction in March, will be dramatically different from those two. It will be part of a growing urban trend of turning traditionally drab parking places into stunning architectural statements.
Miami Herald: CIA files show psychics used in hostage crisis to spy on Iran
The Miami Herald reports that U.S. intelligence agencies had a squad of military-trained psychics using ESP to watch the dozens of American diplomats taken hostage by revolutionary students who seized the U.S. Embassy in Iran in 1979, according to declassified documents in a newly available CIA database. Whether the psychics provided any useful intelligence was the subject of a debate among intelligence officials as heated as it was secret. In an operation code-named Grill Flame, half a dozen psychics working inside a dimly lit room in an ancient building in Fort Meade, Maryland, on more than 200 occasions tried to peer through the ether to see where the hostages were being held, how closely they were guarded and the state of their health. Officially, the psychics worked for U.S. Army intelligence. But the documents in the CIA database make it clear their efforts were monitored — and supported — by a wide array of government intelligence agencies as well as top commanders at the Pentagon.
Orlando Sentinel: Florida school districts wrestle with teacher shortage
The Orlando Sentinel reports a billboard on the busy street just off campus calls out to students unsure about life after college: “Become a Hero,” it reads. “Teachers Needed.” The giant orange message is one of two put up near the University of Central Florida by the Orange County school district, literal signs of how eager the region’s largest school district is to recruit more teachers. In the past two years, Orange schools added at least 10,000 new students, more than any other district in Florida. The district hired more than 1,800 new teachers for the current school year and expects to need more by summer, as it opens six new schools. It now has nearly 80 teacher vacancies. Orange administrators and their counterparts across the region and the state face a teacher shortage, one that has prompted them to ramp up recruitment strategies ahead of the 2017-18 school year.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Georgia PTA split by race and rivalry
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports the staid reputation of the Georgia PTA is being riven by allegations of strong-arm politics and toxic rivalries that are pushing members away. The board of directors, which is supposed to represent the interests of parents, teachers and children, staged what vanquished former members describe as a hostile takeover with racial overtones. In recent months, a controlling faction of the board voted off several peers, black and white. There are questions about an election where more ballots were counted than there were delegates voting, plus claims that clever alterations to policies and procedures allowed the faction to hijack the organization. It peaked last month when the board removed its president, a white woman who led the PTA to a prominent political victory that earned a national award for advocacy.
Chicago Tribune: Juries may punish officers, but penalties often negotiable
The Chicago Tribune reports its analysis of court records has found that in case after case the state law that requires police officers to pay punitive damages in civil lawsuits is routinely undercut by negotiations absolving them of the penalties. Of the nearly $1.1 million in punitive damages awarded in police misconduct verdicts the city has paid to resolve since 2009, the Tribune found that Chicago police officers were ultimately responsible for nearly $285,000, an analysis of court records shows. To legal experts, that only undermines the law's intent, which is not only to punish individual officers but also to deter their peers from engaging in similar misconduct. To officers, the fact that some of the awards do stand shows that they can be exposed financially. The fear of having to pay, they say, can have a crippling effect on their willingness to do police work.
Des Moines Register: Iowa’s rising child homicides raising concern
The Des Moines Register reports that a rising number of Iowa children have been victims of homicide the past three years — from abuse, shootings and unsupervised accidents. At least 20 Iowa children died last year, including 11 from suspected abuse, a Reader's Watchdog probe of cases statewide found. The children included Natalie Finn, the West Des Moines 16-year-old who was tortured and starved to death in October. But they also included six children who drowned, four who were fatally shot, one who died when his father crashed and another who was left in a sweltering vehicle. The review of 2016 deaths, culled from media reports across the state, underscores what Iowa's Child Death Review Team noticed after completing research on child deaths from 2013 and 2014. "It's safe to say homicide deaths are on the increase," said John Kraemer, coordinator of the volunteer team, which operates out of the State Medical Examiner's Office.
Baltimore Sun: Carjacking becoming a “youth sport” as numbers climb
The Baltimore Sun reports carjackings in Baltimore have more than tripled since 2013, and the number has continued to climb in the first weeks of 2017, at a rate that has far outpaced other auto thefts. Some other U.S. cities are also seeing increases. Law enforcement officers and analysts see several reasons for the spike. Police in Baltimore note that the overwhelming majority of suspects are young men or juveniles, emboldened by the relative ease of the crime, and a belief that if they're caught, the courts will not treat them harshly. Some see the increase as an unintended consequence of better antitheft security. Electronic key fobs and codes, required to start newer-model cars, have made them more difficult to steal — unless the driver is present. And it's easier to resell a car that has been driven away with its keys than one that's been hotwired, its windows smashed and its steering column busted.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Lawmakers benefit from a push to limit lawsuits
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports Missouri state Sen. Gary Romine, sponsor of a bill that seeks to make it harder to sue businesses for racial discrimination, says the measure will improve “Missouri’s legal climate.” It also could improve Romine’s personal legal climate, making it less likely that his “rent-to-own” furniture business will face any more racial discrimination lawsuits like the one it has been embroiled in for almost two years. Romine, R-Farmington, isn’t the only lawmaker in Jefferson City who is trying to change the law to protect businesses from lawsuits in ways that could theoretically protect his own bottom line as well. Another Republican senator, who is a veterinarian, is sponsoring legislation to put new limits on malpractice suits against veterinarians. And the Senate’s top Republican is trying to change a state consumer-protection law that is currently being used to sue one of his biggest campaign contributors.
New York Times: Federal civil servants shaken by Trump transition
The New York Times reports Donald J. Trump’s arrival in the White House has spread anxiety, frustration, fear and resistance among many of the two million nonpolitical civil servants who say they work for the public, not a particular president. At the Environmental Protection Agency, a group of scientists strategized this past week about how to slow-walk President Trump’s environmental orders without being fired. At the Treasury Department, civil servants are quietly gathering information about whistle-blower protections as they polish their résumés. At the United States Digital Service — the youthful cadre of employees who left jobs at Google, Facebook or Microsoft to join the Obama administration — workers are debating how to stop Mr. Trump should he want to use the databases they made more efficient to target specific immigrant groups.
Cleveland Plain Dealer: Rental inspections could displace poor families
The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that if an ethical or moral standard were applied to inspecting Cleveland's low-income rental homes for safety, Mayor Frank Jackson says about three quarters of them would be "closed up." Jackson made the comment last week when discussing the city's long awaited and soon-to-be implemented plan to start citywide inspections of rental units in response to its ongoing lead poisoning crisis. That crisis was revealed in 2015 by The Plain Dealer's Toxic Neglect series, which brought to light serious failings in how the city responded to cases of childhood lead poisoning. The dilemma, as Jackson explained it: if the city too quickly or too aggressively inspects rental properties for health hazards and safety violations such as peeling paint, mold and broken toilets, families may be put out of their homes and landlords unable to rent their properties.
