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Groups Call for Independent Redistricting Commission for N.C.
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Groups Call for Independent Redistricting Commission for N.C.

BY Scott Mooneyham

A diverse group of lawmakers and public interest groups wants the General Assembly to abandon its current redistricting process and use an independent commission to draw political maps. "Fundamental to our system of government is the proposition that those elected should reflect the preferences of voters," said Sen. Hamilton Horton, R-Forsyth. "But this idea is regularly thwarted by partisans who seek to skew elections in their party's favor - what we call gerrymandering." Horton and Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange, filed bills Monday that would create an independent commission to draw up new legislative and congressional district maps every 10 years. One of the bills would establish a constitutional amendment to ensure the commission operates into the future. Horton and Kinnaird were joined at a news conference by members of several public policy groups to support the legislation, including The John Locke Foundation, Common Cause of North Carolina, Citizens for a Sound Economy and the N.C. State Grange. The bill comes in response to a fight between Democrats and Republican over legislative districts that has lasted more than a year. Legislative Republicans challenged House and Senate maps drawn by Democrats, claiming they unconstitutionally split counties to gain a political advantage. The case is still pending before the state Supreme Court, although Republicans won several rulings in lower and appellate courts. Horton said the court fight is proof that an independent commission is needed. "The events of the past year should convince us, if we are honest with ourselves, that the General Assembly is simply incapable of redistricting itself fairly," he said. Both bills introduced by Horton and Kinnaird call for creating a nine-member redistricting commission. Members would be appointed by the governor, chief justice, House speaker and Senate president pro tem. Each would appoint two members, except for the governor, who would name three. Each person making appointments would have to include appointees from more than one political party. Chris Heagarty, director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education, said an independent commission might do away with many of the lengthy lawsuits that result from redistricting after each census. "It's like the political equivalent of the seven-year locusts, except it only comes every 10 years," Heagarty said.

03/31/2003
CCISD Could be Forced to Deal With School Vouchers Under Bill
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CCISD Could be Forced to Deal With School Vouchers Under Bill

