- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 10, 2008

CONNECTICUT

Retailers ask state for fuel help

HARTFORD | A coalition of gasoline retailers joined the attorney general last week in calling on the state legislature to address the soaring cost of fuel.

The retailers support a package of proposals, including one allowing franchises to offer discounts to customers who pay cash, that failed in the final hours of the regular legislative session.

“The state of Connecticut is burning, ladies and gentlemen, and we’re standing and fiddling while the state is burning,” said Rep. Corky Mazurek, Wolcott Democrat, who along with Rep. William Tong, Stamford Democrat, worked on the bill.

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, standing outside a Hartford Shell station where the price for regular unleaded gas was $4.29 a gallon, said there’s already consensus on the legislative package and therefore no reason not to act when lawmakers meet in special session on June 11.

He noted that Connecticut has the nation’s highest average price per gallon for regular unleaded gasoline.

“We face a crisis in Connecticut that ripples beyond the gas pumps to our entire economy,” Mr. Blumenthal said.

KENTUCKY

Pending cuts prompt protest

FRANKFORT | -More than 100 people gathered outside the Cabinet for Health and Family Services last week to protest pending cuts in funding for human services for the poor, elderly and disabled.

Chanting, clapping and waving signs, participants cheered as speakers criticized the state’s two-year budget - as well as the lawmakers who passed it earlier this year.

“This legislature has made bad decisions, and they are making us suffer for their poor leadership,” said Mary Alford of Louisville, who is seeking more help for her disabled son, Aaron Hanley.

Officials are preparing to cut funds for the state’s public health departments, community mental health agencies and a host of other programs under the budget that takes effect July 1, said Janie Miller, secretary of health and family services, in an interview Wednesday.

IOWA

State details smoking ban

DES MOINES | - Business owners, get your “no smoking” signs ready - and your rulers, too.

Under Iowa’s statewide smoking ban, owners affected by the new law must post the signs at every entrance and make sure they’re at least 24 square inches.

The requirement is among several draft rules released Monday by the Iowa Department of Public Health. The rules are the state’s first in-depth explanation about what Iowans can expect when the ban begins July 1.

In a 13-page document, the department details how the ban will be enforced and exactly what places will be smoke-free. The rules still need approval from a rules committee and the state health board.

“Right now we’re concentrating on education,” said Bonnie Mapes, director of the health department’s division of tobacco control. “We’re getting information out there to the businesses.”

The Legislature passed the smoking ban last session, prohibiting smoking in most public places. The ban affects restaurants and bars but provides exemptions for casinos and other areas such as the Iowa State Fairgrounds and workplaces that offer quit-smoking classes

NEW HAMPSHIRE

Tobacco, wine on budget table

CONCORD | - A possible cigarette tax increase, a cut in a wine discount and borrowed money will be used to balance New Hampshire’s books.

The Democratic-controlled Legislature approved those measures in two bills in two heated sessions Wednesday, frustrating Republicans who had argued that Gov. John Lynch and Democrats ignored warnings last year that the budget was just too large. Republicans argued the state should cut spending instead.

Republicans objected vehemently to a plan to use the state’s credit card to fill $40 million or more of a looming budget hole. Mr. Lynch and the Executive Council called the Legislature into special session so that could be done by majority vote. Otherwise, because deadlines passed, a two-thirds vote would have been needed - enabling Republicans to block the bill.

In the House, Republicans tried unsuccessfully to delay a vote by forcing Democrats to hold a hearing next week. When they lost, Republicans streamed for the exits, forcing House Speaker Terie Norelli to lock the doors temporarily.

“We do not have an emergency. We may have a political emergency,” complained Manchester Republican William Infantine.

The first budget-cutting bill contained the cigarette tax increase and wine discount cut, which, with spending cuts, were worth $34 million.

NEBRASKA

Petitioners’ rights being questioned

LINCOLN | - A Nebraska lawmaker has asked the state attorney general for an opinion on whether petition circulators have a right to remain on private property once they’ve been asked to leave.

Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood of Norfolk, who asked for the opinion, said he recently got a call from a local business frustrated with petitioners standing outside.

Customers might turn away from a business if they think they’ll be hassled, he said, or if they think the business agrees with the goal of the petition.

Some cities, however, are nervous about enforcing trespassing laws against petition circulators and so-called blockers - people who try to keep people from signing a petition.

“I think there’s some confusion out there across the state as to what the law is,” Mr. Flood said.

WASHINGTON

Agency suspends accreditation quest

OLYMPIA | -The state Children´s Administration is giving up on a seven-year effort to meet the standards of the national Council on Accreditation.

The agency director, Cheryl Stephani, said it can´t reduce caseloads for social workers or demand that all supervisors earn master´s degrees without more money from the Legislature.

The division of the state Department of Social and Health Services is still under the oversight of federal regulators, the governor´s performance measurement program and a panel of experts supervising the settlement of a lawsuit over foster care.

Miss Stephani said her agency has spent $1.2 million since 2001 on accreditation efforts. The average caseload is 21, but the council wanted it at 18. About 42 percent of agency supervisors have a master´s degree.

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