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Stateline May 2009

GREEN STARS

The Environmental Protection Agency has identified the greenest cities in America, based on their number of energy-efficient commercial build-ings, which typically use 35 percent less energy and emit 35 percent less “greenhouse” gases than the average building. The winners are, in order: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Washington, D.C., Dallas-Fort Worth, Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis-St Paul, Atlanta and Seattle.

FRAUD FIGHTER

Washington recently launched a website to combat consumer fraud. It combines information from the departments of revenue, labor and industry, and licensing, as well as the attorney general’s office, to give consumers as much information as possible in one place so they can avoid being ripped off by bad businesses. The information includes consumer complaints and which businesses are unregistered. The loss of revenue from unregistered busi-nesses is estimated to cost the state about $457 million a year.

FILLING UP ON TIRES

Hoping to solve two problems with one bill, Arizona Representative Russell Jones is sponsoring legislation to allow tires to be used to fill aban-doned mine shafts as long as they are covered with at least 10 feet of dirt. There are more than 10,000 abandoned mines in the state, and 1,200 of those are considered significant public hazards. Last session, lawmakers passed a bill allowing the use of concrete, asphalt and metal to fill the shafts. But environmentalists are concerned that tires could contaminate the groundwater and harm wildlife. There is also a potential fire hazard.

LIVING HISTORY

Oklahoma was the first state to approve a term-limits law in 1990, which limits lawmakers to a combined 12 years in the House and Senate. An oral history project involving the Senate communications division is keeping term-limited senators’ memories alive, however. Malia Bennett, Senate communications director, interviewed the first 14 term-limited members to help provide a “candid picture of how the Senate as an institu-tion has changed over the past 50 years.” Senate President Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee calls the collection “an important narrative of the history and politics of the Oklahoma Senate from those who actually lived it.”

DANGERS OF DEBT

Personal finance classes are growing as the economy tanks. The emphasis is on young adults who often get credit cards before they may be ready for them. Seventeen states have added a personal finance requirement to school curricula over the past five years, according to The Christian Sci-ence Monitor. Missouri, Tennessee and Utah now mandate courses. Local programs are growing, too. The best answer to our “national epidemic of financial illiteracy,” says John Ninfo, a bankruptcy judge who founded a volunteer organization called Credit Abuse Resistance Education, is to make personal finance education and testing mandatory in schools.

RELIGION WANES

Americans are becoming less religious, according to a new study by the Program on Public Values at Trinity College in Connecticut. Northern New England has now taken over from the Pacific Northwest as the least religious area of the country. The percentage that claim no religion, which jumped from 8.2 in 1990 to 14.2 in 2001, has now increased to 15 percent nationwide. And the percentage of Christians in the country has declined from 86.2 in 1990 to 76 today. Ninety percent of this decline comes from mainline Christian denominations. The study, con-ducted last year, is the third in a series of large, nationally representative surveys of U.S. adults.