TIME States

These Governors Return Their Salary To The State

Every state appropriates its governor a salary, but not every governor accepts it. Some return a percentage to the state, while others forgo any compensation whatsoever.

Not all governors take full pay for the job.

Some take a small salary cut for symbolic reasons. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, for example, took a 5 percent salary reduction in 2011. “Change starts at the top and we will lead by example,” he said in a press conference announcing the cut. “Families and business owners in every corner of the state have learned to do more with less in order to live within their means and government must do the same.”

Others, like Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder with a net worth of about $200 million, simply don’t need the money.

Curious to see every other governor who forgoes all or part of their salary? See the list compiled by research engine FindTheBest with data from the National Governors Association below.

First on the list is Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, who takes a salary reduction for neither symbolic or wealth reasons, but has simply refused several cost-of-living adjustments during his time in office, keeping the $175,000 salary he had when he started in 2011. If Gov. Corbett took his full $187,256 salary, he’d be the highest-paid governor in the nation. Instead, he’s tied for second with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Next up are Governors Steve Beshear and Peter Shumlin. Like Gov. Cuomo, they initially took salary reductions to represent solidarity with constituents during tough times. Gov. Beshear, for example, took his reduction in 2009 to share the burden of Kentucky state budget cuts, and Gov. Shumlin took his in light of a $150 million deficit in Vermont in 2010.

Then there’s Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who—like Gov. Snyder—refuses his salary because he’s amassed so much wealth elsewhere, reporting a net worth of $132 million last year. And while it’s unclear what kind of wealth Gov. Bill Haslam has, his brother Jimmy Haslam—CEO of Pilot Flying J and owner of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns—is worth about $1.45 billion.

In fact, the only governor to sacrifice his entire salary who does not fit the uber wealthy mold is Gov. Robert Bentley of Alabama. Bentley reported a high, but not extremely high, income of $372,687 in 2013, none of which came from his $119,950 governor’s salary. $119,950 would be a noticeable contribution to his bottom line, but Gov. Bentley refuses to collect a dime until Alabama reaches a full employment rate, meaning the unemployment rate drops to 5.2 percent.

FindTheBest is a research website that’s collected all the data on governors and Congress members, and put it all in one place so you don’t have to go searching for it. Join FindTheBest to get all the information on governors, Congress members, and thousands of other topics.

TIME States

Kansas Will Be Prepared for the Zombie Apocalypse

FRANCE-CINEMA-FANTASTIC-ZOMBIE
People dressed as zombies take part in the Zombie Walk event on Sept. 13, 2014, in the eastern French city of Strasbourg Frederick Florin—AFP/Getty

Or any other disaster, for that matter

If the zombie apocalypse arrives, one U.S. state will be ahead of the game.

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has signed a “proclamation” naming October the state’s “Zombie Preparedness Month.”

The announcement, to be signed Sept. 26 in the governor’s ceremonial office in the Kansas statehouse, urges state residents to prepare an emergency plan and survival supplies that can last at least three days.

Of course, gathering up water, nonperishables and batteries to wait out a zombie siege sounds an awful lot like how a Kansas resident might prepare for a range of natural disasters — which, officials say, is exactly the point.

“We came up with the idea of Zombie Preparedness Month because it is an engaging way to get people on board with emergency preparedness,” the governor’s office says. “If you’re equipped to handle the zombie apocalypse then you’re prepared for tornadoes, severe storms, fire and any other natural disaster Kansas usually faces.”

It added: “If you’re prepared for zombies, you’re prepared for anything.”

TIME Guns

Texas’ Plan to Allow Alcohol Sales at Gun Shows Gets Shot Down

US-POLITICS-GUNS-NRA
Convention goers check out handguns equipped with Crimson Trace laser sights at the143rd NRA Annual Meetings and Exhibits at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis, Indiana on April 25, 2014. Karen Bleier —AFP/Getty Images

Gun show operators felt the combination of booze and bullets was unsafe

The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) withdrew Tuesday a proposal to allow sales of alcohol at some gun shows after receiving a barrage of public comments against the plan.

