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Tuesday
Feb192019

Some Americans Struggle with Impact of New Tax Laws

CBS News

Wait, I owe the IRS?

The first tax filing season under the new federal tax law is proving to be surprising, confusing — and occasionally frightening — for some Americans, especially those accustomed to getting money back from the government.

Take Andy Kraft and Amy Elias of Portland, Oregon. The couple had grown comfortable getting a small refund each year, a few hundred dollars or more. Then they found out they owe $10,160 this year.

"I will never forget the moment, I thought 'We look good' and then we added in the next W-2 and my jaw hit the floor," Kraft said. "There was no way I wanted to believe that what I was looking at was accurate."

President Trump promised a reduction in taxes with the new law. And by most measures, the majority of Americans will see one. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center projected the tax law would reduce individual income taxes by about $1,260 on average, although it benefits higher earners more. But not everyone is benefiting, including some taxpayers who failed to adjust their withholding. 

The IRS has encouraged people to do a "paycheck checkup," saying that "some taxpayers might prefer to have less tax withheld up front and receive more in their paychecks." The trouble is, few Americans seem to have done that.

The majority of workers didn't bother to change their withholding, according to payroll processing firm ADP. 

"Not many people took the time or trouble to see if the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act affects them personally," Pete Isberg, ADP's head of government relations, recently told CBS News. 

Fewer deductions

Some people already saw the benefit in the form of bigger paychecks. That's because the law forced employers to change what they withheld. But the system is far from perfect, and many workers didn't have enough in taxes set aside. Now, the IRS wants that money.

In addition, the law also eliminated personal exemptions, increased child credits, limited popular deductions and generally upended many familiar practices that determine what happens at tax time. That has taxpayers feeling a bit unmoored.

"We were very comfortable with our tax law, it had basically been there since 1986, suddenly all these things that were very important to people changed ... it's all different," said Howard Gleckman, a senior fellow at the Tax Policy Center.

"Grief of acceptance"

Kraft and Elias are able to pay their tax bill but he's still stunned. He even tried to reverse-engineer things to figure out where they went wrong, diving into page after page of IRS rules. He painstakingly put together all the numbers. The couple ultimately asked a CPA to verify the figures they were seeing on TurboTax. Crushingly, they were correct.

The couple's effective tax rate was lower, but they still owed the government.

"I feel like I have reached a stage of grief of acceptance," he said. "In a twisted way I should have been paying this all year and now I just have to pay it in one lump sum."

A number of experts such as Gleckman are urging taxpayers to obsess less about their refund or what they owe when measuring the effect of the new tax law. These are just a sliver of your tax picture.

But the truth is, many Americans have come to rely on refunds. About three-quarters of U.S. taxpayers typically get one and they had averaged around $2,800. For some low-income households it is the biggest cash infusion of the year.

Fewer refunds

The IRS reported Thursday that the average tax refund as of the second week of filing season was $1,949, down 8.7 percent from the year earlier. The total number of refunds is down 16 percent.

Experts caution it is too early to draw conclusions about a tax season that ends in April. Plus, the number of returns — 27 million as of Feb. 8 — is down 10 percent from a year ago, due in part to the partial government shutdown. The picture will become much clearer as more filings are processed, refunds are issued and the IRS gets back up to full speed.

All the same, the initial results have surprised early filers and worried those who haven't yet tackled their taxes.

Part of the problem centers around how employees and employers adjusted (or didn't adjust) withholdings from paychecks to account for the law's changes. The government issued updated withholding guidelines to help employers determine how much to set aside from an employee's paycheck to cover taxes. Withhold too much and you get a refund at tax time; too little and you owe.

It is at best, an estimate. But it's an estimate that grew drastically more difficult to make under the new law.

The Government Accountability Office estimated in a report last summer that about 30 million workers had too little withheld from their paychecks, which made their take home pay bigger but increased their tax liability. That's about 3 million more workers than normal.

Few taxpayers appear to have heeded the IRS' advice to do a "paycheck checkup" to make sure they had the proper amount withheld. Payroll processor ADP, which is responsible for paying one out of every six Americans, said the vast majority of people in its system didn't update their withholdings last year.

