TIME Guns

Nebraska School OKs ‘Tasteful’ Senior Portraits With Guns

The school board unanimously passed the rule

A rural Nebraska school district decided Monday to allow graduating high school seniors to pose with guns in their senior portraits, the Omaha World-Herald reports.

Broken Bow school board members voted 6-0 to approve the rule, which permits only the “tasteful and appropriate” display of firearms, and prohibits pointing the weapons at the camera or displaying a hunted animal in distress, according to the policy.

“The board, I believe, felt they wanted to give students who are involved in those kinds of things the opportunity to take a senior picture with their hobby, with their sport, just like anybody with any other hobby or sport,” superintendent Mark Sievering told the World-Herald.

Nebraska has no age minimum for hunting, although hunters below 12 must be supervised by a licensed hunter, according to state law. It is illegal under Nebraska law to possess a firearm on school grounds, unless the holder is in an exempt category, such as the police force.

The issue of having guns in or around schools has been especially salient after the Dec. 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting, an event that prompted policymakers to question whether adequate gun safety laws were in place. Since that shooting, several organizations have argued that several gaps in gun laws still exist despite many states tightening background checks for firearm purchases. Yet Nebraska’s overall gun policies still lag behind other states, according to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, whose 2013 Gun Laws Scorecard gave the state a D.

[Omaha World-Herald]

TIME Natural Disasters

20 Million Set to Take Part in ‘Great ShakeOut’ Earthquake Drill

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate speaks during an event on earthquake preparedness Oct. 14, 2014 at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate speaks during an event on earthquake preparedness Oct. 14, 2014 at the National Building Museum in Washington, DC. Alex Wong—Getty Images

At 10:16 a.m on Thursday, millions of people around the world will practice the "drop, cover and hold on" moves

More than 20 million people around the world on Thursday are expected to take part in the Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drills, an annual event that promotes earthquake readiness.

At 10:16 a.m. on Oct. 16, participants will practice the government-recommended “drop, cover and hold on” protocol, which involves getting on the ground, taking cover under a table or desk and holding on until the earthquake is over.

With 10.32 million people registered, California has the highest participation of any U.S. state or nation taking part. ShakeOut events are also happening inNew Zealand, Japan, Southern Italy and parts of Canada as well. More than 25 million people in total are participating in a ShakeOut event of some kind during 2014, according to the Great ShakeOut organization.

ShakeOuts started in California, where earthquakes are common, but soon spread to other states, and the drills are usually coordinated with local emergency services.

TIME 2014 Election

Bloomberg Helps Democratic Governors’ Group Close Gap on Republicans

Michael Bloomberg Decorated In  Paris
Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg poses prior to be awarded with the Legion d'Honneur by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Sept. 16, 2014 in Paris. Chesnot—Getty Images

GOP's top donors include 5-Hour Energy founder

A national Republican group devoted to helping elect GOP governors has outraised its Democratic counterpart by more than $20 million in the first nine months of this year, but reports filed Wednesday with the Internal Revenue Service show that the gap is narrowing.

Though the Republican Governors Association raised about $68 million through the end of September, the Democratic Governors Association has been catching up with a record haul of more than $45 million, fueled by labor unions and former New York City mayor, billionaire and political independent, Michael Bloomberg.

The groups were neck-and-neck in the most recent quarter, with the Democrats only a half-million shy of the Republican group, which counts energy companies and billionaires David Koch and Sheldon Adelson among its top donors.

Battling over 36 governorships up for election this year, the two Washington, D.C.,-based groups have used those donations to go head-to-head on the airwaves, contribute directly to candidates and fund other political groups.

They spend in their own names and through a network of subsidiaries, with names such as Right Direction on the Republican side and Jobs and Opportunity on the Democratic side.

On television alone, the groups and their state branches account for nearly one-third of all television spending by independent groups in state-level races.

The Republican group has used its fundraising edge to purchase an estimated $19.7 million in television ads in 16 states through Oct. 13, more than any other non-party group in the country, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of preliminary data from media tracking firm Kantar Media/CMAG.

The Democratic Governors Association has been the second-leading independent group, buying an estimated $12.3 million worth of ads in five states.

The Republican spending spree has been backed by multimillion-dollar donations in 2014 from a who’s who of Republican political donors.

Industrialist Koch, casino magnate Adelson and the private equity firm of 5-Hour Energy founder Manoj Bhargava each contributed $2.5 million through the end of September to the Republican Governors Association.

Private equity head Mike Shannon and his wife, Mary Sue, along with hedge fund manager Kenneth Griffin round out the group’s top five donors, at $2 million from the Shannons and $1.5 million from Griffin. Two energy companies, Devon Energy, at $900,000, and Duke Energy, at $775,000, are among the Republican group’s top 10 donors overall.