The plan would have enforced strict conditions, including a ban on live ammunition and requiring the show’s venue to have a liquor license, the Associated Press reports. Still, many critics, including gun show operators, felt that mixing guns and alcohol was dangerous.

“I am a licensed gun dealer. I think the sale of alcohol at gun shows is unwise,” wrote one person commenting on the plan. “As an industry, we are already under a microscope. From a safety view point, the sale of alcohol at gun shows is pure folly. I am against this.”

Under current laws, a liquor-licensed venue hosting a gun show is forbidden to sell alcohol during the show as well as during the set up and take down processes, according to the TABC website.

[AP]

 

TIME Drugs

Chicago Mayor Pushes Illinois To Decriminalize Pot

Cites law enforcement time and money spent on low-level drug arrests

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel asked the Illinois state legislature Tuesday to decriminalize marijuana possession and to make all arrests for those caught with one gram or less of any drug a misdemeanor instead of a felony.

“It’s time, in my view, to free up our criminal justice system to address our real public safety challenges and build on the progress that has been made,” Emmanuel told lawmakers, the Chicago Tribune reports. Emanuel is looking to expand upon a Chicago law passed in 2012 that made possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana a ticketable offense.

Emanuel, who’s up for reelection next year, said the plan will save taxpayer money. Emanuel’s office estimates that Chicago police officers spent almost 275,000 hours on low-level narcotics arrests, even though less than 10% resulted in guilty verdicts. Emanuel’s office says about 7,000 people are arrested every year in Chicago for possession of one gram or less of drugs.

[Chicago Tribune]

TIME States

A Quarter of Americans Want to Secede From the U.S.

Pins in a United States map show where students have come from to take classes at Oaksterdam University, the nation's first marijuana trade school, on Sept. 23, 2010 in Oakland.
Pins in a United States map show where students have come from to take classes at Oaksterdam University, the nation's first marijuana trade school, on Sept. 23, 2010 in Oakland. Tony Avelar—The Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images

Which is extremely unlikely

The Scottish referendum on secession from the United Kingdom may have failed to pass, but it succeeded in stirring secessionist sentiment in that country and beyond—specifically, in the United States.

Nearly a quarter of Americans, 23.9%, said they strongly supported or tended to support the idea of their state leaving the United States and forming its own country, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll taken between August 23 and September 16 released Friday.

Support for secession was weakest in the northeast and strongest in the southwest. It cut across party lines, though Republicans (29.7%) are somewhat more keen on the idea than Democrats (21%). A majority, 53.3%, said they strongly opposed or tended to oppose the idea.

Even in states with the with the highest level of support for seceding from the Union, the possibility that it could actually be done is extremely farfetched. In modern American history even attempts at simply seceding from a state have proven impossible—seceding from the country entirely is a different matter altogether. No state since the Civil War has come anywhere close enough to force the courts to issue a final word on the legality of secession, but any such argument would, at the very least, face a very steep climb.

[Reuters]

TIME Research

Gun Fatality Rates Vary Wildly By State, Study Finds

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg with Rep. Peter T. King, R-N.Y. at a photo op in the Cannon House Office Building with mayors from around the country participating in the 2007 National Summit of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg with Rep. Peter T. King, R-N.Y. at a photo op in the Cannon House Office Building with mayors from around the country participating in the 2007 National Summit of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Scott J. Ferrell—CQ-Roll Call,Inc./Getty Images

While the national mortality rate stayed level between 2000 and 2010, death rates rose in Massachusetts and Florida and declined in states like California

The rate of death by firearm remained constant in the United States over the 2000s, according to a new study in health journal BMJ — but the situation varied dramatically between states.

Research found that the rates of gun fatalities rose in Massachusetts and Florida between 2000 and 2010 and declined in states like California, North Carolina and Arizona.

