TIME justice

Why This Red State Is Poised to End the Death Penalty

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts is seen through bars during a tour of the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution in Tecumseh, Neb., on May 19, 2015.
Nati Harnik—AP Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts is seen through bars during a tour of the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution in Tecumseh, Neb., on May 19, 2015.

It would be the first conservative state to do so since 1973

As a college student in the mid-1990s, Colby Coash attended an execution at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln. Two groups gathered to bear witness. On one side were death-penalty opponents, who prayed quietly. On the other side, the atmosphere was festive.

“It was like a tailgate party,” Coash recalls, replete with a band and barbecue, and locals banging on pots and pans. As the minutes ticked toward midnight and the condemned was strapped into the electric chair, the crowd drank beer and counted down “like it was New Year’s Eve,” says Coash, who supported the death penalty at the time. “Later, it didn’t feel right. I didn’t like how it felt to be a part of the celebration of somebody’s death.”

Coash now serves in Lincoln as a state senator, and on Wednesday he was among a cadre of conservatives who voted to abolish the death penalty in Nebraska. If the measure becomes law, Nebraska would become the first red state to ban capital punishment since North Dakota in 1973.

Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican who supports the death penalty, has threatened to veto the bill. But Wednesday’s 32-15 margin in the Nebraska legislature indicates supporters have the votes to override such a move. Ricketts has five days to sign or veto the measure before it automatically becomes law.

The landmark vote was a reflection of the shifting politics of criminal justice. For decades, law-and-order conservatives have been staunch proponents of capital punishment. But in recent years, a growing number of Republicans have begun to oppose the death penalty, arguing it violates the central tenets of conservatism.

“It does things that are cardinal sins for conservatives,” says Marc Hyden, a former NRA staffer from Georgia who serves as coordinator of a national group called Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. “It risks innocent life. It wastes taxpayer money when there’s cheaper alternatives, and fails to be representative of a limited government—while it meanwhile fails to deter crime.”

Overall, Americans’ support for the death penalty is relatively stable, according to a 2015 Gallup poll that found 63% of respondents favored capital punishment for convicted murderers. But among conservatives, support for the practice appears to be dropping, though it remains high. In 2014, Gallup found that 76% of Republicans supported the death penalty, down from 81% the year before. Says Hyden: “It’s just a broken government program that conservatives are speaking out against in greater numbers nationally.”

Eighteen states have banned the death penalty, mostly in the Northeast and Upper Midwest. Nebraska might seem an unlikely candidate to join them. The state is a conservative stronghold, and while its unicameral legislature is officially nonpartisan, 36 of its 49 seats are held by Republicans.

But the Cornhusker State has been down this road before. In 1979, a bill banning capital punishment passed the legislature before it was vetoed by the governor. Though Nebraska has 11 inmates on death row, no one has been executed in the state since 1997. In 2013 some observers believed there were enough votes to pass such a measure, though not enough to override a veto. The current legislature had voted twice already to abolish the death penalty.

In preparation for the push, opponents of the death penalty lobbied lawmakers extensively, circulating studies that show the practice is ineffective as a deterrent to crime and enlisting the family members of murder victims to testify about how the endless appeals process compounded their grief.

Stacy Anderson, a conservative Christian and former Republican operative who directs a group called Nebraskans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said the unique nature of the state legislature—the only nonpartisan, unicameral legislature in the U.S.—helped break down traditional partisan lines. “It’s a very cordial, small body,” Anderson says. “They engage the issues far beyond the regular political rhetoric.”

Some conservatives originally ducked meetings on the topic, Anderson added. Over time, a number came to change their minds. “They learned how much it cost, the risk of executing innocents, how it didn’t align with pro-life values,” she says.

Death penalty opponents hope Nebraska’s vote will be the beginning of a trend. A push to abolish capital punishment in conservative Montana fell one vote short earlier this year. Anti-death penalty legislation has also been introduced in Kansas.

Before the vote Wednesday, Ricketts released a statement urging lawmakers to listen to their constituents. “No one has traveled the state more than I have in the past 18 months, and everywhere I go there is overwhelming support for keeping the death penalty in Nebraska,” he said, calling a vote to abolish the death penalty a vote to “give our state’s most heinous criminals more lenient sentences. This isn’t rhetoric. This is reality.”