Oregonian: Nine myths about Oregon’s pension fund
The Oregonian reports the growing deficit in the public pension fund is a massive overhang on Oregon's budget and its future. Government employers - and ultimately taxpayers - will see their required contributions soar over the next six years, sucking some $12 billion out of public coffers to mostly pay for legacy costs tied to older members and retirees. That's about double what the bill would be at current rates. At least that's the scenario if the pension fund's investments perform as expected. If they don't, the deficit and contributions could get even bigger. As lawmakers meet this session to determine what can be done to reduce the Public Employee Retirement System's funding deficit, there is misunderstanding and misinformation about the topic and options for dealing with it. Here are some of the common myths around PERS, as well as some areas of debate.
Philadelphia Inquirer: Public schools fight to win back charter school students
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports Quakertown Community spends about $2 million each year on students who choose to attend charters rather than their public schools. As tuition payments to charters bite ever deeper into the budgets of virtually every district in the region, some are beginning aggressive campaigns to win kids back. Their strategies range from direct-mail marketing, to boisterous “back-to-school” rallies with bouncy castles, to pricey new programs such as all-day kindergarten. The drive to woo students away from charters, or persuade them not to enroll in the first place, is high-stakes. At the start of the 2015-16 school year in New Jersey, an estimated 42,000 attended charters. In Pennsylvania, there were nearly 135,000, or 65,000 more than in 2007-08. Much of that 97 percent increase occurred in the Philadelphia region.
Austin American-Statesman: FAA missed chance to ground balloon pilot
The Austin American-Statesman reports Alfred “Skip” Nichols, the chief pilot and owner of the Heart of Texas Balloon Rides, shouldn’t have been flying on the morning of July 30, 2016, when he crashed and died along with 15 passengers. Two years earlier, the Federal Aviation Administration had learned of his lengthy criminal record of alcohol-related driving offenses. Nichols had violated FAA rules by not voluntarily disclosing any of the five incidents, any one of which could have led to the loss of his license. But, in a move that aviation attorneys and experts say is highly unusual, the FAA investigators chose to take no action. Instead of suspending or revoking his pilot’s license, they sent him a warning letter.
Houston Chronicle: Oppositions solidifies against concrete batch plants
The Houston Chronicle reports that for the past year noise from the Integrity Ready Mix plant has plagued residents of Lindale Farms, a neighborhood north of Houston where beauty shops and garages are wedged between rows of homes. Operations like these - called concrete batch plants - play a vital role in Houston by producing the ready-mix concrete used for new buildings and roads. They are given license, by the state, to operate around-the-clock and, by the city, to locate in residential areas. But the plants can be a nuisance for people who live next to them, and they tend to cluster in working-class, minority neighborhoods like Lindale Farms. In south Houston, for example, 18 concrete batch plants sit within a 4-mile radius. A Houston Chronicle analysis shows that Harris County has 188 concrete batch plants, more than any county in Texas and twice the number in Dallas County. Industry officials predict that number will increase over the coming decade as Houston grows.
Seattle Times: The O.R. factory: High volume, big dollars, rising tension
The Seattle Times reports Swedish-Cherry Hill, one of Seattle’s esteemed medical institutions, has seen its neuroscience unit become a hub for the treatment of debilitating conditions of the brain and spine. Ruptured aneurysms. Brain tumors. Mangled spines. The unit’s star surgeons attract patients from all over the Pacific Northwest. But there’s another story behind that sterling reputation. In recent years, a chorus of staff members has warned about issues of patient safety, of concerning practices, of a culture that has gone astray. Patients may never notice the turmoil going on behind the scenes or the issues that have raised so much concern unless things go wrong. In some cases, things have.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • Feb. 8, 2017
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Man not guilty on gun charges still sent to prison
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports a jury found Damien Payne not guilty of being a felon in possession of a firearm and of carrying a concealed weapon, but he was still sent to prison for more than three years. That’s because Payne, who got out of prison in 2010, was being supervised by the Department of Corrections at the time. As a result, he was subject to a little-known department rule that says it doesn’t matter if ex-offenders on probation or parole are acquitted — they can be sent back to prison based on the same allegations. Payne, 35, said he didn’t know his girlfriend’s gun was in the glove compartment of his car when he was pulled over in July. The jury believed him. His probation and parole agent didn’t.
American-Statesman: Why teachers accused of improprieties aren’t charged
The American Statesman reports that hundreds of Texas primary and secondary teachers lost or surrendered their teaching licenses since 2010 after being investigated for improper relationships with a student. More than half were never criminally charged. In all of those cases, information about the alleged misconduct isn’t easily accessible from the Texas Education Agency and in many instances is kept secret by school districts, allowing those teachers to move on to other teaching jobs or jobs involving contact with children. The American-Statesman reviewed the cases of 686 teachers who surrendered their teaching licenses or whose teaching licenses were revoked by the Texas Education Agency between 2010 and 2016, after the TEA launched investigations for possible improper teacher-student relationships.
Philadelphia Inquirer: Parking authority brass padded salaries
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that three months after Vincent Fenerty Jr. lost his $223,000-a-year job as executive director of the Philadelphia Parking Authority, he pocketed a $227,000 check for nearly 2,000 hours of vacation time, paid leave, and comp time. But Fenerty, forced out of the agency in September amid sexual-harassment complaints, isn’t the only PPA boss who stashed away comp time. Records show that more than a dozen senior PPA staffers at the longtime patronage haven accumulated significant amounts of comp time – in some cases hundreds of hours – while earning six-figure salaries to run agency departments or oversee its finances. Last month, the PPA responded to a Right-to-Know request filed by the Inquirer and Daily News by claiming the agency “does not have records of comp time” and how it was used by Fenerty or “any other” senior staffers. When pressed, PPA officials reversed course and produced a list showing that, in fact, most senior staffers have a running balance of comp time, some of it going back years.
Toledo Blade: Overtime puts sheriff’s deputy at top of payroll
The Toledo Blade reports Eric Grace, a sheriff’s office employee who works at the Lucas County jail, racked up nearly $79,000 in overtime on top of his $49,000 salary in 2016. His total paycheck last year was more than $132,000. The 280 eight-hour overtime shifts worked by Deputy Grace were the most logged by any of the sheriff office’s nearly 500 unionized employees. Sheriff’s office overtime, especially that paid to jail correction officers, is under scrutiny as county officials are looking to reduce spending to offset a projected $10-million revenue loss in state funds next year. Cost-cutting efforts are occurring at the same time that county commissioners are sharing their vision on the model of a future jail to the union representing correction officers. That plan would require using about half the present work force.
Overall compensation for jail employees has edged up 19 percent since 2013, when Sheriff John Tharp was elected.