More surprises

Some taxpayers who did make adjustments found they couldn't get it quite right.

Kevin McCreanor of Milton, Georgia and his wife normally get a sizeable refund each year — it was more than $12,000 last year. While they know waiting for a large refund isn't the best strategy financially, they like a refund and they put anything they get back toward their daughters' education. Their income, earned primarily from his wife's job in telecom, can vary greatly, so there was comfort in never facing a big bill.

The couple increased her paycheck withholdings to ensure the same but found they are only getting back $519 this year. Their income and tax rate did increase, and McCreanor acknowledges there is probably more he could have done to prepare but he is very disappointed all the same.

Some surprises were welcome, however. Brian Goodell and his wife typically face a tax bill of anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000 each year. But this year the Tigard, Oregon, couple is getting a $15,000 refund. They believe they got some benefit from the increased child tax credit. They also made more charitable donations and increased their withholdings. While Goodell isn't entirely sure why it worked out so well, he'll gladly take the refund.

Taxpayers can get a better sense of how they fared by looking at their tax liability or effective tax rate. This information is often available on the summary received from an accountant or tax preparation software. They can also look at the "total tax" on those summaries or form 1040. These are not perfect measures either, but provide some perspective.

Breaking even

And remember that getting a refund is not necessarily a good thing. Breaking even is really the best outcome from an economic point of view. If you get a refund, that means the government has been holding onto your money when you could have been using it.

Additionally, consider that taxes are rarely an equal comparison from year-to-year, said Eric Bronnenkant, the head of tax at Betterment and a CPA and certified financial planner. People's lives change in ways that can dramatically influence their taxes, such as marriages, divorces, kids, moving or job changes. The average taxpayer may not realize the full impact some of these changes might have.

"I am not surprised by the reaction people are having," Bronnekant said. "I think for some people the reaction is more justified than others."

Tuesday
Feb192019

SBC May Create Database of Leaders of Sexual Abuse

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — More than a decade after the Southern Baptist Convention rejected the idea of creating a database of ministers credibly accused of sexual abuse, leaders said on Monday night the possibility is on the table.

The denomination already was looking at how it could better respond to abuse when two Texas newspapers published an investigation last week that detailed hundreds of cases of abuse in its churches.

Those revelations added a sense of urgency to a meeting of the SBC's executive committee on Monday night, where President J.D. Greear reported on the progress of a sexual assault advisory committee.

With 15 million members and over 47,000 churches, the Southern Baptist Convention is the nation's largest Protestant denomination. But the SBC's structure as a voluntary association of autonomous churches has hindered past efforts at fighting sexual abuse.

At the denomination's annual meeting in 2008, the executive committee said local church autonomy made it impossible to implement a database of abusers, an idea that survivors and their supporters had been advocating. Critics accused the denomination of using the structure as an excuse not to act.

But on Monday, Greear said Southern Baptists needed to "repent of appealing to autonomy as a cover-up for lack of accountability."

He said the advisory group was studying the possibility of a database but that the subject is complicated.

"Just because we are not announcing any plans regarding a database tonight does not mean that we are not doing everything we can to evaluate it as an option," he said.

Greear also said the denomination should kick out churches that show "wanton disregard for sexual abuse and for caring for the survivors" and suggested an investigation of 10 churches that have been identified in media reports as covering up abuse.

The Nashville-based denomination already kicks out churches that affirm homosexuality or call female pastors.

Greear, who is a pastor at The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, said if there had been news stories of Southern Baptist churches performing gay weddings, the denomination would take action "because our position is clear."

"We must make it clear that our position on abuse is not up for debate," Greear said.

He said a constitutional amendment is already in the works.

The emotional meeting began with a personal appeal from the executive committee Chairman Mike Stone, a pastor at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, Georgia. Stone showed a photograph of himself as a young boy on screens in the auditorium as he told the members of the committee, with his voice quavering at times, that he was abused as a boy, although not in a Southern Baptist church.

