WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK
Columbus Dispatch: Care ratings rare in Ohio
The Columbus Dispatch reports that a new federal ratings system that aims to measure the quality of home health care leaves Ohioans in the dark about the performance of most local agencies. Nearly 47 percent of the more-than 800 Medicare-certified home-health agencies statewide were not rated through the government’s star-ratings consumer tool, a higher share than in any other state. And in Columbus, the void is even wider: Nearly three-fourths _ 72 percent _ of Medicare-certified agencies in the city were not rated, a Dispatch analysis found. …
The dearth of home health-care information is a major problem in Ohio. The state has plenty of information about nursing-home quality, at Ltcohio.org. But it does little to inform consumers about the performance of individual home-care agencies, despite the fact that the industry is rife with fraud and inconsistent, subpar care.
Los Angeles Times: A bar too high to reach
To Omar Medina, a security officer working the graveyard shift, attending Northwestern California University School of Law seemed like the ideal way to fulfill his dream of becoming a lawyer, The Los Angeles Times reports. Unlike traditional law schools with high tuitions and entrance requirements, Northwestern California offered Medina a chance to take online courses while working full-time and helping raise his toddler son. Medina enrolled in the unaccredited school. He said he paid about $3,000 a year in tuition. But almost from the start, the Marine Corps veteran struggled. He said he frequently asked for help, but got little. Less than two years later, he gave up. Medina's situation was hardly unusual: Nearly 9 out of 10 students at California's unaccredited law schools dropped out, according to a Times investigation based on recent state bar data.
Times Herald: Meth is homemade, volatile and growing
The Times Herald in Port Huron, Michigan, reports that Catherine Silver-Martin watched sternly as officers dressed in hazmat suits carried plastic bottles, aluminum foil, and chemicals from her neighbor’s home. “I suspected it,” the Port Huron woman said as she watched Port Huron police and St. Clair County Drug Task Force across the street. “But I didn’t realize the magnitude of what he was doing. I’m glad they’re here. I’m glad they’re taking out these meth labs.” From January through mid-June, the St. Clair County Drug Task Force made 17 raids involving methamphetamine and seized about 165 grams of the drug. That’s nearly as many meth raids as the task force totals for each of the last three years. “That is the popular drug right now and it happens to be the most dangerous,” said St. Clair County Sheriff Lt. Kevin Manns, who leads the task force. “Meth is not only dangerous to the user, but the people around them as well.” … Meth _ a highly addictive stimulant _ can create fumes and fires during and after production that threaten more than just the user.
Minneapolis Star Tribune: Medical debts soar in spite of insurance coverage
The Minneapolis Star Tribune says that the number of Minnesotans struggling to pay their medical bills is rising sharply, despite an increase in the number of residents who have health insurance. In the past year, Minnesota’s main hospital and clinic groups filed nearly 9,000 lawsuits against people with large or long-standing medical debts _ a sharp increase since 2005, according to a Star Tribune analysis of court records. Once a leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the United States, medical debt was widely expected to decline as more Americans got health insurance following federal health reform. Instead, shifts in the insurance market are pushing more people toward high-deductible policies that can require them to pay as much as $7,500 before any insurance benefits kick in.
The Oregonian: Public work on private email
Oregon law requires public employees and elected officials to abide by the basic rule children learn in math: Show your work. They must save and share their work on paper documents, digital files and email, the Oregonian reports. Yet at nearly every rung of government, from unpaid school board members to the former U.S. secretary of state, officials are using personal email accounts that may help them keep public work hidden, shield them from being accountable and increase the chance files will be lost or leaked. In Oregon, few jurisdictions definitively address the issue with employees and elected officials. An informal survey by The Oregonian/OregonLive of a dozen state and local agencies found that only one _ the state Bureau of Labor and Industries _ forbids staff and leaders from using personal emails to conduct public work. At best, the majority of agencies remind employees that personal emails are public records and encourage forwarding them to work accounts, the survey found.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Documents show state GOP courtship of gas industry
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that a lobbyist urged Tom Corbett’s campaign that the pitch to the Marcellus Shale gas industry should be stark. “The Guv and House Ds are conspiring to move devastating amendments to the Oil & Gas Act, as well as, a severance tax bill that would make PA one of the least competitive shale gas states in the nation,” according to “talking points” attributed to Peter Gleason, a lobbyist at K&L Gates whose clients include gas firms. They might talk of “balance,” according to the document, but “in reality, are marching in line with hardcore, anti-industry environmental radicals that are the base of Pennsylvania’s Democratic Party.” The time was May 2010, and Tom Corbett was then attorney general. Days earlier, he had won the Republican gubernatorial nomination. Days later, he traveled to Texas, with his campaign’s finance chair, for meetings with top gas executives. … The talking points _ among hundreds of documents from Mr. Corbett’s first gubernatorial campaign recently obtained by the Post-Gazette _ reflect a moment in time with strong echoes today.
New York Times: Campaign spending predates campaigns
Since late last year, presidential hopefuls have been romancing donors, hiring staff and haunting the diners and senior centers of Manchester and Dubuque, The New York Times reports. But on paper, most of the candidates spent virtually no money exploring a presidential bid until very recently. According to campaign disclosures newly filed with the Federal Election Commission, the much-promoted campaign staff they hired had other jobs. And their many, many trips to New Hampshire and Iowa had nothing to do with running for president. Such accounting _ which the campaigns defended as perfectly appropriate but some election lawyers said violated the law _ has allowed would-be candidates to spend months testing the presidential waters while saving cash to use later in the primaries. It also let them tap their most loyal donors for additional funds that will not count against the limits on contributions to their official campaigns. And it has contributed to what some experts described as a kind of campaign Wild West, with candidates and their lawyers testing or crossing legal boundaries stretched thin by the advent of “super PACs” and by Federal Election Commission deadlocks.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF RECENT IMPACT JOURNALISM
Arizona Daily Star: Parents DUIs top charges for child abuse
The child endangerment and abuse felonies most commonly found in Pima County’s courtrooms have nothing to do with hitting children or neglecting to feed or bathe them, the Arizona Daily Star reports. Instead, they involve children riding in the car with a parent or caregiver who has been using drugs or alcohol. A Daily Star analysis of the 157 defendants charged with at least one child abuse felony in 2014 found that nearly 80 percent involved children being exposed to potential harm, rather than having harm directly inflicted on them. Of these, nearly 44 percent involved children in cars with a drunk or drugged driver at the wheel.
Indianapolis Star: 5,006 rape kits untested in county
More than 5,000 sexual assault kits collected in the county around Indianapolis since 2000 have never been tested, according to an analysis by The Indianapolis Star and the USA Today Media Network. Each kit represents an individual named as a victim of sexual assault. The kits contain forensic evidence, such as clothing, fingernail scrapings and swabs from various parts of an individual’s body, gathered through an invasive and intensely personal exam that takes about three hours. A number of victims’ advocates are pushing for testing of all kits in Marion County. Testing the sexual assault kits can reveal DNA evidence that helps identify suspects, strengthen criminal cases or, in some cases, clear a suspect of wrongdoing. It’s unclear, however, whether the large number of untested kits in Marion County is denying justice to sexual assault victims. Officials say there are myriad — and often legitimate — reasons why a kit might not be tested.
