Ruling stings poor students, but yields a little good news
Technicality kills Cleveland vouchers
When it comes to school vouchers, a rule's a rule-even if that rule has been gathering dust for more than a century. So said the Ohio Supreme Court last week when it knocked the cobwebs off a musty technicality to shoot down Cleveland's landmark school choice program. In a 5-2 majority opinion, the court invoked for the first time in modern memory the state's "single-subject rule," a constitutional provision holding that potentially controversial legislation must be passed by the state assembly in a standalone bill. To ease passage in 1995, Ohio lawmakers had rolled the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program, as the voucher program is known, into the state's budget bill. Now, if more than 4,000 voucher students are to attend schools chosen by their families this fall, the Ohio legislature must reshape, debate, and approve an entirely new bill by the end of this month. That's the bad news. The good news is that the court also found that the Cleveland program does not-as voucher opponents had vehemently argued-violate the separation of church and state. "We conclude that the school voucher program has a secular legislative purpose, does not have the primary effect of advancing religion, and does not excessively entangle government with religion," wrote Justice Paul Pfeifer. That finding angered some anti-voucher activists, but Ohio Education Association (OEA) president Michael Billirakis said, "We'll take any victory the court will give us." David Zanotti, a school choice activist, expects "a very fierce battle" in the legislature over passage of a new voucher bill. He worries that despite GOP control of the legislature and state house, too many Republicans have been "lukewarm" on the issue. In addition, the OEA last week "re-declared war on school choice," Mr. Zanotti said. Is there anything in the plus column for voucher advocates? "If parents and children get to tell their stories, the new legislation should pass," said Mr. Zanotti. "If it boils down to money and politics, those children could be in real trouble." Anxious month for voucher kids
Back to the old drawing board
Both voucher advocates and opponents claim the Ohio Supreme Court's anti-voucher ruling as a political victory, but it's Cleveland kids and parents who are suffering a practical defeat. "I could jump off a building right now," said Elizabeth Henry, whose daughter is attending private school this year using voucher funds. "This program means everything to us." Ms. Henry had been so discouraged by violence and poor academics in the city's public schools that she allowed her eldest son to drop out at age 17. When her family qualified for a $1,300 tuition credit under the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program, Ms. Henry leapt at the chance to send her daughter to a private school. More than 3,500 students received state tuition assistance this year; even more were expected to enter the program this fall. Where will those students wind up? Because their families are low-income, the most likely destination is back to public schools. Cleveland voucher program administrator Bert Holt said her staff is fielding calls from anxious voucher parents: "Parents have been pleased to have this educational opportunity for their kids-pleased academically, socially, and morally. We are hopeful that our general assembly will continue to look at this issue of parent satisfaction and pass a new bill quickly." will school funding issue affect vouchers?
The rain in Maine
Vouchers for religious schools may have suffered another blow last week at the federal court level. The case does not directly involve voucher programs such as Cleveland's, but a federal appeals court upheld a Maine law that bars the state from paying students' tuition at religious schools. Maine law allows families who live in towns without public secondary schools to send pupils to any public or nonsectarian private school, with the state paying at least part of the tuition. The 1st Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a lower judge's ruling that the state is not required to extend subsidies to parochial schools. The case began when three parents sued Maine's education commissioner for state money to send their children to a Catholic high school. The American Center for Law and Justice plans an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The high court has left alone a Wisconsin program that provides financial help for families to send their kids to religious schools. But the justices voted not to hear a challenge to the program and did not issue a decision or set a national precedent. The No-Comment Zone
- The cost of flying is up, up, and away. Fares are up almost 11 percent this year after another hike from the major airlines at the start of the summer travel season. Last week's fare increase, the third of 1999, is expected to stick since Northwest Airlines has gone along with a 4 percent increase levied by Continental Airlines two weeks ago. Northwest has been the stickler in the fare game for the air industry. Last year, more than a dozen attempts to raise airline fares failed because Northwest declined to go along with other airlines' prices.
- Scientists in Hawaii say they used ordinary cells to clone a trio of identical mice. Research shows that cloning can be done using typical cells found throughout the body. The cloned critters grew using genetic material extracted from tail cells of adult male mice, but only one grew to adulthood, according to a study in the journal Nature Genetics.
- Energy Secretary Bill Richardson says heads will roll because of the Chinese spying scandal. He plans to fire department officials for failing to act on signs that the Communists were stealing secrets and urges a renewed focus on increased security. Critics may say he is serving up a few low-level fall guys, but Mr. Richardson says he wants an end to "scapegoating" in the Chinese espionage scandal. He awaits an internal report on security lapses at the Los Alamos lab that may have contributed to thefts of nuclear secrets.