For Coash, that’s precisely the point. “People sent me here to Lincoln to find and root out government waste,” he says. In addition to the expense, he came to believe that the protracted appeals process prevented the families of victims from achieving closure. “Justice delayed is justice denied,” he says. And “I’m a pro-life guy. I couldn’t reconcile my pro-life beliefs regarding the unborn with doing something different with the condemned.”

TIME idaho

Legislators Pass Bill That Had Been Nixed Over Islamic Law

House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, speaks against the child support enforcement bill during a special session of the Idaho legislature at the state Capitol building on Monday, May 18, 2015 in Boise, Idaho.
Otto Kitsinger—AP House Majority Leader Mike Moyle speaks against the child-support-enforcement bill during a special session of the Idaho legislature at the state Capitol building in Boise, Idaho, on May 18, 2015

Idaho could have lost access to $46 million in federal funds

(BOISE, Idaho) — The Idaho Legislature approved federally mandated child support rules Monday, undoing a rejection that had jeopardized U.S. involvement in an international treaty and threatened to collapse the state’s payment system.

The bill now goes to Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, who has said he’ll sign it into law.

Idaho’s rejection last month — by one vote on the last day of the legislative session over fears it could subject the U.S. courts to rulings made elsewhere under Islamic law — threatened an international effort intended to make it easier for parents to receive funds. There are about 150,000 active international cases involving about $600 million annually.

The refusal also would have cut the state’s access to $46 million in federal funds and payment processing systems that include payroll deductions, both of which were tied to the legislation.

The Republican governor called a special session to address the issue and drafted a compromise measure nearly two weeks before lawmakers were due back in Boise.

Dozens of nations have ratified the treaty since negotiations concluded in 2007. In the U.S., that process involves state-by-state approval, and 28 have passed their compliance legislation, so far. Several others have advanced proposals to the governor.

Experts had declined to speculate on whether the U.S. could have found an alternate way to approve the deal if Idaho had refused to reconsider.

Critics focused Monday on the federal funding connected to the bill.

Katherine Frazier told lawmakers such a setup amounts to bribery and cited the Bible in her opposition, saying “fire shall devour the houses of bribes.”

Bob Neugebauer said the bill “is not about child support. It’s about extortion by our federal government.”

Health and Human Services officials have said federal child-support funding has always been linked to mandated legislation.

They also have said concerns over Shariah law were baseless, since language in the treaty allows states to reject rulings that don’t uphold American-style standards of legal fairness.

The amended legislation doesn’t change the wording surrounding the child support compliance section. Instead, it adds a new section that says the state can’t enforce any orders incompatible with Idaho law.

Supporters said that if Idaho hadn’t reversed the rejection last month, it would have left families across the nation with a burdensome system that makes it difficult — sometimes impossible — for parents to collect money owed to them.

TIME States

Nebraska Has Ordered a State of Emergency Over Bird Flu

In this May 11, 2015 photo provided by John Gaps III, men in hazardous materials suits load dead poultry to be buried at Rose Acre Farms, Inc., just west of Winterset, Iowa.
John Gaps III—AP In this May 11, 2015 photo provided by John Gaps III, men in hazardous materials suits load dead poultry to be buried at Rose Acre Farms, Inc., just west of Winterset, Iowa.

Over 33 million birds in 16 states have now been affected by the pathogen

Governor Pete Ricketts ordered a state of emergency Thursday after Nebraska’s Department of Agriculture confirmed the highly contagious H5N2 avian flu virus had infected a second farm.

The declaration opens up emergency funding in the hopes it can help contain the pathogen that now threatens what is, according to local officials, a $1.1 billion poultry industry in Nebraska.

“While not a human health threat, the discovery of avian influenza is a serious situation for our poultry sector, and I want to provide responders with access to all appropriate tools to address it,” said Ricketts in a statement.

The proclamation follows similar actions taken in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. More than 33 million birds in 16 states have now been affected by the outbreak, which originated in a small backyard flock in Oregon.

The outbreak has hit Americans’ pocketbooks as, the Associated Press reports, the price of large eggs in the Midwest rose by 17% since mid-April and other price increases are being seen in turkey, boneless breast meat and mixing eggs.

