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The Oil and Gas Industry’s Latest Scheme Would All but Privatize Public Lands

Source: Jimmy Tobias, Pacific Standard, September 11, 2017

Having failed to turn over control of federal lands to state governments and private interests, anti-conservationists in Congress are at work on their next scheme: partially privatizing the public domain by allowing states to take charge of energy development on vast swaths of land owned by the United States Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. This agenda was on full display at a Capitol Hill hearing last week when the House Natural Resources Committee convened a forum on the Federal Land Freedom Act of 2017, a bill that has nothing to do with freedom and everything to do with avarice. The bill would allow industry-dominated state governments like Wyoming and Utah and Oklahoma to manage the leasing, permitting, and regulating of oil, gas, and other fossil fuel production on national lands. It would allow states to have near-total dominion over huge accumulations of federally owned mineral resources. And it would effectively exempt oil and gas drillers from the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and other laws meant to protect public resources from pollution and destruction at the hands of commercial enterprise. For its right-wing proponents, the Federal Land Freedom Act is a solid step toward full disposal of some federal lands.

… According to the Wilderness Society, a land conservation non-profit, the Federal Land Freedom Act represents just “the latest push in a broader anti-public lands movement that has exploded into prominence in the last few years at the state, congressional, and administrative levels.” It is just the latest “land seizure” scheme, as the Center for Western Priorities calls it, to emerge from the muck of Washington, D.C. But what a shameless and telling scheme it is: An extremely powerful industry dominates state governments and hopes to dominate the federal government too. It essentially hires elected officials to do its bidding, and those officials deliver a proposed law that would allow said industry to have its way with millions of acres of land that rightfully belong to all Americans. They deliver a bill that would gut public interest laws and eliminate conservation protections in the name of corporate profits and private gain. …

Normal mixes in-house and outside legal counsel

Source: Derek Beigh, The Pantagraph, September 18, 2017
 
For the town of Normal, neither doing all its legal work in-house nor contracting all of it out makes sense.  “Our in-house attorneys are generalists, and they certainly have vast experience in municipal law and understand a wide range of municipal legal issues, but they are not specialists,” said City Manager Mark Peterson. … Peterson said the town has no plans to change its approach despite the city of Bloomington shifting in 2014 from a similar structure to a Springfield-based firm taking on most of its legal work. …

Numerous violations cited at Sacramento foster care shelter campus

Source: Karen de Sá, Cynthia Dizikes, and Joaquin Palomino, San Francisco Chronicle, September 17, 2017

A Sacramento agency running one of the few remaining foster care shelters in California has violated health and safety laws and the personal rights of children more than 120 times in recent years — a number matched only by state-licensed facilities that have been shut down or placed on probation. State citations since 2012 at the Children’s Receiving Home of Sacramento describe poorly trained staff, mishandled medications and filthy dorms. This year, an employee was terminated for an “inappropriate relationship” with an underage client and for smoking marijuana with runaway foster youth. On Sept. 8, a state inspector was unable to remain in a bedroom because the stench of urine overwhelmed her. The privately run facility has a troubled history of poor performance it has not yet overcome. Three years ago, state regulators placed the Receiving Home on an extensive 12-month correction plan, after its failure to make earlier, promised reforms. … A Chronicle investigation published this year revealed additional hazards for youth placed at the facility. The report documented hundreds of questionable arrests on shelter campuses following minor misbehavior by foster youth. …

Why are U.S. universities arming themselves with grenade launchers?

Source: Frank G. Karioris, Salon, September 16, 2017

Sending an ominous signal to student protest movements nationwide, universities across the US are once again able to equip their police forces with castoff military gear, tying them ever more intimately into the military-industrial complex. Program 1033 has been running since the 1990s but was stopped two years ago by President Obama. … Concerns about this supply of military gear is exacerbated by the reality that many campus police organizations are privatized, leading to less oversight and accountability in many cases. A 2014 Vice article laid out the difficulties faced regarding the University of Chicago Police force, which is privatized, and the fact that these private police forces often have “the legal status of a private police force and the powers of a public one.” How these privatized police forces are themselves policed is a critical question that is still, in many ways, unanswered. …

