TIME States

South Carolina Governor Calls for Removal of Confederate Flag From Statehouse Grounds

"It’s time to move the flag from the capitol grounds"

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley called on Monday for the removal of the Confederate flag from the capitol grounds in Columbia, reshaping a heated debate over race and the flag’s meaning in a state devastated by last week’s massacre at a historic black church.

“For many people in our state, the flag stands for traditions that are noble,” she said in a news conference at the state Capitol, in front of American and South Carolina state flags. “For many others in South Carolina, the flag is a deeply offensive symbol.”

Haley then said, now 150 years after the end of the Civil War, that it should come down. “It’s time to move the flag from the capitol grounds,” she said, before a loud applause.

The governor’s proposal comes five days after the massacre of nine people during a Bible study group at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, an act that authorities are investigating as a racially motivated shooting at the hands of suspected gunman Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white man.

Critics of the flag call it a vestigial symbol of the state’s racist and slave-owning history. A trove of pictures that recently emerged on a white-supremacist site, accompanied by a racist manifesto, appeared to show Roof posing with the flag.

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham released a statement Monday that echoed Haley’s call. “I am urging that the Confederate Battle Flag be removed from statehouse grounds to an appropriate location,” he said. “After the tragic, hate-filled shooting in Charleston, it is only appropriate that we deal once and for all with the issue of the flag.”

The state’s other Senator, Tim Scott, said in a statement that he also recognized both sides of the complex debate. “As a life-long South Carolinian, as someone who loves this state and will never call anywhere else home, I believe it is time for the flag to come down.”

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell weighed in too, saying “the time for a state to fly it has long since passed.” He added: “There should be no confusion in anyone’s mind that as a people we’re united in our determination to put that part of our history behind us.”

Pressure has been building since the killings to remove the flag from Statehouse grounds. More difficult, though, may be the legislative path to moving the flag. A state law passed in 2000 requires a two-thirds majority in both legislative houses to move the flag off the Capitol grounds. A change could be added to the state’s budget bill in order to prevent any change from going into the next legislative session.

Haley’s call reverberated far beyond Columbia. On Monday evening, Walmart announced it was pulling all of its Confederate flag-themed products from its shelves and online store. And in Mississippi, one of the state’s top lawmakers, Republican house speaker Philip Gunn, labeled the Confederate battle emblem offensive and said it should be removed from the state flag.

Read next: The Confederate Flag in Every State, in Every Form, Must. Come. Down.

TIME States

How to Remove the Confederate Flag from the South Carolina Statehouse

US-CRIME-SHOOTING-FLAG
Mladen Antonov — AFP/Getty Images The South Carolina and American flags flying at half-staff behind the Confederate flag erected in front of the State Congress building in Columbia, South Carolina on June 19, 2015.

Republican lawmakers may try to remove the flag from outside the South Carolina statehouse. But it won't be easy

Five days after the murders of nine people in a historically black church in Charleston, the Confederate flag—a controversial symbol of southern separatism—is still flying high on the grounds of the statehouse in Columbia, South Carolina.

But that may be about to change. In the midst of a heated controversy over the Confederate flag’s racial legacy, Gov. Nikki Haley is reportedly preparing on Monday to propose removing the flag from the legislature’s grounds. And both South Carolina U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott will reportedly join her in that call, according to CNN and a reporter from the Charleston Post and Courier.

The pathway for actually removing the flag is a thorny one, however, and would require real legislative will.

The Confederate flag’s place near the statehouse is enshrined in state law. In 2000, under pressure from the NAACP and business interests in the state, legislation was passed requiring the Confederate flag be taken off the South Carolina statehouse and placed at the Confederate Soldier Monument, near where the legislature meets. The flag must fly within 10 feet of the monument and be illuminated at night. Even its height is mandated in the law: it has to fly 30 feet up the flagpole.

The law would be difficult to change. The law stipulates that two-thirds of both houses must vote to remove the flag from the statehouse grounds, a prospect that seems an uphill battle considering some of the adamant opposition in the past to moving it. There’s popular support to keep the flag in place: as of November, 61% of South Carolinians said the flag should continue to fly where it is, according to a Winthrop poll.

Timing is tricky, too. With the state’s legislative session ending, a bill to remove the flag from state grounds may have to wait until December before it’s introduced. By then, much of the urgency to remove the flag may have passed.

But there may be an option to remove it immediately: the legislature could slip a bill into the current budget bill. Budget bills tend to pass in South Carolina by a two-thirds majority, meaning a motion to remove the flag would have a much better chance of passing as part of budget negotiations.

