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Also: Pennsylvania leads successful veterans courts movement and Florida cities demand control over fracking and effective leadership on climate change.
Here’s some of what we’ve been reading today…
DOVER, Delaware: Law enforcement agencies in The First State over the past three years have seized $5 million from citizens through civil forfeiture laws, but many of the citizens whose cash and possessions have been seized were never charged with crimes and current state law shields the law enforcement agencies from disclosing how they’re spending the money, reports The News Journal. Delaware long has been criticized for being a particularly egregious offender in the murky territory of civil forfeiture, even as the practice has drawn increasing attention across the country. The Journal interviewed people stopped in the state for minor traffic violations who were forced to surrender their cars, the cash in their pockets, and everyday possessions like video games, televisions and cell phones. Yet, seized cash and property in Delaware is managed by the Special Law Enforcement Assistance Fund, a committee of eight prosecutors and law enforcement officials that is not technically a public agency—and so not subject to open records laws, according to the newspaper. The committee distributes cash and the proceeds from seized property to police agencies.
Delaware has so far resisted changes made in other states that have come in reaction to increased public outcry. States like Montana have passed laws that require agencies to disclose seized property and to make it legal to keep the property only in the wake of criminal convictions. [The News Journal]
SIOUX FALLS, South Dakota: The epidemic of heroin addiction moving across the Midwest hasn’t fully come to the Mount Rushmore State yet, but South Dakota is exhibiting all the sad symptoms that suggest it’s on its way, so the state is taking steps to prepare for its arrival, reports The Argus Leader. The state’s medical licensing board is writing a new rule that would allow the state’s emergency responders—many of them volunteers—to carry naloxone, an injection or nasal spray drug that can reverse the kind of respiratory failure brought on by opioid overdose. The drug kits are effective and relatively cheap at about $50. They work to save people abusing street drugs as well as prescription painkillers. Thirty-two people died of overdoses in South Dakota in 2013. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that, since 2010, overdoses in the country increased 37 percent a year. More than 8,000 Americans died of overdoses in 2013. The Midwest was hit hardest. [The Argus Leader]
HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania: Veterans courts, which tap veterans to counsel veterans who have been charged with crimes, are racking up impressive results in the 37 states around the country, and Pennsylvania is leading the way, reports The Tribune Review. The state has 10 of the court programs, which are rigorous and effective, according to the newspaper. Violent offenders are not admitted and recidivism rates are low. So-called graduation ceremonies for vets who complete court requirements “are like nothing I've ever seen before. It's a celebration of a veteran's life,” said state Supreme Court Justice Debra Todd. [The Tribune Review]
TALLAHASSEE, Florida: It’s not ideological. It’s practical. The 350 members of the Florida League of Cities put together a list of legislative recommendations for lawmakers to consider this coming year, reports The Tallahassee Democrat. Among the League’s priorities: retaining local zoning control over oil-and-gas drilling operations in urban and suburban settings and establishing a process through which local and state governments will work together to address climate change. Hydraulic fracturing has moved major industrial extraction activity too close to dwellings and schools and hospitals, and rising sea levels tied to climate change threaten Florida in immediate ways. In the southern stretches of the state, 1.3 million homes stand within four feet of high-tide lines. Seawater has contaminated drinking-water supplies, and rivers and canals take longer to drain after heavy rains, the newspaper reports. “The remedies for [climate change] are very, very expensive. We’re talking major infrastructure retrofit, raising roadways so that people who come and spend their tourism dollars in Miami Beach don’t have to wade through waist-deep water to get to their hotel,” said the League’s Rebecca O’Hara. “This is a funding issue. It is going to take leadership from leadership for anything to be done.” [The Tallahassee Democrat]
MADISON, Wisconsin: A bill introduced late in the state legislative session is throwing up political sparks, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. It’s “the latest measure by GOP legislators to scale back environmental rules in favor of more leeway for businesses and property owners,” according to the newspaper. “The changes would affect lake beds, wetlands, piers, boathouses and beaches—an often stormy nexus between water and private property.” The bill enjoys the support of powerful business interests, including the real estate industry. [The Journal Sentinel]
John Tomasic is a journalist who lives in Boulder, Colorado.
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