TIME Environment

SeaWorld Will Keep Its Orcas for at Least Another Year

Baby Killer Whale Born At SeaWorld San Diego
A newborn baby killer whale swims with its mother on Dec. 21, 2004, at Shamu Stadium in SeaWorld San Diego Getty Images

Lawmakers disappointed animal-rights activists by tabling the so-called Blackfish bill for further study at a committee hearing in Sacramento. The study likely won't conclude for another 12 months

SeaWorld’s San Diego location will get to keep its 10 killer whales for the time being.

At a committee hearing in Sacramento on Tuesday, lawmakers heard impassioned arguments for and against a bill that would force SeaWorld San Diego to stop using orcas in its shows, but the issue never came to a vote. Instead, the committee recommended that the bill go through a detailed study that likely won’t conclude for another year.

The bill, introduced by Los Angeles–area state-assembly member Richard Bloom, would make it unlawful to hold any wild orca in captivity for entertainment or performance purposes, as well as breed orcas in captivity. All orcas held in captivity before the bill was passed would be returned to the wild if possible and to “sea pens” if not.

Hundreds of people flooded the hearing room in support of the bill, having arrived from all over California. Some were associated with groups like the Humane Society or local unions, while others were simply individuals who opposed keeping large mammals in captivity. “We are the voice for the voiceless,” one supporter said, a phrase that was repeated or paraphrased by many at the hearing. “You have the power to free these animals,” another said to the committee members. “Please do so.”

Representatives from SeaWorld and opponents of the bill argued that the money generated from millions of visitors to the parks helps support the much larger population of orcas in the wild and generates interest in marine life, providing close encounters between people and whales that would be unlikely otherwise.

Bloom introduced the bill after seeing the controversial film Blackfish, a 2013 documentary about the consequences of keeping killer whales in captivity, which has led to death in some cases. The team from SeaWorld has fought back against the perspective of the film and at the hearing called it “dominated by falsehoods.” The parks have 29 orcas throughout the world.

The decision to study the bill further was not the desired result for animal-rights activists, but some saw it as only a temporary setback. “The writing is on the sea wall,” PETA president Ingrid Newkirk said in a statement. “The public has learned how orcas suffer psychologically, succumb to premature deaths, and lash out in frustration and aggression in SeaWorld’s orca pits, and they’ve responded with lower attendance levels, public protests, and legislation. SeaWorld can take the year to figure out how to release the orcas into ocean sanctuaries.”

Bloom’s office would have preferred a favorable vote that would keep the bill moving through the California legislature and toward Governor Jerry Brown’s desk, but his chief of staff, Sean MacNeil, says the study period will also allow for more public hearings and discussion about the issue. “The study, in many ways, can serve as an opportunity,” he said.

TIME States

Maryland Votes To Hike Minimum Wage, Reform Pot Laws

Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley speaks with reporters in his office inside the Maryland State House in Annapolis, Md., on April 7, 2014.
Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley speaks with reporters in his office inside the Maryland State House in Annapolis, Md., on April 7, 2014. Patrick Semansky—AP

Gov. Martin O'Malley is now expected to sign a bill to raise the state's minimum hourly pay to $10.10, becoming the second state after Connecticut to act in support of President Obama's call for that federal wage, and another bill that decriminalizes small amounts of pot

The Maryland legislature voted to raise the minimum wage to President Obama’s goal of $10.10 and acted to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana Monday in the final legislative session of Governor Martin O’Malley’s term. O’Malley is expected to sign both bills into law.

The legislature also outlawed “revenge porn” and finalized a bill to get tough on drivers who cause accidents because of cell phone use, but didn’t boost tax credit funding for productions like Netflix show House of Cards that shoot in the state, the Washington Post reports.

The new wage bill makes Maryland the second state after Connecticut to act in support of Obama’s call for a $10.10 federal minimum wage, compared to the current $7.25 hourly wage. The bill gives state business owners until 2018 to raise their wages, but the President applauded the legislature for “leading by example.”

The legislature also passed two marijuana bills. One would decriminalize possession of the drug in amounts under 10g, and impose civil fines instead. The other would make medicinal marijuana more widely accessible.