- Barnes & Noble called off its planned acquisition of Ingram Book Group last week, amid growing speculation that federal antitrust regulators would challenge the $600 million deal to unite the world's largest bookstore chain and the No. 1 book distributor. Federal Trade Commission staff reportedly had concluded that such a combination would give Barnes & Noble an unfair competitive position.
- Despite cries that they were aiding child abusers, lawmakers in Nevada passed a bill to guarantee parents' right to spank their children and keep them out of jail for administering discipline. Even if a court case is launched, official records of such incidents could be erased if parents are later deemed not to be abusive.
- Pat Robertson is taking more authority over the Christian Coalition and sending his executive director Randy Tate to Washington to become a more aggressive lobbyist. Mr. Robertson will take charge of day-to-day operations of the political group, which has recently suffered from fund-raising and organizational problems. If Y2K flames out, here's a new worry
The Sun Bug
Those who don't have enough to be afraid of from Y2K can look forward to another technological crisis when the new year rolls around. Get ready for the Sun Bug. The big yellow ball in the sky will enter the most violent and disruptive phase of its 11-year cycle soon and could send out nasty solar flares that could cause power outages, shut down cell phones, and send airplane pilots and ship captains scurrying for those old-fashioned maps. Even spacewalking astronauts could be at risk, according to reports at the national meeting of the American Astronomical Society. Researchers are using new techniques to forecast the sun's cycle, which will peak between January and April next year. Big solar explosions can equal a million 100-megaton hydrogen bombs, sending waves of solar energy that can trigger blackouts, block some radio signals, and even send satellites spinning out of their proper orbits. Worldwide navigation, for example, relies heavily on the Global Positioning System, which uses a fleet of satellites that can be affected by the sun. But if things get bad, there may be some warning from a new government satellite that will detect bursts of solar energy and send about an hour's notice. The warning will travel over the Net to power and satellite companies to give them a shot at protecting their equipment from damage. Microsoft trial resumes
The massive antitrust trial against Microsoft reopened to fireworks after a three-month recess. An IBM witness testified that after the company refused to drop OS/2, a rival operating system to Windows, Microsoft quintupled to $220 million the royalties it charged IBM for using Windows. Years ago, IBM turned Microsoft into a megapower by choosing the young firm to provide software for the new IBM PC. A few years later the two jointly developed OS/2 until Microsoft changed course. IBM's Garry Norris testified that when he tried to sell IBM's OS/2 to computer makers, they feared purchasing it because of threats from Microsoft-even though they had customers who wanted it. court rules on personal privacy issues
Smile, you're on TV
When U.S Fish and Wildlife Service agents obtained a search warrant to raid the 75,000-acre ranch of Paul and Erma Berger, a CNN crew tagged along, watching as they looked for evidence that the ranchers were poisoning wildlife. The Montana couple claimed their privacy rights were violated, sued the network, and won a partial victory before the Supreme Court. Informants claimed in 1993 that the Bergers were using pesticides to poison endangered species such as eagles to protect their ranch. Paul Berger was charged with violating federal laws that protect eagles, but a trial jury acquitted him of all charges except improper use of a pesticide, a misdemeanor. After the trial, CNN's footage appeared on the environmentalist shows Earth Matters and Network Earth as part of its coverage of government efforts to protect endangered species. The suit over that tape leaves some legal questions unanswered about so-called reality television. Supreme Court justices ruled that police violate people's privacy rights when they bring TV camera crews and other journalists into homes during arrests or searches. They also left intact a federal appeals court ruling that would allow CNN to be tried on those accusations. Such a trial is unlikely, since the court threw out the Bergers' suit against the agents who let CNN ride shotgun, saying the officers cannot be sued because it was not clearly established back in 1993 that allowing such news media access would be considered unlawful. Federal court allows partial-birth abortion ban
Winner in Wisconsin
Partial-birth abortion bans have been fully or partially blocked by courts in 19 of the 28 states that passed them, but not in Wisconsin, where a federal judge ruled last week that such a law-which carries a potential term of life in prison-is constitutional. In his ruling, U.S. District Judge John Shabaz said the law is not vague, contrary to the claims of the plaintiffs at Planned Parenthood. He also held that the law does not place an "undue burden" on women and that the state does have a valid interest in banning the procedure. "The partial-birth abortion is never medically necessary to preserve the health of the woman," Judge Shabaz said, contradicting a claim commonly made by abortion-industry lawyers. "The legislature did not adopt the act for the purpose of placing an obstacle in the path of women seeking an abortion." Under the Wisconsin law, doctors would be subject to first-degree murder charges and life in prison if convicted. Aborting mothers would not be punished. Abortionist Dennis Christensen testified at the trial that the law would discourage him from his trade: "If I am going to be subject to going to jail for the rest of my life, no, I would not continue to perform abortions." House reconsiders parental-consent bill
Know where your kids are?