Washington Post: Documents show Trump still benefitting from his business
The Washington Post reports that before taking office, President Trump promised to place his assets in a trust designed to erect a wall between him and the businesses that made him wealthy. But newly released documents show that Trump himself is the sole beneficiary of the trust and that it is legally controlled by his oldest son and a longtime employee. The documents, obtained through a public records request by the investigative news service ProPublica and first reported by the New York Times, also show that Trump retains the legal power to revoke the trust at any time. The documents were filed to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board in Washington to alert the board that oversees liquor licenses at Trump’s D.C. hotel of the change in the business. The documents show that Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, and Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, were placed in legal control of the trust on Jan. 19, one day before Trump took office.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Why does city pay $84,000 a year for vacant land?
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that for nearly eight years, the city of Chesterfield has made an annual expenditure of roughly $84,000 that even some of the city’s highest-ranking officials can’t explain. “There was never a discussion, to my knowledge, about how this property would be used,” said Chesterfield City Administrator Mike Geisel. The property is a 1.4-acre vacant gravel lot that sits next to old train tracks. Chesterfield has leased the former brickyard since 2009. The city must keep making the $6,500-a-month rent payments until the 10-year lease ends in March 2019. The agreement also obligates the city to pay the property taxes, which were $7,458 last year. In all, Chesterfield taxpayers will spend roughly $850,000 and receive no discernible benefit.
Courier-Journal: Beef prices stay high but cattle farmers take hit
The Courier-Journal reports that beef, one of the most valuable farm crops from the bluegrass state, used to generate $1 billion in sales annually. Now Kentucky cattle farmers are barely breaking even or losing money for the 1 million young cows, steer or calves sold each year to fatten in feedlots out west. While cattle farmers lose about half of their income, supermarket beef prices have barely budged, edging downward about 10 percent, according to CattleFax, a beef industry analyst firm. The bottom line? Just because the price of a calf sold to a feedlot for fattening and slaughter has tumbled doesn't mean the consumer can find a bargain filet at the supermarket. Beef cost an average $6 per pound in 2015. That historic high slipped to only $5.74 in 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Like the oil industry, the food industry is highly segmented by middlemen and driven by huge corporate players and volatile trading markets.
Des Moines Register: Sex abusers escape prison time in Iowa
The Des Moines Register reports that since 2007, 17 Iowans working in professions that required them to report suspected child abuse were themselves convicted of sex crimes against children that should have sent them to prison. Instead, they received suspended prison sentences or had their conviction removed from their record in violation of state law. Last year, the Register first reported on seven of the 17 cases involving educators convicted of sex crimes, part of a five-year review that ended in 2016. The Register's latest investigation examined more than 7,800 defendants charged with sex crimes since 2007, finding 75 who were specifically identified as counselors, therapists or school employees. The examination found 10 additional defendants who were convicted of sex crimes with juveniles but received suspended sentences or deferred judgments, even though that's prohibited by Iowa law.
Miami Herald: Is Florida moving too slow to save the Everglades?
The Miami Herald reports that when you’re zooming over the vast Everglades in a helicopter, it’s easy to see how much work is being done to revive the wilted watershed. But at ground level, the view is far different, with sides squared off in bitter fight over just how much remains to be done, and at what pace. For the second year in a row, a proposed $2.4 billion reservoir included in original plans and envisioned somewhere in the sugar fields that now dominate the landscape south of the lake is taking center stage. State Senate President Joe Negron, his Treasure Coast constituents repeatedly hammered by dirty water from Lake Okeechobee, and environmentalists want to speed up its construction by years. Gov. Rick Scott and farmers, however, see the reservoir as a job-killing land grab and say efforts should focus north of the lake, where water storage projects are already underway. The National Academies of Sciences also issued a dismal assessment earlier this year, citing problems that have dogged the $16.4 billion state-federal restoration project almost since its inception in 2000: bureaucratic creep and chronic underfunding.
Sun Sentinel: Airport gun procedures unchanged at Fort Lauderdale
The Sun Sentinel reports month after five tourists were shot and killed at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, the procedures for handling guns have not changed and tougher regulations appear unlikely. Broward County, which owns the airport, can't stop people from flying with checked guns or ammunition; legislators in the past have been reluctant to restrict guns; police don't know who's flying in with weapons; and only airlines can control how people pick up those firearms. The best the county can do is ask the sheriff to assign more deputies to the airport, officials said. Broward Mayor Barbara Sharief said she's frustrated that the Jan. 6 shooting hasn't led to a firm proposal for change. "I'm tired of talking. I feel very frustrated about the talking and grandstanding," Sharief said. "Five people lost their lives very senselessly. We need to find a way to prevent that from happening ever again in the United States."
San Diego Union-Tribune: Nuclear plant power players still fighting
The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that it’s been five years since the San Onofre nuclear plant closed amid billowing steam and leaking radiation. A $680 million steam generator replacement that was supposed to add 40 years of life to the aging plant instead brought its premature demise. Now the twin reactors on the north San Diego County coast generate drama and political intrigue instead of electricity to serve millions of Southern Californians. The failures that led to the premature closing of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station prompted a swarm of investigations, lawsuits and legislation that continues to unfold from here to Sacramento. Much of the scrutiny has centered on the relationship between majority owner Southern California Edison in Rosemead and state regulators at the California Public Utilities Commission in San Francisco.
Modesto Bee: Modesto braces for spike in pension costs
The Modesto Bee reports Modesto has done the math to gauge the impact of a recent decision that will require it and thousands of other public sector agencies across California to pay more for employee and retiree pensions. The numbers are not pretty. Modesto could be paying as much as $13.5 million more to the California Public Employees’ Retirement System in several years. As a point of reference, the city expects to pay CalPERS $23.3 million in its current budget year. The public sector agencies will pay more because the CalPERS board voted in December to lower its discount rate from 7.5 percent to 7 percent. The rate is what CalPERS expects to earn on its investments. Lower investment earnings mean larger contributions from the roughly 3,000 agencies that belong to CalPERS. Public employees also contribute to the pension system, and newer employees will see their contributions rise.
Santa Fe New Mexican: Courts feel crunch amid economic scarcity
The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that every year, legislators descend on the Roundhouse clutching fistfuls of tough-on-crime bills aimed at keeping New Mexicans safe, and, cynics might say, helping themselves to get re-elected. Right behind them come officials from the state judiciary and related agencies, hats in hand, begging for more money with which to prosecute, defend and incarcerate the state’s defendants. This year, with the state mired in a fiscal crisis and the courts and public defenders warning that they may soon be unable to pay juries or defend the indigent, the pleas have reached piercing levels, pitting court officials against the governor and unleashing partisan bickering in the Legislature. The latest skirmish came when Gov. Susana Martinez used her line-item veto power to excise $800,000 in emergency funding for the courts from a routine bill passed by lawmakers to pay for the 60-day legislative session.