Minneapolis Star Tribune: Overtime costs soar for local sheriffs
Counties across the metro are struggling with millions of dollars in soaring overtime costs as waves of officers in their sheriff’s departments either retire or quit jobs that are often proving difficult to fill. Staffing shortages have become so acute in some areas that even responding to 911 calls requires overtime. And some county officers are filling staffing gaps so often they are earning hundreds of hours in overtime pay, records show. After losing 94 employees in 2014, Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek says he’s bracing to blow his office’s budget this year by at least $1.5 million. In Ramsey County, commissioners tapped their contingency account last year to cover Sheriff Matt Bostrom’s overruns of $900,000 in temporary employee salaries and unbudgeted overtime. And in Carver County, Sheriff Jim Olson blamed his rising overtime on an exodus of more than half his authorized force of licensed peace officers since 2011 to higher-paying agencies. … The Star Tribune analyzed payroll expenditures from six metro counties. The analysis excludes payments to undercover officers, which are not public information.
New York Times: Lawless on the high seas
The New York Times reports that a rickety raft made of empty oil drums and a wooden tabletop rolled and pitched with the waves while tied to the side of the Dona Liberta, a 370-foot cargo ship anchored far from land in the Atlantic Ocean off West Africa. “Go down!” yelled a knife-wielding crew member, forcing two Tanzanian stowaways overboard and onto the raft. As angry clouds gathered on the horizon, he cut the line. Gambling on a better life, the stowaways had run out of luck. They had already spent nine days at sea, most of the time hiding in the Dona Liberta’s engine room, crouched deep in oily water. But as they climbed down onto the slick raft, the men, neither of whom knew how to swim, nearly slid into the ocean before lashing themselves together to the raft with a rope. As the Dona Liberta slowly disappeared, David George Mndolwa, one of the abandoned pair, recalled thinking: “This is the end.” Few places on the planet are as lawless as the high seas, where egregious crimes are routinely committed with impunity. Though the global economy is ever more dependent on a fleet of more than four million fishing and small cargo vessels and 100,000 large merchant ships that haul about 90 percent of the world’s goods, today’s maritime laws have hardly more teeth than they did centuries ago when history’s great empires first explored the oceans’ farthest reaches.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram: Bridge inspectors check for damage amid earthquake activity
When a big earthquake hits, the world often sees horrific images of collapsed bridges.
In 1989, during a 6.9-magnitude quake in the San Francisco area, the double-deck Nimitz Freeway pancaked, killing 42 people. Fifty-foot sections of the Bay Bridge also collapsed, killing a woman. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that North Texas is unlikely to experience an earthquake of that scope, according to researchers. But in recent years, the region has experienced dozens of smaller quakes, with the strongest having a magnitude of 4.0 — enough to potentially damage buildings and bridges. Those in geology and engineering circles are increasingly concerned that the wave of seismic activity in the Dallas-Forth Worth area could damage the area’s transportation infrastructure — not only bridges but also tunnels, roadways and rail lines.
Read more: http://www.star-telegram.com/news/local/community/fort-worth/article27648586.html#storylink=cpy
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Gangs exploit police chase policy
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that an innovative, violent gang of drug dealers is exploiting the Milwaukee Police Department's own policy on vehicle pursuits and other rules as they feed an incessant hunger for heroin across southeastern Wisconsin and contribute to a surging number of murders in the city, according to newly unsealed court documents. The dealers are part of Big Money Addicts, or BMA, one of a number of gangs in Milwaukee that operate on a new, highly mobile business model designed to better deliver drugs and build customer loyalty while thwarting police efforts to arrest them, records show. The gangs are selling heroin and cocaine from cars, shifting dealing away from drug houses and sales on foot or bicycle and creating rolling drug operations. They heavily tint their car windows, often to a degree that is prohibited under city ordinance. The tint is enough for police to pull over the cars, but if the driver flees, under department policy, officers cannot give chase unless they have evidence an occupant has committed a violent crime or is a threat to the safety of others. And the tint often prevents police from seeing what is going on in the car and gathering the evidence they would need to give chase.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK 7-14-15
Montgomery Advertiser: How safe are day care centers?
The Montgomery Advertiser reports that children began arriving at area hospitals, all with the same symptoms: diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea and lethargy. Some 86 children became sick from staph bacteria at two Sunny Side Day Care Center locations. Quickly, questions arose about the day care center operations, about whether it was licensed, about why there were 323 children at two of the four locations, about what the child/adult ratio was, and whether there were any state guidelines to prevent what had happened. Alabama is one of about a dozen states that have "church-exempt" day care centers. Sunny Side is one of them. … The Montgomery Advertiser investigated the history of Sunny Side Day Care Center, and it was found that Sunny Side did not meet fire safety standards, and while the center received a 98 rating on a May food inspection, they were not consistent in their food reports. Officials said oversight is very different for licensed day care centers than for "church-exempt" centers.
Arizona Republic: Medicaid-expansion foes get prime state insurance
More than two-thirds of Republican lawmakers who sued to overturn Medicaid coverage for low-income Arizonans took state-sponsored health-insurance plans that offer more-robust medical benefits than what the average Arizonan gets from private employer. Records obtained by The Arizona Republic show that of the 36 current and former state lawmakers who sued to halt funding of the Medicaid expansion, 26 enrolled in state-funded health-insurance plans. Eight of the lawmakers who sued the state over the Medicaid expansion no longer serve in the Arizona Legislature. Of the remaining 28 serving in either the Arizona Senate or House of Representatives, 21 are enrolled in the state-sponsored health-insurance plans. Arizona lawmakers serve part-time, but most now seated take year-round health-insurance benefits that are more generous than what most other states offer their employees.
Modesto Bee: Victims of scams have long wait for repayment
The Modesto Bee calculates that at the rate approved by a federal judge, it will take convicted swindler Tony Daniloo more than 10,000 years to repay what he stole from his victims. One of them, owed $74,000, is 85 years old and fading with Alzheimer’s disease. The woman’s daughter and full-time caregiver, Linda Malone, says they lost everything in Daniloo’s scam, and are too poor to buy a car, are hounded by creditors and have no hope of returning to a normal life. “I’d rather shoot the son of a bitch,” Malone said, than wait for pennies representing their share of Daniloo’s repayment. A judge formally set it at $50 per month when Daniloo had trouble keeping a heating and air-conditioning job not long after his January 2013 release from federal prison. Other victims of Stanislaus County’s more notorious white-collar criminals have similar stories. … None of the six offenders analyzed by The Bee has paid more than 1 percent of the money ordered by judges when sentenced; combined, they owe nearly $33 million, and have coughed up less than $29,000, or nine-tenths of a cent for each $100 ordered in restitution.