"That boy needs you to take the next steps in confronting this evil," he said. "He's asking you to take bigger and bolder steps than you've ever taken in the past."

Monday
Feb182019

Watchdog Group Could Soon Review S.C. Electric Cooperatives

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A new bill at the Statehouse would allow a state watchdog agency to review South Carolina's electric cooperatives for the first time.

The bill would allow the Office of Regulatory Staff to audit a co-op and let them know if they were spending their money properly and following state law. The agency could take concerns to the Public Service Commission, which could weigh in as well. Regulators couldn't change rates.

About 30 percent of South Carolina's residents — or about 1.5 million people — get power from the nearly two dozen co-ops in the state.

State Rep. Russell Ott said his bill was prompted after The State newspaper's reporting about Tri-County Electric co-op's board holding an excessive number of meetings that lasted just minutes to get paid $450 a pop and getting co-op workers to install power lines and do landscaping work for free.

"What we're trying to accomplish is just making sure these elected board members always know there's going to be a higher level of scrutiny. There's going to be multiple opportunities for people to look and be involved in the process, which was clearly lacking before," the Democrat from St. Matthews told The State newspaper .

The bill, which is scheduled to be heard in a House committee later this month, includes several other reforms.

The proposal would require co-ops to post how much their board is paid per meetings, their benefits and how much they spend on travel. It would also require co-ops notify customers about meetings 10 days in advance and publish minutes after meetings are finished.

Co-ops would have to allow early voting in boar elections and keep polls open at least four hours on election day. Co-op directors could not fill vacancies on boards by themselves, hopefully ending a practice of some co-ops of appointing relatives to replace board members.

Co-op directors would be banned from hiring their own relatives or from running a co-op where they also worked as a contractor or had another business relationship.

Many co-ops have told lawmakers they back the bill, said Republican Rep. Gary Clary of Central.

"It's an excellent sign," Clary said. "They realized they needed to take a closer look at the way things are being done, that so much of it was being done behind closed doors and without proper notice and without real transparency."

Monday
Feb182019

President's Day Good Time to See How Legacies Change

By Ethan Sacks/NBC News

Americans generally hold this truth to be self-evident: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were presidents who earned their places on monuments and on currency through exemplary leadership that united the country.

That reverence is celebrated every year on Presidents Day — a national celebration observed in one form or another since President Rutherford B. Hayes signed a 1879 law establishing a federal holiday on Feb. 22, the anniversary of Washington's birth.

That reverence now seems quaint, a phenomenon relegated to larger-than-life figures from a distant past when powdered wigs or stove-pipe hats were in vogue.

A closer look at history, however, shows that no president has managed to leave the position without alienating a large segment of the populace. Partisan bickering has been an American tradition since the flag had 13 stars, well before 140-character tweets.

"We look back without rancor at these guys, but Washington was bitterly denounced during his presidency and the language used against Lincoln makes what’s said against Trump very mild," Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton Professor Emeritus of History at Columbia University, told NBC News.

"The partisan bitterness that we see today is not unprecedented by any means."

History suggests that with time and perspective, one or more recent presidents could find themselves, if not carved on Mount Rushmore, then at least mentioned in the same breath as those immortalized in granite.

And political biases aside, historians caution that it is difficult to gauge which presidents will go down in history as greats, because the true impacts of many of their policies and decisions aren't clear until later.

"Harry Truman left office with historically low ratings, but most historians would now rate him as one of the greats," said Barry Bradford, distinguished lecturer for the Organization of American Historians.

"Historical legacy usually improves over time. But it takes time and space."

Washington is an example of how all the monument-making can sand down the less favorable or controversial legacies of a plantation owner who owned slaves.

Considered by many historians and lay folk to be the most influential figure in American history, Washington's reputation was buttressed by his role leading the Continental Army to victory over the British during the Revolutionary War.

It's a legacy that has been amplified over time, said best-selling author Brad Meltzer, whose latest book, "The First Conspiracy," chronicles a little-known assassination attempt on then-General Washington during the early days of the war.

