In today’s Gravy, we talk gas and poop. The Pulitzer Prize committee will certainly be watching.
Governor Bill Ritter continues to put pen to paper on a number of new measures. As April Washington of the Rocky Mountain News reports:
Gov. Bill Ritter signed 15 bills into law Wednesday that he said will increase oversight of online education, improve accountability of public schools, help fight crime and boost renewable energy use.
One measure targets Hope Co-Op Online Learning Academy but allows it to continue to operate. State auditors last year criticized the school – which enrolls 3,800 students – for sloppy financial and personnel practices.
Senate Bill 215 creates an agency within the state Department of Education to regulate Hope and other programs that offer online courses.
“Our response to the state audit was to express our support for online education but really get it to a place where within the Department of Education we’re serious about monitoring it,” Ritter said…
…House Bill 1345 streamlines accountability reports, makes them reader-friendly and allows schools to easily compare their results with those of other schools.
Ritter also signed several criminal justice and victims rights bills, saying that they will help reduce prison costs and cut down on the revolving door of prisoners going in and out of the system.
Ritter also signed a package of renewable-energy measures.
They include one that provides tax exemptions for developing renewable energy, another that brings biofuels to the market and a bill that creates three solid-waste disposal fees to encourage recycling.
Next week Ritter plans to sign a severance tax bill that has Western Slope residents pleased. According to Dennis Webb of The Glenwood Springs Post Independent:
A Western Slope lobbying group is cheering Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter’s decision to sign a bill boosting severance tax funds going to counties impacted by energy development.
Ritter plans to sign the measure next Tuesday in Glenwood Springs as part of a Western Slope tour in which he also will hold signing ceremonies for several other oil and gas bills.
Reeves Brown, executive director of the Club 20 Western Slope lobbying group, said he was delighted to hear of the governor’s plans on the severance tax bill. Brown earlier had encouraged Ritter to go along with the measure.
“I think he was under a fair bit of pressure not to sign that,” Brown said.
Ritter representatives said Wednesday that the governor plans to sign House Bill 1139 at the Garfield County Courthouse at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Antiwar groups are pressing Democrats to vote against an Iraq spending bill, as The Washington Post explains:
Antiwar groups waged a last-ditch effort yesterday to block an Iraq spending bill after Democrats, conceding that they did not have enough votes to override a threatened veto from President Bush, dropped deadlines for troop withdrawals from the legislation.
The groups flooded congressional offices with phone calls and e-mails and threatened long-term political reprisals if Democrats decide to support the legislation when it comes before the House and the Senate, where voting is expected to start tonight, possibly extending through Friday morning.
MoveOn.org, a leading antiwar group, rallied its 3.2 million members in an e-mail alert yesterday morning that declared that “every single Democrat must oppose this bill.” The group warned that it would consider backing primary challengers to Democrats who vote yes. Other organizations issued similar angry threats.
“This is going to be a very important vote,” said Eli Pariser, MoveOn.org’s executive director. “It will signal who is very serious about ending the war, and who is posturing.”
The nearly $120 billion package would finance the war through Sept. 30. It includes none of the forceful terms on Iraq that Democrats had originally sought, including a requirement that troop withdrawals begin later this year.
As negotiators tied up loose ends last night, Democrats appeared deeply split on whether to back the legislation.
In the House, at least half of the Democratic caucus is expected to oppose the Iraq language. An estimated $17 billion in unrelated domestic spending, plus a federal minimum-wage increase and small-business tax breaks, will be offered separately, and that measure is likely to draw strong Democratic support. But the Iraq funding portion will require a strong Republican turnout.
The two House measures would be fused and sent to the Senate for a single scheduled vote as lawmakers prepare to leave town for a week-long Memorial Day recess.
Gas prices may be at record levels, but not everyone is sad about it. As Steve Raabe and Kelly Yamanouchi of The Denver Post explain:
Denver-area residents questioned ConocoPhillips executives about the refinery-capacity limits that have produced a spike in gas prices and about the potential of alternative energy at a town-hall meeting hosted by the company Wednesday evening.
Limits in refinery capacity are among the factors that have pushed prices to an average of $3.34 in Colorado and $3.22 nationally for a gallon of unleaded regular gasoline.
During the meeting, Robert Ridge, a Houston-based vice president of ConocoPhillips, explained the complexities of bringing more refineries on line.
Earlier in the day, between meetings with local government officials and business leaders, Ridge also defended record profit margins being earned by refiners including ConocoPhillips, saying they are a fair result of tight supplies and strong demand.
“The answer, I know, is not very satisfying to consumers,” Ridge said. “But we think our story is a credible story. We don’t think there has been gouging occurring.”
ConocoPhillips earned record profits of $15.6 billion last year and $3.5 billion in the first quarter of 2007.
Oil refiners last week were earning record gross profits of $37.48 a barrel, or nearly $1 per gallon of gasoline. The profit margin declined to $31.89 a barrel Wednesday after wholesale gasoline futures dropped 10 cents a gallon.
Oil companies make record profits while consumers spend record amounts to fill up their gas tanks. Yeah, that sounds fair to me. Thanks, Mr. Ridge!
An immigration plan agreed to in the Senate last week has its fair share of critics, as the Los Angeles Times reports:
Two immigrants apply for a green card and the government has to choose: Who gets it?
