Increased Support for Non-Citizen Votes in Burlington
Jan30

Increased Support for Non-Citizen Votes in Burlington

Voters in Burlington, Vermont recently voted 11-2 to have a request for the amendment of the state constitution placed on the ballot. The proposed amendment would allow non-citizens to vote in municipal and school elections, as well as to work as department heads and serve on city boards. Approval is required from the state Senate, House of Representatives, and Vermont voters to amend the state constitution. While many citizens are quick to protest that voting is their exclusive right, voting has never been restricted to citizens. In 40 states and territories, non-citizen residents were able to vote in local, state, and some federal elections between 1776 and 1926. Voters in Louisiana and Indiana have even elected non-citizens to public office as aldermen and coroners. Back in Burlington, a city ordinance allows non-citizens to serve on seven city boards, but restricts them from service on the other 12, including the School Board and City Council. The Charter Change Committee is currently preparing charter changes to allow non-citizens to serve the city in all capacities. These changes are scheduled to be brought before the full council by December. In 2012, over half (51%) the immigrant population was female, many of whom arrived in the United States with young children. Maleka Clarke, a single mother from Jamaica, sits on the governor-appointed Building Bright Futures council and is currently the president of the Parent-Teacher Organization at her son’s school. Because Maleka is not yet a citizen of the United States, however, she was unable to vote when the schools’ budgets were in danger. Many opponents of a non-citizen vote ask why immigrants don’t just become citizens, and the answer is that, while most of them would love to, it is not always possible. The process of applying for citizenship can take many years to complete, and not everyone is approved. Some immigrants do not qualify for citizenship based on the terms of their visas, and others may not want to give up citizenship of their home country. All of these people deserve representation, regardless of their status as non-citizens. “I believe that people who are residents of an area, who are part of the local community, who contribute to the tax base, who are affected by public policy, in particular on the local level, deserve to have a voice,” City councilor Rachel Siegel told the Burlington Free Press. While support for the non-citizen voting movement is growing, not everyone in Burlington agrees with the idea. “You shouldn’t be deluded by what you hear this evening. There are plenty of people out in the community who have strong reservations about this matter,” Councilor Norm...

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New Single-Family Home Sales Rise Higher Than Expected in December
Jan29

New Single-Family Home Sales Rise Higher Than Expected in December

New home sales leapt a better-than-anticipated 11.6% in December above November’s pace, closing out a good year for the housing market on a positive note, according to a joint report from the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development revealed January 27. The data indicates that sales were much stronger than they were the previous year. In 2013, existing home sales in December rose slightly after three consecutive falls to a total of 5.09 million sold. About 429,000 new homes specifically were sold that year, 1.2% lower than 2014’s level of 435,000. What’s more, new single-family homes reached an annual, seasonally adjusted rate of 481,000 in 2014, 8.8% higher than 2013’s estimate of 442,000. The median price of a new home sold in December was $298,100, an improvement over November’s $291,600. The average sales price was $377,800, again, an improvement over November’s $344,600. These price hikes, though, may not be such a good thing. “We’re seeing that the hottest demand is at the most affordable price points,” Hela Richardson, chief economist at the real estate brokerage Redfin, told the Associated Press. “That means if prices go up too far too fast, buyers will step back and wait for them to drop again.” An earlier report from the National Association of Realtors indicates that 2013 had a faster sales rate. According to the data, previously owned home sales increased by 2.4% in December, indicating that 2014 finished 3.1% slower than 2013 did. The report also included revisions of previous months’ numbers, indicating that 2014’s sales pace began slowing around September. According to the revisions, there were 448,000 new homes sales in August, 455,000 in September, 445,000 in October, 438,000 in November, and 481,000 in December, as previously mentioned. Luckily, new housing construction in 2014 still finished at the strongest level since 2007, rising 4.4% in December. And while builder confidence in the market for new, single-family homes in January fell a single point to just 57, a level higher than 50 means that more builders feel conditions are good, rather than...

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Caesars Bankruptcy Reorganization Plan Dealt With Potentially Fatal Blow
Jan21

