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Prison Reform Bill Aims to Curb Recidivism

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A bipartisan bill to reform the federal prison system by helping inmates prepare for life after their release and reduce recidivism rates passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday, paving the way for it to be considered by the Senate. 

The First Step Act does not contain a broader overhaul favored by some moderate conservatives and progressives seeking changes to mandatory minimum sentencing laws that have kept many low-level offenders behind bars for decades. 

The bill’s top Democratic and Republican sponsors have said such broad reforms should be left out for now as a compromise to get legislation passed by the Senate and signed into law. 

“Folks, this is what legislating looks like,” Representative Doug Collins of Georgia, the leading Republican sponsor of the bill, told reporters on Monday. “Sometimes there are disagreements, but you come together and you find compromise.” 

The bill would require the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), a part of the Justice Department, to do risk assessments on which inmates should qualify and earn credits toward completing their sentences in halfway houses or home confinement. 

It would broaden job opportunities for inmates, expand laws on compassionate release of prisoners, prevent the BOP from using restraints on pregnant inmates and allow prisoners to earn early release credits of up to 54 days for good behavior. 

The good behavior provision would allow for the early release of an estimated 4,000 prisoners. 

The House bill contrasts with one in the Senate championed by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley. It would lessen prison sentences for non-violent drug offenders. 

How the House bill will fare in the Senate remains to be seen. While some Senate Democrats and Republicans have indicated they will support it in its current form, others may oppose the bill unless sentencing reforms are added to it. 

Adding such provisions could doom the bill because more hard line law-and-order conservatives would then likely oppose it. 

New York Representative Hakeem Jeffries, the leading Democratic sponsor of the measure, told reporters on Monday that lawmakers should seize the opportunity to pass some criminal justice reforms, even if they don’t go far enough. 


USDA Offers Tips for Summer Food Safety

For many Americans, Memrorial Day kicks off grilling and travel season. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) wants to make sure you and your family avoid food poisoning this summer. An estimated 128,000 Americans are hospitalized with food poisoning each year, but foodborne illnesses can be prevented during summer months by properly handling perishable foods during travel, and by using a food thermometer when grilling.  

If you’re traveling to your favorite grilling location in a local park, or simply grilling in your backyardperishable food items, including raw meat and poultry, need to be handled safely before they hit the grill. Bacteria grow rapidly in warm temperatures, so perishable foods need to be kept at 40°F or below to reduce bacterial growth. Perishable foods that are held above 40°F for more than two hours should not be consumed. In hot weather (above 90°F), food should be discarded if it sits out for more than one hour.   

The best way to keep food cold during the summer when you’re away from home is to use a cooler. Consider packing beverages in one cooler and perishable food in another cooler. The beverage cooler may be opened frequently, causing the temperature inside of the cooler to fluctuate and become unsafe for perishable foods. Prevent juices from raw meat and poultry from cross-contaminating other items in your cooler by placing raw meats in waterproof containers before placing them in the cooler.    

Ensure you have all the tools and utensils you may need for grilling before heading out to the grill. Grab these items to help ensure a safe grilling experience:  

Food thermometer 

Paper towels or moist towelettes  

Two sets of cooking utensils (tongs, spatulas, forks, etc.)Use the first set to handle raw items 

and the other for cooked foods. 

Plates or containers for cooked items. Never place cooked foods on the same plate or container 

that held raw meat or poultry.  

Before eating any meat or poultry you have grilled, verify any potential illness-causing bacteria has been 

destroyed by using a food thermometer. Use the following safe internal temperature guidelines for your 

meat and poultry to ensure they are done: 

Beef, pork, lamb and veal (steaks, roasts and chops): 145°F (63°C) with a three-minute rest time 

Ground meats: 160°F (71°C)  

Whole poultry, poultry breasts and ground poultry: 165°F (74°C) 

Once finished, make sure all leftovers are refrigerated or put on ice within two hours after cooking, or 

one hour if the temperature is above 90°F. Leftovers should be consumed within three to four days when 


Need more food safety information? Call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at (1-888-674-6854) 

Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET, or email or chat at  


EPA to Visit Pendleton Oil Mill Site Next Week

Updated 2  p.m.

The United States Environment Protection Agency will be returning to the Pendleton Oil Site on May 30-31 to complete assessment sampling of surface soil at the property. The agency has attempted to contact John Sitton, the owner of the site, without success.

Last year Sitton was ordered to cleanup the crumbling buildings on the 6-acre site, and a judge ordered the property to be sold to pay debts/liens against the property.

Pendleton Mayor Frank Crenshaw said he has been in communication with the EPA and hopes eventually the site will be cleared.