[WaPo]

TIME States

Missouri Lawmakers Attempt to Nullify Federal Gun Laws, Again

Missouri Guns
Participants applaud during a rally to override Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of a gun bill on the south lawn of the Missouri State Capital in Jefferson City, Mo., Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013. Orlin Wagner—AP

Both chambers of the Missouri legislature passed bills, one of which is being referred to as the "Second Amendment Preservation Act," that would nullify federal gun law for infringing on "people's rights to keep and bear arms"

For the second time in as many years, both chambers of the Missouri legislature have passed bills to nullify federal gun laws. The House version of the “Second Amendment Preservation Act” declares all federal laws “invalid” if they “infringe on people’s rights to keep and bear arms” and gives residents the right to sue federal agents who try to enforce federal statutes. The Senate version states that such federal agents could be subject to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Don’t expect either version to hold up under legal scrutiny.

“It’s just grandstanding by state legislators, trying to make a statement about state rights,” says Robert Mikos, a law professor at Vanderbilt University who specializes in the intersection of state and federal laws. “These are non-starters from a legal perspective. A state has no power to nullify federal law.” If such a measure became law, he says, it would likely face immediate legal challenges.

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, a Democrat, vetoed state lawmakers’ similar effort last year. That legislation was passed at a time when many states were rushing to nullify federal gun laws, afraid that the push for gun control following the the tragic Sandy Hook school shootings could lead to a broader crackdown on gun use and ownership. Then, as now, legal experts pointed to the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, which states that federal laws “shall be the supreme law of the land.” Nevertheless, Missouri lawmakers tried, and narrowly failed, to override Nixon’s veto.

Mikos calls the latest Missouri effort “ridiculous,” though he notes that Congress has given state law the right to supersede federal law in a certain areas−which is why people generally don’t have a tough time purchasing drug paraphernalia like bongs, for instance, even though they’re technically illegal on a federal level. Washington is not likely to give states carte blanche on all gun-related issues anytime soon.

TIME Senate

Scott Brown Set to Announce Senate Campaign This Week

Sen. Scott Brown on Capitol Hill in 2012.
Scott Brown on Capitol Hill in 2012. Alex Brandon—AP

The former Massachusetts Senator, a prolific Republican fundraiser who won the late Sen. Ted Kennedy's seat in 2010 against Martha Coakley then lost it to Elizabeth Warren in 2012, is expected to officially announce his bid in New Hampshire on Thursday

Former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown will officially announce his bid for U.S. Senate in New Hampshire on Thursday, he said in an email sent to supporters Monday.

The announcement-of-the-announcement was long expected for the Republican lawmaker, who will be up against Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen.

“As I’ve travelled across the state and added miles on my truck, I’ve heard the same concerns at every stop,” Brown wrote in his e-mail. “You’ve told me you want a stronger economy with more good-paying jobs. You want a government that doesn’t spend more than it takes in. Most of all, you want a health care system that works for New Hampshire – not one that leaves you with higher premiums, cancelled policies and fewer medical options.”

Brown won the late Ted Kennedy’s Massachusetts Senate seat in a 2010 upset against Martha Coakley. He then lost the seat to Elizabeth Warren in 2012. Brown is known as one of the most prolific Republican fundraisers, making him an attractive candidate for national Republicans who want to unseat Shaheen.

The first fundraiser for Brown’s Senate campaign is set for Monday night, the Boston Globe reports.

TIME Population

4 Key Takeaways from New Census Data

New Census Data: Four Key Takeaways
Getty Images

Population growth and migratory patterns show a changing nation.

U.S. Census population figures released Thursday provide a glimpse of the nation’s hot (and cold) spots.

In a three-year span from mid-2010 to mid-2013, the U.S. had a natural population increase of 4.7 million people (that is, the number of births minus the number of deaths). Coupled with a net migration increase of some 2.7 million people, the country’s population jumped 7.4 million to an estimated 316 million.

Not all metro areas are growing at the same clip, however. Some are pulling ahead by drawing more immigrants or by luring residents of other regions with the promise job opportunities.

Which are the boomtowns? That depends on how you filter the data, but here are the highlights:

North Dakota metros surge
The state’s oil boom has bolstered some metro areas by double-digit percent growth. With a 31% population increase, Williston, N.D., beat out all U.S. metros by percent change. Nearby, the Dickinson, N.D., metro area grew 16%. All other U.S. metro areas fell in line thereafter.

“Any time before 2008, North Dakota had out-migration decade after decade,” says Kevin Iverson, Manager of North Dakota Census office. “People were leaving for economic opportunities outside the state.” But more recently, he says, the oil industry has bolstered both population and per-capita income in the western regions of the state. In the last three years, he adds, 38 of the state’s 53 counties have grown. Roughly half of the influx is from Minnesota.