“We showed no change in national firearm mortality rates during 2000–2010, but showed distinct state-specific patterns with racial and ethnic variation and by intent,” the study reads.

State gun restrictions appeared to have a varying effect on gun fatality rates, according to the study. California, for instance, has some of the most stringent laws regarding gun ownership and saw a decline in violence. But Massachusetts enacted tough gun laws in 1998, just before the beginning of the study, and still saw an increase in the rate of gun deaths. The study suggests that the increase can be attributed to an influx in firearms from surrounding states.

Looking at the overall numbers over the 11-year period, the chance of dying from a firearm varied dramatically between states, from a death rate of 3 per 100,000 in Hawaii to more than 18 per 100,000 in Louisiana.

The study also found that racial disparities persist across the country. African Americans are twice as likely to die of a gun death than their white counterparts.

TIME States

California Declares a State of Emergency as Wildfires Spread

"It's been an explosive couple of days"

California Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency late Wednesday in two northern counties as wildfires spread with explosive speed.

A fire in El Dorado County east of Sacramento more than doubled in size Wednesday night, from 44 square miles to 111 square miles, the Los Angeles Times reports, and was just 5% contained by Thursday morning. A separate fire in the northern Siskiyou County that started late Monday has damaged more than 150 structures, including a churches, and was about 65% contained.

“It’s been an explosive couple of days,” CalFire spokesman Daniel Berlant told the Associated Press. Thousands of firefighters are helping to tackle the blazes, which threaten some 4,000 homes.

Federal aid has been apportioned to cover the cost of fighting the fire that began Monday, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency granted a request Wednesday for additional aid to combat the fire in El Dorado.

[Los Angeles Times]

TIME States

Californians Turn to Private Security to Police Pot Country

Lear Marijuana Pot Weed Private Security California
Lear personnel during a raid on an illegal trespassing marijuana operation. Lear

The workings of law enforcement are hard to track in the wildlands of California's pot country

On a recent Sunday, a local gardening club gathered with their local sheriff in Laytonville, Calif., a hamlet of 1,227 people in Mendocino County, America’s cannabis cultivation capital. By some estimates, up to 90% of the town’s residents are tied to the pot industry, and the event was a chance to ask about the county’s enforcement policies. Instead, some members of the community wanted to talk about a rumor that had been making the rounds.

Over the summer, residents claimed men in military gear had been dropping onto private property from unmarked helicopters and cutting down the medicinal pot gardens of local residents. Local law enforcement have conducted helicopter raids in the area, but some worried the culprit this time was different: a private-security firm called Lear Asset Management.

The confusion was easy to understand. In the wildlands of California’s pot country, the workings of law enforcement are hard to track, and the rules for growing pot are often contradictory. To add to the mess, the various local, county, state and federal enforcement efforts don’t always communicate with each other about their efforts. The added possibility of private mercenaries, with faceless employers, fast-roping from helicopters raised alarm bells for many farmers.

Founded in 2012, Lear (the name stands for Logistical Environmental Asset Remediation) is a creature of the area’s unique cannabis culture. The company employs about 15 people, who are mostly former military: ex-U.S. Special Forces, Army Rangers and other combat veterans. They fly out on rented helicopters, wearing camouflage fatigues, body armor and keffiyehs around their necks. They are hired by large land owners to do the work of clearing trespass gardens from private property, and perform forest reclamation, sometimes funded by government grant. Deep in the woods, they cut down illegal pot plants and scrub the environmental footprint produced by the backwoods drug trade. They carry AR-15 rifles, lest they meet armed watchmen bent on defending their plots.

Paul Trouette, Lear’s CEO, says his firm was not responsible for the helicopter raids that the town’s residents complained about. “We do not do any kind of vigilante, black ops, Blackwater stuff,” he says, noting the company is licensed and regulated by the state of California, and only works on private land when summoned by the owner. Trouette is neither cop nor soldier; he is a longtime Fish and Game commissioner in Mendocino County, and the head of an organization devoted to preserving local herds of blacktail deer. Security contracting, he says, grew out of volunteer environmental reclamation. “It was a natural for our company to move into security contracting,” he says. “It’s just too much to handle for private ownership.”

