Archives January 2015

Debate Continues Over Recreational Marijuana Legalization in Vermont

Medical marijuana from the Doctor

Currently, Vermont is one of 23 U.S. states that has made marijuana legal — but only for medical purposes.

But with California and Washington state going an extra step by legalizing marijuana for recreational use as well, the debate over whether or not Vermont’s marijuana laws should have provisions for legal recreational use has gained momentum.

According to a January 7 Rutland Herald article, an organization has even emerged — Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana — which hopes to push legislation that will regulate and tax recreational marijuana through the state’s government. The coalition held a news conference on January 6, the day before the state’s legislative session.

The movement’s supporters say that efforts to stamp out illegal recreational use have largely been unsuccessful, and that taxing and regulating marijuana would give much-needed revenue to the state in addition to creating jobs and making the state safer.

“Regulating marijuana will take sales out of the underground market and allow for it to be controlled like other products that are legal for adults,” said Matt Simon of the Marijuana Policy Project, a member of the Vermont Coalition to Regulate Marijuana. “Along with improving public safety, it will generate significant new tax revenue and create good jobs for our communities.”

Meanwhile, opposition to the idea of recreational pot has also raised its voice. A group of lobbyists that calls itself Sensible Approaches to Marijuana, or SAM-Vermont, has begun to actively advocate against legalizing it.

SAM-Vermont argues that legalizing recreational marijuana carries too high a risk, especially for teens. Deborah Haskins, a member of the group, said teenage marijuana use can cause one’s IQ to drop by several points, in addition to adversely impacting attention span and memory.

On the governmental end of the debate, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin has said he’s not opposed to the idea of legalizing recreational marijuana, but would like to wait and see how California and Washington state’s laws play out before Vermont follows suit.

Ultimately, it’s unclear if and when Vermont’s legislators will draw up a bill that allows for legal recreational use — and even more unclear if they will vote it into law.

Queens Apartment Builds Fence to Keep Lower-Income Residents Off Parts of Property

Wooden fence in the coutryside

Many property owners like to get privacy fences, which can act as a barrier guarding against unwanted noise and unwanted visitors like animals. One Queens couple claims that this is why their apartment recently built a new fence. Except, it’s not raccoons and other pesky critters that are being kept out, it’s lower-income tenants.

“We’re caged in,” said Q41 building resident Erin McFadzen to the New York Post. “Every time someone comes over, I have to explain why the fence is there… and tell them we’re rent stabilized, like it’s a badge I have to wear.”

McFadzen and her boyfriend, Erik Clancy, live in one of the “affordable” middle-income, rent stabilized units of the Long Island City’s 17-story condo, located at 23-10 41st Avenue. The reason they were willing to pay $2,186 per month for that specific apartment was because of the lovely wrap-around terrace it had.

When they moved in however, they found a “Jurassic Park”-style barricade restricting their access to it.

“I can’t imagine them saying [to market-rate, upper-income tenants], ‘You get this beautiful view of Manhattan behind a giant metal fence,'” said Clancy.

At least eight other units on their sixth-floor have also found that their terraces are now nearly unusable.

Though the building had assured them multiple times that they’d be able to use the balcony, developer Queensboro Development claimed that the fence was a necessary staging area for window washers, who aren’t working or even there at the building at all times, like the couple who lives there.

The building’s former super Gjon Chota allegedly told McFadzen and Clancy that “the fence is there to stay” because of other residents with smaller balconies. It’s only fair to the others that they not get to use all of their terrace.

“If you feel that somehow you have a special privilege from the rest of tenants to use all of the terrace, please provide me with the copy of your lease or lease rider that states that,” wrote Chota in an email.

At the same time, a market-rate apartment in the same building, which goes for $3,692 a month, also has a large terrace, but doesn’t have the wire fence.

The attorney of the couple’s landlord sent them a letter forbidding them from crossing the fence. So it looks like the couple is going to have to either put up with the economic segregation, or move if they want to be treated fairly.

Prison Bus Involved in Deadly Texas Crash Wasn’t Equipped with Seat Belts for Inmates

The Texas prison bus that crashed last week, killing two correctional officers and eight prisoners, was not equipped with passenger seat belts.