1chart
American Fact Finder/Census.gov

Puerto Rico falls behind Where are residents moving away? Four of the ten U.S. metro areas with the greatest population losses (by number of people) are in Puerto Rico. Some of the population decline is attributed to lower birth rates on the island. But the more significant loss stems from a battered economy and pervasive crime – two factors that push out professionals, students and middle-class families to mainland states like Florida and Texas.

American Fact Finder/Census.gov

Texas draws a crowd Slice population data by migration (who’s moving in, domestically or internationally) and Texas metros top the charts. By total net migration, the Houston area drew some 205,000 people. Dallas came in third and Austin fifth among all U.S. metro areas. While foreign immigrants have bolstered the Lone Star state’s headcount, U.S. residents from all over the country – lured by job opportunities and lower taxes – have contributed to the surge.

3chart
American Fact Finder/Census.gov

Big metro areas stay on top By sheer influx of people, Houston, Dallas, New York, Los Angeles and Washington top the charts. Seven metro areas netted more than 200,000 people. San Francisco, Seattle and Phoenix, among others, also saw six-digit growth in the last three years.

5chart
American Fact Finder/Census.gov
TIME

This Map Shows the Most Popular Attractions in Every State

A lot of people really like the L.L. Bean flagship store

Approximately 17 million people go to Walt Disney World every year. And 3.5 million people who go to Maine check out the L. L. Bean flagship store annually.

This map pulled 2009 numbers from National Park Services, state tourism offices, and other statistical resources to show what the most popular attractions are in every state across the United States. Unfortunately no balls of twine made the cut. Everything is a popularity contest:

(Click to enlarge)

(h/t: Reddit)

TIME States

Court Upholds Texas Abortion Restrictions

An appeals court has overturned a ruling that deemed parts of a tough abortion law—doctors who perform abortions must have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals—unconstitutional in a victory for proponents of the stringent legislation that led several clinics to close

A federal appeals court on Thursday upheld new abortion restrictions in Texas, a victory for proponents of one of the toughest abortion laws in the country that has already led to the closure of clinics in the state.

Under the law passed last year, doctors performing abortions must have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. The Republican-controlled statehouse also placed strict limits on doctors prescribing pills that induce abortions. The new regulations have led to the closure of at least a dozen Texas abortion clinics. Lawyers for Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers argued that the regulations placed an undue burden on women trying to get an abortion. A lower court had ruled in October that the new rules violated the Constitution and that they served no medical purpose, but the federal appeals court overturned that ruling Thursday, the Associated Press reports.

Some aspects of the new law, including a requirement that abortions take place in a surgical facility, will not go into effect until September.

[AP]

TIME States

Hawaii Debates Law Allowing Cops to Have Sex with Prostitutes

Hawaii Prostitution Police
A pedestrian walks in front of a Honolulu Police Department station in Honolulu's tourist area of Waikiki on Wednesday, March 19, 2014 Oskar Garcia—AP

Officers are urging lawmakers to pass a bill that aims to curb prostitution, as long as they keep in the exemption that allows cops to have sex with prostitutes during investigations. Critics say it only further victimizes sex workers

Hawaii lawmakers are debating a fiercely-criticized law that currently permits undercover police to have sex with prostitutes during investigations.

A new bill that clamps down on prostitution originally eliminated the sex exemption for officers on duty. But after law enforcement officials testified in favor of the exemption, the bill was amended to restore it, the Associated Press reports. The revised bill passed the state House and is set to go before a state Senate committee on Friday.

Police say the provision helps them catch sex workers in the act, but human trafficking experts who are critical of the law point out that the provision is unnecessary and only hurts sex workers—who are often forced into their positions—even more. Some say that women who have left their careers as prostitutes behind report being forced to give sexual favors to policemen who threaten them with arrest.

Critics say it seems impossible for every officer using this exemption to judge every prostitute’s situation—whether she has been forced into that lifestyle, her real age and more—before having intercourse with her. And advocates say the risk police will take advantage of prostitutes outweighs any benefits.

Even without such exemptions in place, police in other states have been accused of abusing sex workers. A former officer is facing charges in Philadelphia for allegedly raping two prostitutes and forcing them to do drugs at gunpoint. A cop in West Sacramento, Calif., was recently found guilty of raping prostitutes. And last year a Massachusetts officer pleaded guilty to threatening prostitutes with arrest unless they had sex with him.

Law enforcement officials say the exemption doesn’t lead to inappropriate behavior.

“All allegations of misconduct are investigated and the appropriate disciplinary action taken,” Michelle Yu, Honolulu police spokeswoman, told the AP.

Laws governing disclosure of police misconduct in Hawaii block the public from seeing whether an officer has ever faced disciplinary action for having sex with a prostitute.