Los Angeles Times: An Apache reservation’s toxic legacy
The Los Angeles Times reports how planes delivered a chemical cocktail with components similar to Agent Orange known as Silvex as part of a little-known test effort from 1961 to 1972 to wipe out water-hungry vegetation on the San Carlos Apache Reservation. It was part of a larger effort by the federal government to protect scarce groundwater in the newly booming city of Phoenix. The dioxin-laden herbicide was spread over a population of 10,000 for more than a decade. Now, half a century later, the federal Environmental Protection Agency is sending investigators to the reservation this month to find out exactly what was sprayed and what lingering effects it may have on one of the nation’s poorest Native American reservations. “It’s in our air, our streams, our livestock,” said Charles Vargas, an activist on the reservation, 90 miles northeast of Phoenix. “This is fundamentally a crime, perpetrated on our people by the government, and no one’s ever had to answer for it.”
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • Feb. 1, 2017
AP: US military flailing in online fight against Islamic State
The Associated Press reports a counter-propaganda program aimed at thwarting Islamic State recruiting over social media is plagued by incompetence, cronyism and skewed data, an AP investigation has found. Known as "WebOps," the program was launched several years ago by a small group of civilian contractors and military officers assigned to the information operations division at U.S. Central Command's headquarters in Tampa. But internal documents and interviews with more than a dozen people knowledgeable about WebOps suggest a program that appears aimed more at enriching contractors than thwarting terrorism. The people interviewed by AP requested anonymity because they are prohibited from speaking publicly about WebOps due to the sensitive nature of the work and they fear professional repercussions.
Oregonian: Lawmakers pay their business with campaign funds. It’s legal.
The Oregonian reports that 18 times in the last decade Oregon state Sen. Kim Thatcher’s campaign account has written checks to businesses she owns. It's all perfectly legal, and Thatcher, a Republican from Keizer, says she was given approval by elections officials to make the payments. But the transactions raise questions about how the campaign accounts of state lawmakers intersect with their private businesses. Campaign donors expect their money to be spent getting candidates elected. The wrinkle is, it's unusual for candidates to pay themselves in the process. "Are there ethical flags raised? All over the place," said Jim Moore, professor and director of Pacific University's Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation. He characterized lawmakers hiring their own businesses with campaign funds as "something akin to money laundering." Thatcher isn't the only Oregon legislator who has tapped campaign funds to pay their business or nonprofit. At least 10 others have made such payments in the last decade, records show.
Albuquerque Journal: People leaving New Mexico in unprecedented numbers
The Albuquerque Journal reports that since 2010, the number of people living in New Mexico has remained virtually stagnant, compared with significant population increases in neighboring states, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. From 2010 to 2016, New Mexico registered total population growth of just 1.1 percent, compared with 10 percent in Colorado and Utah, nearly 11 percent in Texas and 8 percent in Arizona, according to the Census Bureau. Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc., analyzed the census numbers for the Journal and concluded that the population stagnation is unprecedented in New Mexico history. Sanderoff and a University of New Mexico population expert attributed the lack of population growth to a faltering economy – one hit by a national recession, federal spending cuts and, more recently, a crash in prices of oil and natural gas.
Sunday Star Ledger: Fentanyl’s OD deaths could top heroin’s
The Sunday Star Ledger reports that for law enforcement fighting fatal overdoses in New Jersey’s Middlesex County it seems like one step forward and two steps back. Despite the recent decline in fatal heroin overdoses, the overall number of total drug deaths hasn't changed much year-over-year. Fentanyl, a drug 50 times strong than heroin, has been moving into the county at an alarming rate, slowing local agencies' progress in combatting the statewide overdose epidemic, authorities told NJ Advance Media. In 2012, the synthetic opioid accounted for only three deaths in the county and 42 statewide, according to data from New Jersey's Attorney General's Office. By the end of 2015, Middlesex had credited 30 of its 106 fatal overdoses to fentanyl.
Kansas City Star: Election board’s relocation delay costs county double rent
The Kansas City Star reports that when the county executive’s office announced last year that the St. Louis County Election Board headquarters would relocate to the refurbished Northwest Plaza, the timeline put the move after the November general election. January is now nearly gone, and election workers are preparing for the April municipal elections in the space the agency has occupied for better than two decades. The county, as a consequence, is on the hook for two monthly rent payments in excess of $119,000 through April — $58,000 at the Maplewood address and nearly $61,000 for 50,000 square feet where the election board will share space with two other county departments at the Crossings at Northwest, the site of the former Northwest Plaza. “We’re using taxpayer money, for crying out loud,” said Rick Stream, who began his term as the Republican elections director on Jan. 9. “We should be cognizant of that.” The election authority requested the delay to avoid a move that threatened to slow preparations for the April elections.
Boston Globe: Law firms profited from county treasurer’s ties
The Boston Globe reports Plymouth County treasurer Thomas J. O’Brien is an unlikely magnet for campaign contributions from high-powered attorneys in Manhattan and downtown Boston. Yet, since 2007, lawyers from the Thornton Law Firm in Boston and Labaton Sucharow of New York City have given $100,000 to O’Brien’s political campaigns, accounting for almost half of all the donations he’s received over the decade. O’Brien’s popularity with the firms can be traced directly to the small retirement fund that, as county treasurer, he oversees. Fourteen times in the past decade, the Plymouth County retirement system has filed lawsuits on the advice of the lawyers from Labaton and Thornton, charging one corporation after another with misconduct that reduced the value of the retirement system’s investments. Court records show that the retirement fund has collected a grand total of $40,035 from all the lawsuits combined while the lawyers have received 1,000 times that amount: $41.4 million.
Baltimore Sun: Can police address violence and reform simultaneously
The Baltimore Sun reports that days into 2017, as Baltimore's historic spike in homicides stretched into a third calendar year, Mayor Catherine Pugh and Police Commissioner Kevin Davis announced the latest approach to violence. They would reassign 100 officers from mostly administrative posts to join street patrols. They did not say where they would find the officers. But according to transfer documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun, nearly half were members of the Police Department's Community Collaboration Division — the unit that was expanded after the unrest of 2015 to rebuild relations with the community. The reassignments slashed the unit by more than 80 percent. A week later, Pugh and Davis appeared again in the same ornate room in City Hall to announce the agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to reform the department. Caught between crime and the consent decree, Baltimore must now disrupt historic levels of violence while remaking the culture of the Police Department.
