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Rural News

In a first, Alaska divorce courts will now treat pets more like children

The Washington Post | Posted on January 25, 2017

Who gets the house? Who gets the couch? Who gets the dog? If one of those items seems different to you, that’s probably because you, like many Americans, consider pets to be more like family members than furniture. But courts do not. In the eyes of the law, animals are property. So although pet custody battles are often passionate and sometimes truly wacky, courts think of them more prosaically: as part of the “property distribution” in a divorce. That’s why an amendment to Alaska’s divorce statutes, which took effect last week, is making waves in the world of animal law. It makes Alaska the first state in the country to require courts to take “into consideration the well-being of the animal” and to explicitly empower judges to assign joint custody of pets. In a blog post, the Animal Legal Defense Fund called the well-being provision “groundbreaking and unique.” “It is significant,” said David Favre, a Michigan State University law professor who specializes in animal law. “For the first time, a state has specifically said that a companion animal has visibility in a divorce proceeding beyond that of property — that the court may award custody on the basis of what is best for the dog, not the human owners.”

Groups petition to stop Arkansas chicken industry expansion

Meatingplace (free registration required) | Posted on January 24, 2017

Animal rights and environmental groups are asking for a halt to building more live chicken facilities in Arkansas until federal regulators assess the impacts of such facilities on animals, the environment and public health. Groups including the Center for Biological Diversity, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Arkansas Animal Rights Koalition are asking USDA and the Small Business Administration to stop making federal loans until the local impact of new facilities has been determined. The groups have submitted a petition calling for the studies as part of the National Environmental Policy Act in light of an estimated 700,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases that a network of poultry facilities in northeastern Arkansas would release each year

Republican States Look to Customize Medicaid Expansion, Not Eliminate It

Pew Charitable Trust | Posted on January 24, 2017

As candidates two years ago, the Republican governors of Kentucky and Arkansas swore they would do away with “Obamacare” if elected. But a funny thing happened between the campaign trail and the governor’s mansion: Reality set in.  After promising to uproot Kentucky’s Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, Republican Gov. Matt Bevin simply renamed his Democratic predecessor’s health care plan for low-income adults and proposed changes designed to help people find jobs and get off the rolls. In Arkansas, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson changed the name of the Medicaid expansion program and proposed adding small premiums for people with incomes above the federal poverty line, $11,880 for an individual. As Congress prepares to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, 14 other states with GOP governors that opted to expand Medicaid under the law may face the same reality Bevin and Hutchinson did: Taking health insurance away from hundreds of thousands of people is a complicated and risky proposition.

12 Alabama legislative districts ruled unconstitutional

Montgomery Advertiser | Posted on January 24, 2017

A federal court ruled that 12 of Alabama's legislative districts were unconstitutional, citing an improper use of race in their composition. The three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals enjoined the use of the districts in future elections but stopped short of intervening in the drawing of new districts. "It is this court’s expectation that the state legislature will adopt a remedy in a timely and effective manner, correcting the constitutional deficiencies in its plans in sufficient time for conducting the 2018 primary and general elections, without the need for court intervention," the judges wrote in a separate order. The decision ends a chapter in a nearly five-year battle over the district lines – which has gone to the U.S. Supreme Court – and adds another item to a lengthy punch list awaiting state lawmakers next month. The 2-1 majority of U.S. Circuit Court Judge Bill Pryor and U.S. District Judge Keith Watkins upheld the constitutionality of 24 districts challenged in a lawsuit brought by the Alabama Legislative Black Caucus and the Alabama Democratic Conference. U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson, while concurring in that decision, wrote that he would have found 12 other districts unconstitutional and argued the majority did not properly apply earlier instructions from the nation's high court. But the impact of the decision will likely go beyond the affected districts. Redrawing the boundaries will likely mean adjustments to others.

In Tide of Red Ink, Some States Show Surpluses

Pew Charitable Trust | Posted on January 24, 2017

It’s shaping up to be a tough financial year for many states. At least 30 of them have budget shortfalls, and President Donald Trump’s promises to scrap the Affordable Care Act and overhaul the federal tax code have created fiscal uncertainty.  But whatever happens in Washington, some states will be well positioned to deal with it without raising taxes or making deep spending cuts.  California, Georgia, Idaho and Utah are among the states that have put themselves on a solid fiscal footing by avoiding deep tax cuts, enacting targeted tax increases, and diverting some surplus money into “rainy day” funds to be tapped in leaner times. By taking those steps, and by forgoing the temptation to rely on a single revenue source, those states are in good financial shape heading into this year’s legislative sessions. Their strategies may be instructive for other states. Elizabeth McNichol, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said the key is “to plan ahead and have a rainy day fund, specifically tied to the volatility of your specific tax system.”

