TIME justice

Conservatives Tout Criminal Justice Reform Efforts in States

Newt Gingrich said Tuesday that the federal government could stand to learn a thing or two about criminal justice reform from the states

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Wednesday that conservative lawmakers are at the forefront of criminal justice reform across the country, touting both piecemeal and comprehensive efforts already in place in a handful of red states.

“Frankly we’re prepared to learn and to evolve much more than the left is,” Gingrich said during a conference hosted by Right on Crime, a conservative criminal justice reform organization. “We’re not trapped by institutions that are protecting the past.”

The conference gave conservative lawmakers and thought leaders a chance to tout their efforts on an issue whose politics used to demand tough-on-crime rhetoric and action in the days of the 1980s urban crack epidemic. Falling crime rates and concerns about the cost of prison overcrowding has changed the calculus for both parties.

In Mississippi, for example, a prison reform law that is expected to save about $266 million and cut the state prison population over the next decade was signed into law in late March. In 2012, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed a sweeping reform law in an effort to reduce the state’s recidivism level. Two years later, the state saw its prison population shift to have higher proportions of violent criminals than non-violent.

While states have been moving forward on reform, the federal government has only recently gained momentum. The Senate’s bipartisan Smarter Sentencing Act, which takes direct aim at mandatory minimum sentences, is considered good policy by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle but has yet to reach the Senate floor. Gingrich said that bill is only a step in the right direction.

“The federal legislatures would do very well to sit down with Mississippi, Georgia, Texas and learn what the states are already doing that is very exciting,” he said.

Even as the politics have changed, some lawmakers still fear being see as soft on crime. When the Smarter Sentencing Act—which would reduce federal mandatory minimums for some non-violent drug crimes—passed through committee, an amendment was attached adding more mandatory minimums for some sexual and domestic abuse crimes.

“I think we have an opportunity here to build on the successes in states like Texas, in states like South Dakota, and Mississippi, most recently, because we have a roadmap,” Mississippi Lt. Gov. J. Tate Reeves told TIME. “When the country was founded it was really believed that states where going to be the spaces where ideas really bubble up from, this is an instance that I believe that to be true.”

TIME States

Kentucky Residents Sue Distilleries Over Whiskey Fungus

In the French Cognac region, locals call it the "black velvet." In Kentucky, the fungus stands at the heart of a heated lawsuit

Kentucky is usually famous for its racehorses and its legendary bourbon. But soon, it might be also known for a black fungus, which thrives in ethanol-rich environments and grows on exterior surfaces that are exposed to direct sunlight.

“When it evaporates, it wafts into the community, into the neighbors backyards, invisible, odorless,” said William McMurry, a lawyer from Louisville, Kentucky. Nearby, houses, road signs, wood fences—anything left outside for long enough—is veiled in the black growth.

Locals recently brought a class action lawsuit against distilleries to get them to control their ethanol output, AFP reports.

In 2007, researchers published a study about Baudoinia, a newly identified type of fungus, which needs water and alcohol to grow. The first stems from humidity in the air, while the second comes from the ethanol that evaporates as the bourbon matures in its oak barrels, making the area around whiskey-aging warehouses a prime breeding ground.

But the fungus is not a phenomenon unique to Kentucky. On the other side of the Atlantic—in Scotland and in France’s Cognac region—this evaporation is known as the “angels’ share.” In California, wine makers have put systems in place to capture excess ethanol.

The distilleries reject the scientific arguments implicating them. But McMurry hopes to convince them to install ethanol capture systems, similar to the ones adopted in California.

“If they’re not a good neighbor, they need to be made responsible, personally accountable like the rest of us businesses,” McMurry said.

TIME States

Minnesota Bans Antibacterial Triclosan

Liquid Soap Safety
This April 30, 2013, photo shows Dawn Ultra antibacterial soap in a kitchen in Chicago Kiichiro Sato—AP

The ban on the ingredient, which has been linked to hormone disruption in animal studies, will take effect in 2017

Minnesota is banning the germ killer triclosan, which is found in many soaps and body washes. Governor Mark Dayton signed the bill on Friday, but the ban won’t take effect until January 2017.

