- - Tuesday, February 22, 2011

NHTSA

Probe opened into Toyota hybrid SUVs

The government has opened a preliminary investigation into reports of stalling engines in more than 43,000 Toyota Highlander hybrids.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said on its website it had received 32 complaints alleging stalling engines in Highlander hybrids from the 2006 model year. The probe involves 43,491 hybrids and was opened last week.

There have been no crashes or injuries reported. Defect investigations can sometimes lead to vehicle recalls.

The investigation involves reports of Highlanders stalling at speeds of 40 miles per hour or more. Some drivers reported the vehicle could not be restarted or was towed to the dealership. Nearly all of the reports were received within the past year.

PRESIDENCY

Huntsman has campaign-in-waiting

U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman’s chances of running for the Republican presidential nomination appeared to increase Tuesday when his campaign-in-waiting launched a fundraising effort.

Mr. Huntsman, a former governor of Utah, is to leave Beijing at the end of April and decide whether he will seek the Republican presidential nomination for the right to battle President Obama in 2012.

A political action committee called Horizon PAC, which is officially unconnected to Mr. Huntsman but is essentially his campaign-in-waiting, launched a website seeking donations. The group has hired several veteran political operatives led by John Weaver, who was a key adviser to Republican John McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign.

INDIANA

More Democrats flee to block labor bill

INDIANAPOLIS | Indiana House Democrats took a page from the playbook of their counterparts in Wisconsin on Tuesday, refusing to show up and stalling action on a Republican-backed labor bill.

Most stayed away from the Statehouse completely, and a couple skipped town to neighboring Illinois. Only three of 40 House Democrats were in the chamber when Republican Speaker Brian Bosma tried repeatedly to convene it, leaving the chamber short of the two-thirds needed for a quorum.

A committee in the Republican-led chamber Monday took up a right-to-work bill that would bar union dues from being a condition of employment at most private-sector companies.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican, who had urged GOP legislators not to act on the right-to-work bill this year, told reporters that the absence of Democrats on Tuesday was a legitimate move and that he would not use state troopers to compel their attendance.

ECONOMY

Home prices hit lows not seen since collapse

Home prices in a majority of major U.S. cities tracked by a private trade group have fallen to their lowest levels since the housing bubble burst, and analysts expect further declines this year.

The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city home-price index fell 1 percent in December from November. Prices fell in all but one of the metropolitan markets tracked.

The only city to see a gain was Washington, where hiring by the federal government has helped boost the region’s job market. Eleven of the markets hit their lowest point since the housing collapse, in 2006 and 2007, including New York, Las Vegas, Chicago and Miami.

The housing sector is struggling even while the rest of the economy is showing signs of a slow but steady recovery. The latest evidence of this divide came Tuesday when the Conference Board said its Consumer Confidence Index rose in February to its highest point in three years.

INDIANA

Treasurer to take on Lugar for GOP nod

INDIANAPOLIS | Indiana’s tea party-backed state treasurer says he will challenge six-term U.S. Sen. Richard G. Lugar in next year’s Republican Party primary.

Richard Mourdock said at a news conference Tuesday that he appreciates Mr. Lugar’s decades of service to the state, but feels Mr. Lugar has lost touch with the needs of Indiana’s Republican Party base.

Mr. Lugar is among a handful of Republican senators who have drawn the ire of the tea party movement for siding with President Obama and congressional Democrats on certain issues. Mr. Lugar, 78, says he has been preparing for such a challenge since last summer.

MISSOURI

Emerson decides against Senate bid

ST. LOUIS | U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson announced Tuesday that she will not seek the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in 2012, saying she can best serve Missouri and her district by remaining as congresswoman for the 8th District.

Mrs. Emerson, 60, of Cape Girardeau, said that she spoke with her family, advisers and staff about the pros and cons of being a junior senator or a senior member of the U.S. House. Mrs. Emerson was elected in November to an eighth term in the seat held previously for 15 years by her husband, Bill Emerson, who died in 1996.

She is the second member of Missouri’s congressional delegation to decide against a Senate bid. Republican Rep. Sam Graves of northwest Missouri announced this month that he would remain in the House.

MASSACHUSETTS

Ex-lawmaker jailed in harassment case

LOWELL | A former state senator was sentenced Tuesday to three months in jail after he pleaded guilty to sexually harassing four women in a single day in a series of events a judge called “bizarre” and “potentially dangerous.”

James Marzilli was sentenced in Lowell Superior Court after he admitted making lewd remarks to four women on June 3, 2008, in downtown Lowell. He was also sentenced to five years of probation. The 52-year-old Arlington Democrat pleaded guilty to four counts of annoying and accosting a person of the opposite sex, and one count each of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.

He admitted to “sufficient facts” on the most serious charge against him - attempting to commit indecent assault and battery. The judge granted a defense recommendation to continue that case without a finding during his five years of probation. If he complies with the conditions of his probation and does not commit any new crimes during the five-year period, that charge will be dismissed.