And a simple majority may be enough. The Democratic congressman from South Carolina, James Clyburn said Saturday that state legislators could remove the flag with a majority.

Pressure is growing to remove the flag. Republican national leaders like Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush have joined calls for the flag to be removed, along with Charleston’s mayor and local faith leaders — and some 500,000 have now signed a MoveOn.org petition to remove the flag. All that could put an extra push on any remaining, resistant state lawmakers.

TIME States

Proposed Law in New Jersey Would Keep the Walking Dead From Driving

More than 300 dead people received official documents or licenses

The “walking dead” are aiming higher—and in New Jersey, it appears they have been driving.

But on Thursday, NJ.com reports, the state’s Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee released a bill to put an end to the behavior.

This legislative move follows a state audit in March that revealed the Motor Vehicle Commission had issued official documents, such as licenses, to more than 300 people who were already deceased. The proposed law would require that the Commission cross-check their records with the Social Security Administration databases to avoid issuing significant legal documents to anyone no longer alive.

If the bill sponsored by State Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo is eventually passed, it could only improve the reputation of New Jersey drivers by ensuring, well, that they’re all alive.

[NJ.com]

TIME States

Zoo Animals on the Loose After Deadly Flooding Hits Georgia

Georgia Flooding
Tinatin Kiguradze—AP People help a hippopotamus escape from a flooded zoo in Tbilisi, Georgia, Sunday, June 14, 2015.

Some animals were killed in the floods but others escaped

Georgia mobilized its special forces on Sunday and warned residents in the capital not to leave their homes after lions, tigers and bears — among other animals — escaped during floods that have claimed at least 12 human lives.

Heavy rains and wind hit Tbilisi overnight on Saturday, turning a normally small stream that runs through the hilly city into a surging river. Officials said 12 people were known to have died and about two dozen others were missing.

The surging floodwater destroyed enclosures at the zoo, killing some animals and letting loose others…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME States

Kentucky Raises Minimum Wage for State Workers, Urges Businesses To Do the Same

Steve Beshear
Timothy D. Easley—AP Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear addresses the audience at the 50th annual Kentucky Country Ham Breakfast in Louisville, Ky., on July 19, 2015

The hike comes amid national calls for a minimum wage increase to $15 per hour

The hourly minimum wage for state workers in Kentucky is being raised from $7.25 to $10.10, Gov. Steve Beshear announced Monday.

The wage increase affects 510 state employees and will cost taxpayers $1.6 million. A third of the affected employees work in state nursing homes for military veterans, according to Beshear. Other wage changes include an increase of the hourly tipped minimum wage from $2.19 to $4.90. The policy will go into effect July 1.

Beshear took to Twitter to rigorously defend the new policy.

The increase for state employees sends a message to private business, says Beshear.

Beshear joins Democrat House Speaker Greg Stumbo and many of his party’s state representatives in his fight for higher minimum wages for Kentuckians. Rep. Stumbo has been advocating for legislation raising the minimum wage for all workers in Kentucky in recent legislative sessions. The bill has passed the Democratic controlled House but is facing opposition in the Republican senate. The hike comes amid national calls for a minimum wage increase to $15 per hour.

The movement has seen success in recent months, with $15 minimum wages having been established in Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The issue is also gaining the attention of 2016 presidential hopefuls; Hillary Clinton echoed wage activists in a speech delivered at a convention of low-wage workers in Detroit on Sunday, stating that she supports a $15 minimum wage.

TIME States

This Is the New Frontier in the Fight Against Campus Rape

California could impose mandatory minimum punishments for colleges to level against perpetrators

A California bill would impose a mandatory minimum punishment of two years suspension for students found responsible for rape by colleges, signaling a new phase in the fight against campus sexual assault that even some reformers worry could go too far.

The legislation, part of a package of bills that would also change community college sexual assault policies and colleges’ reporting of rape data, passed overwhelmingly in the California Assembly on Wednesday. It next heads to the state Senate. If enacted, the bill would bring state law into the controversial and opaque inner workings of the college disciplinary boards that mete out punishment outside the criminal justice system.

California has been the most aggressive state when it comes to combating college sexual assault. In September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a a “yes means yes” law requiring college disciplinary boards to use an “affirmative consent standard”—defined as “affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement” to engage in every level of sexual activity. But the new law would go further in dictating the actual punishments colleges hand down.