Des Moines Register: Rising home values left behind some neighborhoods
The Des Moines Register reports home prices have reached record highs, and Polk County's median home value has climbed to nearly $150,000. A wave of new homebuyers has prompted fast-paced sales. Bidding wars have broken out for homes in popular neighborhoods, where prices have surged more than 10 percent since the housing crash in 2008. But Des Moines' housing surge has left behind thousands of homeowners in poorer neighborhoods that have seen their home values fall as much as 13 percent — even as the economy rebounded, The Des Moines Register's exclusive analysis of Polk County assessment data shows. The Register found that in the five Polk County census tracts where house values rose the most from 2011 to 2015, a typical home increased about $25,000. But in the five tracts where assessed values fell the most, a typical home dropped by more than $5,000. Declining home equity puts poorer homeowners at an even greater disadvantage and widens the wealth gap, affordable housing advocates say.
Indianapolis Star: Elusive funding for Pence’s bicentennial projects dogs state
The Indianapolis Star reports Vice President Mike Pence has a new home in Washington, D.C., and an office in the White House, but back in Indiana, state officials are still scrambling to figure out how to pay for several bicentennial construction projects Pence initiated as governor without a solid financing plan. At issue are $53.5 million in new projects Pence sought as part of the state’s 200th birthday celebration last year. They included a new $2 million Bicentennial Plaza at the Indiana Statehouse, a $2.5 million education center at the neighboring State Library, a new $25 million state archives building and a $24 million inn at Potato Creek State Park in St. Joseph County. Skeptical lawmakers allowed Pence to spend taxpayer money on the projects as part of the state's 200th birthday celebration after he assured them he could pay for projects by leasing excess space on the Indiana's 340 state-owned cell towers. But two years after those assurances were made, a cell tower deal has yet to materialize.
Chicago Tribune: Bonds raised for gun crimes but suspects getting out faster
The Chicago Tribune reports that since Chicago's violence rate began to spike in 2012, Cook County judges have doubled the amount of bond set for people charged with felony gun crimes. If judges hoped the increase would keep armed gang members off the streets until their cases were decided, that did not happen. Despite increasingly high bonds, the opposite has happened — the same group of those charged with gun crimes is getting out of jail more than twice as fast as they were four years ago, according to a Tribune analysis of jail data of arrests and bonds. At the same time, the Chicago Police Department is making fewer gun arrests and recovering fewer guns. From 2012 through the end of last year, the number of guns recovered fell by 33 percent and the number of arrests dropped by nearly 9 percent overall despite a recent uptick, according to department figures.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: City blocks release of records in bribery probe
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports the administration of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has put a lock on public documents that could shed light on the bribery scandal enveloping City Hall — a move that First Amendment experts say stonewalls the public’s right to know about city operations, and could violate the state’s sunshine laws. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News have been denied numerous requests for information about Elvin “E.R.” Mitchell Jr., a prominent Atlanta construction contractor who federal prosecutors say is the central figure in the million-dollar corruption scheme. The city’s law department has cited the on-going federal investigation as its reason for withholding the records, which include emails between city officials that mention Mitchell or his companies, and contracts awarded to his companies. Experts say the city’s position seems to conflict with the state’s sunshine law, which does not allow governments to withhold records from the public just because they may be related to an investigation.
Sun Sentinel: Bus driver in tragedy back behind wheel
The Sun Sentinel reports a Broward County bus driver has been returned to his job, despite his bosses' conclusion that he broke safety laws, ignored horrified screams from bus passengers, and left a 14-year-old boy permanently injured. Reinaldo Soto, 59, drives a Broward County Transit bus on Powerline Road's Route 14, county transit officials said. He was removed from the job after the high-profile tragedy nearly four years ago. But records released to the Sun Sentinel this week reveal an arbitrator's decision to return him to the roads in 2014. The Soto case highlights a bus system criticized as being too forgiving to drivers involved in accidents. A Sun Sentinel investigation in December 2013 found that Broward County Transit repeatedly allowed drivers with troubled histories to remain on the roads. The county auditor also found serious flaws in driver discipline and the tracking of bus accidents.
New Haven Register: Connecticut sees rise in pedestrian deaths
The New Haven Register reports more than 50 people were reportedly killed last year in Connecticut as a result of a pedestrian-involved motor vehicle crash, the highest number of pedestrian fatalities related to motor vehicle accidents since 1995, according to the University of Connecticut’s Crash Data Repository. There were 1,402 pedestrian-involved motor vehicle crashes reported to the research center from local police departments last year, said Eric Jackson, director of the Connecticut Transportation Safety Research Center, which runs the crash data repository at UConn. Data is still being compiled and updated, Jackson said, but a search on the repository this week revealed that there were 54 pedestrian fatalities from motor vehicle crashes already reported for last year. Nationally, the numbers are high as well, based on information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. While 2016 data is not yet available, the agency reported that in 2015 there were 5,376 pedestrian deaths nationwide as a result of motor vehicle crashes — the highest number of deaths since 1996.
San Francisco Chronicle: Aid to homeless reveals extent of heroin use
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Oakland leaders had ambitious goals three months ago when they sought to bring basic services and help to a squalid, needle-strewn homeless camp at 35th and Magnolia streets. The idea, they said, was to offer a humane alternative to sending in cleanup crews and clearing the 39 homeless people out. Instead, city employees hosed off the sidewalks, added portable toilets and trash bins, and provided counselors to help get the campers into housing. They installed concrete barricades to prevent the camp from growing and set a March 31 deadline to get everyone housed. Halfway through the effort, officials are finding out just how difficult it is to follow through with their bighearted intentions. And the city’s involvement has stirred controversy, with some neighbors applauding the efforts and others denouncing them. Perhaps the most entrenched problem facing the city is that many of the homeless people at 35th and Magnolia streets are addicted to heroin.
New York Times: Troops who cleaned up radioactive islands can’t get care
The New York Times reports roughly 4,000 troops helped clean up fallout from dozens of nuclear tests on the ring of coral islands known as Enewetak Atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean between 1977 and 1980. Hundreds say they are now plagued by health problems, including brittle bones, cancer and birth defects in their children. Many are already dead. Others are too sick to work. The military says there is no connection between these illnesses and the cleanup. Radiation exposure during the work fell well below recommended thresholds, it says, and safety precautions were top notch. So the government refuses to pay for the veterans’ medical care. Congress long ago recognized that troops were harmed by radiation on Enewetak during the original atomic tests, which occurred in the 1950s, and should be cared for and compensated. Still, it has failed to do the same for the men who cleaned up the toxic debris 20 years later.
Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/28/us/troops-radioactive-islands-medical-care.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=second-column-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0
Seattle Times: Washington’s 30-year earthquake drill for the “Big One”
The Seattle Times reports Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee has ordered a new report on seismic danger, adding to a paper trail of recommendations that have largely been ignored for decades. On Jan. 17, Inslee strode into an auditorium in Olympia with a message for the new subcabinet he formed to help prepare the state for a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami. “The science is clear that we have in our future a megaquake,” Inslee said. “The establishment of the subcabinet is our attempt to marshal the resources of the state to have a coordinated resilience plan.”
