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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.
The cost to taxpayers of flaws in Maryland's online health insurance exchange is coming into focus, with officials estimating at least $30.5 million in unnecessary Medicaid spending and conceding that they have no idea how much it will take to get a system that works. The state has paid $65.4 million to the contractor hired to build the system and fired this week because of the protracted problems. Costs are likely to keep rising as Maryland figures out how to fix or replace the system.
The Obama administration on Wednesday released a broad set of regulatory changes to the health law that would give some consumers additional time to stay in plans that do not comply with all its coverage requirements and all consumers more time to enroll in coverage come 2015.
Drug testing for welfare benefits has been a subject of debate since Congress overhauled welfare in 1996. And, now from written tests designed to flag drug users to singling out people with recent drug convictions, state lawmakers across the country are pursuing novel strategies to deny welfare benefits to drug users without running afoul of a recent federal court ruling.
Florida lawmakers backing expansion of the state's Medicaid program plan to mount a new argument this legislative session: That voting against extending the program would deprive low-income U.S. citizens of access to insurance that's available to some legal immigrants.