Crenshaw also said he is dubious there would be many buyers for the land because the the cost of cleaning it up and hauling off the debris. He said if federal funds and other help becomes available, the land might be useful to the community.

The mill has produced fertilizer and cotton seed oil over the years, and EPA's visit next week wil help determine what, if any, other cleanup is required at the site.


16 Arrested at S.C. Rally for Poor People

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - A week after police made 16 arrests at a rally in support of poor people, protesters are back for a second week of mobilization and more arrests in South Carolina.

Nearly 60 people gathered Monday at the African American Monument on the Statehouse grounds for the Poor People's Campaign, an initiative inspired by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s movement to empower those living in poverty. Police made over a dozen arrests Monday.

Organizers said the purpose of this week's rally was to connect the importance of voting rights and democracy to issues of poverty and economic justice.

Event coordinator Kerry Taylor says South Carolina has election problems, including gerrymandering and a lack of opponents to run against incumbents.

Organizers plan another four weeks of mobilization.


Clemson to Host Community Memorial Day Event

The Clemson Corps will host a community-wide service honoring America’s military dead from all wars on Sunday at Clemson University’s Scroll of Honor Memorial. Retired Army Chaplain (Col.) Dave West will speak at the ceremony, which begins at 4 p.m.

The memorial service will feature the placing of a wreath, the playing of “Taps” and the dedication of two new stones on the Scroll of Honor Memorial. The stones represent Lawrence N. Meadors, Class of 1954, and John B. Mitchell, Class of 1949, who lost their lives while serving on active duty in the United States Air Force. The dedication of stones engraved with the names of these men will bring to 493 the number of heroes memorialized on the Scroll of Honor.

Limited seating will be provided, so participants are encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs. In the event of inclement weather, the ceremony will be canceled.

Chaplain West began his Army career as a private, enlisting in the South Carolina National Guard in 1976. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1979 and went on to serve in various command and staff positions, including overseas assignments.

After leaving active duty in 1992, West earned a master of divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and became a chaplain in the Army Reserve. In 2002, West was recalled to active duty and served as Operations Chaplain, United States Central Command. In this assignment, he was responsible for the religious care for over 2.5 million service men and women throughout the Middle East and in the combat zones of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Following his promotion to colonel, West was assigned as the Command Chaplain, U.S. Special Operations Command Central, where he had religious support responsibility for all Special Operations forces throughout 27 countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan.

A decorated veteran, West is an alumnus of Anderson University and lives in Seneca with his wife, the former Faye Moore.


S.C. Considers eLearning for Teachers/Students

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - A South Carolina education panel has approved preliminary guidelines for a pilot eLearning program for teachers and students to use to stay on track with school work while outside of the classroom because of to bad weather.

Members of an education oversight committee met Monday to discuss the eLearning standards in preparation for the upcoming school year in August. Members said they want guidelines in place before the General Assembly approves the state's budget in June.

Republican Sen. Greg Hembree of Little River said he's intrigued by the program but said ensuring access for students could pose a challenge for school districts.

The Education Oversight Committee suggests no more than 5 schools participate in the pilot program, and that interested school districts must submit an application and fulfill certain requirements.


USPS to Release Scratch and Sniff Stamps

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Letter writers will soon be able to express their sentiments in words and smells.

The U.S. Postal Service announced Monday that it will soon issue its first scratch-and-sniff stamps. The stamps feature illustrations of ice pops. The agency says the stamps will "add the sweet scent of summer" to letters.

The 20 stamps depict watercolor illustrations by California artist Margaret Berg. Each of the 10 stamp designs includes two different treats. The words "FOREVER" and "USA" appear along the bottom of each stamp.

The stamps will be issued on June 20 at a children's museum in Austin, Texas.


Rain Closes Trails, Campsites at Grandfather Mountain

The trails at Grandfather Mountain State Park sustained extensive damage from the recent heavy rains of 11 inches in four days.  The Nuwati and Cragway trails are closed indefinitely until repairs can be made. This closure includes the four campsites on the Nuwati trail: Streamside, The Hermitage, Storyteller's Rock, and The Refuge. In addition to safety concerns, foot traffic on these trails would cause further damage and erosion.

The trails that remain open at Grandfather are also severely eroded and some have sections of steps washed out. There is standing and running water on the trails and the tread is slick. More rain is in the near forecast. Hikers should take these factors into consideration when planning their trip. 

For more information and updates, contact



Workers Rights Take Hit in Supreme Court Ruling

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court delivered a blow to the rights of workers on Monday by allowing companies to require them to sign away their ability to bring class-action claims against management, agreements already in place for about 25 million employees. 

The justices, in a 5-4 ruling with the court’s conservatives in the majority, endorsed the legality of the growing practice by companies to compel workers to sign arbitration agreements waiving their right to bring class-action claims on various disputes, primarily over wages and hours. 