MORE The Sexual Assault Crisis on American Campuses

“I think when there is more accountability, there will be more thought by perpetrators about whether they are going to endanger their education by engaging in this brutal behavior,” said the bill’s author, Democratic Assemblyman Das Williams, who hopes his legislation will inject accountability into college disciplinary boards that often act inconsistently and with little oversight.

Such boards and their standards vary across the country, but they are typically staffed by students or faculty members and are designed to decide guilt and assign punishments for students found responsible for violations as varied as academic cheating, drugs, and sexual violence. Those punishments can range from community service to expulsion. The boards operate independently from the criminal justice system and do not follow the same rules—most boards disallow students from using lawyers. When adjudicating sexual assault, the federal government has directed the boards to use the “preponderance of evidence” standard—a more than 50% chance that the perpetrator committed the crime—to determine guilt, which is a lower standard of evidence than required for a criminal conviction.

The role of college disciplinary boards has been at the center of the debate over how to handle the sexual assault problem. Because rape victims often don’t report the crime to police and because of low conviction rates, sexual assault survivor advocates have pushed for college disciplinary boards to take a stronger role to offer justice to victims where the criminal justice system has not. But stories of the boards letting men they have found responsible for rape get off with only minimal consequences have led to growing criticism.

“I’m not OK with there being no accountability for rape in this society,” Williams said. ” I would like to address it society-wide, but on campuses, we have a tool that could work better. My hope is that survivors and the people who are charged with their safety will avail themselves of those dismissal procedures. For most victims its their only chance at justice.”

Opponents of the bill see risk in imposing mandatory minimum punishments, especially by disciplinary bodies that do not operate like the criminal justice system. “Those committing sexual assault within our college campuses should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law by our judicial system, not at a campus disciplinary proceeding,” said Republican Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, one of the four lawmakers who voted against the bill. “College administrators should not be conducting criminal trials for serious crimes and our state legislature should not mandate punishments at these quasi- judicial hearings.”

A spokesperson for the University of California said it doesn’t have a formal position on the legislation.

Even among those who are in favor of stiff punishments from school disciplinary boards, some don’t believe it’s appropriate for the legislature to get involved.

“When states start telling schools what minimums and maximum punishments they can give for offenses, you start wondering where and when does that begin and end,” said W. Scott Lewis, a higher education legal consultant with The NCHERM Group, who specializes in sexual assault prevention on campus. Lewis also raised concerns about whether or not the state’s definition of “rape” would be consistent with the school’s conduct policies, a problem that could persist if other states try to adopt similar laws. The bill’s language requires the mandatory minimum punishment to kick in with “rape, forced sodomy, forced oral copulation, and rape by a foreign object.” But Lewis said some schools take a broader definition of what constitutes rape than the law might: “What do they mean by force? Does coercion count? Touching? Here you’ve got a state mandating a distinction for which can be broader term definition.”

Matt Kaiser, a Washington-based lawyer who often represents college students accused of sexual assault, agreed—especially in California, where the affirmative consent law ensnares a broader range of behavior. “Assault can mean touching somebody’s butt when making out and they didn’t want you too and didn’t say you could,” he said. “It’s squishy enough I don’t even know what the rules mean anymore.”

MONEY Tax

More States Tax Tampons Than Candy in America

tampon-tax-more-states-candy-soda
Image Source—Getty Images/Image Source

Feminine hygiene products are taxed more often than soda too.

Forty states tax tampons and other feminine hygiene products, a new report from Fusion finds.

That’s odd given the fact that the 45 states with sales taxes typically allow exemptions for “necessities” like groceries—and, well, menstrual products are a necessity for about half the U.S. population.

Only five states with sales tax—Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and New Jersey—have explicitly eliminated sales tax on tampons and pads, the report found.

That compares with 15 states (plus D.C.) that treat candy as sales tax-exempt groceries, according to recent data from the Tax Foundation. Eleven states don’t tax soda or candy, but 10 of those 11 do tax tampons.

The offenders?

1. Arizona
2. Georgia
3. Louisiana
4. Michigan
5. Nebraska
6. Nevada
7. New Mexico
8. South Carolina
9. Vermont
10. Wyoming

And it’s not just about candy and soda: Plenty of states tax feminine hygiene products but allow exemptions for much more seemingly frivolous purchases.

New York, for example, taxes tampons but apparently not dry cleaning, newspapers, American flags, admissions to live circus performances, or “wine furnished at a wine tasting.”

Perhaps we should take a cue from our northern neighbors: Canada’s government just announced that it will stop taxing feminine hygiene products this summer.

 

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 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.

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