ICE Wants to Destroy Its Records of In-Custody Deaths, Sexual Assault, and Other Detainee Files

Source: John Washington, The Nation, September 13, 2017

In July, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)—the agency charged with maintaining records produced by the federal government—published a request made by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to begin destroying detainee records, including those related to in-custody deaths, sexual assault, and the use of solitary confinement. The request has been preliminarily approved. … Immigration advocates worry that ICE’s request, made public at a time of expanding operations (the original request, which went through multiple revisions, was made in 2015), is a further turn towards obfuscation for the notoriously opaque agency. … Just since January, with ICE’s expanding charge, it has been accused of a host of ongoing and heightened abuses, including the stripping away of due process, contracting out detention services to increasingly deadly private companies, racially profiling as it collaborates with local police departments, targeting women suffering from domestic abuse, doctoring documents in order to arrest immigrants with protected status, and using children as bait to arrest immigrant parents. ..

Regular Public School Teachers Miss More School Than Charter Teachers, Study Finds

Source: Liana Loewus, Education Week, September 20, 2017

Teachers in traditional public schools are much more likely than teachers in charter schools to miss more than 10 days of work, according to a new report from a right-leaning think tank. About 28 percent of teachers in traditional public schools are “chronically absent,” defined in the report as taking more than 10 days of personal or sick leave. In charter schools, just 10 percent of teachers take that much leave, the analysis found. … However, Lily Eskelsen García, the president of the National Education Association, said in a statement that “Fordham is using corrupted assertions to draw misguided conclusions.” … Kate Walsh, the president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a research and advocacy group that has also studied teacher absences, said the most salient difference between the two types of schools is not collective bargaining. Charters are generally autonomous, and not beholden to a larger bureaucracy—the teachers there may have trouble slipping under the radar, Walsh argued. …

Read full report.

Fleecing America’s builders

Source: Maryam Jameel, Center for Public Integrity, August 21, 2017

… The Wage and Hour Division must enforce at least 14 statutes across the nation’s 29 million businesses with a team of only 929 investigators as of the end of June. Federal agencies, which spent more than $470 billion on contracts during the 2016 fiscal year, are saddled with a flawed system to vet contractors and monitor their compliance with those laws. As a result, contractors’ violations rarely show up in government databases. Subcontractors, which often employ most of the workers on construction projects, get even less scrutiny.

Last year, the federal government spent more than $40 billion on contracts covered by Davis-Bacon. But a Center investigation found that about 70 percent of the businesses caught violating the law in 2016 don’t appear in federal databases designed to track companies’ contracting records. Weak oversight allows subcontractors in particular to shortchange workers on government projects with little fear of being caught or barred from future contracts. Meanwhile, their overseers often maintain clean labor records and continue to win government business. This fiscal year, federal agencies have spent more than $425 million on contractors found to have violated Davis-Bacon in 2016, according to U.S. Treasury and Labor Department records analyzed by the Center. The top spenders: The U.S. Department of Defense and the GSA. …

ICE transfers immigrants held in detention around the country to keep beds filled. Then it releases them, with no help getting home.

Source: Libby Rainey, Denver Post, September 17, 2017

… Cruz is one of thousands of immigrants and asylum seekers who are picked up in one part of the country and transferred to other parts of the far-flung network of more than 200 detention centers every year. The transfers often result in people being released on the streets of unfamiliar communities far from family, support and legal representation. … Each month, ICE shuffles thousands of detainees throughout the web of privately contracted centers, county jails and other facilities to keep beds filled. ICE has no obligation to return detainees to the areas where they were picked up. These transfers prioritize finances over the well-being of people being moved, immigrants rights advocates say. … Transfers allow ICE to keep beds filled in detention centers around the country and consolidate detainees near immigration courts with faster dockets and transportation, he said. A congressional mandate requires ICE to maintain at least 34,000 detention beds a day. … Detainees are regularly released without much notice, advocates say. Detention facilities typically have phones that those inside can use, but once detainees are released, ICE doesn’t help them transition into the outside world. “There’s a lot of shuffling of people that takes place to fill beds,” said Megan Hope, a social worker with the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network. “It’s very burdensome for somebody to get out in a community they’re not from.” …