"We love to tell the story of Washington the great general, but in his earliest battles he would routinely get out-generaled," Meltzer said. "He just didn’t have the experience of the British.

"We are a country that loves legends and myths, and the myths we love the most are our own."

Over time, Lincoln has become as heralded as Washington — at least in the parts of the country on the winning side of the Civil War.

That's probably why Lincoln's Feb. 12 birthday never became a national holiday, though many celebrate it as part of Presidents Day after the passage of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1971.

"In the South, there’s considerable reservation about Lincoln," Foner said. "While many associate him primarily with the emancipation of slaves, there is a neo-Confederate element that views Lincoln as a tyrant who suppressed states rights, introduced the income tax and suspended habeas corpus."

While it's hard to evaluate the future legacy of a president — including Trump or Obama — during their lifetimes, American history has shown certain patterns.

Presidents who are assassinated tend to be romanticized with an added mystique. "John F. Kennedy is widely admired by Democrats and Republicans nowadays, on rankings of the greatest presidents, Kennedy usually right up at the top, even though his presidency is rather short in length and accomplishment," Foner said.

Steering a country through a major war or crisis is also a selective legacy booster, which explains the popularity of Franklin D. Roosevelt despite his role in the internment of Japanese Americans at the time. Roosevelt presided over the U.S. during World War II.

Modern presidents, however, may have a tougher path to that level of popularity than their predecessors. And it comes back to those tweets.

"The advent of social media and blogging make it less likely that a consensus could be reached," Bradford said. "In an era in which we depended on the 'Huntley-Brinkley Report' or Time magazine to tell us what’s going on, we didn’t believe that every opinion is equal.

"In order to have that popular consensus, we have to rebuild trust in media and historical thinking generally. If we are told constantly that what we read is 'fake news,' how do we agree on what's real?"

Meltzer, though, believes that the past shows Americans can look forward to the future if they're not so bullish on the present.

"If history proves one thing, in our worst moments we get our best heroes," said Meltzer, who hosted the TV show "Lost History."

"Right now in a supermarket, there is a kid pulling the Cheetos off the shelf, and throwing a tantrum," he said, "and that kid one day will grow up to be president and do something amazing."

Sunday
Feb172019

Study: Pushups Can Measure Men's Heart Health

If you're a 40-something guy and can't do 40 push-ups in a row, maybe it's time to do something about it.

A new study suggests the number of push-ups a middle-aged man can perform might be an indication of his overall heart health. 

Men who can do more than 40 at a time have a 96 percent reduced risk of heart attack, stroke and heart disease compared with men who could muster fewer than 10, according to findings published online Feb. 15 in JAMA Network Open.

"There was basically a dose response," said senior researcher Dr. Stefanos Kales, a professor of environmental health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston. "The more pushups you could do, the less likely you were to have a heart disease event."

It appears that push-up capacity may be a "marker of general physical fitness," Kales said.

"As you can well imagine, there are people who are world-class marathon runners who can't do very many pushups, and there might be people who are bodybuilders that can do a lot of push-ups but can't run very well," he added. "But we found in this study and other studies we've done, in general, push-up capacity and aerobic capacity are pretty well correlated."

For the study, Kales' team tracked the heart health of just over 1,100 active male firefighters for a decade, starting in 2000. The average age of the participants was about 40 at the study's start, and the group had an average body mass index (BMI) of 28.7, which is overweight. BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight.

The men's push-up capacity was measured at the study's start, and participants also underwent a treadmill test to check their aerobic capacity. Each man then underwent yearly physicals and filled out health questionnaires.

During the 10-year follow-up, 37 men developed heart health problems, the findings showed.

The researchers broke the men into five groups, based on increments of 10 push-ups, and ran the numbers to see if their push-up capacity accurately predicted heart problems.

Even after adjusting for age and BMI, the investigators found that the number of push-ups a man could perform predicted their risk of heart problems. Push-up capacity was more strongly associated with heart health than aerobic capacity as measured by a standard treadmill test, the study authors said.