BY Monica Wolfson

AUSTIN - While it may appear that school vouchers have taken a backseat to more pressing legislative matters, it's still on the political radar and could be the focus of legislative debate before the session ends June 2. Both advocates for public school vouchers as well as opponents said vouchers have been overshadowed by the strains of balancing the state budget with its $9.9 billion shortfall, but the issue is not dead. "We think there is time to get it through," said Peggy Venable, executive director of Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy, a group that promotes the use of vouchers. "In terms of school choice, we think this legislation addresses parents who truly have no other option." Samantha Smoot, executive director of the Texas Freedom Network, an advocacy group that opposes vouchers, said she has never worked so hard on the issue. "(House) Speaker (Tom) Craddick and Gov. Rick Perry are making it clear to legislators that they view vouchers as a priority," Smoot said. "On the other hand, there is little public support for vouchers especially at a time when legislators are having trouble making ends meet paying for the basics. These two political realities are headed for a showdown." Just last week, the House Public Education Committee held its first hearing on public school vouchers inviting Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman to testify in favor of vouchers. He said vouchers would improve public education by spurring competition for students between public and private schools. Voucher bill pending Left pending in committee was House Bill 2465, which is one of two voucher bills in the House. Bill author Kent Grusendorf, R-Arlington, is also the chairman of the Public Education Committee. HB 2465 allows school districts with more than 40,000 students with a majority of the student body being economically disadvantaged to offer families who make no more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level - or $36,000 for a family of four - vouchers to go to private schools. If a child goes to a private school, the private school would get 90 percent of state and local funds normally spent to educate the child in its public school district. The other 10 percent would go to the school district the child would have attended. Children who go to private schools using state money via vouchers would have to take standardized tests. Eleven districts qualify Eleven school districts would qualify for the voucher program, including two school districts in the El Paso area and three school districts in the Houston area. But in 2005, all the restrictions expire and all school districts in the state could participate in the voucher program so long as a majority of school board members approve it. All income requirements for participating families disappear as well. According to the Texas Education Agency, the Corpus Christi Independent School District had 39,138 students in 2001. Fifty-five percent of those students are economically disadvantaged. If Corpus Christi grew to 40,000 students, it would have to participate in the proposed public school voucher program, if the bill passed. Startup costs involved While the fiscal note attached to Grusendorf's bill says there would be no financial impact to the state, it also says the voucher program would cost the Texas Comptroller's Office $2 million in startup costs as well as almost $1 million per year for 11 full-time employees to administer the voucher program. The comptroller would be responsible for paying out the vouchers and monitoring whether private schools comply with the laws. The education agency estimated there are 22,800 private school slots available for the 639,000 children who would qualify. The agency also estimated 8,000 students would use vouchers in 2004 and 15,000 would use them in 2005. Local school districts shoulder the bulk of the financial burden for vouchers, according to the fiscal note. In 2004, the 11 school districts would lose a combined $40 million, while in 2005, they would forfeit $75 million. It would be difficult for school districts to cut operating expenses to cover the loss of revenue, especially if departing students come from throughout the district, the fiscal note said. Fears for school funding "If you can't afford to buy new textbooks or (pay for) teacher health insurance, can you afford a new expense to subsidize private schools?" said Carolyn Boyle, who heads up the Coalition for Public Schools, which is made up of school districts and other community groups that oppose vouchers. "I think legislators think they will look irresponsible if they vote for a private voucher bill." Boyle said she fears that if a voucher bill fails on the House floor, then voucher amendments might get slipped into other legislation. Venable, the head of the pro-voucher group, said forcing parents to put their children in a particular public school runs counter to free market principles. She also said $75 million is a small amount of money compared to the $26 billion per year the state and local communities spend on public education funding. "(Bureaucrats) are scared to death of parents having choices and would put any fiscal note on this they could," Venable said. "I think that is a stretch . . . I can't imagine there is going to be a negative impact. If you have one less child, but 10 percent of the money, you've got more money and less kids." Southern Methodist University political science professor Cal Jillson said he suspects lawmakers will be so consumed with balancing the budget that the voucher issue might remain on the back burner. "I think the fiscal situation to the state is so evidently dire that they are focusing on the budget," Jillson said. "There just isn't a lot of room for the social agenda of the Republican Party."

03/31/2003
Greensboro Habitat to Welcome Linda Fuller
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Greensboro Habitat to Welcome Linda Fuller

GREENSBORO - The Greensboro College chapter of Habitat for Humanity will hold a "Breakfast With Linda Fuller" from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. April 7 in the Lea Center of Main Building. Fuller is a co-founder of Habitat for Humanity International. For more information or to reserve a seat at the breakfast, call Jacqueline Oates at 272-7102, Ext. 372, or write to joates@gborocollege.edu. Reservations must be made by Tuesday. Charles G. Adams to close lecture series Charles G. Adams, a renowned lecturer, will speak at 9:45 a.m. Thursday in the Dillard Auditorium of Anderson Conference Center at Winston-Salem State University. The lecture will conclude the 2002-03 James A. Gray "Religion and Ethics in 21st Century America" lecture series. Adams is the pastor of Hartford Memorial Baptist Church in Detroit. John Locke Foundation representative to speak N.C. Citizens for a Sound Economy and the John Locke Foundation will present "2003 Spring Tax Tour" at noon Thursday at Sagebrush Steak House & Saloon, 1750 S. Stratford Road. A representative from the John Locke Foundation will discuss the current state budget and taxes. For more information, call Rheta Burton at (919) 807-0100 or see the Web site www.cse.org /northcarolina Lewisville Town Council meeting time changed LEWISVILLE - The Lewisville Town Council meeting will begin at 4 p.m. instead of 5:30 p.m. Thursday at Lewisville Town Hall. A briefing will begin immediately after the meeting. Handicapped people requiring special accommodations may call the Lewisville Town Hall at 945-5558 at least 72 hours in advance of the meeting to request assistance. Author will speak about 'Love Languages' Gary Chapman will speak about "The Five Love Languages of Children" at 7 p.m. Thursday at Pinedale Christian Church, 3395 Peters Creek Parkway. Chapman is a co-author of the book The Five Love Languages of Children and the author of The Five Love Languages. Admission is $7. The proceeds will go to Triad Academy, a private, nonprofit school for students with learning differences. To buy tickets, call Kathy Conner at 924-9247, Suzanne Hess at 766-1429, Sherri Holloway at 945-0554, Myra Mathis at 766-6826 or Triad Academy at 775-4900. Group to hold series about neighborhoods Neighbors for Better Neighborhoods will hold a "Neighborhood Institute for Community Leadership 2003" spring training series Thursday through Saturday at Adam's Mark Winston Plaza Hotel. The series will include such topics as creating neighborhoods of choice through revitalization, valuing community diversity and the real-estate development process. For more information, call Tamieka A. White at 631-9407.

