- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 9, 2008


Money runs short for fixing schools

PHOENIX | To plug budget gaps, state lawmakers have raided a fund intended to help school districts make repairs, and some officials say it’s put a real hurt on districts that were counting on state money to fix roofs and broken sewer lines or patch holes in walls.

In May, lawmakers halted the second half of repair payments many districts were expecting.

The state also took this school year’s entire repair fund, pulling back $86 million.

The cuts are the latest in a decade-long trend of state lawmakers withholding the full amount of money required by state law to fix and maintain schools.

Officials of the state School Facilities Board worry that the fixes that won’t get done this year will cost the state more in the years to come.

A cash shortage for repairs means some schools will skip preventive maintenance, they’ll patch leaking roofs instead of replacing them and force more students to attend classes in schools with old carpet, dingy paint and holes in the walls, said John Arnold, executive director of the School Facilities Board.


Shuttle flight faces space junk risk

CAPE CANAVERAL | Next month’s shuttle flight to the Hubble Space Telescope faces an increased risk of getting hit by space junk because it will be in a higher, more littered orbit than usual, NASA said Monday.

Managers at NASA’s highest levels will need to sign off on the mission because of the increased risk.

New number-crunching puts the odds of a catastrophic strike by orbital debris including bits of space junk at about 1-in-185 during Atlantis’ upcoming mission to Hubble. That compares to 1-in-300 odds for a shuttle flight to the International Space Station, shuttle program director John Shannon said Monday.

Hubble is at a considerably higher and dirtier, so to speak, orbit than the space station - 350 miles versus just more than 200 miles. That extra altitude will expose Atlantis to more pieces of space junk, any of which could slam into the shuttle.


Study: Exercise may beat fat gene

CHICAGO | Maybe you can blame being fat on your genes. But there’s a way to overcome that family history - just get three to four hours of moderate activity a day.

Sound pretty daunting?

Not for the Amish of Lancaster County, Pa., who were the focus of a new study on a common genetic variation that makes people more likely to gain weight. It turns out the variant’s effects can be blocked with physical activity - lots of it.

Scientists believe about 30 percent of white people of European ancestry have this variant, including the Amish, and that may partly explain why so many people are overweight.

But fighting that fat factor may be easier in the Amish community’s 19th century rural lifestyle. They don’t use cars or modern appliances. Many of the men are farmers and carpenters, and the women, who are homemakers, often care for several children.

The researchers found that Amish people with the genetic variant were no more likely to be overweight than those who had the regular version of the gene - as long as they got three to four hours of moderate activity every day. That included things like brisk walking, housecleaning and gardening.

And while physical activity is recommended for just about everyone, the study suggests that people with the gene variation need to be especially vigilant about getting exercise.


4 dead after fire; 2 victims were shot

IRVINGTON | Three bodies were found after a house fire Monday morning and a fourth person died later, and at least two of them had been shot, authorities said.

The fire caused extensive damage to the three-story wood frame house near the Newark-Irvington border.

“It’s a horrific crime scene,” Essex County Prosecutor Paula Dow said. “We have multiple victims and a fire that looks like a cover-up.”

Police said at least one of the three people whose bodies were found in the burned house had been shot. She was identified as 13-year-old Latrisha Fields-Carruthers.

Ms. Dow said 18-year-old Zakiyyah Jones died Monday afternoon after being taken to University Hospital in Newark for treatment of a gunshot wound to the head.


Group sues police over surveillance

NEW YORK | A civil rights group sued the New York Police Department on Monday seeking to learn more about a plan to use license plate readers and a network of 3,000 surveillance cameras to help protect Lower Manhattan from terrorist threats.

The New York Civil Liberties Union claims the NYPD has moved forward with its plan without explaining how the department will use and store images and data captured by the video cameras, license-plate readers and other security devices.

“A plan of this scope, expense and intrusiveness demands robust public debate and legislative oversight,” said Donna Lieberman, the group’s executive director. “The public has a right to this information.”

The department already has turned over 91 pages of material about the so-called Lower Manhattan Security Initiative, which is expected to cost tens of millions of dollars.

But the NYCLU said the documents were redacted, and that more information should be disclosed.

The security plan, prepared by the NYPD’s counterterrorism division, would rely on 116 stationary and mobile license-plate readers and a network of 3,000 closed-circuit cameras - both public and private - that would be monitored by officers at a command center.


Ministers challenge political pulpit plan

COLUMBUS | A group of ministers in Ohio has filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service to stop a conservative group from encouraging pastors to take political sides.

The group of 55 religious leaders from Ohio, Indiana, Iowa and other states said Monday the actions by the Alliance Defense Fund jeopardize the separation of church and state.

The Phoenix-based alliance has enlisted ministers around the country to invite investigations by the IRS by giving political sermons on Sept. 28.


Official: Clothes don’t make the voter

HARRISBURG | Wearing campaign buttons or a T-shirt with candidates’ names at a polling place is not grounds for preventing anyone from voting, the Pennsylvania Department of State says.

What a person wears should not matter as long as a voter does not try to campaign in the polling place, state elections Commissioner Chet Harhut says in a memo sent last week to county elections officials.

“Of primary concern is that no duly registered person be turned away at the polls,” Mr. Harhut said. “If the conduct and apparel of a voter is determined to be more than passive, it should be addressed by the district election officials.”

State law prohibits “electioneering” within 10 feet of polling places but does not define the term.

The Pennsylvania chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) asked the state to clarify the issue because it has fielded voter complaints in recent elections from several counties.


2 arrested in deputy’s death

WALTERBORO | Two people have been arrested and charged in the slaying of a sheriff’s deputy who was gunned down while responding to an early morning burglary last month, authorities said Monday.

Jacoby Jermaine Fields, 18, of Walterboro, and Travis Javon Harris, 19, of Smoaks, were charged with murder and first-degree burglary in the death of Colleton County Sheriff’s Deputy Dennis Compton.

“We do believe we have the two individuals responsible,” State Law Enforcement Division Chief Reggie Lloyd told reporters.

Deputy Compton, 39, was shot after responding to a burglary alarm early on the morning of Aug. 6 at a home near the rural community of Smoaks. Arrest warrants said he was shot in the stomach with a shotgun.

Solicitor Isaac McDuffie Stone said there has been no decision on whether to seek the death penalty.


Foes try to block illegal immigrant ban

DALLAS | Opponents of a Dallas suburb’s ordinance aimed at barring illegal immigrants from renting housing asked a federal judge Monday for a temporary restraining order to block its enforcement.

A group of landlords and a former city council member are suing Farmers Branch over the ordinance filed for the restraining order.

The ordinance would require prospective renters to obtain a city license. The city would then forward information from the license application to the federal government for verification of the person’s immigration status.

Anyone who couldn’t prove legal U.S. residency would be denied tenants licenses, and the city would penalize landlords who rent to people without a valid license.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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