- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Lottery wins; campaign at loss

LITTLE ROCK | Backers of a state-run lottery who ran a successful campaign to win voter approval reported Thursday that they are more than $56,000 in debt, which they blame on a legal challenge that gambling opponents waged against the measure.

Hope for Arkansas, the ballot campaign Lt. Gov. Bill Halter created for the lottery amendment, reported that it took out a $60,000 loan the day before voters Nov. 4 approved the games to fund college scholarships. A group opposed to the lottery said it ended its campaign more than $2,400 in debt.

Bud Jackson, a spokesman for the lottery campaign, said the loan was mostly to pay for legal costs associated with a lawsuit filed by opponents to remove the lottery measure from the ballot. The committee reported that it had $28,530 in the bank Oct. 28 and had a debt of $56,508 by Wednesday.

“We had a lot of legal expenses in order to defend Arkansas voters from a frivolous legal assault. … It’s easy to surmise that a normal campaign can’t anticipate having to go before the Supreme Court and defend a legal action like that,” Mr. Jackson said.

The campaign spent $88,530 during that period, according to a report filed with the state Ethics Commission.


Sprawl act fails to slow growth

TALLAHASSEE | It seemed like a good idea for controlling urban sprawl: Require that ample road capacity be in place before a neighborhood or commercial development could be built.

The concept, known as “transportation concurrency,” is part of Florida’s landmark growth management act passed in 1985 and then modified over the past 23 years.

It didn’t work. The road capacity provision not only didn’t stop sprawl, but encouraged it. Developers found it cheaper and easier to build in outlying areas with extra capacity or where road-building costs are lower than in urban centers.

“The people still get into their cars and drive right back into the city to work,” said state Community Affairs Secretary Tom Pelham, who enforces the act. “So the urban area loses the development but still gets the traffic congestion.”

Hailed nationally when it was enacted, the growth management act requires cities and counties to have comprehensive plans covering what kind of growth should take place and where. Mr. Pelham’s agency looks at any changes. The law also has various requirements that are supposed to ensure that new communities have enough schools, water, sewers, drainage, parks and recreation and solid waste disposal as well as roads.


Atheists challenge counterterror law

FRANKFORT | A group of atheists filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking to remove part of a state counterterrorism law that requires Kentucky’s Office of Homeland Security to acknowledge that it can’t keep the state safe without God’s help.

American Atheists Inc. sued in state court over a 2002 law that stresses God’s role in Kentucky’s homeland security alongside the military, police agencies and health departments.

Of particular concern is a 2006 clause requiring the Office of Homeland Security to post a plaque that says the safety and security of the state “cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon almighty God” and to stress that fact through training and educational materials.

The plaque, posted at the Kentucky Emergency Operations Center in Frankfort, includes the Bible verse: “Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.”

“It is one of the most egregiously and breathtakingly unconstitutional actions by a state legislature that I’ve ever seen,” said Edwin F. Kagin, national legal director of Parsippany, N.J.-based American Atheists Inc. The group claims the law violates both the state and U.S. constitutions.


House OKs bill for early voting

LANSING | Michigan residents would have more flexibility to vote early in elections under terms of legislation that has passed the state House.

The bill would require some polling sites to be open for the Friday, Saturday and Monday before Election Day. Supporters say 31 other states have some form of early voting and that participation in elections typically increases because voters have more options.

But the legislation passed the Democrat-led House on Thursday by a relatively narrow 58-50 margin and faces an uphill climb to become law. The bill, which now goes to the Republican-led Senate, would become law only if the Legislature also approves a measure to allow no-reason absentee voting in Michigan.

That proposal has stalled in the Senate.


Prison officials try to end phone flow

AUSTIN | State prison officials, moving to address the headline-grabbing security breach caused by smuggled cell phones, has proposed spending nearly $66 million on high-tech gear to curb contraband.

The plan is more than twice as costly as a plan announced earlier to beef up security at Texas’ 112 state prisons and is larger than several past programs to build prisons, the Austin American-Statesman reports.

Smuggled cell phones have been an issue since October, when death row convict Richard Lee Tabler was caught possessing a phone on which more than 2,800 calls had been made in one month - including calls to a state senator.

“We have a responsibility to Texans to stop this … right now and right here,” Brad Livingston, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, told the nine-member Board of Criminal Justice, which was meeting Wednesday at an Austin hotel.

Board Chairman Oliver Bell said, “The games are over. We’ve just given everyone 66 million reasons about why we’re very serious about this.”

In August, prison officials had included in their budget request to the Legislature about $30 million for additional cameras and security equipment. That request would have been considered by legislative leaders beginning in January, but the new proposal seeks immediate funding through the Legislative Budget Board that handles emergency issues while the Legislature is not in session.


Educators rethink retirement plan

CHARLESTON | Education employees who passed up an opportunity to switch from a 401(k)-style retirement plan to the state’s traditional pension program are having second thoughts in the wake of stock market declines.

The Legislature allowed members of the Teachers Defined Contribution plan to transfer to the Teachers Retirement System earlier this year. More than 4,000 active enrollees opted to stay in the 401(k)-style investment plan.

Consolidated Public Retirement Board Executive Director Anne Lambright told lawmakers Sunday that many of these enrollees now want another chance to switch to the traditional plan.

But Sen. Dan Foster, Kanawha County Democrat, said he doesn’t think lawmakers would allow another round of transfers this soon.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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