During testimony, law enforcement officials would not reveal how often they use the exemption, claiming that doing so would alert pimps and prostitutes to how far policeman are and are not allowed to go, and compromise future investigations.

“As it is, we are already subject to ‘cop checking’ where prostitution subjects do certain acts or attempt to do certain acts to determine whether the person is an undercover officer,” Major Jerry Inouye of the Honolulu Police Department told local Hawaiian news station KITV.

Democratic state Rep. Karl Rhoads, the committee chairman who amended the proposal to restore the exemption, said that civilians cannot understand the measures necessary in undercover police work. “It’s a really murky area,” Rhoads said, according to the AP. “I was reluctant to interfere in something that they face all the time. If they think it’s necessary to not have it in the statute, this is one area where I did defer to them and say, ‘I hope you’re not having sex with prostitutes.'”

Hawaii’s law appears to be unique. Roger Young, who worked sex crimes for the FBI in Las Vegas for over 20 years, told the AP he didn’t know of “any state or federal law that allows any law enforcement officer undercover to penetrate or do what this law is allowing.”

[AP]

TIME Crime

New Jersey Employee Stole Almost Half-a-Million Dollars… in Quarters

Thomas Rica, a former Ridgewood borough employee, stands with his attorney Robert Galantucci, during a hearing at the Bergen County Courthouse Wednesday, March 19, 2014, in Hackensack, N.J.
Thomas Rica, a former Ridgewood borough employee, stands with his attorney Robert Galantucci, during a hearing at the Bergen County Courthouse Wednesday, March 19, 2014, in Hackensack, N.J. Mitsu Yasukawa—he Record of Bergen County/AP

A Bergen County public works inspector who admitted to swiping about 1.8 million quarters—roughly 11.25 tons—over 25 months won't go to prison, but he will begin paying back the stolen money

A public works inspector in New Jersey admitted Wednesday to stealing more than $460,000 in quarters over a span of 25 months.

Thomas Rica, 43, was arrested last year and fired for taking $500 in coins. A Bergen County investigation found that his coin collection was, in fact, much larger. He pleaded guilty Wednesday to four counts of third-degree theft from the village of Ridgewood, The Record newspaper reports.

Officials say Rica gained access to a room in the Village Hall with his master key, where he regularly took handfuls of coins, sometimes several times a week. Four separate times, he took more than $500, his lawyer Robert Galantucci, said at Wednesday’s hearing.

Rica deposited his illicit earnings at coin machines in multiple different bank branches, eluding authorities even though the coins he took over two years amounted to more than half of Ridgewood’s total annual collection from parking meters.

The 1.8 million quarters—roughly 11.25 tons—helped complement Rica’s $86,000 salary, The Record reports. Rica’s plea deal means that he won’t go to prison but will instead have to pay back the stolen money, beginning with an initial lump sump of $69,000 followed by at least $2,000 a month.

It needn’t be in coins.

[The Record]

TIME Crime

Cops Find 100 People in Texas Home in Apparent Smuggling Bust

Suspected Human Smuggling Houston
Authorities search people, Wednesday, March 19, 2014, in southeast Houston. Cody Duty—Houston Chronicle/AP

Police in Houston find more than 100 people crammed into a 1,500-square-foot, single-family house while searching for a woman who was reported missing. Most are from Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador

Houston police searching for a woman who had been reported missing by her family discovered a house overflowing with more than 100 people Wednesday in what appeared to be part of a human smuggling operation.

Police discovered the home just outside Houston while searching for a 24-year-old woman who had been reported missing, along with her two young children, the Associated Press reports. When they searched the home, they found 94 men—all in their undergarments and without shoes—and 15 women (including the missing woman and her children) in a 1,500-square-foot house. The people were lying in filth in several small rooms with access to only one bathroom, the AP reports.

Police spokesman John Cannon said most of the people had been in the home for a few days, and one woman said she had been there more than two weeks. “It was just filth, very squalid-like conditions inside,” Cannon said. “Trash bags with clothing piled as high as you can see. … Some were just sitting on top of one another because there was just no room.”

Houston police handed over investigation of the matter to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which said the people in the home were primarily from Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador. A pregnant woman and a man were taken to the hospital for treatment, and all others will be fed and questioned. A spokesman for ICE told the AP it was too early in the investigation to say whether the house was part of a human trafficking operation, but it appeared that way.

The ICE spokesman also said it has been years since police discovered a house in the Houston area with that many people inside; in 2012, police found a house containing 86 people.

[AP]

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