The ruling could apply more broadly to discrimination claims like those raised by women as part of the #MeToo movement raising awareness of sexual harassment in the workplace but the court did not explicitly address that issue. 

Craig Becker, a former member of the U.S. National Labor Relations Board and now general counsel of the AFL-CIO union federation, said the decision will have a “chilling effect” on employees coming forward to complain of mistreatment. 

“It will cripple enforcement of all the major employment laws,” Becker added. 

Growing numbers of employers, alarmed by a rise in class-action claims brought by workers on wage issues, have demanded that their workers sign waivers. Class-action litigation can result in large damages awards by juries and is harder for businesses to fight than cases brought by individual plaintiffs. 

Republican President Donald Trump’s administration last year reversed the government’s stance in the case, siding with the companies. The Justice Department said it was pleased with Monday’s ruling. Democratic former President Barack Obama’s administration had supported a decision made by the National Labor Relations Board in 2012 invalidating such employment agreements. The board at the time had a Democratic majority. 

The ruling is the latest in a series of pro-business decisions by the conservative-majority Supreme Court in recent years curbing class-action claims of various types and endorsing arbitration to resolve contractual disputes. Companies have said arbitration is quicker and cheaper than litigation in court. 

Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s appointee to the court, wrote the ruling, joined by the four other conservative justices. Gorsuch wrote that federal arbitration law does not conflict with the National Labor Relations Act, which outlines the right of workers to act collectively. 

Workers have fought back against the waivers, arguing that the cost of pursuing their cases individually in arbitration is prohibitively expensive. The ruling does not affect workers represented by unions. 

Writing in dissent on behalf of the court’s four liberals, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called the ruling “egregiously wrong” and urged Congress to take action to protect workers’ rights.

“The court today holds enforceable these arm-twisted, take-it-or-leave-it contracts — including the provisions requiring employees to litigate wages and hours claims only one-by-one. Federal labor law does not countenance such isolation of employees,” Ginsburg said in a statement she read in court. 

Ginsburg said she does not believe the ruling would apply to certain claims alleging discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion or national origin covered by Title VII of the landmark federal Civil Rights Act. 

Civil rights advocates were not so sure.

More here


Saluda River Rally Set for June 2

Anderson County's annual Saluda River Rally, one of the Upstate's premiere kayak events, is scheduled June 2 this year.

Any citizen, including those with disabilities, will have the opportunity to enjoy self-guided kayak tours of the Saluda River, which will launch from M. J. “Dolly” Cooper Park in Powdersville, and end at Piedmont Dam or at the Timmerman Jr. Kayak Launch Facility in Pelzer.

The 9 or 15-mile paddles include shuttle service from the landing sites back to Dolly Cooper Park. The event will also offer primitive camping at Dolly Cooper Park. Registration for the event is $25, which includes a day of kayaking, BBQ, camping, entertainment, shuttles and a t-shirt..

Participants are asked to bring their own kayaks and floatation devices.

Registration details here.

The event will offer exclusive access to the river and access points, for not only beginner and experienced kayakers, but disabled kayakers as well. Since its inception in 2008, the rally’s primary purpose continues to promote kayaking, Saluda River recreation and Anderson County’s 48-mile ADA accessible corridor along the river. The event also serves as a Special Olympics Area 14 fundraiser to send Special Olympics athletes to the National Games.


Study: 30 Minutes Exercise 4-5 Days a Week Best for Heart

It's common knowledge that exercise keeps hearts healthy, but now scientists believe they have pinpointed the exact amount of time we need to spend working out in order to look after our tickers. 

As we grow older, our arteries can stiffen and make us prone to heart disease, especially if we are inactive. The researchers based in Texas therefore wanted to understand how much exercise an individual needs to perform in order to prevent their heart and blood vessels from aging. 

Building on previous research which shows that exercise cuts the risk of heart disease, the researchers found that varying amounts of exercise affect arteries of varying sizes differently.

Exercising for 30 minutes two to three days per week was found to keep the middle-sized arteries, which supply the head and neck, from aging. But the larger arteries, which send blood to the chest and abdomen, benefit from the same amount of exercise four to five days per week.

The researchers made their findings by carrying out a cross-sectional analysis of 102 people aged 60 years old and over, who were grouped into four categories: sedentary (defined as less than two 30-minute exercise sessions per week for the past 25 years); casual  (two to three sessions); committed exercisers (four to five sessions) and master athletes, (six to seven). The team then logged levels of stiffness in their arteries.

Casual exercise was found to be enough to keep the middle sized arteries youthful, but those who completed four to five sessions a week had younger-seeming large central arteries. 