The prison bus skidded off an icy Interstate near Penwell, slid down an embankment and collided with a freight train. The prisoners were handcuffed together but none of them had seat belts, and several were ejected from the bus when it struck the train. In addition to the 10 people who died, four inmates and one corrections officer remain in serious condition.

According to authorities investigating the case, the bus was only equipped with seat belts for the driver and the guards. Its not known yet whether the guards who died in the crash were wearing their seat belts.

Though adult seat belt use is the most effective way to reduce injuries and save lives during traffic accidents, Texas state law only requires them for passenger vehicles, not larger vehicles like buses. Federal law doesn’t even require passenger seat belts in commercial buses like Greyhound and Megabus.

Robert Downs, the president of an unrelated busing company based in Florida, told ABC Crimesider that most prison transport companies he knew of lacked inmate seat belts. He added that when he founded his company in 2006, he tried to introduce seat belts, but inmates would use the metal clasps to try to bend their handcuffs. When the company switched to Velcro, inmates just tore them off.

Authorities believe ice and an earlier crash on the I-20 may have contributed to the accident. They have yet to name the officer who was driving the bus, but each correctional officer had over 15 years of service.

The Union Pacific freight train came to a stop shortly after the accident. No Union Pacific employees were injured and none of the cars derailed. Two containers in the back of the train were damaged, causing hundreds of packages to scatter along the tracks.

Change is coming to bus seat belt regulations, though it didn’t come soon enough for the Texas crash victims. The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Administration ruled last year that all newly manufactured motorcoaches and large buses will need to have seat belts beginning in 2016. Older vehicles won’t be affected right away, but the legislation aims to make bus rides safer for passengers in the future.

Out With the New, In With the Old Birth Control Techniques

White egg with pink female symbol isolated on white
Women are most fertile between the ages of 20 and 24, but can still easily conceive throughout their 20’s. However, for 25-year-old Aisha Mukooza, pregnancy is simply out the question right now.

“I can’t afford to get pregnant,” Mukooza said.

Like many young women, Mukooza uses birth control in order to prevent pregnancy; however, she uses a method that many would consider “old school.” “I have my thermometer under my pillow. I take it, and then take the reading and put it in Kindara,” Mukooza said.

Kindara is a mobile application on Mukooza’s smartphone that helps her keep track of her temperature. When Mukooza ovulates, her body temperature naturally rises.

Mukooza is just one of many young women who are foregoing hormonal birth control in favor of older methods but with a modern, digital twist. These women are using a method known as Natural Family Planning, or Fertility Awareness Methods (FAM).

Many experts warn that FAM is one of the least successful means of birth control, because it can be difficult if not complicated to do accurately. However, thanks to technology, some women feel it is the best, and most natural option.

Ironically, FAM is especially popular among women who are trying to conceive. Now, an increasing number are using these very methods to prevent pregnancy. With its roots deep in the Catholic Church, FAM is beginning to lose its religious association as more and more secular women begin using it. Many say they are leery of the side effects associated with hormonal birth control.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only a small percentage of women — 1-3% — use FAM as a form of contraception, but a research study from the University of Iowa found that more women were aware of it. In fact, 1 in 5 women would consider it an option.

Hormonal birth control, commonly referred to simply as “the pill,” is the most common pharmacological contraceptive. Studies show that nearly 4 out of 5 American women use it. Yet, almost 30% of all users cease taking the pill due to adverse side effects such as nausea, weight gain, sore or swollen breasts, spotting and mood changes, according to research from the CDC.

When Mukooza’s then-boyfriend, and now-husband, asked her to consider using the pill or getting a hormonal implant, she was strongly against it.

“I wouldn’t have it,” she said. “I was literally scared of hormonal birth control. I didn’t like the potential side effects.”

“I’m a healthy person. I try to eat healthy food, so the idea of being pumped with synthetic hormones didn’t appeal to me, in fact, it was scary,” Mukooza said.