Even so, doctors are likely to continue relying on stress treadmill tests as a measure of heart health, said Dr. Satjit Bhusri, a cardiologist with Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

"I agree with the authors that push-up performance can correlate with stress testing," Bhusri said. "However, the tremendous data and information accumulated with stress testing still makes it the gold standard."

According to Dr. Guy Mintz, push-ups might be a better assessment for "physical fitness and cardiovascular health in professions that require increased physical abilities, such as police officers, firefighters or sanitation workers." Mintz is director of cardiovascular health and lipidology at Northwell Health's Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y. Fletcher suggested that people who want to protect their heart health should try to get in 25 to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise most days of the week. Examples include walking on a treadmill, riding a stationary bike, or working out on an elliptical machine.

Mintz recommends the "rule of fours" to his patients.

"This is 40 minutes of continuous aerobic activity at least four times per week to provide four benefits -- including improvement of blood pressure, cholesterol, weight and blood sugar -- leading to better cardiovascular health," Mintz said.

Sunday
Feb172019

State Adds "Tall Pines" Area Along Saluda River for Recreation

CLEVELAND, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina has added land along the South Saluda River it plans to let people use for fishing, hunting and hiking.

The Department of Natural Resources said the 2.7 square-mile (711-hectare) parcel of land in northern Greenville County was bought for $4 million thanks to $3 million from the state Conservation Bank. The agency's Heritage Land Trust Fund and timber account paid for the rest.

The department said in a news release the land is called "Tall Pines" and it has two lakes, streams and both upland and wetland areas as well as a mile (1.6 kilometers) of river shoreline.

The agency says the land has deer turkey, quail and other small game. The stretch of the South Saluda River is also a popular fishing spot.

Saturday
Feb162019

Supreme Court to Decide on Citizenship Census Question

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court will decide the fate of a fiercely contested plan by President Donald Trump’s administration to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census, agreeing on Friday to an expedited review of a judge’s ruling blocking the plan. 

The justices, in a brief order, granted the administration’s request to hear its appeal of Manhattan-based U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman’s Jan. 15 ruling even before a lower appeals court has considered the matter. Oral arguments will take place in late April, with a ruling due by the end of June. 

Furman’s ruling came in lawsuits brought by 18 U.S. states, 15 cities and various civil rights groups challenging the Republican administration’s decision to include the question. The plaintiffs said the question would scare immigrants and Latinos into abstaining from the census, disproportionately affecting Democratic-leaning states. 

Furman ruled that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had concealed the true motives for his “arbitrary and capricious” decision to add the citizenship question in violation of federal law. 

Opponents have accused the administration of trying to engineer an undercount of the true population and diminish the electoral representation of Democratic-leaning communities in Congress, benefiting Trump’s fellow Republicans. Non-citizens comprise an estimated 7 percent of people living in the United States. 

Time is of the essence in the case, as the official census forms are due to be printed in the coming months. 

The U.S. Constitution mandates a census every 10 years. The official population count is used in the allocation of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and the distribution of billions of dollars in federal funds. There has not been a census question about citizenship status since 1950. 

Ross announced in March 2018 that the administration would include a citizenship question, saying the Justice Department had requested the data to help enforce the Voting Rights Act that protects eligible voters from discrimination. Only U.S. citizens can vote in federal elections. 

Justice Department spokeswoman Kelly Laco said the administration is pleased the justices will review its “legal and reasonable decision to reinstate a citizenship question on the 2020 census.”

Saturday
Feb162019

S.C. Seeks New Ways to Deal with Increasing Storms

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The growing realization that ever-more ferocious storms are becoming more common as the result of global warming is forcing government officials to revisit how they respond to natural disasters.

In South Carolina late last year, Republican Gov. Henry McMaster created a special floodwater commission. The group will be tasked with figuring out how to better combat flooding unleashed by hurricanes, rising ocean levels and other rain systems upstream that send rivers and creeks over their banks on the way to the Atlantic Ocean.