Denver Post: Rogue officers certification rarely revoked
Colorado's lenient police discipline system allows rogue officers to jump from department to department despite committing transgressions that would bar them from law enforcement jobs in many states, the Denver Post reports. Michael Jimenez resigned from the Denver police force in 2008 after he allegedly had sex with a prostitute he picked up in his squad car. But that did not stop the Custer County Sheriff's Office from hiring him in 2009. He lost that job, too, in less than a year. Then the Fowler Police Department, whose chief knew Jimenez from Denver, hired him. Jimenez never showed up for work and was later fired after pleading guilty to driving while ability impaired. Still, his certificate to work as a police officer remained active. It was not until he pleaded guilty again, this time to vehicular assault while driving drunk, that the panel that decides who can and cannot work in law enforcement in Colorado finally revoked Jimenez's certification. … The Denver Post reviewed a decade of state police personnel findings as well as discipline logs at the Denver Police Department and hiring records at select agencies and found officers still working in Colorado despite serious transgressions. In some instances, these problem officers went on to commit crimes or cause harm.
Washington Post: Power and politics of parole boards
The Washington Post tells the story of Reynaldo Rodriguez, who was 19 with a young son, a good job and no criminal record when he shot and killed a man. As part of an ongoing family feud, someone _ Rodriguez believed it was a man named Robert Cuellar _ had shot at Rodriguez’s mother and brother. Then Cuellar slapped Rodriguez’s sister. “I just blew a fuse,” Rodriguez says now of killing Cuellar. In 1977 he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, and the judge gave him a choice: A sentence of 15 to 30 years would probably mean parole in 12. A life sentence would make him parole-eligible in 10 years. Rodriguez chose life. At his sentencing, Saginaw County (Michigan) Judge Gary McDonald made it clear that this was “not the mandatory natural life imprisonment sentence” and said that if Rodriguez was a “model prisoner,” McDonald would recommend release in 10 years. Thirty-seven years later, Rodriguez is still behind bars. America’s prisons hold tens of thousands of people like Rodriguez — people primarily confined not by the verdicts of a judge or a jury but by the inaction of a parole board.
Minneapolis Star Tribune: VA handed out pain killers, then stopped
Zach Williams came home to Minnesota with two Purple Hearts for his military service in Iraq, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. He also carried other lasting war wounds. Back pain made it hard for him to stand. A brain injury from the explosions he endured made his moods erratic. Williams eased the chronic pain with the help of narcotics prescribed for years by the Minneapolis Veterans Medical Center. Then the VA made a stark and sudden shift: Instead of doling out pills to thousands of veterans like him _ a policy facing mounting criticism _ they began cutting dosages or canceling prescriptions, and, instead, began referring many vets to alternative therapies such as acupuncture and yoga. At first, the change seemed to work: Worrisome signs of prescription drug addiction among a generation of vets appeared to ebb. But the well-intentioned change in prescription policy has come with a heavy cost. Vets cut off from their meds say they feel abandoned, left to endure crippling pain on their own, or to seek other sources of relief. Or worse. On Sept. 20, 2013, police were called to Williams’ Apple Valley home, donated to him by a veterans group grateful for his sacrifice. Williams, 35, lay dead in an upstairs bedroom. He had overdosed on a cocktail of pills obtained from a variety of doctors.
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Wisconsin last among states for malpractice payments
Wisconsin doctors paid fewer medical malpractice claims per capita last year than their peers in any other state _ and physicians here are consistently at the bottom nationwide when it comes to paying such claims, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel analysis of federal data. Only six of every 1 million Wisconsin residents collected a medical malpractice claim last year, compared with a national rate of 27 per 1 million of population, according to the analysis of records filed with the National Practitioner Data Bank. That amounted to 37 total payouts in Wisconsin last year. The Wisconsin payment rate was last among the states in three of the past five years, and it has ranked 47th or lower 20 times since 1992, according to the analysis.
Meanwhile, the analysis shows, the number of claims paid to victims of doctor error has been dropping in Wisconsin and nationally.
Los Angeles Times: Pedestrians in trouble in Los Angeles
The Los Angeles Times says that during the evening rush hour near MacArthur Park, the streets teem with activity. Crowds pack the crosswalks, weaving around cars that nose through to make right turns. Men pull food carts and women push strollers toward the Metro Rail station, accompanied by the strains of pop music from cars and businesses. This is the kind of dense, transit-oriented neighborhood that Los Angeles officials say the car-clogged city needs to replicate. But Westlake's bustling character also makes it one of the city's most dangerous areas for pedestrians: On four blocks of South Alvarado Street, the neighborhood's backbone, 90 people were hit by cars in a period of 12 years. A Los Angeles Times analysis shows nearly a quarter of traffic accidents involving a pedestrian occur at less than 1 percent of the city's intersections. Many of the most dangerous crossings, which see a disproportionately high rate of crashes, are clustered in high-density areas between downtown Los Angeles and Hollywood.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK 7-9-15
AP: Governors' trade missions have uneven record of success
Governors across the country have been packing their bags for all-expenses-paid trade missions abroad, spending taxpayer dollars on costly trips that have an uneven track record of yielding any tangible benefits for their states. Last week alone, governors of 10 states were jetting across Europe, many converging at an air show in Paris. Others traveled to Canada, South America and Asia. At the beginning of last week, more than a quarter of the nation's governors were out of the country. Since the start of 2014, governors have taken or scheduled more than 80 trips to 30 countries in their efforts to increase exports and entice foreign companies to expand in their states, according to a nationwide analysis of gubernatorial trade trips by The Associated Press.
Kansas City Star: Police pursuits kill dozens, injure more
Seconds before impact, Emma Rothbrust cheered on the Grandview police officer _ in hot pursuit far from his home turf _ as he blew through a red light in Leawood. “Go get him,” said Rothbrust, 16, as she and a friend waited for him to clear the intersection. As soon as they pulled out, a second Grandview cruiser, traveling 81 mph, slammed into the passenger side of the car where Rothbrust was sitting. The 2004 crash left Rothbrust with serious injuries and the city of Grandview on the hook for a $2.9 million settlement with Rothbrust’s family. … In a rare response to the accident, Johnson County prosecutors charged both Grandview officers with misdemeanor reckless driving. … In the decade since, there have been at least another 706 pursuit-related crashes in the metro area, according to state data analyzed by the Hale Center for Journalism and The Kansas City Star. Those crashes killed at least 23 people, according to an analysis of more than 100 news stories over the decade. Hundreds more were injured, including at least 11 police officers.
Read more: http://www.kansascity.com/news/government-politics/article26040007.html#storylink=cpy
AP: Health insurance companies seeking large rate increases
Health insurance companies across the country are seeking rate increases of 20 percent to 40 percent or more, saying their new customers under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act turned out to be sicker than expected. Federal officials say they are determined to see that the requests are scaled back. Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans -- market leaders in many states -- are seeking rate increases that average 23 percent in Illinois; 25 percent in North Carolina; 31 percent in Oklahoma; 36 percent in Tennessee; and 54 percent in Minnesota, according to documents posted online by the federal government and state insurance commissioners and interviews with insurance executives. The Oregon insurance commissioner, Laura Cali, has approved 2016 rate increases for companies that cover more than 220,000 people. Moda Health Plan, which has the largest enrollment in the state, received a 25 percent increase, and the second-largest plan, LifeWise, received a 33 percent increase.