State senator John Marty, who sponsored the bill, said that the impact of the bill — which is the first statewide ban in the nation — would be felt across the board. “While this is an effort to ban triclosan from one of the 50 states, I think it will have a greater impact than that,” he told the Associated Press.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), triclosan is not known to be harmful to humans, but a growing number of studies suggest that the chemical may cause hormone disruption. The FDA has said it is “engaged in an ongoing scientific and regulatory review,” but that it doesn’t have enough information to recommend that consumers stop using it.

Some consumer products have already begun dropping the chemical, which is in about 75% of all antibacterial soaps sold in America. Procter & Gamble already sells triclosan-free products, including toothpaste, and plans to completely eliminate its use by 2014.

TIME Transportation

Feds Probe Near-Collision Between Two Passenger Jets Over Hawaii

Federal agencies are reportedly looking into what caused two passenger aircraft to nearly collide over Hawaii on April 25, with the FAA saying a United Airlines Boeing 757 took evasive action to avoid a U.S. Airways Boeing 757 about 200 miles northeast of Kona

Federal authorities are reviewing what may have been a near miss between two passenger planes flying to and from Hawaii last month.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Pacific Division are both probing the April 25 incident, ABC News reports. The FAA said a United Airlines Boeing 757 took evasive action to avoid a U.S. Airways Boeing 757 about 200 miles northeast of Kona. A team of investigators arrived in Honolulu on Thursday to piece together what happened.

Kevin Townsend, a passenger on the United flight, said the aircraft dived hundreds of feet without warning. “It was like being on an elevator dropping really quickly. You start to fall with gravity, not like in a fighter jet pressed up against your seat. It was like being in freefall,” he told ABC News.

He said that passengers were told by a flight attendant that the pilot had maneuvered to avoid an approaching aircraft in the same flight path.

United is looking into the incident with the NTSB. American Airlines, which owns U.S. Airways, said it is also working with authorities to try and establish what happened.

[ABC]

TIME Education

Blue States Barack Obama Won In 2012 Are More Educated Than Red States

The least educated states of the union vote red.

States that voted for Democrat Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election have, on average, better high school and college graduation rates than states that supported Republican Mitt Romney, according to U.S. Census data.

Red states fall 1.5 percentage points below the national average for high school completion rate (84.2% vs. 85.7%), and 3.3 percentage points below the national average for college degree attainment (25.1% vs. 28.4%).

Blue states, in comparison, perform slightly above the national averages—by 0.8 and 2 percentage points, respectively.

So exactly how much higher are high school and college graduation rates in blue states than in red states? To find out, research engine FindTheBest first looked at percentage of population by state without a high school degree.

Note, red and blue states as defined by the 2012 presidential election

States

The data shows that that blue states rank 2.2 percentage points higher on average than red states.

However, graduation rates are fairly colorblind amongst the most well-educated states—split half-and-half within the top 14. It’s at the bottom, where 11 out of the 15 least educated states are red, that the disparities are more visible. And while only one blue state (California) has a population where greater than 17.5 percent of the its residents hold no high school diploma, four red states fall into this category (Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky, and Texas).

Red states are also outliers on both ends of the spectrum for high school degrees.

Best in U.S. – Wyoming – 7.9% without high school degree-Red

There’s more to Wyoming than Yellowstone National Park. In addition to the best high school graduation rate in the nation, Wyoming has a 5.1 percent unemployment rate (3.8 percentage points below the national average), and a higher than average large upper middle class population. It seems people are catching on—Wyoming’s population grew from 515,000 in 2006 to 576,000 in 2012.

Worst in U.S. – Texas – 19.2% without high school degree-Red

People may be flocking to Texas for its cheap land (the typical home costs $130,000 in Houston) and a non-existent income tax, but the Lone Star state still has some work to do on its high school graduation rates.

FindTheBest crunched the numbers for the percentage of population holding a 4-year degree.

States2

They found that the education gap grew even larger, with blue states outpacing red states by 5.3 percentage points.