03/31/2003
Coping With Econo-Myths
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Press Release

Coping With Econo-Myths

As published in The Washington Times, March 31, 2003 President Bush's $726 billion tax-cut plan was shot down in the Senate last week, a victim of economic ignorance, an addiction to big spending and the war in Iraq. The bad news: A distracted wartime president lost a key vote on the centerpiece of his domestic agenda, which, if it stands, may weaken future economic growth for the remainder of his term.

03/31/2003
Opponents, Supporters of EPA Changing NSR Rules Debate Issue
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Opponents, Supporters of EPA Changing NSR Rules Debate Issue

Proponents and foes of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's pursuit of dramatic changes to regulations governing how electric power plants and other industrial facilities maintain facilities and still meet Clean Air Act ''new source review'' rules squared-off in a quasi-debate Thursday, not surprisingly leaving neither side convinced of the validity of the other's points. The debate came before EPA's Monday public hearings on its plans to modify NSR rules, something industrial owners vehemently support and environmentalists and a number of state and local regulatory authorities sharply oppose. EPA late last year proposed a final rule to increase energy efficiency and encourage emissions reductions by trying to clarify what constitutes a modification to industrial facilities, so-called ''routine maintenance, repair and replacement,'' like when power plant owners maintain plants that may or may not trigger NSR rules under the Clean Air Act. The Bush administration's EPA thinks that confusion over NSR, and the filing of numerous lawsuits by the government against plant owners during the Clinton years, actually harmed pollution reduction efforts by confusing plant owners on what was legal and what was illegal under NSR, preventing modernization. Clean air groups think the Bush team is simply creating huge loopholes for plant owners to increase output and extend the lives of older facilities, producing more harmful emissions that hurt public health. C. Boyden Gray, a lawyer, chairman of Citizens for a Sound Economy and former counsel to President George H.W. Bush, fronted the utility industry's viewpoint that NSR needs radical alterations to clarify what it means and allow the marketplace to produce efficiencies that will drive down the amount of harmful plant pollutants. He noted that since 1990 the levels of sulpher dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) have gone down dramatically in the ''offending'' Midwest - where many older, coal-fired power plants are - and in Eastern states. The declines, Gray said, ''had nothing to do with NSR,'' but rather were a result of 1990 Clean Air Act amendments and market-based cap and trade programs. Gray lashed out at environmentalists, calling critics upset over NSR only because ''people don't want to see reductions (in industrial emissions) come through market incentives.'' On the other side, defenders of the current NSR rule asked Gray to tell them where in the Clean Air Act EPA had the authority to change the regulations, since the agency is supposed to work for reducing and not increasing pollution. John Walke, representing the Natural Resources Defense Council, said under the EPA modifications, state governments would lose their most effective tool to control smog, soot and toxic pollution. Environmentalists want EPA to rescind its rule before it becomes final. They also mocked the attempt under EPA's proposed changes to quantify through a replacement cost-based formula, the amount of maintenance work that could be done without triggering NSR.