Los Angeles Times: State audit slams Blue Shield of California
In a scathing audit, state tax officials slammed nonprofit health insurer Blue Shield of California for stockpiling "extraordinarily high surpluses" _ more than $4 billion _ and for failing to offer more affordable coverage or other public benefits. The California Franchise Tax Board cited those reasons, among others, for revoking Blue Shield's state tax exemption last year, according to documents related to the audit that were reviewed by The Times. These details have remained secret until now because the insurer and tax board have refused to make public the audit and related records. Blue Shield's operations are indistinguishable from those of its for-profit healthcare competitors, the auditors found, and it should be stripped of the tax break it has enjoyed since its founding in 1939. The insurance giant does not advance social welfare, the key test for preserving its tax exemption, according to the records.
Miami Herald: Despite probe, police kept after cash
With federal agents bearing down on a troubled sting operation run by Bal Harbour police, the officers for the unit began striking more deals with criminal groups to bring in massive amounts of drug cash. In one month alone, they traveled 22 times to cities outside Florida to collect suitcases filled with cash, even as federal agents complained the police were ignoring their questions about the undercover operation. By the time federal investigators issued a subpoena in 2012, the police task force was striking as many as three deals in a single day to launder money for the drug cartels and other criminal groups. New records obtained last week by the Miami Herald show the Tri-County Task Force carried out a rush of deals while fending off federal agents in what appears to be one of the largest ever state undercover money laundering operations in Florida.
Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article26508889.html#storylink=cpy
New York Times: Obesity treatment covered by insurance
The New York Times reports that Dr. Michael Kaplan looked across his desk at a woman who had sought out his Long Island Weight Loss Institute and asked the question he often poses to new patients: “Where do you think you go wrong with food?” The 38-year-old patient was about 20 pounds overweight and, as she described it, desperate. Weight Watchers, nutritionists _she had tried them all in vain. A physician like Dr. Kaplan, she reasoned, might be the only one left who could help her. … Dr. Kaplan, a leader in the medical weight-loss industry, nodded sympathetically, interjecting questions that ranged from what she typically ate for breakfast (protein shake) to whether she felt depressed (sometimes). By the end of the 50-minute session, the woman had chosen Dr. Kaplan’s most expensive weight-loss plan: $1,199 for six weeks’ worth of meal-replacement products, counseling and vitamin supplements. Then he delivered some good news: Her insurance would probably reimburse her for at least a small portion of the bill, thanks to a provision in the federal health care law that requires insurers to pay for nutrition and obesity screening.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF RECENT IMPACT JOURNALISM 7-1-15
AP-APME Infrastructure Project: Growing Gridlock
At 4:35 a.m. each weekday, Stan Paul drives out of his Southern California suburb with 10 passengers in a van, headed to his job as an undergraduate counselor at the University of California, Los Angeles. Some 80 miles and 90 minutes later, the vanpoolers finally arrive to start their workday.
On the return trip, Los Angeles' infamously snarled traffic often stretches their afternoon commute to three hours. Since Paul joined in 2001, he has spent roughly 1 1/2 years aboard the vanpool.
Transportation experts say Paul's long journey offers a warning for the future, when traffic rivaling a major holiday might someday be the norm for many more Americans. And it's not just the usual congestion spots.
Orange County Register: Disney works to stop gate tax
The Orange County Register says that the Walt Disney Co. recently showed how much it values keeping Anaheim out of its ticket-pricing business. The corporation announced it would commit to a $1 billion expansion at Disneyland Resort, provided the city forgoes taxing admission tickets for 30 years. Anaheim has never charged taxes on Disney tickets. But the 1996 deal that spelled out that policy expires next year. Disney’s effort to get ahead of the curve shows how much control it wants to maintain over its carefully calibrated prices. ...At the end of 2014, Disney’s parks and resorts were its second-biggest source of revenue, after its media networks, with operating revenue of $2.6 billion, a 20 percent jump from the previous year, according to financial filings. In Orange County, Disneyland Resort accounts for nearly a third of the $9.6 billion tourism market and generates $370 million in state and local tax revenues, according to a study commissioned by Disney. The city’s tax revenue from hotel stays, heavily tied to Disney parks, is projected to hit $133 million next year – nearly half of its total revenue.
Still, Anaheim faces a half-billion dollar unfunded pension obligation. And mayor Tom Tait opposes Disney’s proposal, saying he doesn’t want Anaheim to be handcuffed for another three decades.
Miami Herald: Money pipeline to Latin America
From a trailer just across from the Bal Harbour village hall, the police set up an elaborate undercover sting, the Miami Herald reports in a series. Posing as money launderers, they counted the $409,115 in drug cash that had just arrived. They bundled it. They took photos of it.
In the next few days, they delivered it: thousands of dollars to VA Cell, a company in an atrium office in Doral. Even more to GSM City, a popular computer store with a showroom just three miles away. Armed with one of the toughest money-laundering laws in the country, the police infiltrated the drug cartels five years ago and zeroed on their money-laundering hub — setting up what should have been a sweeping crackdown on businesses used by the drug traffickers to conceal their cash. But in the end, nothing happened. No company owners were arrested by the Tri-County Task Force, nor were they targeted with civil actions to seize their assets. To this day, most of the exporters are open, some still suspected by federal agents of laundering money for the drug organizations, a Miami Herald investigation found. … The lack of enforcement represents everything that went wrong with a task force that funneled millions into the storefront businesses — gathering crucial evidence against some of the owners — yet took no enforcement actions against them.
Read more: http://pubsys.miamiherald.com/static/media/projects/2015/license-to-launder/doral.html#storylink=cpy
Idaho Statesman: Commercializing tech research hasn’t fulfilled promise
The Idaho Statesman says that the world should hope Boise State University professor Greg Hampikian strikes it big. Hampikian, who teaches biology and criminal justice, has developed three chemical compounds he says have shown promise in the laboratory to fight cancer. The drugs are not yet patented and have years of testing and trials before they might receive regulatory approval. If Boise State chose to pursue a patent for the drugs, and if they were to reach market, Hampikian could split millions in patent licensing agreements with a pharmaceutical company in equal parts with Boise State. … After spending thousands on initial filings, Boise State has chosen not to pursue patents on the drugs, though it has filed for patents for two other Hampikian inventions: a miniature pump for use in forensic DNA analysis and a transducer that can generate energy. So Hampikian plans to pay himself to file patents for the cancer drugs, though he will likely need investors to advance them. … Universities like Boise State, the University of Idaho and Idaho State University, and federal installations like the Idaho National Laboratory, have embraced tech transfer by creating offices to license their work.
But in Idaho at least, tech transfer has so far produced mostly hopes, not business success.
The Courier-Journal: Dental ER visits rising
What started as a toothache from a lost filling became a raging infection that landed Christopher Smith in the University of Louisville Hospital emergency room, then in intensive care on a ventilator and feeding tube. "It came on so quickly and violently. I was terrified," said Smith, 41, who lacked dental insurance and hadn't been to a dentist for years before the problem arose this month. "I had no idea it could get this serious this quickly."