Larry Larson is a former director and senior policy adviser for the Association of State Floodplain Managers. He says officials need to start using forecast tools that predict several different scenarios depending on temperature rise, rather than relying on flood maps based on past events.

 

Friday
Feb152019

Market Theatre's "Our Town" Glows with Charm, Sincerity

By Paul Hyde/Anderson Observer

“Our Town” works its gentle magic in a poignant production of this classic play at the Market Theatre Company.

Director Robert Fuson’s streamlined staging of Thornton Wilder’s drama glows with charm and sincerity.

Fuson’s production unfolds naturally, with no undue theatrical flourishes or razzle-dazzle. For scenery, there are only two tables and 10 chairs on stage. It’s a simple story simply told.

Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Our Town” finds the beauty and poetry in ordinary lives. At the heart of the story are two teenagers, Emily and George, tentatively courting and starting a life together.

The Stage Manager (Jessie Davis), foreground, tells the story of Emily Webb (Kellsey Cornnell) and George Gibbs (Noah Austin) during a rehearsal for “Our Town” at the Market Theatre Company. Photo by Noah Taylor. The play is set in a small town in the early 20thcentury, perhaps not so different from any small town in the early 21stcentury.

Grover’s Corners is the sort of community where most local folks believe that an evening stroll can be as satisfying – if perhaps not as thrilling -- as a trip to Paris.

There’s not much high drama in the small town, but there are compensations: the sunrise, birdsong in the summer, plants, trees and the change of seasons. For most of the town’s residents, that seems to be enough, and even more than enough.

Not everyone, of course, is “meant for small-town life,” one character says, and it’s probably true that the low-key “Our Town” is not meant for all theater-goers. Its humor is genial, its voice almost never shouts.

But it’s a profound play that wears its profundity lightly.

Fusion’s staging aims to be natural and earnest. It succeeds at that but, on opening night, the actors spoke so softly at the beginning of the play that I and some others missed some of the dialogue. 

“Our Town” is an ensemble show, and this production features 13 capable Upstate actors.

Among the standouts is Jessie Davis as the Stage Manager, the play’s narrator who occasionally becomes a character in the drama. The role is often played by a folksy grandfatherly actor, but Davis, a young actress, was an inspired choice for the part. She offers an emotionally engaged portrayal, sensitive and heartfelt.

Kelsey Cornnell and Noah Austin are appealing and believable as Emily and George, the young romantic couple. Cornnell’s Emily is sweet and gracefully articulated. Austin captures George’s youthful awkwardness and rambunctious energy.

Four actors offer solid contributions as the parents of Emily and George: Rob Gentry (Dr. Gibbs), Sarah Anderson (Mrs. Gibbs), Ken Thomason (Mr. Webb) and Casey Certain (Mrs. Webb).

Bree Green designed the excellent costumes.

Only two more performances, Saturday and Sunday, remain of this fine production of “Our Town.” For tickets, call 864-729-2999 or visit the website www.themarketanderson.org.

Paul Hyde, a veteran Upstate journalist, writes about the arts for the Anderson Observer. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @PaulHyde7.

Friday
Feb152019

Measles Outbreaks Concern Medical Community

(Reuters) - A measles outbreak that has stricken at least 225 people in New York state since October began with a traveler who visited Israel during the Jewish high holidays and returned to a predominantly ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Rockland County. 

A similar pattern unfolded three months later and nearly 3,000 miles (4,800 km) away when a person who visited Eastern Europe returned to a community with strong ties to a local church group in Vancouver, Washington. More than 50 people fell ill there. 

In both instances, U.S. travelers picked up measles in foreign countries where the highly contagious disease was running rampant and brought it back to places where vaccination rates were too low by U.S. public health standards, setting off the worst outbreaks seen in those states in decades. 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says New York’s outbreak marks the highest tally of imported cases since measles was declared eradicated in the United States in 2000. 

The two outbreaks appear to be winding down, health officials say, after concerted efforts to pinpoint the origins and isolate and inoculate those who were exposed but unprotected and educate parents who had resisted vaccines. 