03/28/2003
March Minuteman of the Month!
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Press Release

March Minuteman of the Month!

March’s Minuteman of the Month is John Hallman of Boca Raton, Florida. John became a Volunteer Chapter Leader (VCL) for CSE in south Florida in January and has gotten off to a great start!

03/28/2003
Vacancy
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Vacancy

BY Charles Siderius

If you build it, they'll be pissed. Dallas hotel owners, already struggling with what one hotel manager describes as the lowest occupancy rates in the city's history, are none too happy with a proposal being forwarded by some local government officials to use taxpayer money to build a 1,200-room upscale hotel onto the city's convention center. Hotel owners and investors and a couple of taxpayer watchdog groups say a study they commissioned that shows how the proposed hotel would hurt them was ignored by the media and sloughed off by city officials. The reason? It's not because the watchdogs paid for the $28,000 study; it's because the study says the hotel proposal is a lousy idea that investors with money to lose wouldn't touch in this economy or in this market, the study's sponsors claim. "No private developer would undertake to develop this hotel project, as it is not a sound investment," the study by private consultants Source Strategies Inc. of San Antonio says in part. The company uses public records to determine how many rooms of what type exist in a given market and how many are being rented. The company has been around since the 1980s and produces dozens of similar studies for the public and for the private sector. Its findings are used by banks as a basis for loans, and studies are not infrequently cited in large newspapers, its owners say. Peggy Venable, the Citizens for a Sound Economy's Texas director, says her group opposes the hotel idea on the principle that government should not compete with private industry. But, she says, it is important to note that no investor from the private hotel industry has seized upon the idea of building the convention center hotel in Dallas because it's not a good idea right now. "We oppose it from a public policy perspective. It's not the appropriate role of government. We think cities should not be in the hotel business...and if they use taxpayer dollars to do it, we would sure hope that it was going to be financially feasible," she says. "We believe in the Yellow Pages concept. If you can open the Yellow Pages and it's done in the private sector, then why should our tax dollars be used to do it. Moreover, why should our tax dollars be used to do it if it's going to compete with private industry?" Local government representatives such as Dallas Mayor Laura Miller and her husband, state Representative Steve Wolens, are among those who are pushing legislation that would enable Dallas to build the hotel mostly with hotel occupancy taxes, the same way that Houston built a soon-to-open hotel near their convention center. The Dallas hotel, which would be managed by a private company, would draw convention business to the city, proponents say. Other details, such as the proposed financing arrangements, were not available, and neither was Wolens nor Miller. Michael H. Anderson, who owns some property where the hotel could be built and who represents other owners of potential hotel property, says the watchdog groups' study concerned itself more with raw data than it did analysis. Besides that, the watchdog groups' study was delivered near the end of a long process and offered incongruous comparisons between hotel types. The Source Strategies "definition of convention center hotels, of area hotels versus headquarters, attached, adjacent hotels is the tragic flaw in my opinion of the analysis," Anderson says. The study says that the hotel in itself will not create demand for hotel rooms and that it will be bad for the already depressed Dallas hotel market. Todd Walker, vice president of Source Strategies, said that "barring a massive turnaround in the Dallas-area economy," the convention center hotel would start draining from existing hotels immediately after it opened, "but there is nothing like that on the horizon," he says. "Dallas had a huge increase in supply and a commensurate decrease in demand," he says. "They are suffering." Among other things, the study says that even if occupancy rates edged up between now and when a convention center hotel opened, the large number of new rooms would flood the market and reverse a positive trend. "The negative pressure put on market performance by the addition of 1,200 unnecessary rooms in 2006 short-circuits the lodging recovery projected for the downtown market," the study says. The study estimated that the lost profit to existing upscale hotels would be $175 million during the first five years after the hotel opened. The study did not say the negative impact of new hotel rooms is permanent