All of the top 15 most college-educated states—and only 3 of the bottom 15—are blue. The most educated red state? Kansas, where 30% of the population holds a college degree.

Here are the best and worst states for 4-year degree attainment:

Best in U.S. – District of Columbia – 50.5% 4-year degree-Blue

While technically not a state, Washington, D.C. has the highest percentage of residents with a 4-year degree in the nation. Not only is D.C. smart, it’s also extremely wealthy—20 percent of the population makes more than $150,000 per year, which is 11.6 percentage points above the national average.

Worst in U.S. – West Virginia – 17.9% 4-year degree-Red

Unlike wealthy neighboring D.C., West Virginia is a low-income state, which could be related to its low college education rates. More than 32% of the population makes under $25,000 a year—that’s 9 percentage points above the national average.

This article was written for TIME by Kiran Dhillon of FindTheBest.

TIME States

Young Children Are Getting Sick Working on U.S. Tobacco Farms

Tobacco farm - Warfield, VA
Tobacco farmer in Warfield, Va., on Aug. 30, 2013 Matt McClain—The Washington Post/Getty Images

A new Human Rights Watch report finds that child laborers, some as young as 7 years old, who work on tobacco farms in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, "get so sick that they throw up, get covered by pesticides and have no real protective gear"

Children as young as 7 years old are suffering serious health problem from toiling long hours in tobacco fields to harvest pesticide-laced leaves for major cigarette brands, according to a report released Wednesday.

New York City–based advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) interviewed more than 140 youngsters working on tobacco farms in North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia, where most American tobacco is sourced.

They reported nausea, vomiting, headaches and other health problems associated with nicotine poisoning, known colloquially as green tobacco sickness, which is common among agricultural workers who absorb the toxic substance through their skin.

“The U.S. has failed America’s families by not meaningfully protecting child farmworkers from dangers to their health and safety, including on tobacco farms,” said Margaret Wurth, HRW children’s-rights researcher and co-author of the report.

“Farming is hard work anyway, but children working on tobacco farms get so sick that they throw up, get covered by pesticides and have no real protective gear.”

Much of what HRW documented remains legal. While strict provisions govern child labor in industrial environments, U.S. agriculture labor laws are much looser, allowing 12-year-olds to labor for unlimited hours outside of school on any size of farm. On small farms, there is no minimum age set for child workers.

HRW called on tobacco giants to ensure safe working practices and source responsibly. The global tobacco industry generates annual revenues of around $500 billion, but some 6 million people die each year from smoking-related diseases.

Not everyone favors stricter controls. Republican Kentucky state senator Paul Hornback says he worked in tobacco fields from when he was 10 years old and doesn’t think further legislation is necessary. “It’s hard manual labor, but there’s nothing wrong with hard manual labor,” he told the Associated Press.

TIME Civil Rights

Idaho’s Same-Sex Marriage Ban Is Ruled Unconstitutional

Gay Marriage Idaho
Amber Beierle, left, and Rachael Robertson, photographed on Nov. 8, 2013, are one of the four couples who challenged Idaho's ban on same-sex marriages Joe Jaszewski—AP

U.S. District Magistrate Judge Candy Dale said the ban established in 2006 denies gay couples their fundamental rights, adding Idaho to the list of states where bans have recently been ruled unconstitutional: Arkansas, Virginia, Oklahoma, Michigan, Texas and Utah

Idaho’s ban on same-sex marriages is unconstitutional, a judge ruled Tuesday.

In the decision, U.S. District Magistrate Judge Candy Dale stated that the law stigmatized homosexual couples and denied gay and lesbian couples a fundamental right, the Associated Press reports.

The ruling was made in response to a challenge to the ban made by four same-sex couples in a lawsuit late last year.

The governor of Idaho, C.L. “Butch” Otter, said that he would appeal the case all the way to the Supreme Court.

“In 2006, the people of Idaho exercised their fundamental right, reaffirming that marriage is the union of a man and a woman,” he stated, according to AP.

“Today’s decision, while disappointing, is a small setback in a long-term battle that will end at the U.S. Supreme Court. I am firmly committed to upholding the will of the people and defending our Constitution.”