Smith is one of a growing number of patients seeking help in the ER for long-delayed dental care. An analysis of the most recent federal data by the American Dental Association shows dental ER visits doubled from 1.1 million in 2000 to 2.2 million in 2012, or one visit every 15 seconds. ADA officials, as well as many dentists across the nation say the problem persists despite health reform. … Limited insurance coverage is a major culprit; all but 15 percent of dental ER visits are by the uninsured or people with government insurance plans. The Affordable Care Act requires health plans to cover dental services for children but not adults. Medicaid plans for adults vary by state, and offer only a short list of dental services in Kentucky. Medicare generally doesn't cover dental care.
Charlotte Observer: Broker sells insurance policies to homeless
Just outside the gate of Charlotte’s Urban Ministry Center, where the homeless often gather with people selling them something, Kim Huggins got a pitch from an acquaintance she knows only as Jeff, the Charlotte Observer reports. If she would give him her name and Social Security number, she would get free health insurance and he would earn $5. Huggins, who was sleeping on a friend’s floor, says she handed the man her Social Security and ID cards and he filled out a form. Her form, along with 600 others from across the Carolinas, went to Charlotte insurance agent Will Kennedy. Almost all the applications he submitted had an estimated annual income of $11,700, and many of the addresses were the Urban Ministry Center and other homeless help centers, according to a complaint filed with the N.C. Department of Insurance. Today Huggins is among dozens in Charlotte who are learning that their “free” coverage requires them to cover a $5,000 deductible and costs them eligibility for some of the free medical services they’ve relied on.
Read more: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/business/health-care/article25671634.html#storylink=cpy
Seattle Times: Navy stealthily targets canal development
With little public outreach, the Navy has stealthily put thousands of acres of Puget Sound shoreline and upland off-limits to proposed and future development. Recently released documents reveal the Navy has marked a “sphere of influence” in the western Puget Sound that it can use to block developments — even after they’re well under way — by deeming them threats to national security. The Navy has clandestinely targeted projects, rating them according to perceived threat level. Meanwhile, area developers say they were unaware their work was being monitored. Last year, the Navy was so worried about a proposed pier bringing barges into Hood Canal that it managed to restrict a narrow, 70-mile strip of seafloor to stop it. The state hired two appraisers, who independently valued the strip, some 4,804 acres of public land, at $1.68 million. But to pay Washington state that amount, the Navy first needed approval from Congress. To get around the lawmakers, the Navy reappraised the lease in-house, valuing the seafloor acreage at $720,000, according to a Seattle Times review of hundreds of pages of Navy and state documents. The state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) agreed to the new price despite state law that requires the agency to obtain fair-market value for this “restrictive easement.”
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM FROM PAST WEEK 6-24-15
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Coffee roasting can release dangerous chemical
Tucked inside a burlap sack at room temperature, green coffee beans pose no known danger.
Funnel a 90-pound batch into a 430-degree roaster and things change, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. A chemical reaction between the beans' sugars and amino acids creates a toxic compound capable of crippling the lungs of anyone nearby. But few, if any, commercial coffee roasters know it. They stand close, smelling the beans periodically during the 14 minutes it takes to turn them into a ready-to-be-ground roast. As the beans spill from the roasting drums into the cooling rack, roasters again inhale the fumes — the aromas made delicious, in part, by the same molecular formula tied to hundreds of injuries and at least five deaths. Most coffee roasters have never heard of the chemical compound diacetyl. Those who have, associate it solely with its devastating effects on microwave popcorn workers and those in the flavoring industry. They don't suspect that it could be wreaking the same havoc on their own lungs.
Arizona Republic: The high cost of drones
The drone's radar spots the men first _ four red dots moving on Ajo Mountain, a half mile north of the U.S.-Mexico border, the Arizona Republic reports. The radar operator sits more than an hour's flight away, with the rest of the drone's flight crew, in a trailer at the edge of the Fort Huachuca military base in southern Arizona. He taps at his keyboard. A powerful video camera mounted on a ball beneath the Customs and Border Protection Predator B zooms in. The image clearly shows four men, one in a white shirt, hiking calmly through the rugged desert, unaware they're being tracked from nearly nine miles away and 19,000 feet up. The drone's crew alerts the Border Patrol. In less than a minute, a helicopter heads there from one direction, agents in a truck from another. After a few minutes the four men, apparently hearing the chopper, break into a run, sprinting for the border fence. Impressive technology. But federal auditors and aerial-surveillance competitors repeatedly have questioned whether CBP's drone program is cost effective _ and whether other alternatives might do more for less money. … An Arizona Republic analysis suggests that manned aircraft or other, less expensive drones could provide broader coverage than the Predator Bs have delivered, at a significantly lower cost.
Miami Herald: To serve, protect and profit
The Miami Herald reports that after showing up for guard duty at Bal Harbour’s Sea View Hotel, Wilner Pierre surveyed the cluster of boisterous men lounging at the pool, drinks in hand. The 58-year-old security guard asked them to remove the glass from the pool area of the elegant, 1940s-era resort. When they refused, he threatened to call the police. Then came their response: We are the police. Bal Harbour’s Sea View Hotel emerged as a de facto base for task force members, who booked rooms at the elegant 1940s-era resort at least 75 times, holding meetings and often converging around the pool. … The Tri-County Task Force turned a money-laundering investigation into a multi-million-dollar enterprise, spending lavishly on travel and dining while picking up suitcases stuffed with drug cash from as far away as Los Angeles and San Juan.
Read more: http://pubsys.miamiherald.com/static/media/projects/2015/license-to-launder/spend.html#storylink=cpy
Chicago Tribune: Emanuel-backed effort to fight violence falters
As Chicago's youth violence made national headlines, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and business leaders in 2013 launched what they called a game-changing initiative to quell the bloodshed, the Chicago Tribune reports. With prominent executives at the helm and a goal of $50 million in corporate pledges, the new private foundation called Get IN Chicago presented itself as a departure from the usual practice of pumping tax dollars to community groups while paying little heed to the results. In addition to funding existing youth programs, Get IN would enlist top social scientists to conduct randomized, controlled trials and rigorously evaluate the programs' outcomes, its press releases said. For the first time, authorities would have data enabling them to scale up and replicate proven strategies. … But as of June 1, two years into Get IN's five-year plan, the foundation had disbursed only $3.7 million in grants to youth programs, while spending $900,000 per year on its own administrative salaries and overhead, according to the most recent available records.
Des Moines Register: Traffic-camera ticket appeals often successful
Got a citation from one of the dozens of traffic enforcement cameras scattered across Iowa?
It might be worth your while to appeal it. In Council Bluffs, 83 percent of the automated traffic enforcement citations that were appealed by motorists resulted in dismissals, a Des Moines Register review found. The success rate on appeals in three other cities with enforcement cameras ranged from 20 to 50 percent, the Register review showed. But only a tiny fraction of cited motorists bother appealing. In most cities, the appeals process requires taking time during a weekday to appear before a city official to haggle over a citation. Just 2.7 percent of motorists who received an enforcement camera citation from Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs, Des Moines or Sioux City chose to appeal, the review shows.