but that it exists now and probably will for the next eight to 10 years. The study's authors also wrote that their review showed that no Texas hotel like the one proposed ever amounted to an attraction. "Not one of the 16 new convention-size 'headquarters' hotels that opened in Texas since 1981 has ever generated a significant demand increase for hotel rooms in any market," the study said in part. "...Unfortunately, some municipalities falsely believe that a major new hotel is a solution for the lack of visitor growth and economic health of the downtown area." Despite the study's apparent findings, proponents say it failed to look at the impact of hotels that were physically attached to convention centers like the proposed Dallas hotel would be. Walker says the distinction is dubious. "There's no difference between having an attached building than it is having a 1,000-room hotel open a block away or next door. If you have a convention of 20,000 people, they are not going to all stay at that hotel anyway even if it is all attached," he says. Despite what would appear to be a significant downside to the hotel proposal, representatives of the watchdog groups say their study has been disregarded because it disagrees with what hotel proponents want. They say it's no coincidence that WFAA-Channel 8 and The Dallas Morning News ignored the news conference announcing the study. The Dallas Morning News, which has editorialized in favor of the hotel several times, also ignored requests that letters to the editor on the subject be published, says Tara Ross, spokesperson for the Dallas Taxpayers Rights Coalition, the second watchdog group that helped pay for the study. The Belo Corp., which owns WFAA and The Dallas Morning News, owns property in the vicinity of the proposed hotel. In addition, Robert Decherd, Belo chairman, is also chairman of the "Inside the Loop" committee that is boosting the hotel among other ideas for downtown. Ross says she does not want to "bad-mouth" The Dallas Morning News but says she would have "hoped more interest would have been shown." "I will note that The Dallas Morning News has written some editorials in favor of the convention center hotel, and we did give them a copy of everything we gave everybody else, and they failed to show up at the press conference or to even write on this yet." The newspaper subsequently reported that hotel proponents believed the study did not address the Dallas idea. Walker, whose company or one of its officials has been quoted more than a half-dozen times by The Dallas Morning News for a variety of projects since the mid-1990s, is more direct about the fact that the paper has ignored the study's findings. "To do it the way they are doing it, just ignoring it without actually reading the study, that just shows you how little interest they have in actually having an open dialogue on the issue," he says. Frank Naboulsi, general manager of the Fairmont Hotel, says study or not, this is a bad time to add hotel rooms. "At this point I think it would be a mistake for us to create more competition when we have 12,000 room nights within the downtown and the suburbs of downtown core that could be accommodated for large conventions," he says. "I believe this hotel is not needed at this point."

03/27/2003
Charleston, W.Va., Hospital Credits Tort Reform with Increased Doctor Interest
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Press Release

Charleston, W.Va., Hospital Credits Tort Reform with Increased Doctor Interest

From the Charleston Gazette March 27, 2003, Thursday Copyright 2003 Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News Copyright 2003 The Charleston Gazette Only four weeks have passed since Gov. Bob Wise signed medical malpractice legislation into law, but the director of Charleston Area Medical Center's physician recruitment effort said Wednesday she's already seeing a positive response among doctors.

03/27/2003
This Week on Capitol Hill
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Press Release

This Week on Capitol Hill

President Bush’s tax cut took a short detour on Tuesday, when an amendment offered by Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) to cut the tax cut to $350 billion was approved by a 51-48 vote. Three Republican Senators, Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), George Voinovich (R-Ohio), and Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) all voted with the majority to reduce the size of the tax cut. Democratic Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.) missed the vote. Though it seems the president’s tax cut number is in jeopardy, there are more steps in the budget process that may provide an opportunity to gain back the lost dollars.

03/27/2003
Deficit Fears Should Not Stop Tax Cuts
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Press Release

Deficit Fears Should Not Stop Tax Cuts

03/27/2003

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