- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Lawmaker offers pay reductions

LANSING | A Michigan lawmaker on Friday pitched another way to let voters cut legislators’ pay and benefits instead of through a sweeping constitutional amendment affecting many other parts of state government.

Democratic Rep. Mark Meadows of East Lansing proposed a constitutional amendment to reduce legislative pay to $60,000 a year. Lawmakers earn $79,650 annually.

The measure also would end legislative term limits that took effect in 1992.

Similar proposals are included in a proposed November ballot measure turned in this week to election officials. The measure, which will face legal challenges, is running into resistance from Republicans and some Democrats because it would change legislative redistricting, reshape appellate courts and reduce the size of the Legislature.

Mr. Meadows’ proposal needs two-thirds of the votes in the House and Senate by early September to make the ballot. A handful of measures to extend or end term limits, move to a part-time Legislature and reduce the size of the Legislature have been proposed by lawmakers this session but have gone nowhere.

Mr. Meadows said his measure would let voters reduce legislative pay without “throwing the baby out with the bath water.”

He also blamed term limits for “dysfunction” last year when lawmakers eventually raised taxes to fill a budget hole, but not before an hours-long partial shutdown of state government.

Lawmakers can serve six years in the House and eight years in the Senate.


States wants more nurses

JACKSON | Mississippi is far from the nationally recommended student-nurse ratio, but education officials are making strides to put more nurses in public schools.

Mississippi has 419 nurses in the state’s 182 school districts. The national recommendation is one school nurse for every 750 students, but Mississippi’s ratio is one nurse for every 1,800 students, said Estelle Watts, school nurse consultant for the state Department of Education.

Miss Watts said having school nurses helps keep students in class and could have a positive impact on dropout rates because it improves attendance. She said 84 percent of the students who visit the nurse return to class.

“They get back to class, where the learning takes place,” Miss Watts said.

Thirteen districts in Mississippi don’t have even one school nurse.


Bio-diesel tax comes down

PIERRE | It won’t matter much at today’s prices, but the state tax on bio-diesel fuel sold in South Dakota may be going down in the future.

This year’s Legislature passed a measure that will reduce the current 22-cents-a-gallon tax to 20 cents.

That’s the same tax break that’s given ethanol.

The 2-cent reduction will be provided on bio-diesel that partially contains soybean or other plant oils.

However, the tax cut will not begin until bio-diesel production capacity in South Dakota reaches 20 million gallons a year.


YouTube factor in state race

JEFFERSON CITY | Although the real battle will be waged on TV and in mailboxes, one skirmish already is under way among Democrats vying to be Missouri’s next attorney general, the Kansas City Star reports.

The battleground in this case is YouTube.

Candidate Jeff Harris, a state representative from Columbia, has launched a series of online advertisements assailing Chris Koster, the Cass County senator who left the Republican Party last year to run for attorney general as a Democrat.

The Koster campaign said it will strike back with statewide TV ads beginning today and running through the Aug. 5 primary.

In one of Mr. Harris’ spots, pedestrians sing a parody of “My Favorite Things” with lines like “When the winds shift/when the polls change/ Koster switched parties.”

In another, bobble-headed animations of Mr. Koster, Gov. Matt Blunt, former senator and Attorney General John Ashcroft and President Bush - all Republicans - croon a Beatles song with lyrics that are more Rove/Shrum than Lennon/McCartney.

“Oh, I’ll get by with a little help from my friends,” the animated Mr. Koster sings in the refrain.

The Beatles-inspired ad has been taken down, but the message in both ads is clear: Democratic primary voters should not allow Mr. Koster to escape his Republican past.

Mr. Koster called the ads a diversionary tactic.

“I think he’s having difficulty competing on the playing field of experience and credentials,” Mr. Koster said of Mr. Harris, “and so he’s acting as a typical politician and trying to splash as much mud on other people as he can.”


States seek lakes protection

COLUMBUS | Gov. Ted Strickland has joined the governors of five other states in ratifying an agreement aimed at protecting the Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes Compact is a framework between eight states and two Canadian provinces that seeks to prevent most diversions of water from the lakes’ basin to arid states in the South and Southwest.

“We will have the ability to maintain our precious natural resources and preserve and protect Lake Erie for generations to come,” Mr. Strickland said in a recent statement after he signed a bill ratifying the compact. The Ohio Senate had passed the bill June 10 to join the House, which approved ratification in May.

Agreements have been ratified by the two Canadian provinces and by Minnesota, Indiana, Illinois, New York, Wisconsin. It has been approved by the legislature and awaits the governor’s signature in Michigan. In Pennsylvania, it has cleared the House and awaits a Senate vote.


Lawmaker wants commissioner elected

AUSTIN | Saying the state agency that regulates the insurance business should be more accountable to voters than to the industry, a key lawmaker is proposing making the post of Texas insurance commissioner an elective office, the Fort Worth Star Telegram reports.

State Sen. Juan Hinojosa, a McAllen Democrat who serves on the commission that reviews the usefulness of state agencies, said Tuesday that holding the commissioner accountable to the voters would go a long way toward curbing runaway premiums for homeowners, automobile and health coverage.

“Right now, Texas has some of the highest rates in the nation, and the commissioner seems more interested in justifying the high rates than finding ways to lower them,” said Mr. Hinojosa, a member of the Legislature’s Sunset Advisory Commission. “In the 11 others states that elected insurance commissioners, the people pay 43 percent less for their homeowners insurance and 12 percent less for their health coverage.”

The sunset commission, which has members from both houses of the Legislature and from the general public, is considering whether to recommend the continuation of the insurance commissioner’s office or to recommend changes in the way it conducts its business. The full Legislature will consider those recommendations next year.


Disaster plans to be clarified

MADISON | A new panel of state lawmakers, relief workers and emergency directors will start meeting this month to streamline Wisconsin’s disaster statutes and clarify how the Legislature should work if a crisis forces it to meet outside Madison.

Wisconsin’s emergency statutes haven’t undergone a comprehensive review since the late 1980s, said Randi Milsap, an attorney with the state Department of Military Affairs.

Instead, they have been amended piecemeal. Much of the language has grown outdated and is poorly organized, sometimes leaving local officials confused, she said.

For example, the statutes define “bioterrorism” and “enemy action” but not “homeland security” or “terrorist,” Miss Milsap said, and the section on mutual aid between agencies comes at the end of the statutes.

“If you’re in a situation where you need a quick answer, it’s not always logically in the place you’d look for it,” Miss Milsap said.

The Legislative Council Special Committee on Emergency Management and Continuity of Government also plans to review statutes about how the government should run if the state Capitol becomes uninhabitable.

From wire dispatches and staff reports.

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