But the governor’s rhetoric gave way to some familiar realities in Washington state. The subcabinet has no budget, staff or regulatory authority — and simply creating it took more than three years, internal records show. The dozen state officials assembled onstage were on loan from their day jobs. And the members are responsible for delivering just one product: a draft of their findings by July.
Tennessean: The power of the lobbyist
The Tennessean reports it's no surprise that in Tennessee politics, some companies use lobbyists and the power of the purse to have legislative sway. A Tennessean analysis of lobbyist compensation, expenses, campaign expenditures and legislative registration in recent years shows millions of dollars spent by hundreds of organizations every year to become power players at the statehouse. Lobbyists routinely meet with legislators, create client strategies and often write the actual language in a bill on behalf of a lawmaker. A winning strategy doesn't always mean passing a new law. Many times a win means killing legislation or orchestrating a public campaign to educate key lawmakers. Some say this gives a handful of people too much influence on Capitol Hill. Lobbyists, however, say they merely represent the interests of a broad swath of constituents and do much more than try to win for their client.
Philadelphia Inquirer: Region has hundreds of problem bridges.
The Philadelphia Inquirer reports the Delaware River Bridge was not one inspectors thought they had to worry about. The steel-truss bridge was in fact undergoing a $61 million upgrade. Evaluated in 2014 on its three key components -- deck, substructure, and superstructure -- the 60-year-old bridge got passing marks in all three. Yet last week a worker on a painting crew happened to spot, by chance, something so alarming, authorities rushed to close the bridge to the 42,000 cars that cross it each day: a beam beneath the bridge’s deck split in two. "It was absolutely amazing to see a crack like this," said Henry Berman, chief PennDot engineer for the district. The 1.2-mile bridge remains closed and, if inspected today, would be labeled "structurally deficient," a designation that describes nearly one in five bridges in Pennsylvania, the second-worst ranking in the country. An Inquirer analysis of federal and state transportation data identified the 30 poorest-rated bridges in the Philadelphia area that are heavily traveled and also designated as “structurally deficient.”
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • Jan. 26, 2017
Toledo Blade: University athletics audit chronicles disarray
When Arizona workers refused to let Maribel Ontiveros see her son Christopher at the hospital, then came to her house three days later at 3:30 in the morning to take away her other two children, she kept asking what seemed a simple question: Why?
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • Jan. 17, 2017
AP: Lie detectors trip applicants at border agency
The Associated Press reported that two out of three applicants to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection fail its polygraph, according to the agency — more than double the average rate of eight law enforcement agencies that provided data to The Associated Press under open-records requests. It's a big reason approximately 2,000 jobs at the nation's largest law enforcement agency are empty, with the Border Patrol, a part of CBP, recently slipping below 20,000 agents for the first time since 2009. And it has raised questions of whether the lie detector tests are being properly administered. CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske said the failure rate is too high, but that it's largely because the agency hasn't attracted the applicants it wants. He and other law enforcement experts contend the polygraphs are generally working as intended at the agency, which has been trying to root out bribery and other corruption.
Los Angeles Times: California bullet train hurtling towards huge cost overrun
The Los Angeles Times reports California’s bullet train could cost taxpayers 50 percent more than estimated — as much as $3.6 billion more. And that’s just for the first 118 miles through the Central Valley, which was supposed to be the easiest part of the route between Los Angeles and San Francisco. A confidential Federal Railroad Administration risk analysis, obtained by The Times, projects that building bridges, viaducts, trenches and track from Merced to Shafter, just north of Bakersfield, could cost $9.5 billion to $10 billion, compared with the original budget of $6.4 billion. The federal document outlines far-reaching management problems: significant delays in environmental planning, lags in processing invoices for federal grants and continuing failures to acquire needed property. The California High-Speed Rail Authority originally anticipated completing the Central Valley track by this year, but the federal risk analysis estimates that that won’t happen until 2024, placing the project seven years behind schedule.
Washington Post: Tiny ethics office takes on Trump’s business ties
The Washington Post reports President-elect Donald Trump’s refusal to divest from his global business empire has provoked a showdown in Washington over government ethics, pitting a small federal agency tasked with preventing conflicts of interest against the incoming administration and its Republican allies on Capitol Hill. The dispute erupted Friday, Jan. 13, after a top House Republican demanded to question the director of the independent Office of Government Ethics, who took the unusual step this week of denouncing Trump for retaining ownership of his businesses while transferring management to his sons. With Republicans and Democrats weighing in, the episode has brought unprecedented attention to a usually obscure office and its director, Walter Shaub Jr., who became an instant sensation on Twitter and in news headlines this week. He blasted Trump’s plan as “meaningless” and said the president-elect is not meeting the standards set by “the best of his nominees.”
Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/powerpost/trumps-business-ties-prompt-a-showdown-between-a-tiny-ethics-office-and-the-gop/2017/01/13/0dc1b500-d9c8-11e6-b8b2-cb5164beba6b_story.html?utm_term=.ec251c628ef2
Boston Globe: Climate change is biggest threat to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago
The Boston Globe reports that few places are as vulnerable to the rising seas as this tony barrier island, a narrow, 16-mile strip of sprawling estates and pampered gardens between the Atlantic Ocean and Lake Worth. The advancing ocean has already cost residents here millions of dollars, and will probably exact a far greater toll in the years to come, town officials say. An overwhelming majority of scientists attribute sea level rise to climate change, and they warn that the oceans could rise substantially in the coming decades. Yet the most influential of the island’s 8,100 residents — President-elect Donald Trump — has dismissed the threat of global warming, calling it “a hoax.” Around Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s opulent estate here, rising sea levels are largely seen as a present danger, not a distant risk.
Star Tribune; Food stamp enrollment swells among elderly Minnesotans
New York Times: Trump’s E.P.A. pick backed industry donors over regulators
The New York Times reports a legal fight to clean up tons of chicken manure fouling the waters of Oklahoma’s bucolic northeastern corner — much of it from neighboring Arkansas — was in full swing six years ago when the conservative lawyer Scott Pruitt took office as Oklahoma’s attorney general. His response: Put on the brakes. Rather than push for a federal judge to punish the companies by extracting perhaps tens of millions of dollars in damages, Oklahoma’s new chief law enforcement officer quietly negotiated a deal to simply study the problem further. The move came after he had taken tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from executives and lawyers for the poultry industry. It was one of a series of instances in which Mr. Pruitt put cooperation with industry before confrontation as he sought to blunt the impact of federal environmental policies in his state — against oil, gas, agriculture and other interests.
Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/14/us/scott-pruitt-trump-epa-pick.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0
Columbus Dispatch: Narcotic pain pills still plentiful in Ohio
The Columbus Dispatch reports heroin and fentanyl grab the headlines, but narcotic painkillers still fill Ohio medicine cabinets. Drug-overdose deaths in Ohio continue to soar, with the 2016 toll expected to far exceed the record 3,050 in 2015. Increasingly, heroin and fentanyl are responsible for overdose deaths. But narcotic pain pills such as OxyContin continue to be a problem. Records show that many Ohioans get dozens of pills a year. Significantly, that’s usually the starting point for people who later become addicted to heroin and other hard drugs. Almost no one goes directly to heroin, experts say. The Ohio Automated Rx Reporting System, the computer system that tracks how drugs are prescribed and dispensed, shows that 2.6 million people received 11.2 million prescriptions for opioid pills in 2015, the last full year for which statistics are available. There were 684.2 million pills dispensed in 2015, an 11.3 percent drop from 2010.
Austin American-Statesman: Texas A-F grades give boost to charter schools
The Austin American-Statesman reports critics of the new A-F grading system for Texas schools have long warned that the state’s letter grades would give an undeserved boost to charter schools. An American-Statesman analysis of the advisory A-F grades issued this month shows that charter schools did fare better compared with their traditional public school peers under the letter grade system than they did under the state’s old ratings. The advisory grades show how schools and districts would have performed for the 2015-16 school year if the A-F rating system already had been in place. Under the existing accountability system, charter schools that year were slightly more likely to have at least one failing mark than traditional public schools. But traditional schools — not charters — were more likely to fail under the new letter grades, even though data from the same year were used to calculate them, the Statesman analysis shows.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK • Jan. 12, 2017
AP: Trump has taken few steps to disentangle from private empire
The Associated Press reported that while President-elect Donald Trump pledged to step away from his family-owned international real estate development, property management and licensing business before taking office Jan. 20, with less than two weeks until his inauguration, he hasn't stepped very far. Trump has canceled a handful of international deals and dissolved a few shell companies created for prospective investments. Still, he continues to own or control some 500 companies that make up the Trump Organization, creating a tangle of potential conflicts of interest without precedent in modern U.S. history. The president-elect is expected to give an update on his effort to distance himself from his business at a Wednesday, Jan. 11, news conference. He told The Associated Press on Friday, Jan. 6, that he would be announcing a "very simple solution." Ethics experts have called for Trump to sell off his assets and place his investments in a blind trust, which means something his family would not control. That's what previous presidents have done.
Oregonian: “Escaped” GMO grass defies eradication, divides seed industry
The Oregonian reports that after more than a decade of unsuccessful efforts to eradicate the genetically modified grass it created and allowed to escape, lawn and garden giant Scotts Miracle-Gro now wants to step back and shift the burden to Oregonians. The federal government is poised to allow that to happen by relinquishing its oversight, even as an unlikely coalition of farmers, seed dealers, environmentalists, scientists and regulators cry foul. The altered grass has taken root in Oregon, of all places, the self-professed grass seed capital of the world with a billion-dollar-a-year industry at stake. The grass has proven hard to kill because it's been modified to be resistant to Roundup, the ubiquitous, all-purpose herbicide. The situation is particularly tense in Malheur County, where Scotts' altered grass has taken root after somehow jumping the Snake River from test beds in Idaho.
Des Moines Register: Penny sales tax funds athletic, extra school projects
The Des Moines Register reported that a rural school district in northern Iowa opened a $3.1 million gym in December complete with indoor track, weight room, treadmills and elliptical machines. Plans call for adding televisions and weekend yoga classes. West Fork Schools hired a full-time attendant to oversee gym memberships, which families can purchase for $300 a year, and classes such as Zumba and aerobics. During school hours, it's closed to the public. The project was largely paid for with revenue generated by a statewide penny sales tax originally intended to finance school infrastructure upgrades such as replacing aging roofs and windows. It's among dozens of athletic or extracurricular spending projects The Des Moines Register found after surveying more than 50 of Iowa's 333 school districts. The sample represented various sizes and geographies, and asked how the schools spent tax revenue.
Louisville Courier-Journal: Child abuse findings voided secretly in Kentucky
The Louisville Courier-Journal reports that after grabbing the teenage girl from behind, Kevin Watson, a security monitor for Jefferson County Public Schools, slammed her head to the table, opening a gash that splashed blood on the girl's clothes, the table and the floor, according to accounts of witnesses at Breckinridge Metropolitan High School. Yet, despite a state Child Protective Services investigation that substantiated the incident as child abuse, Watson has a clean record with the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Using a secret process, Watson, exercising his right to a confidential appeal, was able to overturn the cabinet's child abuse finding against him. That kept his name from being added to an official list — also confidential — known as the state Child Abuse and Neglect Registry that can restrict adults from some occupations or activities, such as child care, working or volunteering with youths or serving as foster parents. And data obtained from the cabinet by the Courier-Journal show Watson's case is not unique.
Times Picayune: Children of incarcerated parents are forgotten victims
The Times Picayune reports that thousands of children in Louisiana, although they have done no wrong and committed no crimes, are being punished for their parents' mistakes. They are the hidden casualties of the state's world-leading mass incarceration rate, and, beginning Monday, Jan. 9, The Times-Picayune plans to explore the damage done to children when a parent is sent to prison. The multi-part series exposes how law enforcement and the courts don't always recognize that the people they arrest, prosecute and sentence are more than just suspects: often they are mothers and fathers. And their imprisonment will affect children, households and entire communities. The series will show how parents charged with nonviolent offenses are held for months -- sometimes years -- as they await trial simply because they are too poor to pay bail and how this practice can leave children teetering on the edge of homelessness or falling into the foster care system.
Austin American-Statesman: Bad grades, hiring practices doom lab leader
The Austin American-Statesman reports that when Austin police embarked on hiring a new chief forensics officer a few months ago, officials said they wanted a top-flight scientist to resurrect their shuttered DNA lab and restore confidence in its work. Their pick was Scott Milne, who has worked in both law enforcement and private forensics labs in Arizona and Colorado, for the $111,000 position. Today, Milne is being paid to stay home. No one — not human resources staff, not an interview panel, not department brass — noticed or flagged a less-than-stellar college transcript Milne gave them with his application. Had they, they would have seen that Milne’s academic history was pockmarked with failing grades, including many courses directly related to his career, according to records obtained by the American-Statesman.