The top five donors to the Democratic group are all labor unions. The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, has given $3.7 million to the Democratic governors’ group this year, while the country’s two largest teachers unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, and their related political groups, have been the second- and third-largest donors, giving $2.8 million and $2.5 million, respectively. The Service Employees International Union and United Commercial Workers International Union each has given more than $2 million.

The unions have helped narrow the gap between the two political groups, especially in the final months leading up to the election. In 2010, the last time this many governors faced election, the Republican group held a $32.5 million fundraising advantage through the same period.

The biggest individual donor to the Democratic Governors Association is Bloomberg, who gave $1.1 million in September. It appears to be the first time he has contributed to either organization.

Bloomberg, a Democrat turned Republican turned independent, has also contributed nearly $7 million to Independence USA PAC, a super PAC active at both the federal and state levels that supports centrist candidates.

But the super PAC’s spending appears to be at cross-purposes with Bloomberg’s support of the Democratic governors’ group.

So far, the Independence USA PAC has spent more than $750,000 on TV ads supporting Rick Snyder, Michigan’s incumbent Republican governor. Meanwhile, aided by Bloomberg’s donation, the Democratic Governors Association has spent $7.2 million on ads mostly critical of Snyder.

The governors’ groups are what are known as 527s, tax-exempt organizations named for the IRS code they fall under, which can accept unlimited amounts of money from individuals, corporations and unions.

Both groups, which have been in existence for more than a decade, got a boost from the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which, in conjunction with related federal rulings, removed restrictions on political spending by corporations and unions, and forced 24 states to revise their campaign finance rules.

Overall, independent groups have accounted for more than 20 percent of the estimated $495.4 million in spending on state- level races so far. That represents an increase compared to 2010, in which non-candidate and non-party groups accounted for only 12 percent of the $921.3 million spent.

The Center for Public Integrity is tracking political advertising in races for the U.S. Senate and state-level offices. Use these two, interactive features — with new data every Thursday — to see who is calling the shots and where the money is being spent.

TIME Courts

The U.S. Supreme Court Upholds a California Ban on Foie Gras

Forbidden Foie Gras Goes Underground At California 'Duckeasies'
A worker performs "gavage," or force feeding, on ducks in the preparation of foie gras at Hudson Valley Farms in Ferndale, New York, U.S., on Sunday, July 15, 2012. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Haute diners in California will have to do without

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld California’s ban on foie gras, refusing to hear an appeal against the state’s kibosh on products made by “force feeding a bird for the purpose of enlarging the bird’s liver beyond a normal size,” Reuters reports.

Foie gras, French for “fatty liver,” is made by force-feeding corn to ducks and geese, a process that animal-rights activists have described as cruel and unethical. The birds’ unnaturally enlarged livers are then harvested for high-end dining.

A Los Angeles-based restaurant group, a foie gras producer in New York, and a group of foie gras farmers in Canada had challenged the ban, calling it a violation of federal protections barring states from interfering in interstate commerce, Reuters says.

The ban was passed in 2004 but went into effect in 2012, according to the Los Angeles Times.

[Reuters]

Read next: The Case Against Eating Ethically-Raised Meat

TIME States

Oregon First Lady Bought Land To Farm Pot

Cylvia Hayes
Cylvia Hayes, fiancee of Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, speaks at a news conference in Portland, Ore. on Oct. 9, 2014. Bruce Ely—AP

“I was never financially involved with it"

Oregon First Lady Cylvia Hayes said late Monday that she bought land in a remote part of Washington state in 1997 to grow marijuana, just a few months after she illegally married an Ethiopian immigrant who paid her $5,000 in exchange for receiving his U.S. citizenship.

Patrick Siemion, a retired real estate broker, told the Oregonian that Hayes bought a 60-acre plot of land in Okanogan to grow pot with another, unidentified man. Hayes later released a statement saying that she was “involved in an abusive relationship with a dangerous man” and had little money.

“We lived together for several months on the property in Okanogan that was intended to be the site of a marijuana grow operation that never materialized,” she told the Oregonian. “I was never financially involved with it. I did not pay any part of the down payment or mortgage payments. I had no money. … In the spring of 1998 I began to make plans to get away. In July 1998 I moved to Central Oregon and began building a life and career that I am very proud of.”

Hayes told the public about her marriage to Abraham B. Abraham, her third husband, last week. Hayes, standing alone behind a podium, said that at the age of 29 she illegally married Abraham, then 18 years old, so he could get his American citizenship. Hayes’ fiancé, Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber, said Friday that he had only learned about her third marriage that week and had “some processing to do.”