MONEY home prices

10 States With the Least Affordable Homes

Diamond Head, Oahu, Hawaii
Carl Shaneff—agefotostock Diamond Head, Oahu, Hawaii

A new study shows where in the U.S. home prices are the most out of whack with income.

In most parts of the country, a family with a median household income should—ideally—be able to afford a median-priced home in that area. In fact, an analysis of county-level data from RealtyTrac showed that a monthly payment on a median-priced home was more affordable than fair-market rent on a three-bedroom unit in 76% of counties studied, making buying a home the more economical choice for many Americans.

Of course, there’s a lot more at play when determining if you can afford a house than looking at your paycheck and the rental market—buying a house often requires a home loan, which can be tougher to come by if you don’t have good credit. At the same time, a good credit score will only get you so far in the home-buying process, because if housing in your area is exceptionally expensive, even a median household income may not get you much house. (This calculator can show you how much house you can afford.)

To determine the states where housing is least affordable, the Corporation for Enterprise Development divided the state’s median housing value by the median family income in that state, according to 2013 Census data. A breakdown of all 50 states and the District of Columbia is available through its Assets & Opportunity Scorecard tool. Here are the states with the least affordable homes.

10. (tie) Rhode Island

2013 median housing value: $232,300
2013 median household income: $55,902
Ratio of median housing value to median income: 4.2

10. (tie) Vermont

2013 median housing value: $218,300
2013 median household income: $52,578
Ratio of housing value to income: 4.2

8. Washington

2013 median housing value: $250,800
2013 median household income: $58,405
Ratio of housing value to income: 4.3

7. New Jersey

2013 median housing value: $307,700
2013 median household income: $70,165
Ratio of housing value to income: 4.4

6. Oregon

2013 median housing value: $229,700
2013 median household income: $50,251
Ratio of housing value to income: 4.6

5. New York

2013 median housing value: $277,600
2013 median household income: $57,369
Ratio of housing value to income: 4.8

4. Massachusetts

2013 median housing value: $327,200
2013 median household income: $66,768
Ratio of housing value to income: 4.9

3. California

2013 median housing value: $373,100
2013 median household income: $60,190
Ratio of housing value to income: 6.2

2. District of Columbia

2013 median housing value: $470,500
2013 median household income: $67,572
Ratio of housing value to income: 7

1. Hawaii

2013 median housing value: $500,000
2013 median household income: $68,020
Ratio of housing value to income: 7.4

Those are some eye-popping figures, especially if you’re from the other end of the spectrum, like Iowa or Michigan, where the median home price is just 2.4 times the median income in those states. Places like Hawaii, D.C. and California are significant outliers, though.

Nationwide, the median-priced home ($173,900) is 3.3 times the median household income ($52,250), but homeownership remains out of reach for many Americans. Homeownership rates are at their lowest level in more than two decades, partially due to tight credit in the mortgage market. To have the best chance at getting a home loan, borrowers need to focus on improving their credit standing (you can track your credit scores for free on Credit.com) and paying down debt, so they can prove their ability to repay a home loan.

More from Credit.com

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

TIME States

Nuclear Power Plant Fire in New York Spills Oil Into Hudson River

APTOPIX Indian Point Fire
Craig Ruttle—AP New York State Troopers stand at the main entrance of the Indian Point nuclear power plant after a transformer failed causing a fire that was later extinguished in Buchanan, N.Y., on May 9, 2015.

Several thousand gallons of oil leaked into the river that flows from the Adirondacks to the Atlantic Ocean

BUCHANAN, N.Y. — Part of a New York nuclear power plant remained offline Sunday after a transformer fire created another problem: thousands of gallons of oil leaking into the Hudson River, officials said.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said emergency crews were out on the water near Buchanan trying to contain and clean up transformer fluid that leaked from Indian Point 3.

“There’s no doubt that oil was discharged into the Hudson River,” Cuomo said. “Exactly how much, we don’t know.”

It could be weeks before Indian Point 3 is reopened again, said a spokesman for Entergy Corp., the plant owner.

The transformer at the plant about 30 miles north of midtown Manhattan failed on Saturday evening, causing a fire that forced the automatic shutdown.

Cuomo revealed Sunday that even after the blaze on the nonnuclear side of the plant was quickly doused, the heat reignited the fire that was again extinguished.

The governor said oil in the transformer had seeped into a holding tank that did not have the capacity to contain all the fluid, which then entered river waters through a discharge drain.

