- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 13, 2009

MONTANA

Social calendars posted online

HELENA | The Montana legislature is offering its constituents food for thought by posting its 2009 calendar of brunches and mixers sponsored by special-interest groups online for the first time.

The electronic posting of the legislature’s social calendar strengthens openness in government, said House Speaker Bob Bergren.

“We want to make sure this [legislative session] is a transparent process,” Mr. Bergren said.

He said it’s also better than a paper calendar for keeping the state’s 150 legislators informed.

Other states, including New Mexico and Nevada, also put their legislatures’ social calendars on the Web, but the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver was unsure how many do so.

At many of these events, lawmakers are offered free meals at the expense of special-interest groups. In Montana, the state Chamber of Commerce hosted last week’s “Eggs and Issues,” the Nature Conservancy offered lunch, and the abortion-rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America is planning a bistro reception this week.

“One of the concerns people have is who’s talking to legislators, who’s got their ear,” said Lorne Malkiewich of the Legislative Counsel Bureau in Nevada, where the legislature’s social calendar has been on the Web since 1999.

RHODE ISLAND

Victims’ settlement delayed till July

PROVIDENCE | Gov. Donald L. Carcieri’s plan to defer $10 million in settlement money the state has offered to the victims of the Station nightclub fire would only delay payment of the funds for a matter of months, the governor’s press secretary said, the Providence Journal newspaper reports.

Mr. Carcieri is planning to allocate payment of that money in the budget that begins on July 1, spokeswoman Amy Kempe said.

Lawyers for the more than 300 victims of the catastrophic West Warwick fire - which killed 100 people and injured more than 200 others on Feb. 20, 2003 - had hoped the money would be divided among the plaintiffs by spring. But Miss Kempe said yesterday “the main part of the reasoning” behind Mr. Carcieri’s proposal to delay the payments until the next fiscal year was based on the slow pace the case is taking in U.S. District Court.

“It appeared that details and finalizing the settlement were moving very slow and are still being worked out. It is our intent to put it in next year’s budget,” Miss Kempe said.

The Attorney General’s Office, which has represented the state in the civil suits brought by the fire victims, said it was not consulted about delaying the payment.

IOWA

Lawmakers vow relief for victims

DES MOINES | Help is on the way.

That’s the Iowa General Assembly’s message to victims of floods and fatal tornadoes that caused as much as $10 billion in damage across much of the state last spring, the Courier reports.

There’s no lack of commitment to help, but lawmakers haven’t identified what help the state will provide, how it will be delivered or even when, and don’t know how it will be paid for other than to say everyone, including disaster victims, will be asked to pony up to cover the cost.

“I think we will do something,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal said. “I think we have a responsibility to respond to these crises that are ongoing for many people.”

The state’s priorities will be to rebuild public infrastructure, provide housing assistance and help businesses recover, he said, and disaster relief will be at the top of the agenda when the legislature convenes in Des Moines Monday.

MICHIGAN

Anti-smoking proposal brewing statewide

LANSING | Efforts to revive a proposed public smoking ban in Michigan already have started in the new state Legislature.

A new state lawmaker says he will introduce a bill to ban smoking in all public places when the Legislature convenes this week.

The bill will be sponsored by Rep. Paul Scott. He is a Republican from Grand Blanc. Democrats might introduce similar proposals.

Efforts to enact a smoking ban failed in the Legislature last year.

Supporters of a smoking ban might consider starting a ballot initiative targeting the 2010 election if Michigan lawmakers fail to approve a proposal.

NEVADA

Report suggests state agency cuts

CARSON CITY | A conservative think tank is suggesting elimination of the Nevada Department of Business and Industry and numerous other cuts to save state funds and avoid tax increases by the 2009 Legislature.

The plan from the Las Vegas-based Nevada Policy Research Institute is among numerous proposals that generally would make state government operate more like a business.

The Department of Business and Industry oversees banks, real estate agents, mortgage brokers, workers’ compensation, worker- and mining-safety programs and the Taxicab Authority in Clark County.

The recommendation drew criticism from Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, Reno Democrat, who said such a cutback would eliminate crucial oversight of various industries.

WASHINGTON

State official wants election reforms

OLYMPIA | Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed is proposing legislation to authorize online voting for military and overseas voters.

The legislation called for by Mr. Reed also would require all mail-in ballots to be returned by Election Day, rather than merely postmarked by that date.

He also is requesting a measure updating the state’s popular new voter-approved Top 2 Primary, including fresh language defining political parties.

Mr. Reed also recommends moving the voter-registration deadlines closer to Election Day.

His election bills are among a package of executive-request measures he had forwarded to the 2009 Legislature.

From wire and dispatch reports

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