Short-Lived Crime Spree Ends With a Man Hiding in a Shed

Burglar hand holding crowbar break opening door

After three armed home invasions and a car theft, police in Greenfield, MN finally found and arrested the man responsible, who was hiding in a shed.

According to NBC affiliate TMJ 4, the unidentified man first broke into a home in the 440 block of South 50th Street, threatened the homeowner with a gun, and stole a car, which he crashed into a tree a short distance away.

“He had the gun in his hand. As he turned and changed directions, that’s when I saw the gun,” said a neighbor who witnessed incident told TMJ 4. “[He said to me] ‘get back in the house.'”

After crashing the vehicle, the perpetrator fled the scene and broke into another home in the 4300 block of South 47th Street, where he attempted a car jacking. He then broke into yet another home before hiding from police in a shed.

A shed is usually a one-story structure in a garden or on a property for the purpose of hobbying or storing bulky items, but they could actually end up serving as a refuge for fleeing criminals.

The incident in Greenfield isn’t the only recent case of an armed criminal using a shed as a hiding place from the police. According to the Ledger-Enquirer, two men were arrested after a home invasion and burglary in Columbus, OH.

Two men, William Benny Ewing, 42, and Keenen Markie Coty, 22, entered the home of Charlene Tolbert around 6:30 am. One pointed at her with a gun and motioned for her to lay on the floor.

“I figured he wanted me to get down,” Tolbert told The Ledger-Enquirer.

Tolbert was later found still on the floor, bound with zip ties, and a coat thrown over her head. Tolbert’s son, who arrived to pick her up that morning struggled with the men before they fled the home. Ewing was found in another home, but Coty was hiding in a shed in the backyard on the property.

Both men face an array of charges: aggravated assault, burglary, home invasion, kidnapping, false imprisonment, and others.

Winter Preparedness Tips for Homeowners Can Save on Energy and Heating Bills

Opening up Floor Vent Heater

Winter is in full swing, with many parts of the country experiencing frigid temperatures, snow, and ice. Despite the cold, however, there are plenty of steps that homeowners can take to prepare their homes for the worst of the winter season — even starting right now.

Part of staying warm in the winter has to do with the house itself. When evaluating a home’s winter preparedness, it’s best to think from top to bottom — the roof all the way to the basement.

The first step is checking the insulation in the attic. Because heat loss can occur if a roof isn’t properly insulated, homeowners should make sure they are using the minimum R-value insulation for their climate (e.g. R-49 in Northern states).

Windows should be next on the checklist. Although they can provide daylight, ventilation, and heat from the sun, they can also let heat out during the winter and potentially raise a heating bill by as much as 10% to 25%.

There are a few options that homeowners can use to combat this heat loss. One would be to install new windows entirely, but another may involve glass replacement instead.

Most high-efficiency windows are at least double paned and have what is known as low emissivity, or low-e. This advanced window coating helps homes retain their heat in the cold months and keep it out in the summer, and it can also protect carpets and furniture from discoloration due to ultraviolet sunlight.

If replacing the windows or window glass isn’t an option, homeowners can also use a window-insulating kit. These kits contain a clear plastic film that can help reduce drafts and save energy.

Homeowners should also check the seals around windows and other “gaps” in the home, such as those around pipes, wires, TV cables and bathroom and dryer vents. These can easily be filled with a foam sealant spray.

Finally, it may be necessary for some homeowners to take a look at their furnaces. Getting an inspection on an HVAC unit is a must, especially if that furnace is more than a few years old.

Now may also be the perfect time to upgrade to an Energy Star model, which will not only help save money on a heating bill but also gives homeowners a tax advantage backed by a government program, too.

Taking care of the furnace by changing the filters regularly will let homeowners get the most out of their heating. When the furnace is in good working order, most homeowners won’t need to blast the heat to stay warm.

While home, most people can get away with setting the temperature at 68 degrees. Lowering that temperature while sleeping or away from home will save on a heating bill; this can be done manually or by using a programmable thermostat that will turn the heat down automatically when it’s not needed.

Taking these simple steps to prepare for winter will ensure a lower heating bill and more comfort during the coldest months of the year.