Joseph Martens, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection, said measures were taken to keep the oil from spreading, including setting up booms over an area about 300 feet in diameter in the water.

The cleanup should take a day or two, Cuomo said.

A spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said several thousand gallons of oil may have overflowed the transformer moat.

The reactor itself was deemed safe and stable, said Entergy spokesman Jerry Nappi. The plant’s adjacent Unit 2 reactor was not affected and remained in operation.

The Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan supplies electricity for millions of homes, businesses and public facilities in New York City and Westchester County.

“These situations we take very seriously. Luckily this was not a major situation. But the emergency protocols are very important,” Cuomo said Saturday. “I take nothing lightly when it comes to this plant specifically.”

The transformer at Indian Point 3 takes energy created by the plant and changes the voltage for the grid supplying power to the state.

The blaze, which sent black smoke billowing into the sky, was extinguished by a sprinkler system and on-site personnel, Nappi said.

He said a foam-like substance containing animal protein and fat was used to put out the fire, leaving an oily sheen on the water that does not harm the environment. He said he cannot confirm that fluid from the transformer leaked beyond the holding tank until a probe is conducted.

It was not immediately clear what caused the initial failure.

Officials did not know how long the 1,000-megawatt reactor would be down. Nappi estimated it could be “a few weeks” before Indian Point 3 reopened.

Cuomo said there had been too many emergencies recently involving Indian Point. Unit 3 was shut down Thursday morning for an unrelated issue — a water leak on the nonnuclear side of the plant.

“We have to get to the bottom of this,” the governor said.

In March, Unit 3 was shut down for a planned refueling that took about a month.

Diane Screnci, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said an agency inspector was at the site Sunday and the agency would follow up as Indian Point assesses the affected equipment.

She said there was no impact on the public.

The environmental watchdog group Riverkeeper issued a statement Sunday saying the latest Indian Point accident proves that the plant should be closed for good.

TIME States

Don’t Worry, Texas, the Federal Government Isn’t Planning a Military Takeover

Bob Welch, standing at left, and Jim Dillon, hold a sign at a public hearing about the Jade Helm 15 military training exercise in Bastrop, Texas, April 27, 2015
Jay Janner—AP Bob Welch, standing at left, and Jim Dillon, hold a sign at a public hearing about the Jade Helm 15 military training exercise in Bastrop, Texas, April 27, 2015

The military's largest training exercise is just that—an exercise

In Texas, conspiracy theories have swirled that a two-month U.S. military exercise — named Jade Helm 15 — in seven states across America’s southwest might be an armed federal takeover of the Lone Star state in disguise.

On Thursday, Defense Secretary Ash Carter rebutted these claims with an emphatic “No,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

Jade Helm 15 is the largest military training exercise ever undertaken by the U.S. Army Special Operations Command. The fears of some Texans were stoked when military maps to be used in the exercise were found to show Texas (as well as Utah and California) as “hostile” territory.

The resulting controversy prompted Governor Greg Abbott to request that the Texas State Guard monitor the exercise.

Actor Chuck Norris also chimed in, exhorting Texans to be vigilant: “It’s pretty sad and bad when major military ops are ordered in a large, fiery state like Texas and not even the governor or its senators know the specifics.”

Carter emphasized on Thursday that Pentagon officials had notified the state government of the relevant details: “We’re very open and up front about our training activities in the United States, and I should say that we’re very grateful for the support of communities around the United States.”

TIME States

Iowa Declares State of Emergency Over Bird Flu

Iowa Freedom Summit Features GOP Presidential  Hopefuls
Scott Olson—Getty Images Iowa Governor Terry Branstad speaks to guests at the Iowa Freedom Summit in Des Moines, Iowa, on Jan. 24, 2015 .

"While the avian influenza outbreak does not pose a risk to humans, we are taking the matter very seriously," the governor said on Friday.

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad declared a state of emergency in his state on Friday to confront a spiraling bird flu outbreak.

Millions of birds across the country have been infected by the highly pathogenic H5 avian flu in the most recent outbreak, which could result in the biggest death toll in U.S. history according to Reuters.

