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As retiree health care costs soar, state and local governments would be wise to shift more of the burden to the federal government as they try to get a handle on their growing liabilities. Growing health care liabilities pose an increasing credit risk for many municipal governments. States alone listed a total of more than $530 billion in unfunded "other post-retirement benefits" (OPEB) liabilities in 2012.
South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley has signed into law a bill designed to give military homeowners a tax break on homes they couldn't sell before being deployed. Haley signed the bill last week.
Anyone who sells electronic cigarettes — also known as "e-cigarettes" — to minors could be fined up to $200 for the first offense, $350 dollars for the second offense within 18 months and $500 for each subsequent offense within 18 months. The same bill would also increase the fines for vendors who sell cigarettes out of their original packages.
More than two dozen attorneys general sent letters on Sunday to five of the country's largest retailers, encouraging them to stop selling tobacco products in stores that also have pharmacies, which would follow the example CVS Caremark set with its announcement earlier this year that it would stop selling such products in its drugstores. The letters were sent to Rite Aid, Walgreen, Kroger, Safeway and Walmart, five companies that are among the biggest pharmacy retailers in the country.
At a time when other states are curtailing or outlawing executions, Florida is bucking the trend. A swelling number of death sentences handed down in the 1990s are reaching the ends of their appeals. Florida also is experiencing a rare window of relatively few legal challenges, botched executions or political infighting over the issue.
Heroin-related crime has so overwhelmed Vermont's courts and jails in recent years that lawmakers are poised to adopt sweeping standards for a statewide diversion program to get some offenders into drug treatment and out of the judicial system. A few local communities in the state already divert many accused of drug-related crimes and report soaring success, with at least 80 percent of participants conviction-free after a year.
Tuesday, March 18, 2014

States resist food stamp cuts

Using a wrinkle in federal law, at least seven states and the District of Columbia are blocking as much as $1.2 billion in food stamp cuts, preserving federal benefits for millions of people who otherwise would have had them cut by about $90 each month.
Louisiana organizations that represent the elderly, the poor and others on fixed incomes want stiffer regulation of payday lending businesses that offer short-term loans with high interest rates. They're asking lawmakers in the three-month legislative session that begins Monday to cap the fees that can be charged by the storefront lenders at an interest rate of no greater than 36 percent annually.
Local and state governments across the country are tapping the brakes on red-light cameras. After a decade of steady growth, the number of communities using cameras to catch drivers who run stoplights has fallen about 6% since 2012, to 508, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit research group funded by the automobile-insurance industry.
A little over a year after Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana, more than half the states, including some in the conservative South, are considering decriminalizing the drug or legalizing it for medical or recreational use. That has set up a watershed year in the battle over whether marijuana should be as available as alcohol.