Mall Closures Ripple Through Small Town America

Wall Street Journal | Posted on January 22, 2017

The Fort Steuben Mall in this former steel town on the edge of the Ohio River is battling a double whammy of store closures that have thrust it into a fight for survival. On one side of the mall is an empty space that housed a Sears department store and automotive center until the struggling retailer closed the location last June. On the opposite side sits a Macy’s set to close in early spring, the retail chain said early this month, as part of 100 closures announced last summer. Fort Steuben Mall is being swept up in a wave of store closings that is buffeting landlords across the U.S. Specialty retailers such as the Limited and department stores such as Sears and Macy’s in recent months have announced plans to close hundreds of stores nationwide and slash jobs as online shopping takes a growing share of revenue. Malls in smaller U.S. cities are often linchpins of local economies and their struggles can have a ripple effect, from jobs and tax revenues to the fortunes of logistics and transportation companies that provide trucking and inventory support for stores. Creditors who invest in mortgage securities tied to troubled malls face the risk of default.

Colorado Premium to create 190 jobs in Carroll County

Georgia Governor Press Release | Posted on January 22, 2017

Gov. Nathan Deal announced that Colorado Premium, a manufacturer of premium protein products, will create 190 jobs and invest $15 million in a Carroll County food processing plant by the end of 2018. The company purchased an existing 130,000-square-foot building in Carroll County for the new processing facility.

What An Obamacare Repeal Would Mean For Rural Hospitals

NPR | Posted on January 19, 2017

The way some of the regulations were implemented are actually harming rural America and not fulfilling the ultimate goals of the ACA. And what I mean by that is half of those 37 million - the goal was to expand Medicaid and get those folks into a Medicaid program. We know that a lot of states have taken the Supreme Court up on its option of opting out of Medicaid. That has predominantly hurt rural America. In fact, if you're a rural state, if you're a poor state, more likely than not, you have not expanded Medicaid. So we're seeing millions of folks left behind at that. Our concern is that since the ACA was passed, we've had an escalation of rural hospitals close. We've had 80 rural hospitals close since 2010. If this rate continues, in less than 10 years' time, we're going to have 25 percent of rural hospitals close within less than a decade. We do not want to see rural Americans lose one lapse in the benefits that they have. We are not mad at Republicans or Democrats. We're mad at Republicans and Democrats. We want to make sure that they understand that the well intentions of the ACA have really fallen short and may actually be exacerbating the hospital-closure crisis.

Maine governor: HSUS ‘was cruel’ to Hillandale hens

Watt Ag Net | Posted on January 17, 2017

Maine Gov. Paul LePage recently said the Humane Society of the United States is cruel to animals because it advocates filming undercover videos of animal suffering rather than taking action to stop the suffering from happening. LePage, who is known nationally for his bombast and bluntness, made one comment that addresses something we should all think about. “(Hillandale) hired a gentleman to come in (and) take care of the chickens. So what did he do? He brought his camera and he was watching chickens doing things where they were being hurt. And he never lifted a finger. In fact, he was cruel to animals,” LePage said. While I’m not sure if the reporter, who apparently sought comment from HSUS, asked about LePage’s allegations that the HSUS investigator’s inaction kept the birds from harm’s way, it would be interesting to hear such a reaction.

Some are taking opioids meant for pets

Boston Globe | Posted on January 17, 2017

Law enforcement and veterinary officials are planning an outreach campaign to educate veterinarians about a new frontier in the opioid epidemic: people so desperate for drugs that they take medication that had been prescribed to pets. “The misuse of pet medication has serious safety implications — for people and animals,” said Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan, in a letter that will be printed in the Massachusetts Veterinary Medical Association newsletter this week. “Educating people about the signs of drug misuse, available treatment resources and how to properly store and dispose of all medications is a crucial part of helping to stem the tide of overdoses and death.”