Portland Oregonian: Unpaid parking tickets pile up
Two years ago, Portland State University student Devin Witter had racked up so many parking tickets that the city towed his road-worn Hyundai Accent from a downtown street. When Witter went to pick up his car, the attendant told him he could get it back, but only if he paid off his citations. "The car wasn't even worth the amount I owed in parking fines," Witter said. "So I just left it there, figuring the city would sell the car, pay off the tickets and that would be that." That wasn't that. After late fees and collection costs, the state says Witter still owes $9,669 for 36 unpaid tickets, putting him on the short list of Portland's worst parking scofflaws. At the top: An Internet marketing manager who owes $12,565 and a Maserati owner with a $11,539 tab. But even if those debts were paid off tomorrow, they would barely make a dent in $32.4 million in unpaid tickets owed to a City Hall reluctant to get more aggressive with parking deadbeats.
Washington Post: Recycling is stalling
Tucked in the woods 30 miles north of Washington is a plant packed with energy-guzzling machines that can make even an environmentalist’s heart sing _ giant conveyor belts, sorters and crushers saving a thousand tons of paper, plastic and other recyclables from reaching landfills each day, The Washington Post reports. The 24-hour operation is a sign that after three decades of trying, a culture of curbside recycling has become ingrained in cities and counties across the country. Happy Valley, however, it is not. Once a profitable business for cities and private employers alike, recycling in recent years has become a money-sucking enterprise. The District, Baltimore and many counties in between are contributing millions annually to prop up one of the nation’s busiest facilities in Elkridge, Maryland, but it is still losing money. In fact, almost every facility like it in the country is running in the red. And Waste Management and other recyclers say that more than 2,000 municipalities are paying to dispose of their recyclables instead of the other way around. … The problems of recycling in America are both global and local. A storm of falling oil prices, a strong dollar and a weakened economy in China have sent prices for American recyclables plummeting worldwide.
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Buffalo Billion tends to secrecy
The Buffalo Billion program championed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is a bold and costly experiment in economic development that is beset by secrecy and politics, and banking on a company with a history of losing money, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reports. The program — hailed in Buffalo but resented across much of the rest of New York — has been promoted as both a catalyst for rejuvenating the western New York economy and a model for other upstate regions.
But the management of the Buffalo Billion by the Cuomo administration has raised eyebrows — and concerns — in some quarters.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF RECENT IMPACT JOURNALISM
AP: FBI behind mysterious surveillance aircraft over US cities
Scores of low-flying planes circling American cities are part of a civilian air force operated by the FBI and obscured behind fictitious companies, The Associated Press has learned.
The AP traced at least 50 aircraft back to the FBI, and identified more than 100 flights in 11 states over a 30-day period since late April, orbiting both major cities and rural areas. At least 115 planes, including 90 Cessna aircraft, were mentioned in a federal budget document from 2009.
For decades, the planes have provided support to FBI surveillance operations on the ground. But now the aircraft are equipped with high-tech cameras, and in rare circumstances, technology capable of tracking thousands of cellphones, raising questions about how these surveillance flights affect Americans' privacy.
Los Angeles Times: Rise in accidental gunshots by deputies follows new firearm
The Los Angeles Times says that one sheriff's deputy shot himself in the leg while pulling out his gun to confront a suspect. Another accidentally fired a bullet in a restroom stall. A third deputy stumbled over a stroller in a closet as he was searching for a suspect, squeezing off a round that went through a wall and lodged in a piece of furniture in the next room. Accidental gunshots by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies have more than doubled in two years, endangering bystanders and occasionally injuring deputies. The jump coincides with the department's move to a new handgun that lacks a safety lever and requires less pressure to pull the trigger. Sheriff's officials say that the increase in accidental discharges — from 12 in 2012 to 30 last year — occurred because deputies were adjusting to the new gun.
Washington Post: One in five women say they were violated
Twenty percent of young women who attended college during the past four years say they were sexually assaulted, according to a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll. But the circle of victims on the nation’s campuses is probably even larger. Many others endured attempted attacks, the poll found, or suspect that someone violated them while they were unable to consent. Some say they were coerced into sex through verbal threats or promises. About the project: The Washington Post and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation teamed up to poll more than 1,000 people nationwide who have attended college within the past four years about sexual assault and campus culture. Post reporters then interviewed more than 50 women and men who responded that they had experienced unwanted sexual contact — or attempted or suspected sexual contact — while they were students.
Sacramento Bee: California’s largest nursing home owner under fire
At the top of the chain: Shlomo Rechnitz, a 43-year-old Los Angeles entrepreneur and philanthropist, the Sacramento Bee reports. Since 2006, Rechnitz and his primary company, Brius Healthcare Services, have acquired 81 nursing homes up and down the state, many of them through bankruptcy court. His chain has grown so quickly that he now controls about 1 in every 14 nursing home beds in California, giving him an outsized influence on quality of care in the state.
In the past year, multiple alarms have been raised about this relative newcomer to the industry and the care provided in some of his homes. His facilities have become the target of police scrutiny, lawsuits, stiff regulatory fines and state and federal investigations that have uncovered numerous alleged violations.
Read more: http://www.sacbee.com/news/investigations/nursing-homes/article24015475.html#storylink=cpy
Des Moines Register: Invest in Des Moines hotel, get a green card
The Des Moines Register reports that a $101 million convention hotel in downtown Des Moines promises to bring hundreds of jobs, thousands of visitors and millions of dollars to the city. It also could provide green cards to 40 wealthy immigrants and their families. Developers aim to secure $20 million for the hotel project through a federal program known as EB-5. It allows foreign citizens to obtain permanent U.S. residency by investing $500,000, and in some cases $1 million, in a U.S. business that creates at least 10 jobs. Offering a rare path to U.S. residency — and ultimately citizenship — the program has exploded in popularity, driven largely by investors from China who want their children to grow up in American cities and attend American schools. Their money has helped fund projects like a posh casino on the Las Vegas strip, a Four Seasons hotel in lower Manhattan and an ethanol plant in North Dakota. But the EB-5 program has been a target of criticism. Several high-profile projects have flopped, and whistleblowers have raised questions about fraud, lack of investment in poor and rural areas, and loopholes that could allow foreign operatives and people with ties to terrorism to settle here.
Baltimore Sun: Arrests in Baltimore plummet, people frightened
Baltimore police arrested fewer people in May than in any month for at least three years, despite a surge in homicides and shootings across the city — triggering safety concerns among residents, the Baltimore Sun reports. Several neighborhoods saw declines of more than 90 percent from April to May, while arrests in the West Baltimore area where Freddie Gray was arrested dropped by more than half during the same period, according to a Baltimore Sun analysis of police data. Citywide, arrests declined 43 percent from April to May. "I've noticed fewer police," said Steve Dixon, program director for the Penn North Recovery Center in West Baltimore. "We're having robberies at the playground in broad daylight. All these murders and shootings, we're having them in broad daylight." The dramatic citywide decline — which has sparked a debate about police pulling back on enforcement efforts — came in the aftermath of the death of Gray. Six officers have been charged in the death of the 25-year-old, who suffered spinal injuries while in police custody and died a week after his April 12 arrest.