TIME Accident

2 Children Injured, 1 Critically, in Bouncy House Accident

Bounce House Bouncy House
Getty Images

One of the toddlers was in critical condition as a result of the accident

Two toddlers were injured on Sunday, one critically, when a bouncy house they were playing in was carried away by the wind, according to local reports. The bouncy house at a farm in New Hampshire traveled between 50 and 60 feet.

The bouncy house was not properly tethered to the ground at the time of the accident, WDHD reports. A two-year-old was critically injured during the accident and was airlifted to Tufts Medical Center in Boston, WCVB reports. His three-year-old companion was treated at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Nashua, N.H.

The incident is the latest in a string of bouncy house accidents, which child safety advocates have said is partially due to the fact that they can be purchased by anyone and most states lack safety guidelines.

TIME States

Same-Sex Marriage License Issued in Kansas

(TOPEKA, Kan.) — A court office in Kansas’ most populous county has issued a marriage license to a gay couple, believed to be the first in the state.

Liz Dickinson, a member of the gay-rights group Equality Kansas, said she was at the county courthouse Friday when the couple received their license. The Johnson County District Court clerk’s office confirmed that a license was issued. The clerk declined to identify the couple.

That came two days after district court Chief Judge Kevin Moriarty directed clerks and other judges to begin issuing licenses to same-sex couples — even though the Kansas Constitution bans gay marriage under a provision voters approved in 2005.

Moriarty acted after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear appeals from five other states seeking to preserve their gay-marriage bans.

TIME States

California Becomes First State to Ban Plastic Bags

Grocers Lobby To Make California First State To Ban Plastic Bags
A single-use plastic bag floats along the Los Angeles River in Los Angeles, California, U.S., on Tuesday, June 24, 2014. California grocers, who could realize $1 billion in new revenue from selling paper bags for a dime each, teamed up with environmentalists on a new push to make California the first state to ban plastic shopping bags. The retail and environmental lobbies, which backed many of 13 failed California bills since 2007 to curb or ban single-use plastic shopping bags, lost the face off against manufacturers of both plastic and paper bags who oppose restrictions on the sacks. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

The ban will go into effect in 2015 for some businesses and 2016 for others

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Tuesday that makes the state the first in the country to ban single-use plastic bags.

The ban will go into effect in July 2015, prohibiting large grocery stores from using the material that often ends up as litter in the state’s waterways. Smaller businesses, like liquor and convenience stores, will need to follow suit in 2016. More than 100 municipalities in the state already have similar laws, including Los Angeles and San Francisco. The new law will allow the stores nixing plastic bags to charge 10 cents for a paper or reusable bag instead. The law also provides funds to plastic-bag manufacturers, an attempt to soften the blow as lawmakers push the shift toward producing reusable bags.

San Francisco became the first major American city to ban plastic bags in 2007, but the statewide ban may be a more powerful precedent as advocates in other states look to follow suit. The law’s enactment Tuesday marked an end to a long battle between lobbyists for the plastic bag industry and those worried about the bags’ effect on the environment.

California State Senator Kevin de Leόn, a co-author of the bill, called the new law “a win-win for the environment and for California workers.”

“We are doing away with the scourge of single-use plastic bags and closing the loop on the plastic waste stream, all while maintaining—and growing—California jobs,” he said.

TIME States

California Becomes First State to Ban Plastic Bags

(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) — Gov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation imposing the nation’s first statewide ban on single-use plastic bags.

Brown on Tuesday signed the bill by Democratic state Sen. Alex Padilla of Los Angeles.

Plastic bags will be phased out of large grocery stores starting next year and convenience stores and pharmacies in 2016. The legislation is meant to encourage consumers to bring their own bags and as a way to reduce litter.

The bill preserves more than 100 local plastic bag bans, including in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Grocers support the ban because it sets a statewide standard and allows them to charge consumers a 10 cent fee for using paper bags.

Plastic and paper bag manufacturers opposed to the legislation say it will result in lost manufacturing jobs in California.

TIME 2014 Election

The Marijuana Legalization Votes That Will Matter in 2014

First Legal Marijuana Sales in Colorado
Strains of marijuana at Denver Kush Club in Denver, Colorado on January 1, 2014. Seth McConnell—Denver Post/Getty Images

Referendums across the country set the stage for an even bigger fight in 2016

Election Day this year will be big on pot.

The battle over legalizing recreational marijuana in California—the big enchilada that may tilt legalization not only in the U.S. but other countries—is already being set for 2016. But while many reformers’ eyes are focused on the next presidential election, this year’s votes on marijuana initiatives have the power to shape that fight.

