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Ranger with closed sign; snowy car

Stateline: January 2010

Illustration of person in bed and can of bug spray

Snow Peril 

Drivers in New Jersey now must make reasonable efforts to remove snow and ice from their vehicles before driving or face fines if falling ice or snow causes injury or damage to another driver. “One inch of snow or ice coming off the back of a tractor-trailer packs with it the equivalent force of almost a ton,” says Assemblyman John Wisniewski, a sponsor of the bill. Opponents argue the new law is on a slippery slope and can’t be enforced. Fines will go toward a public awareness campaign of the potential dangers.

No Privacy

Private e-mails sent to a federal government employee are not private, according to a recent legal opinion from the U.S. Department of Justice. Both recipients and senders should have no expectation of privacy if the e-mail is opened by a federal employee logged into a work computer network. Federal workers are notified when they log into their computers that the Department of Homeland Security is monitoring them for malicious intrusions, satisfying the rule that one party must have consented to possible monitoring.

Teacher Blues

A new poll shows that two of five teachers are “disheartened” with the profession. “You’re simply asking an individual to do more than is humanly possible,” Tom Carroll, president of the National Council on Teaching and America’s Future, told Education Week. The survey of 890 teachers across the country by Public Agenda and Learning Point Associates grouped the teachers into three main categories: disheartened (40 percent), contented (37 percent) and idealists (23 percent). Disheartened teachers were more likely than the others to say that students with behavior problems were disruptive, too much testing was a major disadvantage, and principals were not supportive.

Honey of a Deal

Florida became the first state (and maybe the first in the world) to ban additives in honey. The sweet liquid produced from bees regurgitating nectar must now be 100 percent natural. Manufacturers, processors or sellers found with impure honey face “stop sale” orders. Repeat offenders face fines of up to $500. Florida is the fourth leading honey-producing state. Beekeepers made more than $15 million in 2008 and employed more than 500 Floridians. The buzz about adulterated honey from overseas led to the new rule.

Bugs in Bed

Faced with a budding invasion of bedbugs, Ohio has asked the federal government for permission to use a pesticide—Propoxur—not approved for use in homes, although it is used in commercial buildings, on crops and in flea and tick collars for pets. “We are in dire straits, and we need help,” Matt Beal, of the state Department of Agriculture, told The Columbus Dispatch. More than a dozen other states support the request.

Padlocked Parks

State parks in California are harder to enjoy these days with toilets padlocked, campgrounds blocked, trash cans gone, lifeguards missing and hiking trails closed. The state hopes to save $14.2 million by eliminating these services in some state parks. “Obviously, all this is going to impact the visitor’s experience,” Jerry Emory, spokesman for the California State Parks Foundation, told The New York Times. The cutbacks began last November.

New Student Testing

A few Idaho schools have begun testing some athletes for nicotine to help them determine whether to expand the program. Officials claim it will help them find out how much tobacco use there is among student athletes. “We are on the cutting edge of this,” says Doug Whipple, attorney for the Cassia County School District. Half the athletes undergoing district-mandated random alcohol and drug testing will also be screened for nicotine.

 

Closed But Clean

Hawaii has closed its school doors on 17 Fridays to save money, making its school year the shortest in the nation. Cafeteria workers and janitors, however, worked (and got paid) on some of the furlough days because they hadn’t reached a new labor agreement. Instead of cleaning up after the kids, the custodians and cooks scrubbed the kitchens, shampooed carpets and landscaped the grounds. “I’ll tell you, it’s lonely for them not having any kids around,” one elementary school principal told the Associated Press. Teachers took an 8 percent pay cut by accepting the 17 furlough days.

Bond Bonanza

Six states—Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, North Carolina and Oklahoma—have sued the federal government to get the money from unclaimed bonds issued nearly 70 years ago. To help finance World War II, the federal government issued hundreds of billions of dollars in savings bonds to be paid off in 40 years. At least $16.7 billion, however, has never been claimed. The states contend that the Treasury Department has done nothing to find the original bondholders nor their descendants. State officials argue their laws give them the right to unclaimed property, which includes the bonds. Now it’s up to the court to decide.

Laser Danger

In Minnesota, pointing a laser at a moving aircraft is no laughing matter—it’s now a crime. Federal law currently prohibits this dangerous behavior for larger airplanes, but the crime rarely has been prosecuted. The new Minnesota law gives law enforcement officials the right to arrest and prosecute any person who knowingly aims and discharges a laser or similar device into the cockpit of an aircraft in the process of taking off, in flight or landing. The idea for the new law was brought to Representative Rick Hansen’s attention by a constituent who is a state trooper. “These lasers temporarily blind pilots, and can take airplanes down,” says Hansen.

A School Home

A school campus being built in Aurora, Colo., for kids in preschool through college, a first in the nation, according to school officials. It’s designed to ensure more students graduate from high school and earn college degrees. One building will house elementary through eighth grade students, and another will be for high schoolers. Eventually, a university facility will house a community college and a four-year college. Specifics are still being worked out for the $72.4 million, 100-acre campus. The first phase of the project, the P-8 school, will be completed in time for the start of the 2010-2011 school year. The second phase, for high schoolers, will open a year after that. Both projects are being funded by bond money approved by voters.