Star-Ledger: Lawyers say two prisoners are innocent
The Star-Ledger in New Jersey recounts the murder of two people in 1995. A protest erupted. Police were put on high alert. The arrests came swiftly, amid public outcry. Kevin Baker and Sean Washington, then both 25, were convicted after a two-day trial in 1996. A single eyewitness, a woman who testified she was a habitual crack cocaine user out looking for another fix, placed them at the scene. Each was given two consecutive sentences of 30 years to life, meaning they'll be in their mid 80s before they get out of prison. But an examination by NJ Advance Media of hundreds of records, trial evidence and interviews with key players raises serious questions about whether the two are guilty. Lawyers from the Last Resort Exoneration Project — an initiative at Seton Hall University School of Law in Newark that offers free legal and investigative services to those it believes to be innocent — say neither man pulled the trigger. "They were victims of a total breakdown of the criminal justice system at every point," said Michael Risinger, who runs the project with his wife and co-counsel, Lesley Risinger. The Risingers say the evidence they have gathered proves the two men innocent and points to something investigators missed all those years ago. The actual killer.
Democrat and Chronicle: Education reforms spur lobbying ‘arms race’
Education policy is big business for lobbyists in New York state, according to the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, New York. Various education interests have spent at least $124 million trying to influence lawmakers, officials and the general public at the state and local level since the start of 2006, including a record of at least $16 million last year, according to a review of state records by Gannett's Albany Bureau. That's in addition to $45.3 million in lobbying expenses reported by the New York State United Teachers union and its New York City affiliate over the past nine years. They are tallied as labor organizations, not education groups, by the state's lobbying regulator. Add in political spending and the numbers are starker: Education interests and teachers unions have spent more than a quarter-billion dollars — $285.5 million — on lobbying, campaign contributions and independent political expenditures over the past decade, according to a report by Common Cause/NY, which the good-government group is set to release shortly.
The Oregonian: Tainted High
Dab Society Dutch Treat, a potent cannabis extract sold to medical marijuana patients, sailed through state-mandated pesticide testing, the Oregonian reports. The results were printed on the label, backed by an official report. Workers at a Southeast Portland dispensary were happy to share the lab certificate. All you had to do was ask. But, in fact, two laboratories commissioned by The Oregonian/OregonLive found pesticides in the same sample of Dutch Treat at levels above what the state allows. It wasn’t an isolated case. A combination of lax state rules, inconsistent lab practices and inaccurate test results has allowed pesticide-laced products to enter the medical marijuana market, The Oregonian/OregonLive has found. Marijuana that fails a pesticide screen is not supposed to be sold to patients. But two other cannabis products in addition to Dutch Treat also tested above acceptable levels for pesticides.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF IMPACT JOURNALISM 6-10-15
Arizona Republic: Lack of water threatens future of farming
The Arizona Republic says that in the Willcox area, Jen Score watched her minister baptize her husband, Ralph, by submerging him in water last August. The pastor told him faith would carry the couple through life's trials. Jen wondered, what trials? She counted her blessings that they didn't have any. And then they got home. Ralph turned on the kitchen faucet. Not a drop came out. Their well had run dry. Nearby, Jim Graham grows grapes and pistachios. John Hart grows corn, alfalfa, pinto beans and other grains. They have seen their groundwater levels drop, and increasing pumping costs to chase them. "There will be a day when we'll run out of water if we don't act responsibly," Graham said, gazing down the rows of wine grape leaves before him. About 80 miles east of Tucson, the Southwest's 15-year drought has barged into living rooms, dinner tables, farm fields. After decades of unregulated groundwater pumping to support a growing agricultural demand, the Willcox area's only water source is shrinking quickly. On average, water levels observed in wells there have plummeted deeper than almost anywhere else in the state. The fallout jeopardizes an industry that grows nearly three-quarters of Arizona's wine grapes, raises tough questions about the future of farming in the desert and pits community members against each other.
Modesto Bee: One irrigation district ignores voting law
When population figures from the latest U.S. census rolled in a few years ago, most California agencies adjusted their voting districts to make them equally sized, as required by state law every 10 years, the Modesto Bee reports. Some had gotten out of whack over the preceding decade because of uneven growth, births and deaths. A turn-of-the-century housing surge in the Village I area of northeast Modesto, for example, boosted its corresponding voting district 13 percent higher than it should have been by 2010, just two years after districts were created. The City Council fixed the problem by moving voting boundaries by a few streets in certain areas. So did Stockton, Stanislaus County and scads of other agencies. Irrigation districts, subject to the same reapportionment law, also resized their voting districts. … Oakdale Irrigation District did not. OID leaders were fully aware of the law, meeting minutes show. They said they would resize if numbers indicated they should. But when wildly uneven numbers were brought before them in 2011, the OID board chose to do nothing. Four years later, remaining board members and OID General Manager Steve Knell have no explanation. Almost all said their memories are fuzzy; Al Bairos, who was board chairman at the time, could not be reached for this story.
Palm Beach Post: Gender, racial pay disparities persist
Even as it has hired a woman as its top employee, Palm Beach County still struggles with a glass ceiling, the Palm Beach Post reports. Verdenia Baker, the longtime deputy Palm Beach County Administrator who last month was tapped for the top job, now is in negotiations on her pay. She already was the third highest-paid of the county’s 6,408 employees, and the highest paid woman.
But of the 25 highest-paid employees, only eight are women, according to a Palm Beach Post analysis of the county’s $372.7 million payroll. The analysis shows women represent 51.6 percent of the county population but only a third of county employees. Of those, women account for about a fourth of the 3,052 employees earning $50,000 or more and 14 percent of the 713 earning least $100,000.
Boston Globe: Rich financial realm runs with little scrutiny
The Boston Globe says that the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. frequently brags that it doesn’t react to the whims of Wall Street, it answers to the millions of policyholders who own the giant insurer. But when a handful of those owners showed up for MassMutual’s annual meeting this spring, they were treated more like security risks. After driving past the iron fence surrounding the company’s headquarters in Springfield, they had to get their photo taken at the security desk, submit to a search as a guard passed a metal-detecting wand over them, and wait for an escort. Once they got to the meeting, the annual business of the Fortune 100 company, with more than $250 billion in assets, was concluded in 15 minutes. That same day, Liberty Mutual Insurance convened its annual meeting at its headquarters in Boston. The nation’s second largest property and casualty insurer, it has $124 billion in assets, and 50,000 employees. And its executives closed out the meeting in six minutes. No presentations were made, no questions asked, and no outside board members attended. The speed with which the policyholders were shooed out the door is symbolic of the shadows in which MassMutual, Liberty Mutual, and others among the nation’s largest insurance companies, such as State Farm and Nationwide, operate.