 Marijuana Pot Weed Private Security California
Highly trained personnel drop into a marijuana raid. Lear

The firm’s business model is rooted in the region’s complicated relationship with weed. Rich Russell, the commander of Mendocino’s major crimes task force, has estimated that about half of the county’s residents work in the marijuana economy. Many longtime growers are remnants of the back-to-the-land movement of the Sixties, who operate within the county’s legal cultivation limits. But the county’s dense forests and ideal cultivation conditions have also been a magnet for more dangerous elements.

In recent years, small bands of criminals colonized the county’s forests, concealing grow sites on vast parcels hidden deep in the woods. In 2011, Operation Full Court Press—a three-week raid jointly carried out by local, state and federal anti-drug agencies—netted some 632,000 marijuana plants in and around the Mendocino National Forest, with a street value in the neighborhood of $1 billion. Illegal growers have a record of shooting at hikers and law enforcement; in 2011, a former local mayor was killed while looking for a marijuana plot.

The perps also produce environmental disaster. They strew trash through the woods, poison wildlife and pollute streams. The environmental devastation is an even greater problem this year. As California copes with a crippling drought, thirsty pot plants from illegal gardens are sucking up the water supply, creating a “holocaust” for fish, Trouette says.

More recently, the trespass grow sites have migrated from public land onto the vast plots owned by private citizens and timber companies. Some of them have hired Lear to deal with the problem. The company has run about nine missions across California’s pot country this year, with more planned this fall, Trouette says. And while the company’s special-ops aspect gets much of the attention, most of the work focuses on environmental reclamation.

While some of Mendocino’s challenges are unique to the region, others highlight the legal tangle that threatens the industry’s growth at a moment when boosters are trying to take marijuana mainstream. Residents are permitted to cultivate up to 25 marijuana plants for medicinal use, about four times the standard for much of the rest of the state. Federal law still prohibits pot, classifying it as a Schedule I drug on part with heroin and ecstasy. The clashing statutes produce a patchwork system of justice, with enforcement sometimes varying from county to county even within states where medical or recreational marijuana is legal. Federal money-laundering law prevent most legitimate pot businesses from banking their proceeds, forcing them to endure the safety hazards and logistical hassles of handling huge sums of cash.

In Mendocino, officials have tried to sort out the murkiness. In 2012, an experimental program that attempted to license legitimate cannabis cultivation under the supervision of the county sheriff was shut down under pressure from the local U.S. Attorney. Meanwhile, the county district attorney has pioneered a controversial program that offers reduced sentences for certain growers who are willing to pay hefty restitution charges: $500 per pound of seized pot and $50 per plant. While the approach has helped clear a case backlog and restocked the department’s coffers, critics say it allows wealthier clients to purchase leniency.

Reports of vigilante marijuana raids on private property may simply stem from a lack of legal clarity. Under the so-called “open fields doctrine” set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Fourth Amendment does not protect undeveloped property from warrantless searches. As a result, police may be permitted to cut down private gardens without a warrant.

In the meantime, Lear has flourished, despite the concern among some local growers. But like most people in the Emerald Triangle, Trouette thinks the best thing for the locals would be for the feds to sort out all the confusion. “I think the federal government would do everybody a big favor,” he says, “by regulating this industry.”

TIME Drugs

Stopping America’s Hidden Overdose Crisis

Pills Prescription
Getty Images

Fatal overdoses of prescription drugs are on the rise, but patchwork laws make them tough to stop

The woman who showed up in the emergency room of Boston Medical Center with a life-threatening apparent overdose of painkillers was contrite. She promised to follow a plan to ease her pain with medications that did not contain opioids, the principal ingredient of prescription drugs including oxycodone and fentanyl whose vast increase in use has led to an epidemic of overdoses.