“Ray,” 45, is a computer programmer from Singapore with a graduate degree. He speaks fluent English and has never worked in the United States, but he has a job offer from a U.S. company.
“Carla,” 29, is a hospital orderly from Mexico with a high school equivalency diploma. She knows enough English to have passed the government’s citizenship tests in English and civics and has worked for six years in the United States, where she lives with her stepfather and her mother, a legal resident.
It sounds like a word problem from a high school textbook, but it’s from a congressional staff summary of the new Senate immigration bill, which is using simple math to offer a solution to long-standing philosophical divides over who should be granted a green card, which signifies legal permanent residence.
By assigning points for quantitative factors, including education, employment, English fluency and extended family, a bipartisan group of senators hopes to calm the passionate immigration debates of the last 40 years.
But as details emerge, the same businesses and legislators the formula was designed to reconcile have started picking it apart – determined to either rewrite the formula to suit their needs or scrap it altogether.
Randel Johnson, vice president for labor, immigration and employee benefits at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, called the formula a “Rubik’s Cube” that pitted businesses against each other.
“We see a need in both skilled and unskilled types of jobs, and we do have a concern that it favors the skilled over the unskilled,” Johnson said.
In response to the criticism, President Bush suggested a new plan in which a giant pool of prospective immigrants play Wheel of Fortune to test their English skills.
If there wasn’t bad news about the Bush Administration, there might not be any news at all these days. As The Washington Post reports:
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel has found that General Services Administration chief Lurita Alexis Doan violated the federal Hatch Act when she allegedly asked GSA political appointees during a January briefing how they could “help our candidates” win the next election, according to a report by the office.
The Hatch Act restricts executive branch employees from using their position for political purposes. The special counsel’s office, which investigates alleged violations of the law, said it would recommend that President Bush take disciplinary action against Doan, including possible removal from office.
“Her actions, to be certain, constitute an obvious misuse of her official authority and were made for the purpose of affecting the result of an election,” investigators said in a copy of the 19-page report obtained by The Washington Post. “One can imagine no greater violation of the Hatch Act than to invoke the machinery of an agency, with all its contracts and buildings, in the service of a partisan campaign to retake Congress and the Governors’ mansions.”
Anti-abortion groups are mad at Focus on the Family czar James “SpongeDob” Dobson, as Eric Bolin of The Associated Press reports:
Colorado Right to Life and three other groups placed a full-page ad in Wednesday’s editions of The Gazette newspaper in Colorado Springs, home base for Dobson’s Christian ministry, saying Dobson had wrongly characterized the court’s April ruling as a victory for abortion foes.
The ad said the ruling will actually encourage medical professionals to find “less shocking” methods than the procedure that doctors usually call dilation and extraction but opponents call partial-birth abortion.
“Dr. Dobson, you mislead Christians claiming this ruling will ‘protect children.’ The court granted no authority to save the life of even a single child,” the ad said. It concluded by asking Dobson to “please repent.”
Focus on the Family spokeswoman Carrie Gordon Earll said the group has no plans to change its position on the ruling.
“We continue to believe that while it’s not all of what we’re looking for, it is a step in the right direction on several levels,” she said.
Such a public dispute among anti-abortion groups is uncommon, said Corwin Smidt, a political scientist at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., and director of the Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics.
“I’m surprised. Normally there’s been a united front in terms of these groups saying ‘we want to eliminate abortion,’ ” he said.
The ad, coupled with the death of Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell, may signify a shift in the religious right’s unity and direction, Smidt said.
I think we’ve already seen signals of a shift in the religious right’s unity and direction. When top religious leaders spend most of their time accusing cartoon characters of being gay, the shift is towards one direction: Absurdity.
By the way, what’s with the glamour shot of Dobson that accompanies this story?
Our criminal justice system certainly has its flaws, but every now and then a case comes along that reaffirms our belief in the rule of law.
As Monte Whaley of The Denver Post reports, we all have a right to fling poo:
Jurors decided Wednesday that Kathleen Ensz was guilty only of bad manners when she stuffed a political mailer full of dog feces and delivered it to U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave’s office.
A three-woman, three-man panel cleared the retired University of Northern Colorado French literature teacher of a misdemeanor charge of criminal use of a noxious substance. If she had been convicted, the 63-year-old Ensz would have faced up to six months in jail.
The not-guilty verdict came after two hours of deliberation and a day-and-a-half-long trial where talk of dog excrement – and the various synonyms for dog dung – was bandied about with all the seriousness that lawyers could muster.
“This was an unconscionable waste of resources,” said Ensz, noting two prosecutors argued the case for Weld County.
Ensz, meanwhile, also was backed by two lawyers. They argued Ensz disagreed with the Republican congresswoman’s politics, was tired of receiving her mailers and became so frustrated she decided to package her German shepherd’s droppings and use them as a political protest.
“We don’t find people guilty of a crime because they have bad manners,” said defense attorney Shannon Lyons.
But prosecutors argued Ensz’s actions interfered with the businesses and workers at the Greeley office complex where she dropped off the dog poop on May 31, 2006. “This was fresh dog poop, and it stinks,” said prosecutor Christian Schulte.
There’s nothing I could write that would be a better way to end today’s Gravy than that last quote. Have a swell day.