Philadelphia Inquirer: Shooting at drivers is dangerous, costly
Dana Russell was driving up Roosevelt Boulevard on a freezing February afternoon in 2011 when he realized the car he just passed was his stolen Chevy Impala, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Ten days before, two men had hijacked the burgundy sedan from his wife. “They all got guns on them, I know that for sure,” Russell told the police dispatcher as he turned around and tailed his stolen car into North Philadelphia. The officer asked how he knew. “’Cause my wife was robbed at gunpoint.” At the wheel of the 2000 Impala sat Frederick Bell, 41, an ex-con with a long rap sheet. Next to him was Jamil Moses, 24, who two days before had escaped from a halfway house where he was serving the end of a four- to eight-year prison sentence for armed robbery. An epic chase was on — a pursuit that would last 10 minutes and reach high speeds through narrow, crowded streets, drawing officers from three districts and two task forces. It ended at 23d and Susquehanna, between the Anna B. Pratt Elementary School and the Raymond Rosen housing project, where the stolen Impala slammed into a squad car. Police cruisers surrounded the Chevy. There, six police officers fired 56 bullets into the car, leaving one man dead — and the other man wealthy. Neither suspect turned out to have a gun. It was what police call a bad shooting. The city would pay $2 million to the family of the slain passenger, Moses, who had three bullet wounds in the back of his head and neck, and $500,000 to the driver, Bell, who was gravely injured. … Since 2002, Philadelphia police officers have shot 43 people in vehicles, killing eight of them, an Inquirer review of confidential police investigations has found. That has cost the city $5.8 million.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: State agency writes off millions
The Milwaukee Journal reports that Wisconsin’s top jobs agency has written off $7.6 million in taxpayer-funded loans since it was created by Gov. Scott Walker about four years ago. The write-offs include 28 different loans removed from the balance sheets of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., with some companies receiving multiple loans. The majority of those loans, which officials typically write off after determining the likelihood of collecting the debt is small, were awarded by the former state Department of Commerce, the predecessor to the WEDC. One of those loans, which was awarded by the WEDC to Building Committee Inc., set off a firestorm of criticism in recent weeks after it was revealed that some of Walker's top aides and a powerful lobbyist pushed for a $500,000 unsecured loan to the now-defunct company, which was owned by Walker campaign contributor William Minahan. That loan was written off by the WEDC last year. The $500,000 given to BCI amounts to about 7 percent of the loans — totaling $7,607,013 as of early June — that the agency has written off since it was created in 2011. Walker, a Republican governor and likely 2016 presidential candidate, said that problems with loans have decreased at WEDC compared to its predecessor.
WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF RECENT IMPACT JOURNALISM 6-3-15
Washington Post: Fatal police shootings approaching 400 nationwide in 2015
The Washington Post reports at least 385 people were shot and killed by police nationwide during the first five months of this year, more than two a day, and more than twice the rate of fatal police shootings tallied by the federal government over the past decade, a count that officials concede is incomplete. “These shootings are grossly underreported,” said Jim Bueermann, a former police chief and president of the Washington-based Police Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving law enforcement. “We are never going to reduce the number of police shootings if we don’t begin to accurately track this information.”
To understand why and how often these shootings occur, The Washington Post is compiling a database of every fatal shooting by police in 2015, as well as of every officer killed by gunfire in the line of duty. The Post looked exclusively at shootings, not killings by other means, such as stun guns and deaths in police custody.
Hartford Courant: Authorities lost track of now suspected serial killer
The Hartford Courant reports law enforcement agencies and Connecticut’s judicial system lost track of now-suspected serial killer William Devin Howell in early 2003, the year six victims disappeared, and again in 2004, when he was released early from an unrelated prison term even while police awaited DNA tests that tied him to one of the victims. A Hartford Courant examination of court and investigative records reveals that authorities couldn't find Howell for most of 2003, when police had multiple warrants for his arrest and knew where he was living in New Britain. By the time police arrested him, a half dozen people had disappeared between January and October of that year, their remains found in recent weeks and years behind a New Britain strip mall.
Idaho Statesman: Officers allege interference, retaliation in crash probe
The Idaho Statesman report three Idaho State Police crash investigators who say they refused to bend the truth about a fatal crash in 2011 claim that the agency’s leaders are retaliating against them. The daughter of the man killed in that crash says ISP’s manipulation of the investigation to protect a Payette County deputy could make it difficult for her to seek justice in her father’s death. ISP is now embroiled in three lawsuits stemming from the crash investigation, with possibly more to come. And the Gem County prosecutor who handled the case told ISP officials that he was shocked by the behavior of the trooper who led the investigation, that he could no longer trust the trooper and that the trooper secretly recorded their conversation about the case.
Portland Press Herald: Taxpayers lose as Maine jails indigents
The Portland Press Herald reports Conner Comeau’s crime was spraying graffiti on rail cars at a South Portland train yard in 2010. For that, he was sentenced to 48 hours in jail. But the far more serious punishment came in 2014, when Comeau, 25, missed two payments on the $1,300 in restitution the court ordered him to pay. He ended up in jail for 100 days, earning credit at a rate of $5 each day toward paying off his debt. Taxpayers in Maine are spending at least tens of thousands of dollars a year – and likely much more – to jail low-income defendants like Comeau who failed to pay the fines for what are often minor crimes, according to a study of Maine’s jails conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. In all of these cases, it costs taxpayers more to jail the defendants for unpaid fines or restitution than the inmates can earn in credit for each day they serve behind bars.
Detroit Free Press: Did DNA test lapse leave rapist free to strike again?
The Detroit Free Press reports it has learned a suspected serial rapist accused of kidnapping three women from a gas station in March and sexually assaulting them might have been behind bars at the time had local authorities followed state law and collected his DNA several years ago. Authorities say Michael Sykes, now 21, might have been linked to an unsolved sexual assault case from 2008 had his DNA been entered into a federal database after he was convicted in two Highland Park cases in 2009 when he was a teenager. But the agencies responsible for collecting his DNA — Highland Park Police and Wayne County's Department of Children and Family Services — failed to do so, officials say.
Minneapolis Star Tribune: Minnesota’s medicaid enrollment soars past 1 million
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports Minnesota’s Medicaid rolls have soared past the 1 million mark for the first time, driven by two years of explosive growth in government insurance programs in the wake of federal health reform. The enrollment surge — one of the largest in the country and the biggest for the state in 35 years — helped push Minnesota’s uninsured rate down to about 5 percent and has enabled more low-income families to receive regular medical care, doctors say. But it also means that Medicaid and its sister program, MinnesotaCare for the working poor, now rank among the state’s largest health insurers, which could place long-run strains on the state budget. Fully one in five Minnesotans now receive health insurance from public programs, up from one in 10 just five years ago.
While unprecedented, the spurt was not unexpected after the administration of Gov. Mark Dayton made an ambitious push to cover more of Minnesota’s uninsured population.
Bergen County Record: Out-of-network medical bills a sickening shock
The Bergen County Record reports on three cases of how out-of-network medical bills can come as a shock. If the patients had been savvy enough to follow their insurers’ rules and choose in-network hospitals, they could have maximized their coverage and minimized their out-of-pocket costs. But one or more of the physicians who took care of them — and over whom they had no choice — did not partic