The authors acknowledged the results of their study may have been limited by participants being categorized according to their exercise levels rather than factors such as the type of exercise, demographic data and lifestyle choices which also play a large role in development of cardiovascular disease.

The study could be used to create exercise programs designed to protect heart health, the scientists argued, while further research could reveal whether exercise can reverse heart aging. 

Researchers from the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine, Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas and the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, the John Peter Smith Health Network, and the Texas Christian University and University of North Texas Health Science Center collaborated on the research published in The Journal of Physiology.

Benjamin Levine, one of the authors of the study at the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine in Dallas, said in a statement: "This work is really exciting because it enables us to develop exercise programs to keep the heart youthful and even turn back time on older hearts and blood vessels." He said that previous studies have shown that waiting until the age of 70 to reverse heart aging is too late. 

"It is difficult to change cardiovascular structure even with a year of training," he said. “Our current work is focussing on two years of training in middle aged men and women, with and without risk factors for heart diseases, to see if we can reverse the aging of a heart and blood vessels by using the right amount of exercise at the right time." 


House GOP Shocked Over Killing of Farm Bill

House Republicans are at each other’s throats after the Freedom Caucus delivered a shock to party leaders on Friday by killing a key GOP bill over an unrelated simmering feud over immigration.

Speaker Paul Ryan and his leadership team were sure the group of three dozen rabble-rousers would cave. The partisan farm bill, after all, includes historic new work requirements for food stamp beneficiaries that conservatives have demanded for years. Plus, President Donald Trump leaned in, tweeting his support for the bill Thursday night to up the pressure on the far right.

But Ryan’s team sorely miscalculated. In an embarrassing show of weakness, the bill went down on the floor after a last-minute leadership scramble to flip votes.

Almost immediately, Republicans pointed fingers at each other. Freedom Caucus members said GOP leaders brought the matter on themselves by failing to pass a conservative immigration solution for Dreamers sooner. GOP leaders blamed the conservatives for upending a core Trump priority.

And some Republicans even blamed Ryan, arguing they’re stuck with an outgoing speaker who couldn’t get the job done.

“Obviously the House Freedom Caucus is to blame, but this is the problem when you have a lame duck speaker who announces he’s leaving eight months in advance,” said one senior Republican source. “He can make calls to members to urge them to vote for something, but who will care?”

Ryan’s office put the blame on the Freedom Caucus. The group had been demanding a vote on a sharply conservative immigration bill, and Ryan’s team late Thursday offered such a vote — but not until June, incensing members of the caucus.

“This is all the more disappointing because we offered the votes these members were looking for, but they still chose to take the bill down,” said Doug Andres, a Ryan spokesman.

Full Story Here


Starbucks to Allow Non-customers to Sit in Store, Use Restrooms

Starbucks has told its employees to allow all guests to use store facilities, including restrooms, regardless of their spending.

The move comes a month after the coffee giant found itself accused of discriminatory practices, after a store manager in Philadelphia called the police on two black men who asked to use the bathroom without purchasing anything and then refused to leave. 

The new policy was announced on Saturday in a company-wide letter that stated: “Any person who enters our spaces, including patios, cafes and restrooms, regardless of whether they make a purchase, is considered a customer.”

Previously, Starbucks employees had been free to exercise judgment about nonpaying guests. The company said the new policy would apply to its more than 8,000 company-operated US cafes. It would issue different guidelines for its international stores, it said.

“We don’t want to become a public bathroom but we’re going to make the right decision 100% of the time and give people the key,” Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz told attendees of a corporate responsibility conference in Washington, according to the Wall Street Journal. 

The Philadelphia store involved in the 12 April incident had signs informing visitors that the bathrooms were for paying customers only. After the police were called on Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, the men were arrested and spent hours in jail.

They were not charged and later reached settlements that included a nominal financial sum and “a commitment to continued listening and dialogue between the parties as a means toward developing specific actions and opportunities”.

“I want to thank Donte and Rashon for their willingness to reconcile,” said Starbucks chief executive Kevin Johnson, announcing the settlement. “Starbucks will continue to take actions that stem from this incident to repair and reaffirm our values and vision for the kind of company we want to be.” 

The chain plans to close its company-operated stores next Sunday afternoon, to give employees anti-bias training. In 2015, Starbucks initiated a program to encourage employees to discuss race with customers. The directive was quickly dropped. 

Under the new policy, customers will be able to stay in stores unless they’re “behaving in a disruptive manner”. The company has yet to offer guidelines on what constitutes disruptive behaviour or what procedures managers and baristas should follow. 

Starbucks employees should call 911 if a situation presents an immediate danger or threat to employee or customer safety, the company said.