Government

  • Lawmakers want safer waste storage at nuclear plants

    Lawmakers on Tuesday introduced a set of bills aimed at improving the safety and security of nuclear power plants’ waste in the event of a natural disaster or terrorism. One of the bills would require nuclear power plant operators to accelerate the transfer of nuclear waste stored in spent fuel pools into dry cask storage units. Current Nuclear Regulatory Commission(NRC) regulations allow spent fuel to remain in spent fuel pools until the reactor completes decommissioning, which can take as long as sixty years. Another bill would stop the NRC from issuing exemptions to its emergency response and security requirements for reactors that have been permanently decommissioned.

  • Nebraska city free to enforce ordinance banning renting to undocumented immigrants

    In response to the increasing numbers of Latino immigrants in the town of Fremont, Nebraska, city leaders proposed in 2010 an ordinance which would ban renting to undocumented immigrants. The public outrage that followed led immigrant rights groups to request the U.S. Supreme Court to review and strike down the ordinance because it may interfere with federal immigration laws.

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  • Behind the Boko Haram headlines, slavery in Africa is the real crisis

    The mass kidnapping of schoolgirls by terrorist group Boko Haram in Nigeria is neither a new nor rare occurrence. Boko Haram has been active in Nigeria for five years and is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Africa’s slavery crisis. In Nigeria, there are tens of thousands of people bought and sold every year, according to Africa experts. The majority are children: in 2003, the International Labor Organization estimated that as many as six million Nigerian children had been trafficked at some time in their lives. In Africa as a whole, the scale of the problem is vast and far beyond the resources currently allocated to fight it, let alone sufficient to help victims. Experts estimate that $1.6 billion profit (an amount larger than the GDP of eight African countries last year) derives from African and Middle Eastern slavery annually.

  • Cybersecurity bill not likely before a crisis proves its necessity

    A recent simulation, with 350 participants from congressional staffs, the cybersecurity sector, and the U.S. military, examined whether or not Congress was capable of passing a comprehensive cybersecurity legislation to protect the country’s critical infrastructure from debilitating cyberattacks. The simulation participants concluded that Congress is not likely to act unless there is a major cyber crisis, and that until such crisis occurs, smaller measures, such as the president’s voluntary cybersecurity framework, are the best that can be hoped for.

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  • DHS wants changes in Calif.’s ID for undocumented immigrants

    California is preparing to issue drivers’ licenses to undocumented immigrants who have been permitted to stay in the United States, but DHS has rejected the state’s design for the license card. DHS wants the cards to be unique enough to distinguish them from regular drivers’ licenses, but immigrant rights activists do not want the design to be so different that license holders would suffer from discrimination.

  • Wisconsin silent about cell phone tracking by state police

    The Wisconsin Department of Justice(DOJ) is refusing to acknowledge that it has deployed Stingray technology to track Wisconsin residents’ cellphones, despite reports claiming the state has used the technology during previous investigations. The state also denied a public records request made in April seeking details on how often Stingray technology is used, how data is stored and shared, and how often warrants are obtained.

  • Calif. Terrorism suspect to remain in jail, for now

    Last Wednesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Allison Claire ordered the release of alleged supporter of foreign terrorists, Nicholas Michael Teausant, on $200,000 bail under restrictive conditions.. Teausant will remain in jail, however, because the judge accepted the request by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason Hitt to allow prosecutors to take the matter to U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez on Tuesday.

  • Validating air sampling techniques to fight bioterrorism

    Air and surface sampling techniques currently used by the U.S. government are effective in fighting bioterrorism and potentially saving lives, a new study says. Air sampling has been readily accepted for similar uses such as measuring for particulate matter, but using it to detect bacteria in biological terrorism was a new concept instituted after the 9/11 attacks. This type of sampling is now part of a sophisticated system used by the DHS and the Department of Defense. In order for the system to work more efficiently, however, experts say that the detection cycle, which currently takes between 12-36 hours, would need to produce results in a shorter time frame.

  • Battelle shows smart technology for biodefense and hazard avoidance

    Battelle last week announced production of the next generation chemical and biological hazard sensor system, which the company says operates at a fraction of the cost of current technologies. The technology, known as the Resource Effective BioIdentification System (REBS), is a battery-powered system capable of autonomous use with operating costs of less than $1 per day per unit (the company notes that current system costs that can range from $500 - $3,000 per day) and assay costs of $0.04 per sample (compared to current systems at over $100 per sample).

  • Court dismisses case against U.S. charities supporting West Bank settlers

    U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman has ruled that plaintiffs describing themselves as residents of “Occupied Palestine” cannot proceed with claims that five U.S.-based organizations have funded attacks against Palestinians. The thirteen men and women — two Americans, ten Palestinians, and one Greek — argued that a portion of the territory where they reside is “within the internationally recognized borders of the future Palestinian state.”Furman deemed the allegation “entirely conclusory.”

  • Industry, Democrats reject GOP-sponsored TRIA-extension draft

    House democrats and members of Property Casualty Insurers, a leading insurance trade group, have rejected a Republican-sponsored draft proposal which would alter some measures of the current Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA). The Property Casualty Insurers did not mince words, calling the GOP plan “unworkable for the marketplace.” The proposal would raise the amount of damage caused by a terrorist attack from the current $100 million to $500 million before government coverage is triggered (the higher threshold would apply to attacks which do not involve nuclear, biological, chemical, or radiological means).

  • New biodefense centers offer modernized approach, face criticism

    A new facility at Texas A&M University is one of three new biodefense centers created by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to revolutionize the way fatal viruses are countered in the event of an emergency. The $286-million lab features mobile clean rooms that can be detached and moved to form different production or testing systems as the need arises. Not everyone agrees that the design and capabilities of the new center would offer the best response to biothreats.

  • States lack expertise, staff to deal with cyberthreats to utilities

    The vulnerability of national electric grids to cyberattacks has caught the attention of federal utility regulators and industry safety groups, but state commissions tasked with regulating local distribution utilities are slow to respond to emerging cybersecurity risks. The annual membership directory of state utility regulators lists hundreds of key staff members of state commissions throughout the country, but not a single staff position had “cybersecurity” in the title.

  • California bill banning use of antibiotics in livestock withdrawn

    The Centers for Disease Control and Preventionreports that 23,000 people die every year from infections that cannot be cured, often due to overuse of antibiotics which creates drug resistant bugs. Last Wednesday, California Assemblyman Kevin Mullin (D-San Mateo) withdrew proposed legislation which would ban the sale of meat and poultry fed on nontherapeutic antibiotics. He lacked sufficient support from fellow legislators.

  • Virginia lawmakers mull limiting police use of license plate readers

    Some Virginia lawmakers are planning to propose legislation which will limit the police use of license plate readers (LPRs). The state currently has no laws restricting how police collect or store license plate data gathered by LPRs. Last year, then-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said he believed Virginia State Police should be restricted from capturing and storing license plate data outside of a specific, ongoing criminal investigation, but for now, police departments across the state have adopted their own measures.