Then she went across town and got another doctor to prescribe them anyway.

This kind of “doctor-shopping” by patients addicted to opioids is one of the primary reasons drug overdoses have become the leading cause of injury death in the Unites States. There were nearly 17,000 fatal overdoses of pain medications in 2011, the last year for which the figure is available, according to the Centers for Disease Control—more than from heroin and cocaine combined, and triple the number in 1990.

Yet 12 years after the launch of a federal program that encouraged states to share information about patients’ prescription histories, there remains no single national database to thwart doctor-shopping. Meanwhile, the various prescription drug monitoring programs in separate states follow a patchwork of different rules—including whether or not doctors are even required to check them before prescribing opioids to patients.

The safety net is even patchier for veterans, whose rates of opioid overdose are double the national average. The Veterans Administration medical system, the nation’s largest hospital network, serving nearly nine million people, only last year agreed to report its patients’ prescription histories to state registries or check prescriptions from outside providers. But the process is voluntary; VA doctors are not required to follow any of the safeguards.

“If you don’t use the system, you’re not going to detect misuse,” says Melissa Weimer, an assistant professor of medicine at Oregon Health and Science University and medical director at the substance-abuse treatment center CODA Inc.

Weimer is an advocate of sharing prescription information across state lines through so-called prescription drug monitoring programs, known as PDMPs. Many states have adopted PDMPs in the last few years in response to the overdose crisis and now every state except Missouri have or plan to develop a monitoring program. But the rules differ widely.

In many cases, registration by doctors is voluntary. Even among states that require doctors to sign-up and use the PDMPs, only a handful mandate that they check the prescription histories of every patient. Efforts to make that mandatory have largely failed after opposition from medical groups. In Oklahoma, which has the nation’s fifth-highest drug overdose mortality rate, a state House bill to require that doctors check the registry was defeated in late May after medical associations said it would be burdensome and legislators called it regulatory overreach.

“As soon as you start talking about databases and tracking people and tracking prescribers, there’s pushback,” says Daniel Alford, director of the Safe and Competent Opioid Prescribing Education program at the Boston University School of Medicine, who treated that woman in the emergency room. He says doctors ask themselves, “‘Do I want the feds monitoring my prescribing patterns?’”

The paperwork doctors are required to file under the current laws doesn’t have to be submitted by providers in most states for as long as seven days, and often takes another week or two to show up in the prescription monitoring system.

“If you’re an ER physician, that’s not going to do you any good if the patient you’re seeing has just been to another emergency room that day, getting more of the same drugs,” says Heather Gray, legislative attorney for the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws, a federally-funded nonprofit research organization.

Then there is human error. Misspelled names or missing middle initials can make patients disappear in the shared databases.

“It starts to frustrate you to the point where you question whether you want to invest time in looking at this as opposed to doing other things,” says Alford.

But the biggest drawback is that many of the PDMPs don’t talk to each other, meaning that a doctor in Georgia, for example, may not know that a patient seeking a prescription for oxycodone received a similar one in Oklahoma the week before.

“It’s a huge problem that I don’t have access to data from doctors and pharmacies in other states,” says Joanna Starrels, an assistant professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center. Starrels published research in the Journal of General Internal Medicine showing that doctors are often lax in monitoring potentially addictive opioids. It’s a pressing concern: her own practice in the New York City borough of the Bronx is within easy reach of New Jersey and Connecticut.

Tired of waiting for a national prescription database, groups of states and a pharmacists’ association have created three of their own. But not all states are members, those that are don’t always border one another, and each PDMP works differently.

That’s because each state has different rules about what information is collected, how it’s organized, and who can see it. In some states, for example, law-enforcement agencies can have access to prescription information in cases that they’re actively investigating, while in others, such as Vermont, they need to get subpoenas.

