SALT LAKE CITY: Campaign to save public schools

Participants in a grassroots campaign to overturn the “charter school law,” a state law that allows taxpayer dollars to be used for private schools, have collected 131,000 signatures — about 40,000 more than needed — to put the issue on the ballot.

“The people of Utah, our citizens, have spoken,” said Carmen Snow, president of the Utah PTA and co-leader of Utahans for Public Schools, which includes the 18,000-member Utah Education Association.

Signature-gathering requirements stipulate that a minimum number be collected in a specific number of counties. “We do believe there will be legal challenges,” said Rusk. “We’re expecting roadblocks to be thrown up.”

County clerks have until April 24 to certify or reject the petitions. The final decision rests with Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert, who has to rule by April 30 whether or not to place the issue before the voters. Herbert strongly supports private school vouchers.

ANNAPOLIS, Md.: Lawmakers pass living wage bill

When the state Senate voted 31-16 to approve a law requiring all contractors doing business with the state to pay workers $11.30 an hour, Maryland became the first state to enact living wage legislation. The state raised the minimum wage to $6.15 in 2004.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, is expected to sign the bill. Similar legislation was vetoed by Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich in 2004.

“This vote is important for all workers,” said Maryland AFL-CIO President Fred Mason. “The union movement is a voice for all workers. We look out for workers, whether they are union members or not. And we don’t think the state should ever have been in the business of creating poverty-level jobs.”

Sen. Thomas Middleton, a Charles County Democrat, was blunt. “It doesn’t make them rich,” he said. “We’re just lifting them a little bit more out of the deep guts of poverty.”

Stiff opposition by the Maryland Chamber of Commerce and Republicans forced the Legislature to compromise. The new law sets up a two-tier wage structure in which contract workers living in the Baltimore-Washington corridor must be paid at least $11.30 an hour. But for contract workers living in rural counties, the minimum is $8.50 an hour.

BURLINGTON, Vt.: ‘Step it up’ against greenhouse gases

In over 1,300 cities, towns and villages in all 50 states, environmental activists will rally April 14 to demand Congress enact legislation to cut carbon emissions, a leading cause of global warming, by 80 percent by 2050. “Step It Up” (stepitup2007.org), the sponsoring coalition that is headquartered here, will send photos of the actions to each state’s congressional delegation.

“The groundswell of support for this effort is incredible,” said organizer Bill McKibben. “From melting glaciers to unseasonable and erratic weather patterns, we are already feeling the impact of global warming. But … it is only by uniting across the lines that too often divide us — geography, partisanship, economic and racial boundaries — that we will be able to address this crisis.”

Numerous rallies are taking place in coal-producing states, including Wyoming, West Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla.: Voting rights restored to former felons

Since 1868, Florida residents convicted of a felony have been routinely stripped of their right to vote. That changed April 5 when the state’s clemency board voted 3-1 to restore the right to vote to 80 percent of the estimated 950,000 Floridians, mostly African Americans, who have paid their debt to society.

The board’s ruling still requires ex-offenders convicted of certain serious crimes to undergo an investigation and seek a hearing to get back their right to vote.

“This is Holy Week, a week that is all about forgiveness,” said Republican Gov. Charlie Crist. “Restoring civil rights is the right thing to do.” Crist is a member of the clemency board.

Since the controversial 2000 presidential election, when nonpartisan investigations revealed that many legal voters were removed from Florida registration lists after being misidentified as felons, residents have organized to defend the right to vote. One suit made it to the Supreme Court in 2005, but the court refused to hear the case.

Only Virginia and Kentucky still completely bar ex-offenders from voting. Although most states have recently repealed such bans, there are an estimated 5 million citizens still barred from voting because they served time in jail.

National Clips are compiled by Denise Winebrenner Edwards (dwinebr696 @ aol.com).

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