Before Eileen Roberts's teenage daughter could receive medical attention for a botched abortion, Mrs. Roberts first needed to sign parental-consent forms. But Mrs. Roberts was not even notified before the abortion itself, because someone drove her 14-year-old daughter across state lines to have the preborn child killed in secret. The Virginia mother told her story to Congress last week, in an attempt to persuade lawmakers to make it a crime for a non-parent to take a pregnant underage girl to get an abortion out of state in order to bypass parental-consent laws back home. "I am horrified that our daughters are being dumped on our driveways after they are seized from our care, made to skip school, lie, and deceive their parents to be transported across state lines, whether it be two miles or 100 miles away," Mrs. Roberts explained. "Where are these strangers when the emotional and physical repercussions occur? ... Besides, strangers are not responsible for the financial or emotional costs that occur with secret abortions-parents are." In her case, Mrs. Roberts noted that hospitalization and additional surgery to correct problems caused by the hack abortion procedure cost $27,000. Legislation making it illegal to circumvent state parental-consent laws died in the Senate last year after passing the House, but may be ready for a rebirth. Supporters say it would protect vulnerable girls from being spirited away for abortions by self-styled do-gooders and self-serving statutory rapists. Abortion-industry lobbyists are fighting this bill; their talking points include warnings about abusive parents who may become more abusive once they learn of a daughter's pregnancy. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) was more to the point: The proposal is a "thinly veiled attempt to chip away at a constitutionally protected right." Rep. Charles Canady (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Judiciary's constitution subcommittee, said the measure would uphold parental-consent or notification laws in the more than 30 states that have enacted them: "The safety of young girls and the rights of parents demand no less." Milosevic indicted as atrocity stories mount
Military officials from more than 30 nations gathered in Belgium last week to draft plans for an international security force in Kosovo that would seek to protect ethnic Albanians returning home in the aftermath of NATO's air war. The 19 NATO nations and 12 partner countries plan to deploy a force of 50,000 for the mission. Envoys from Russia, Finland, and the United States also met in Germany to discuss obstacles to a peace deal, including NATO's demands to have the force being created in Belgium on Yugoslav soil to police the deal. Finnish and Russian envoys were optimistic about the talks, but others were not. Yugoslav President Slobodon Milosevic "has broken promise after promise," said George Robertson, Britain's defense secretary. "His track record leads to one conclusion: We must not and cannot trust his words." Meanwhile, investigators from the war crimes tribunal in The Hague combed through refugee camps in Macedonia and Albania seeking evidence for the tribunal's indictment last month against Mr. Milosevic and four top aides for crimes against humanity. Investigators report that, in addition to mass expulsions, rapes, and random killings, refugees are also telling stories of Serbs subjecting ethnic Albanians to brutal torture before killing them. One refugee, for instance, reported seeing a Serb gouging out the eyes of a young woman, then leaving her writhing in front of her family for two hours before shooting her. "The killing is so plentiful, and the forms of torture-it's indescribable," one investigator said. "There's a sadism about this that's unbelievable." According to Holly Cartner of Human Rights Watch, "This indictment is particularly important because it shows that no political leader-even if still in office-is immune from prosecution for atrocities." World in brief
Mexican judge arrested
A Mexican judge was charged with conducting improper judicial proceedings for a decision last year to free a suspect in the killing of an American man. Judge Maria Claudia Campusano, who was on vacation when she ordered the suspect released, was arrested and jailed. But the charges were not considered serious, and she was released on bail. Ms. Campusano drew criticism when she ordered the release of Alfonso Gonzalez, who was accused of shooting executive Peter Zarate during a botched 1997 robbery attempt. Mr. Gonzalez, labeled "a modern Robin Hood" by Ms. Campusano, was later rearrested, but an appeals court dismissed charges against him. Colombians seize hostages
Leftist rebels in Colombia abducted 144 worshippers last week from La Maria church, a Roman Catholic church in the western city of Cali. Within hours the guerrillas had released 84 hostages, but continued to hold 60 others. The rebels were from the National Liberation Army (ELN), the second-largest rebel group in Colombia. The group, which also continues to hold 25 hostages from an airliner commandeered on April 12, demands the Colombian government take it more seriously in peace talks aimed at ending the country's 35-year rebel conflict. The government has given a higher priority to negotiations with the larger Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). India, Pakistan dispute territory
Kashmir heats up
Tensions in Kashmir, a Himalayan region claimed by both India and Pakistan, are on the rise. India launched airstrikes against armed Muslim infiltrators who entered the part of Kashmir controlled by India. The Pakistani army claims that India also launched ground offensives on frontier outposts in the region. The two countries have fought three wars in the last 52 years, two of them over Kashmir. The border dispute takes on new meaning this time, however, because both countries are now nuclear powers. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan spoke to Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif, and urged them to respect the 50-year-old line of control dividing Kashmir. The two leaders have agreed to meet to discuss the conflict.