The disease has spread mostly among school-age children whose parents declined to get them vaccinated. Most cited philosophical or religious reasons, or concerns - debunked by medical science - that the three-way vaccines against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) could cause autism, authorities said. 

New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said another key factor was mere “complacency” in an age where the potential ravages of measles are unfamiliar to parents who came of age after the vaccine was introduced in 1957. 

In Rockland County, the suburb north of Manhattan accounting for the bulk of cases, the state has vaccinated 15,000 children since the outbreak began there last autumn, Zucker said. The Brooklyn borough of New York City was another hot spot. 

Still, officials say the measles crisis in New York and Washington states offer a lesson about the importance of maintaining a minimum level of “herd” immunization against dangerous, preventable diseases such as measles. 

It also highlights the global nature of disease control, in which a hot spot of infection in one country can ignite a distant outbreak in an immunization-weak spot of another, said Dr. Scott Lindquist, Washington’s top epidemiologist. 

Here are some key facts about measles and immunization, according to public health experts and the CDC. 

More on this story here. 

Thursday
Feb142019

Lawmakers Push for Consolidation of Small Districts

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina lawmakers and education officials say offering school districts incentives before moving to consolidate is best way to ensure positive public reception.

Members of a Senate subcommittee met Thursday to discuss legislation to require school districts within a single county that meet two of four criteria to consolidate beginning with the 2020-2021 school year. One of the criteria for consolidation includes a district with a student population of less than 1500.

South Carolina Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman said there are currently 13 districts that would qualify under this legislation, and said offering districts incentives like teacher salary raises, providing high quality student programs and building better facilities would hopefully get local administrators on board.

Lawmakers will continue their hearings next week. No action was taken on the bill.

Thursday
Feb142019

Bipartisan Bill Expected to Avert Government Shutdown

Feb. 14 (UPI) -- Lawmakers introduced a bipartisan spending and security bill late Wednesday to prevent a second government shutdown.

With government funding to run out Friday looming, Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, filed the 1,159-page bill that will keep money in federal coffers until the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

Following days of negotiations, the group of bipartisan lawmakers included $1.375 billion for physical barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border, about one-fifth the amount President Donald Trump has requested. Democrats have repeatedly said they won't allocate that much.

This stalemate between congressional Democrats and Trump over his demand for $5.7 billion to fund the barriers resulted in a 35-day partial shutdown, which ended when Trump signed off on additional funds that run out Friday.

RELATED Trump: Not 'happy' with bipartisan deal, but doesn't expect shutdown

 

"We cannot repeat the disastrous government shutdown, so it is incumbent on Congress to come together to responsibly fund our government. This legislation represents a bipartisan compromise and will keep our government open while funding key priorities," Lowey said.

The Senate is expected to vote on the bill early Thursday. Then it goes to the House for a vote Thursday evening, then to Trump for signing.

"If some choose not to sign it, that's their prerogative," Lowey said.

The $1.375 billion is allocated for the construction of about 55 miles of a physical barrier along the southern border in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, according to a summary of the Consolidated Appropriations Act.

Homeland Security will receive $49.4 billion in discretionary funding, $2 billion more than Trump requested and, along with the 55-mile barrier, includes $100 million for "new border security technology," $113 million for "additional air and marine assets," and $77 million for "opioid equipment and staffing for use at international mail and express consignment facilities," the summary said.

It does not include funding for new Border Patrol agents.

Wednesday
Feb132019

S.C. House Bill Would Forbid Local Restrictions on Smoking

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The South Carolina House has given key approval to a bill that would keep local governments from passing any additional regulations on cigarettes or electronic cigarettes.

The House voted 69-37 on Wednesday on the proposal that prevents local bans on ingredients, flavors or the licensing of tobacco products.

Supporters say the ban would prevent a patchwork of regulations. The House has already passed a bill banning minors from entering vaping shops and other places that sell electronic cigarettes.

The House debated the bill for about an hour. Some lawmakers compared it to a proposal to prevent local governments from banning plastic bags.

The tobacco bill will move on to the Senate after a last perfunctory vote.