France legalizes same-sex marriage

France became the 14th country to legalize same-sex marriage Tuesday. Here’s the beginning of the story from the Associated Press:

France legalized gay marriage on Tuesday after a wrenching national debate that exposed deep conservatism in the nation’s heartland and triggered huge demonstrations that tapped into intense discontent with the Socialist government. Within hours, fiery clashes broke out between protesters and riot police.

Legions of officers stayed late into the night, and a protest against the measure turned violent near the Invalides complex of museums and monuments. Protesters threw glass bottles, cans and metal bars at police, who responded with tear gas.

It was an issue that galvanized the country’s faltering right, which had been decimated by infighting and their election loss to President Francois Hollande. France is the 14th country to legalize gay marriage nationwide —and the most populous.

The measure passed easily in the Socialist-majority Assembly, 331-225, just after the president of the legislative body expelled a disruptive protester in pink, the color adopted by French opponents of gay marriage.

Justice Minister Christiane Taubira told lawmakers that the first weddings could be as soon as June.

That’s when the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to announce its ruling on Hollingsworth v. Perry, the case challenging the constitutionality of California’s same-sex marriage ban. It has been four weeks since justices heard oral arguments concerning Proposition 8, and since then three countries on three different continents have legalized same-sex marriage — Uruguay, New Zealand and France. (I wonder if those three countries have ever been historically linked before.)

The Pew Forum has an informative fact sheet titled “Gay Marriage Around the World” that outlines the history of same-sex marriage legislation worldwide.

New Zealand latest country to legalize same-sex marriage

While the Boy Scouts’ proposal to now allow gay youth to become members but still ban gay adult leaders is the major headline in the U.S. regarding LGBT rights Friday, there have been major headlines in other countries involving same-sex marriage this week.

On Wednesday, New Zealand became the 13th country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage thanks to a 77-44 vote in Parliament.

According to the Associated Press, after the bill passed:

Then someone started signing “Pokarekare Ana” in the indigenous Maori language, and soon nearly the whole room joined in.

“They are agitated, the waters of Waiapu,” the song begins. “But when you cross over, girl, they will be calm.”

Here’s video of the singing:

In Ireland, a constitutional convention voted Sunday to recommend that the country legalize same-sex marriage, setting up a possible referendum on the issue in the future.

Coming Sunday: Suspension stats show racial disparity

A recent study by the UCLA Civil Rights Project has spotlighted a racial disparity in suspension statistics from around the country.

The report “Out of School and Off Track,” explains that hundreds of school districts and thousands of schools suspend black students more frequently than their white, Hispanic or Asian peers. The study also shows that disabled students are suspended more frequently.

“There is something terribly wrong when, despite very effective alternatives, so many middle and high schools quickly punish and exclude students of color, students with disabilities and English Learners,” said Daniel Losen, a former Boston-area teacher who authored the UCLA report. “We know these schools can change because in many large districts, we found many low-suspending schools where suspension is still a measure of last resort.”

So what does the suspension data say about local school districts? The answer may surprise you. Check out The Desert Sun or MyDesert.com on Sunday for a deep dive into the inequality of suspension statistics from the Coachella Valley.

Audit: millions of dollars in state license plate fees misspent or not collected

The extra money California drivers pay to show their support for various causes with special license plates isn’t always spent or collected as required, a state audit out Thursday revealed.

Agencies misspent millions in special license plate fees, while the state of California also failed to collect million of dollars it was owed through license plate programs, according to the audit.

The California State Auditor estimated the Department of Motor Vehicles didn’t collect $12 million in retention fees related to special plates over two years and that the DMV potentially undercharged drivers nearly $10.2 million for specialty plates during the same period.

Also, the DMV didn’t accurately charge special plate programs for administrative costs, according to the audit. For example, the California Environmental License Plate Fund was overcharged more than $6.3 million over three years, while other special plate funds were undercharged a total of $1.1 million.