Here are the races to watch in November.

Alaska: Legalization with tax and regulation

A 1975 Alaska Supreme Court ruling found that the right to privacy in the state included the right to grow and possess a small amount of marijuana at home. Though opponents have still fought over whether possessing marijuana is legal—sometimes in court—reformers are hoping that a long history of quasi-legalization and a noted libertarian streak will lead Alaskans to vote yes on Ballot Measure 2: It would concretely legalize retail pot, giving the the state the power to tax and regulate like in Colorado and Washington state.

Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the pro-marijuana reform group NORML, called this measure a “wobbler,” with support long hovering around 50%. That sentiment is echoed by Mason Tvert of the Marijuana Policy Project, which spearheaded legalization in Colorado and has contributed heavily to the campaign in Alaska. “A lot of it will depend on the campaign getting its message out,” Tvert said. The message got a boost this month when a local on-anchor quit her job live on TV to support the legalization effort.

Oregon: Legalization with tax and regulation

Oregon almost went along with Colorado and Washington on their experimental journey in 2012, when residents narrowly rejected a pot legalization measure 56% to 44%. This year, more activists—and more organized ones at that—have been on the scene, working with groups like the deep-pocketed Drug Policy Alliance. Still, the prospects for Measure 91 are far from a lock; a recent poll found that while 44% of likely voters support legalization, 40% oppose it.

Like Alaska, the Beaver State has a long history when it comes to marijuana, having become the first state to decriminalize it in 1973. St. Pierre said Oregon’s proximity to Washington state, where creating a legal market has so far gone pretty smoothly, will help push people to vote “yes.” He said Oregon is the “most viable in terms of moving the national needle,” keeping up the momentum for drug-law reform that Washington and Colorado started. “Oregon will likely help lead the way for more states to follow,” said Anthony Johnson, who launched the campaign for Measure 91.

Washington, D.C.: “Soft legalization”

Those are the words of St. Pierre, describing a measure that falls short of creating a full-on regulated, taxable pot market. Initiative 71 would, however, allow people to possess up to 2 oz. of marijuana and cultivate up to six plants at home without fear of criminal or civil penalty—at least in theory. If the initiative does pass, there remains a hazy line between the reaches of the local and federal governments in the District, and Congress could choose to intervene, passing laws that supersede the actions of D.C. officials.

The initiative will very likely pass: Locals support it by nearly a 2-to-1 margin. The big question is whether Congress will continue to stand down, as it did while D.C. legalized medical marijuana and decriminalized marijuana. Allowing pot plants to flourish in backyard gardens down the road from the White House could force a more serious conversation about the conflict between federal drug laws that still view marijuana as an illegal substance and newer laws that do not.

Florida: Medical marijuana

At a time when states are legalizing pot for recreational purposes, it might not seem that significant whether Florida joins the growing list of about two-dozen states that allow medical marijuana. But St. Pierre said that nothing marijuana-related is taken lightly when it comes to political bellwether states like this one. So far, polling on support for Amendment 2 has been all over the place. And the political frenzy over the initiative has drawn huge spenders like casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who shelled out at least $98 million in the 2012 elections.

Amendment 2 has a steep hill to climb, requiring a 60% supermajority to pass; neither Colorado nor Washington got past the 55% range. “Florida is a national battleground,” St. Pierre said, noting how uncommon it is for people to be dropping $2.5 million checks to oppose such measures or $3.7 million checks to support them. “We’ve never seen a green rush like we’re seeing in Florida.”

Looking ahead to 2016

There are also a handful of municipalities that are going to vote on “soft legalization” measures of sorts, including the Maine towns of Lewiston and South Portland. Portland, Maine’s biggest city, passed a similar measure in 2013, giving authorities the ability not to punish pot-possessors with civil or criminal penalties.

Maine is one of the states the Marijuana Policy Project will be working hard to push the way of Colorado and Washington come 2016, and even symbolic local wins could boost that effort. “Ultimately our plan is to bring a tax-and-regulate initiative statewide in 2016, so these campaigns are a way to get the message out,” said David Boyer, MPP’s Maine political director.

In addition to California, Tvert said his group is already hard at work in Nevada, collecting petition signatures. And he said campaigns will be ramping up in Arizona and Massachusetts soon. Generally, marijuana initiatives do better when there is larger voter turnout, and voter turnout is typically bigger in presidential election years.

“This is the penultimate year for marijuana law reform,” St. Pierre said of 2014. “California is totally on reformers’ menu. … No one else moves if they don’t move.”

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