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Stateline April 2009

BRAINS OVER BRAWN

With most mammals, the biggest and most aggressive males claim the alpha role and reign supreme. But a new study from the University of Minnesota suggests that, at least among chimpanzees, smaller, more mild-mannered males can also use political behavior to secure the top position. After 10 years of observing dominant male chimpanzees in Gombe National Park, Tanzania, observers concluded that smaller, gentler males gained broad support, not through physical attacks like their larger counterparts, but through grooming their fellow monkeys, both male and female. “We plan to study more alpha males,” says Anne Pusey, senior author of the study, “to determine if grooming is a common strategy that small-bodied males use to placate rivals or cultivate cooperative alliances.”

CANINES AT THE CAPITOL

Oregon Senator Vicki Walker wants to let the dogs back in—to the state Capitol, that is. A no-dog rule went into effect this session because some lawmakers wanted a more professional atmosphere. Plus, there was the new carpet and furniture to consider. Only service dogs are welcome these days. But Walker liked to bring her Tibetan terrier to work on occasion, and the steel sculpture of a dog she now has is just not the same. She believes a well-behaved dog can put visitors at ease. And, as she told the Associated Press, her colleagues enjoy having their pets around for a pat on the head or an excuse to go for a walk. Others don’t agree. “This is the Capitol,” says Representative Wayne Krieger. “It’s not a doghouse.”

HIGHWAY PRIVACY

Arizona lawmakers are looking at a bill to prohibit the state from using cameras to catch speeders on highways. Representative Sam Crump believes photo enforcement is geared more toward generating revenue than ensuring public safety. He thinks the camera flashes, especially at night, are disconcerting and unsafe. He said drivers “see these cameras, and it creates a kind of instant paranoia—like, ‘What is the speed limit?’—causing them to slam on their brakes.”

TECH INTERNS

Who you gonna call? College kids, that’s who. Who else is better at computers? That’s why two Dakota State University students can be found training state lawmakers on their wireless computers and fixing problems at the Capitol in Pierre, S.D. This is the fifth year students from the university have given their technical support through internships. “I don’t know how we’d do it without them,” Lou Adamson, legislative infor-mation system coordinator, told the Argus Leader newspaper. Intern Shaun Schreiner is in his second year. “The Capitol building—it’s so grand in nature,” he says. “It’s definitely a good experience. It’s fun. It’s informative.”

BE PREPARED

Kentucky’s preparation for a big earthquake paid off big time in late January, not because a quake hit, but because an ice storm did. The ice storm was so bad it killed 30 people, left a record 769,000 people without electricity, and sent thousands to shelters. “It’s near the worst-case scenario,” Brigadier General John Heltzel, the head of the state’s Division of Emergency Management, told the Associated Press. Heltzel used a statewide earthquake training last year as a rescue blueprint for the ice storm. With communications largely down and many roads impassable, state officials were unable to reach much of Western Kentucky, so county officials were the first to respond and set up shelters, saving many lives. Heltzel also called up the entire Kentucky National Guard to go door-to-door and check on residents.

POKER’S MET ITS LIMIT

A Pennsylvania judge has ruled that poker tournaments are illegal gambling under state law and has refused to dismiss charges against three men. The judge didn’t buy the argument that state law prohibiting gambling is too vague to know whether poker is included. One of the men has been charged for organizing Texas Hold ’Em tournaments at volunteer fire departments. Five college buddies are facing similar charges in South Caro-lina, where state law bans “any game with cards or dice.” They are awaiting a ruling.

SWAT CONTROL

Maryland lawmakers are looking at requiring police departments to better monitor the use of special tactical SWAT teams. This comes after a botched police raid at the home of Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo that ended in the death of his two dogs. The bill would require every po-lice department with a SWAT team to report monthly on its activities to the public. Calvo believes police forces are using SWAT teams unneces-sarily and too often for ordinary police work. “This bill is an important first step that doesn’t restrict their use,” Calvo says. “It merely brings transparency.”

GUNS IN LOTS

An Arkansas legislator wants holders of concealed-carry gun permits to be able to stash their weapons in their cars while parked on college cam-puses. He’s concerned that many adult students taking night classes have nowhere to leave their guns while in class, since law prohibits posses-sion of a handgun on any college or university campus in the state. “What we’re doing is disenfranchising them from using their concealed carry permits,” Representative Randy Stewart told the Arkansas Democrat & Gazette. He’s a marksman, former Olympic rifleman and sponsor of the bill.

A RIVER RUNS DIRTY

Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia have joined the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in a study to identify and reduce dangerous levels of E. coli in the Ohio River. The bacteria have been found in at least 500 miles of the 981-mile river. The study will look at discharge from sewage treatment plants, factories and farms to identify where the bacteria exceeds safety standards. “The study itself doesn’t bring financial resources,” Dean Maraldo, an EPA official, told The New York Times, “but highlights problems so that states and stake-holders can target what resources they have.”

MINOR DISTINCTION

Washington state law does not ban teachers from having sex with 18-year-old students, an appellate court recently ruled. The case involved a 33-year-old teacher who was charged with first-degree sexual misconduct with a minor, even though the student was 18 years old. The section of the law in question prohibits school employees from having sex with a student who is “at least 16 years of age,” not married to the teacher and at least five years younger. Yet other sections of the law apply to students “under the age of 18.” The three-member panel ruled that the statute was un-constitutionally vague and that the Legislature’s intent was to protect children under the age of 18 from predatory teachers, coaches or mentors.

GIDDY UP AND GRADUATE

Minnesota Representative Pat Garofalo wants to give college scholarships to students who graduate early from high school. The scholarships, which will increase in value based on how early the student graduates, could be used at any accredited post-secondary institution in Minnesota. Students could get $2,500 for every semester skipped, up to $7,500. He believes the program would reach about 3,000 students, and would save the state money because the annual per-pupil spending for high school students ($9,560) is more than the scholarships would be. It is estimated to save Minnesota taxpayers almost $25 million over the course of the next budget cycle. .