“While the avian influenza outbreak does not pose a risk to humans, we are taking the matter very seriously and believe declaring a state of emergency is the best way to make all resources available,” Branstad said in a statement. “We’ll continue our work – as we’ve been doing since the first outbreak in Buena Vista County – in hopes of stopping the virus’ aggressive spread throughout Iowa.”

In Iowa, 21 sites have presumed or confirmed cases.

 

TIME justice

This Facebook Post About Baltimore Cost a Prosecutor Her Job

Facebook Removes Feeling Fat
Bloomberg via Getty Images The Facebook Inc. logo is seen on an Apple Inc. iPhone in London, U.K., on May 14, 2012.

“Solution. Simple. Shoot em. Period. End of discussion."

A woman in Michigan has lost her job after posting a note on Facebook that called for violent protesters to be shot.

Teana Walsh, an assistant prosecutor with the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office, resigned on Friday, the Detroit News reports.

On Wednesday, her Facebook account included a post that has since been taken down about the violence rocking Baltimore:

“Solution. Simple. Shoot em. Period. End of discussion. I don’t care what causes the protestors to turn violent…what the ‘they did it because’ reason is…no way is this acceptable. Flipping disgusting.”

Assistant Prosecutor Maria Miller said the post did not reflect her colleague’s true character. “During her tenure in the office, Teana Walsh has been known for her great work ethic and her compassion for victims of crime and their families,” she said. “Her post was up online briefly and she immediately took it down. The post was completely out of character for her and certainly does not reflect the person that we know.”

Walsh was not the only public official to find herself in hot water as a result of an insensitive post on social media. On Thursday, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson told reporters that the director of a city community relations board, Blaine Griffin, had been reprimanded after the board’s twitter account asked if the city should be “burned down like” Baltimore.

[Detroit News]

TIME Law Enforcement

Family of Homeless Man Killed in L.A. Police Shooting Files $20 Million Claim

Heleine Tchayou
Tami Abdollah—AP Heleine Tchayou, second from right, the mother of Charly Leundeu Keunang, a homeless man who was shot and killed during a confrontation on Skid Row by Los Angeles police, speaks at a news conference outside LAPD headquarters in Los Angeles, Thursday, April 30, 2015. The family of Keunang has filed a $20 million claim against the city. (AP Photo/Tami Abdollah)

"He did not have to die!"

The family of a homeless man who was shot and killed during a scuffle with Los Angeles police in March is suing the city, attorneys said Thursday, and seeking a $20 million for wrongful death.

“He did not have to die!” said Heleine Tchayou, mother of 43-year-old Charly Keunang, through a French translator, Reuters reports. “Charly was a thoughtful and caring son.” Keunang, originally from Cameroon, was shot and killed on March 1 after police say he reached for an officer’s gun as they tried to arrest him for suspected robbery.

The family’s claim labeled Keunang’s death “a cop-created killing in which six heavily-armed, highly-trained law enforcement officers initiated a conflict with an unarmed homeless man and then less than three minutes later, shot him six times in the chest, killing him as they held him down on the sidewalk.”

The incident, which was caught on video, came amid greater scrutiny of police tactics nationwide and sparked protests in Los Angeles.

[Reuters]

TIME Drugs

Emerging Drug Flakka Causing More Naked Rage and Paranoia Incidents

The new drug causes body temperature to spike dangerously

Flakka, a new designer drug popular in Florida, is continuing to generate bizarre incidents of naked rage and paranoia among users — but officials say it’s no laughing matter.

The synthetic drug has spawned a number of tales including how one Florida man believed he was Thor, and ran naked through a neighborhood and then tried to have sex with a tree, the Associated Press reported Thursday. Another flakka user ran nude down a busy city street, convinced he was being chased by a pack of German shepherds.

Flakka, which is similar to bath salts and usually smoked via electronic cigarettes, causes the naked incidents because it causes a spike in body temperature of up to 106 degrees, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Like amphetamines, flakka users seek the high of the drug’s stimulation but may also become prone to violent outbursts, paranoia and hallucinations.

“I’ve had one addict describe it as $5 insanity,” Don Maines, a drug treatment counselor in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., told AP. “They still want to try it because it’s so cheap.”

Flakka has spread to other states besides Florida, where most incidents have been reported, including Ohio, Texas and Tennessee, according to the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Read next: See Which State Has the Highest Daily Use of Mood-Altering Drugs

[AP]

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