Caesars Bankruptcy Reorganization Plan Dealt With Potentially Fatal Blow

A federal judge’s recent ruling could stop Caesars Entertainment Corp.’s plans for bankruptcy organization dead in their tracks. According to a January 19 Bloomberg article, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled that Caesars violated federal laws by rearranging its assets and refinancing its debts in an alleged attempt to protect itself from lower-ranking creditors. The ruling stemmed from a lawsuit filed by noteholders against Caesars. In the lawsuit, Caesars’ noteholders allege that the company transferred some of its more valuable properties away from itself in August, in addition to removing guarantees for its creditors. As a result, Scheindlin said the company’s actions violated the Trust Indenture Act of 1939 and amounted to “an impermissible out-of-court restructuring.” However, Scheindlin’s ruling didn’t completely throw out Caesars’ Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition, which it filed on January 15. The ruling found that the noteholders’ lawsuit was flawed, as it didn’t account for the fact that some noteholders had voted in favor of the August transfers. The plaintiffs now have until January 29 to revise their complaint. If the company is able to overcome the ruling, it certainly wouldn’t be alone in filing bankruptcy. Of the 1,071,932 bankruptcies filed throughout 2013, 8,980 were Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganizations similar to the bankruptcy petition Caesars filed. According to Bloomberg, Caesars still plans to follow through with its plan for bankruptcy reorganization despite Scheindlin’s potentially debilitating ruling. “Given the size of the claims at issue and our strong defenses, we do not expect the ruling to impact the planned reorganization,” Stephen Cohen, a spokesman for Caesars, said in a statement. Currently, the bankruptcy petition, along with a separate petition filed by the company’s creditors that would push it into involuntary bankruptcy, are both being essentially frozen until a judge determines which court will preside over the casino giant’s debt restructuring...

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NTSB and FMCSA Announce Expansions to Truck Safety Policies in 2015
Jan19

NTSB and FMCSA Announce Expansions to Truck Safety Policies in 2015

According to The American Trucking Association, only about 10% of trucks on the road are equipped with some kind of active safety technology, despite the high frequency of semi truck crashes. Fortunately, several regulatory agencies are looking to strengthen commercial truck safety in 2015. The National Transportation Safety Board has placed commercial truck safety on their annual Most Wanted List of top 10 areas that need safety improvements. While the NTSB is primarily responsible for investigating transportation accidents and doesn’t technically regulate any industries, its members can make important recommendations to regulators and to Congress about transportation safety. NTSB acting Chairman Christopher Hart will be overseeing the truck safety portion of this year’s list. Speaking to Transport Topics, Hart said that the NTSB will approach truck safety as a “broad spectrum” of different policies to address driver fitness, safety technology and vehicle maintenance. Meanwhile, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has announced that several key items related to safety in the trucking industry have made their way onto its agenda for the year. The FMCSA is planning to make several changes to revamp the way semi truck safety is evaluated and rated. Changes may include requiring a speed limiter, creating a drug and alcohol testing database, and instituting an electronic logging mandate with a two-year adoption window. There may also be changes to driver coercion protection and insurance minimums. The FMCSA has also announced that it plans to hold the annual minimum for random controlled substance testing rates at 50% through 2015 for employees in safety-sensitive positions. This includes semi truck drivers and bus drivers. Because positive random drug testing results have increased two years in a row, the agency may re-evaluate the random testing rate for 2016. For now, however, the FMCSA plans to maintain its current policy, since drug and alcohol use remain a major problem for drivers of...

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Marijuana and Alcohol Influence Half of Fatal Crashes Involving Young Drivers
Jan14

Marijuana and Alcohol Influence Half of Fatal Crashes Involving Young Drivers

Half of the young victims involved in fatal crashes in nine U.S. states were under the influence of alcohol, marijuana, or both, according to a new study published in the journal Injury Epidemiology. Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health researchers analyzed 7,191 fatal accidents from 1999 to 2011 involving drivers between the ages of 16 and 25 who died within one hour of the crash, in order to gauge how potential policy changes might influence substance use among adolescents and young adults. The nine states examined — California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington State and West Virginia — each routinely perform toxicological tests on the blood or urine of fatal accident victims. “Policies related to the use of substances in the United States remain in flux; the rapid changes in marijuana use policy are a good example of this,” said Katherine M. Keyes, PhD, assistant professor of Epidemiology and lead author, in a press release. “It’s imperative to know whether there will be unintended consequences of changes in policies, including increases or decreases in harm related to other substances that are not the focus of the policy.” The study found that, overall, more than half (50.3%) of those who died had alcohol, marijuana, or both in their systems at the time of the accident. Of those who did, 7.6% were under the influence of both, 5.9% were under the influence of marijuana and 36.8% were under the influence of alcohol, which also happens to be the number one drug problem affecting the country. The researchers then examined whether 21-year-olds, who were allowed to consume alcohol legally, used substances differently than their underage counterparts. They found that while alcohol consumption had increased by 14%, marijuana usage had actually decreased among those who had only the drug. The use of both marijuana and alcohol at the same time had increased only marginally. “Taken together, we found no significant substitution effect between alcohol and marijuana,” said the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention’s director and co-author of the study Guohua Li. “Rather, an uptick in availability seems to increase the prevalence of concurrent use of alcohol and marijuana.” Essentially, the more available the substance, the more likely it is to be used, but there’s no significant substitution between the two. It seems that people aren’t substituting one for the other or vice versa based on legality or any other...

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