The vast increase in the number of opioid overdoses, and its cost—estimated by the Centers for Disease Control at about $56 billion in healthcare and law-enforcement expenses and lost productivity—has started to create momentum for improvement.

Several states have tightened the rules about reporting prescriptions, including shortening the deadlines for doing it, and making registration by doctors mandatory.

The governors of five of the six New England states are collaborating on a regional interstate PMDP to foil doctor-shopping. (The sixth, Republican Paul LePage of Maine, has said he’d rather use law enforcement to confront the problem.)

And under a pilot project in Ohio, physicians can now check their patients’ prescription histories not just in their own state, but in neighboring Illinois and Indiana.

A new proposal, by the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program Center of Excellence at Brandeis University, calls for also making prescription histories available to medical insurers, including prescriptions they now can’t see—the ones obtained outside of patients’ health plans for potentially unscrupulous purposes. This is likely to provoke privacy concerns, especially as states differ on whether sharing prescription information violates the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which protects patient records. Wisconsin, for example, has determined that healthcare providers can disclose prescription information without the patient’s consent if required by state law, while California says it cannot be divulged to anyone other than prescribers unless part of a criminal investigation. Oregon, meanwhile, requires that patients be informed about the process.

All of this potential for confusion is one reason that for many doctors on the front lines, the most effective measure would be a national registry.

“There should be one database that all providers report to,” Starrels says. “I understand there are privacy concerns with that, but you could get around some of those by allowing access to certain data only to local prescribers, or perhaps requiring patients’ permission. But if I’m seeing a patient who just moved here from California and reports being prescribed oxycontin for the past three years, I should be able to check that.”

Even if such a system existed, however, “and was miraculous and worked without any problems, and all the states talked to each other, it still wouldn’t solve the problem,” Weimer says. “Maybe you would detect the most egregious doctor-shoppers, which would be great, but then you’d have a lot of doctors who don’t know what to do with the information, or a lack of access to addiction services, or persistent pain that isn’t treated.”

On top of that, says Peter Kreiner, principal investigator at the Brandeis center, people who become dependent on opioids have proven extraordinarily resourceful.

“As some of the smarter people doing this behavior realize what’s being implemented,” Kreiner says, “they’d probably come up with new ways around it.”

TIME Texas

Wendy Davis: Abortion 17 Years Ago Left Me ‘Forever Changed’

Wendy Davis
Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis presents her new education policy during a stop at Palo Alto College in San Antonio on Aug. 26, 2014. Davis reveals in a new campaign memoir called Forgetting to be Afraid that she terminated two pregnancies for medical reasons in the 1990s, including one where the fetus had developed a severe brain abnormality Eric Gay—AP

“An indescribable blackness followed,” she writes

Texas state senator Wendy Davis, the Democrat running for Texas governor against Republican attorney general Greg Abbott, tells in her upcoming memoir the story of a pregnancy she and her then husband decided to terminate 17 years ago.

In the book Forgetting to Be Afraid, slated for release next week, Davis says multiple doctors offered medical opinions that the fetus suffered from an acute brain abnormality that was likely incompatible with life, reports the San Antonio Express-News. During the procedure, Davis said she felt the baby, who they’d named Tate Elise, “tremble violently, as if someone were applying an electric shock to her.” A doctor stopped the unborn baby’s heart and the child was delivered by cesarean section.

“An indescribable blackness followed. It was a deep, dark despair and grief, a heavy wave that crushed me, that made me wonder if I would ever surface,” writes Davis. “And when I finally did come through it, I emerged a different person. Changed. Forever changed.”

The abortion debate has been front and center in the Texas governor race that pits Davis, a Democrat who rocketed to national prominence by filibustering passage of strict abortion restrictions in the state, against Abbott, a staunch abortion opponent.

Davis trails Abbott in the polls and faces long odds to win in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office in two decades. Her abortion is not expected to hurt her political fortunes, since only a very small number of hard-liners who were unlikely to support her in any event oppose abortion in the case of fetal abnormality.

[San Antonio Express-News]

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