Editorial: Another round in the Hogan-teachers union feud

Source: Baltimore Sun, September 18, 2017 
Gov. Larry Hogan’s announcement that he will not sign Maryland’s proposed plan to implement the requirements of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act — the Obama era successor to No Child Left Behind — got him some swift criticism from the Maryland teachers union and its allies, including a claim from one of his prospective 2018 opponents that he is the “anti-public education governor.” The critics claim that he is putting some $250 million in federal funding for Maryland schools at risk and aligning himself with the extreme school privatization agenda of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. …

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Despite veto threat, Maryland lawmakers send Hogan bill to limit school reforms
Source: Erin Cox, Baltimore Sun, March 28, 2017

Disregarding Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto threat, the Democrat-dominated General Assembly passed a bill Tuesday to forbid the state from using vouchers or charter schools to fix struggling schools. Both the Senate and House approved the bill by veto-proof margins, setting in motion a political showdown with Hogan for the final two weeks of session. …

Maryland Democrats blast Hogan’s education agenda, likening it to Trump’s
Source: Pamela Wood, The Baltimore Sun, February 7, 2017

Maryland Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday made their case against a series of state education bills that they say push a “privatization agenda” also championed by President Donald Trump and his controversial new education secretary, Betsy DeVos. Dozens of Democrats joined the state teachers union to decry bills backed by Gov. Larry Hogan that would provide scholarships to private schools and encourage more charter schools in Maryland. They said the Republican governor is following the same philosophy as Trump and DeVos, promoting private and charter schools at the expense of public schools. … Weller criticized Hogan’s plans to increase the amount of tax dollars used to help poor children afford a seat in private schools, as well as to set up a new state panel that would approve applications to open new charter schools, an authority currently held by local school boards. … The teachers union and Democrats rattled off a list of bills they plan to pass and Hogan efforts they plan to defeat this General Assembly session. They’re proposing a bill that would prevent the state from looking to school privatization as a way to comply with a federal law requiring turnaround plans for poor-performing schools. … The Democrats also are mobilizing to block Hogan’s proposal to help charter schools by, among other things, creating a new state board that will review and authorize new charter schools to open. Critics say Hogan can stack the panel with allies who will allow a flood of new charter schools that will siphon funding from public schools. … The Democratic lawmakers said they will oppose Hogan’s promise to gradually increase funding for a private school scholarship program known as Broadening Options & Opportunities for Students Today or BOOST from $5 million to $10 million. …

Harwell: No Privatization of Tennessee Park Services as Gov

Source: Associated Press, September 14, 2017

Republican gubernatorial candidate Beth Harwell says she won’t privatize services at Tennessee state parks if she is elected governor. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that Harwell’s position is at odds with term-limited Gov. Bill Haslam’s longtime pursuit of outsourcing more functions at the parks. Harwell, who is the speaker of the state House of Representatives, said privatizing hospitality, food and other services at state parks is a “touchy point for our rural areas,” and that she would not pursue Haslam’s goals in that area. …

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Haslam leaves privatizing state park management decision to next Tennessee governor
Source: Andy Sher, Times Free Press, August 24, 2017
 
The Haslam administration is abandoning all efforts to outsource management of Fall Creek Falls State Park and other state parks and will instead leave the volatile issue of privatizing operations to Tennessee’s next governor.  State Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau made the announcement Thursday during an appearance before a legislative study committee taking a critical look at administration outsourcing across state government. …

Judge rules Tennessee must release outsourcing records about Fall Creek Falls purchase
Source: Associated Press, June 29th, 2017

A judge has ruled in favor of a media group that sued the state of Tennessee to release records about its attempt to outsource services at Fall Creek Falls State Park. The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government says Davidson County Chancellor Bill Young on Tuesday ruled that the state must produce records to City Press Communications LLC, parent company of the Nashville Scene and the Nashville Post, and reporter Cari Wade Gervin. …

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