New York Times: Kushner, Trump in-law and adviser, chases a Chinese deal
The New York Times reports that on the night of Nov. 16, a group of executives gathered in a private dining room of the restaurant La Chine at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in Midtown Manhattan. The table was laden with Chinese delicacies and $2,100 bottles of Château Lafite Rothschild. At one end sat Wu Xiaohui, the chairman of the Waldorf’s owner, Anbang Insurance Group, a Chinese financial behemoth with estimated assets of $285 billion and an ownership structure shrouded in mystery. Close by sat Jared Kushner, a major New York real estate investor whose father-in-law, Donald J. Trump, had just been elected president of the United States. Since the election, intense scrutiny has been trained on Mr. Trump’s company and the potential conflicts of interest he will face. But with Mr. Kushner laying the groundwork for his own White House role, the meeting at the Waldorf shines a light on his family’s multibillion-dollar business, Kushner Companies, and on the ethical thicket he would have to navigate while advising his father-in-law on policy that could affect his bottom line.
Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/07/us/politics/jared-kushner-trump-business.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news
Arizona Republic: Pattern of political donations raises concerns
The Arizona Republic reports that most top campaign donors in Phoenix city elections are well-known figures — developers, sports team owners and political consultants. But one major donor is a mystery to many candidates who benefited from the thousands of dollars he gave over the past five years: Bishop Monty Moody. He leads a church in a building behind his Peoria home. Moody, his family and associates have become one of the largest sources of individual contributions to candidates running for office in Phoenix. A review of public records shows little obvious interest in Phoenix politics for Moody save one thing: his longstanding and close relationship with political consultant Joe Villasenor, a former city staffer who works with developers that have business at City Hall. Contributors tied to the church gave another nearly $8,000 in Glendale, where Villasenor has done work.
Seattle Times: How Washington state education system hurts poor schools
The Seattle Times reports that this year’s legislative session in Olympia will be an 11th-hour culmination of the puzzle handed down to lawmakers by Washington state’s highest court, which said in an 2012 decision that Washington chronically underfunds public schools. By 2018, the court ruled, legislators need to find billions of new dollars for education. Many onlookers see this moment as an unusual opportunity not only to increase overall investment in schools, but also to shift the way Washington allocates education funding. Simply injecting more money into a system that distributes it haphazardly, or inequitably, they point out, could deepen imbalances that already exist.. Without a new model, resolving the McCleary school-funding lawsuit may answer the court’s mandate, but not the question of what to do about hundreds of thousands of kids who start out behind and remain there.
New York Times: Confirmation hearings begin without all background checks
The New York Times reports that as Senate Republicans embark on a flurry of confirmation hearings this week, several of Donald J. Trump’s appointees have yet to complete the background checks and ethics clearances customarily required before the Senate begins to consider cabinet-level nominees. Republicans, who are expected to hold up to five hearings on Wednesday, Jan. 11, alone, say they simply want to ensure that the new president has a team in place as soon as possible. “I believe all the president-elect’s cabinet appointments will be confirmed,” Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, said. But Democrats are calling for the process to be slowed and for the hearings to be spread out. That, they say, would allow more time to vet the nominees. “Our first overarching focus is getting tax returns and ethics forms,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota.
San Francisco Chronicle: Emergency dispatchers fall behind
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that national guidelines say that 90 percent of 911 calls should be answered within 10 seconds, a standard San Francisco has not met since early 2012. The state standard says 95 percent of calls should be picked up within 15 seconds. At San Francisco’s 911 call center — where hiring freezes have left staffing short and emergency call volume has surged — only about 79 percent of the 1.27 million emergency calls received in 2015, the latest year for which data are available, were answered within the 10-second standard, a Chronicle analysis shows. Nonemergency calls trended lower, with an average of 57 percent of calls answered within the recommended one-minute mark. The number of calls to San Francisco’s call center jumped from 919,908 in 2007 to 1.26 million in 2015, paralleling a swell in the city’s population.
Los Angeles Times: Pay raise comes with loss of cheap childcare for some
The Los Angeles Times reports hen the minimum wage in California rose to $10.50 an hour Jan. 1, more than a million people got a raise. But for an untold number of families across the state, that pay bump could price them out of child care. It’s an unintended consequence that was never part of the plan,” says Rich Winefield, the former executive director of Bananas, a day-care and preschool referral agency in Oakland. “It’s unbelievable that we have policy that creates this.” This year, for the first time, two parents working full time at minimum-wage jobs, with one child, will be considered too well off to qualify for state subsidies for day care and preschool. It’s been 10 years since the state set the threshold for who is poor enough to get the benefit, which is pegged to 2005 income levels. That’s just one of the likely ripple effects a rising wage will have for California businesses, their employees and their customers.
Washington Post: Makers of gun silencers want restrictions lifted
The Washington Post reports the federal government has strictly limited the sale of firearm silencers for as long as James Bond and big-screen gangsters have used them to discreetly shoot enemies between the eyes. Now the gun industry, which for decades has complained about the restrictions, is pursuing new legislation to make silencers easier to buy, and a key backer is Donald Trump Jr., an avid hunter and the oldest son of the president-elect, who campaigned as a friend of the gun industry.
They hope to position the bill not as a Second Amendment issue, but as a public-health effort to safeguard the eardrums of the nation’s 55 million gun owners. They even named it the Hearing Protection Act. It would end treating silencers as the same category as machine guns and grenades, thus eliminating a $200 tax and a nine-month approval process.
Read more: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/gun-silencers-are-hard-to-buy-donald-trump-jr-and-silencer-makers-want-to-change-that/2017/01/07/0764ab4c-d2d2-11e6-9cb0-54ab630851e8_story.html?utm_term=.0e640920daaa
Dallas Morning News: Child abuse deaths on rise despite governor’s efforts
The Dallas Morning News reports that shortly after Gov. Greg Abbott took office in 2015, he promised to overhaul the state’s child welfare system and made an ambitious goal: no more child deaths. To that end, Abbott placed the Department of Family and Protective Services under his thumb. But despite Abbott’s heavy hand, Child Protective Services has been in a state of perpetual crisis under his watch and, by nearly every metric, has gotten worse at protecting children. Data obtained through an open records request shows that more Texas children died of abuse and neglect since the governor's office began applying pressure on the agency to improve last year. In fiscal year 2016, at least 202 Texas children died because of maltreatment, compared with 173 the year before. That toll will probably rise as the state reviews 123 more fatalities.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Convicted kingpin left trail of blighted houses
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports Elgin DeMarco Jordan may have been dealing cocaine and heroin, but he was an Atlanta businessman just the same. And when the suspected head of a major area drug-trafficking organization had money to spare, he did just what amateur investors, venture capitalists and other businessmen tend to do in Atlanta nowadays. He snapped up blighted, cut-rate real estate in the city’s struggling Westside neighborhoods, looking to cash in on the intown boom. “I got so many properties, I can’t think sometimes,” Jordan, 42, told an undercover agent, a federal court filing states. Owners in Atlanta’s blighted neighborhoods often remain hidden behind shell companies and non-existent addresses, but Jordan’s criminal prosecution for drug dealing lifts the veil on how a single owner can impact a community.