The ruling is the latest in a number of cases across the U.S., in which state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriages have been ruled unconstitutional. Judges have recently struck down bans on same-sex marriages in Arkansas, Virginia, Oklahoma, Michigan, Texas and Utah.

[AP]

TIME States

Virginia’s Governor Challenges Abortion Clinic Regulations

Terry McAuliffe
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signs SB260, mental-health-reform legislation, at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, Va., on April 28, 2014 Ryan M. Kelly—AP

Terry McAuliffe has called for a formal review of the strict state health regulations levied against abortion clinics, following up on a campaign promise he made last year to undo the stringent codes responsible for closing five of the state's 23 clinics

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has called for a formal review of the strict state health regulations levied against abortion clinics that he said were both “extreme and punitive.”

The review ordered on Monday in Richmond, Va., could give the state’s health board an opportunity to undo the stringent codes implemented by Virginia’s previous Republican administration in 2013. Those rules were responsible for closing five of the state’s 23 abortion clinics.

“I am concerned that the extreme and punitive regulations adopted last year jeopardize the ability of most women’s health centers to keep their doors open and place in jeopardy the health and reproductive rights of Virginia women,” said McAuliffe.

Governor McAuliffe also appointed five new members to the health board, which harbors prochoice leanings, according to the Washington Post.

Conservative advocacy groups blasted the governor’s moves and labeled McAuliffe’s actions as “political payback” to lobbyists.

“The governor’s blatant politicization of a public health issue is one more example of his lack of concern for the women of Virginia,” wrote Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia, in a statement released on Monday.

Governor McAuliffe has frequently pledged to stand like a “brick wall” against laws that would undercut women’s rights to abortions in the state.

TIME Crime

Reports: No Arrests Over Target Data Breach

Sign outside a Target store is seen in Arvada
The sign outside a Target store is seen in Arvada, Colo., on Feb. 14, 2014 Rick Wilking—Reuters

The arrest of Guo Xing Chen, 40, is not related to the theft of credit-card information at retail store Target, an official says. Media originally reported that police had detained a suspect for the $70 million data breach

A 40-year-old man arrested in Texas has been cleared of involvement in the massive data breach at U.S. retail giant Target, according to reports.

Local and national news initially reported that Guo Xing Chen was arrested over a much publicized theft of credit-card information believed to be worth some $70 million. However, a law-enforcement source close to the investigation has since told Reuters that his arrest was unrelated.

“This appears to be strictly a street level arrest that is not tied to the larger breach investigation,” said the unnamed official.

Over the Christmas holidays around 40 million payment records, as well as other customer information such as addresses and contact information, were stolen from the chain of stores. The Secret Service has been helping in subsequent investigations.

[Reuters]

TIME States

‘American Idol’ Star Clay Aiken May Have Won a North Carolina Primary

Clay Aiken speaks to supporters during an election night watch party in Holly Springs, N.C., May 6, 2014.
Clay Aiken speaks to supporters during an election night watch party in Holly Springs, N.C., May 6, 2014. Gerry Broome—AP

Former American Idol Clay Aiken holds a slim lead in the Democratic primary in North Carolina's 2nd district as the final ballots are counted

Former American Idol star Clay Aiken appears to have won the Democratic primary in North Carolina, but the election is so close that it’s still too early to call a winner.

Clay Aiken, who’s running for House of Representatives in the state’s 2nd district, is ahead of his competitor Keith Crisco with 369 votes, the tally from the Board of Elections shows.

While that lands the former singing star just above the threshold of the 40% that candidates must clear to avoid a runoff, it is not enough for him to declare victory, as provisional, absentee and military absentee ballots are still being tallied. The last votes will be counted Monday.

Keith Crisco issued a statement Wednesday saying that he isn’t ready to concede yet.

“This election is still very tight,” he wrote in the statement according to Washington Post.

“I want the elections officials to have an opportunity to tally the votes and provide a report … to allow all the campaigns a chance to see the final numbers.”

Whatever candidate wins the election will face an uphill battle in the general election this fall, as the right-leaning district has a history of sending Republican candidates to Congress.

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