The audit also revealed shortfalls in how various agencies oversaw or spent license plate funds. For example, the California Emergency Management Agency didn’t monitor its $2.5 million contract with the Calfifornia Fire Fighter Joint Apprenticeship Committee to guarantee training was delivered as required. Cal EMA also exceeded the cap on administrative expenses in some years and spent some money on related purchases.

Other findings:

  • Some state agencies could not always provide adequate support for amounts they charged to special plate funds or could not support their rationale for such charges. For example, the California Department of Food and Agriculture could not provide adequate support for $896,000 in expenses.
  • The California Natural Resources Agency did not submit required reports to the governor and state lawmakers that provide information about program performance.
  • The California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board did not identity and notify all individuals eligible for the Memorial Scholarship Program by the date required by law—ultimately only 13 of the 43 identified eligible individuals plus three other individuals who were not screened for eligibility participated.

Earlier this month, state Assemblyman Brian Nestande, R-Palm Desert, announced he plans to introduce legislation to create a new special license plate to support the Salton Sea, which is threatened by decreasing water flows.

The full 72-page audit is available online.

Colorado River listed as ‘most endangered river’ in the US

The water from the Colorado River that sustains much of the Southwest and Southern California is facing a host of increasing pressures, and the organization American Rivers has named it the “most endangered river” in the United States.

An article in the Arizona Republic details the reasons, including growing population, predictions of shrinking snowmelt and plans for more pipelines to siphon off more water.

American Rivers says in a summary of its report that “managing the severely drained Colorado River in ways that are compatible with growing needs in the Basin is a formidable but inescapable task.”

The Colorado River also is the subject of the recently released documentary “Watershed,” narrated by Robert Redford, which advocates a “new water ethic” for the West. The film shows the river’s dry and desolate delta in Mexico, and it raises critical questions about how the river’s water is used today and how it could be managed more wisely.

Higher levels of certain pesticides found in study of California streams

A study of dozens of streams across California has found that certain pesticides are turning up more widely and in higher levels.

Researchers collected samples from stream beds at more than 90 sites and found that “detections of pyrethroid pesticides in sediment increased from 55 percent of the statewide samples in 2008 to 85 percent in 2010.”

The finding was among the results of the Stream Pollution Trends, or SPoT, monitoring program, an annual assessment of pollution in streams in a sample of large watersheds in California. The March report was released this week.

Pyrethroids are contained in many household insecticides and pet sprays, and are used in mosquito control programs. These compounds are toxic to aquatic animals such as invertebrates and pose threats to the natural food web in streams. They also can affect human health under some circumstances, as explained by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

The SPoT assessment surveys were paid for by the State Water Resources Control Board’s Surface Water Ambient Monitoring Program and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Research was conducted by scientists from the UC Davis Marine Pollution Studies Laboratory at Granite Canyon, California State University’s Moss Landing Marine Laboratories and other entities.

The researchers found that concentrations of several other types of organic chemicals, including DDT and PCBs, either decreased or remained unchanged. Stream beds in urban areas were found to have higher levels of most pollutants than those in agricultural or undeveloped areas.

The report indicates that regulators are working to get a better handle on the use of pyrethroids. It says the EPA and the California Department of Pesticide Regulation “have recently initiated reviews of pyrethroid pesticide registrations and CDPR is currently developing use restrictions for pyrethroid pesticides used by pest control businesses in urban settings.”

It also says the state Department of Pesticide Regulation plans regulations to address “agricultural use of pyrethroids affecting surface water quality.”

The increasing amounts of such pesticides in California’s creeks suggest that both state and federal regulators have their work cut out for them.

Former President George W. Bush to speak at Morongo

Former President George W. Bush will speak at the Western Riverside Council of Governments’ General Assembly meeting on June 13 at the Morongo Casino Resort & Spa in Cabazon.

WRCOG has advertised Bush as its keynote speaker for the 22nd annual meeting in a flyer soliciting sponsorship for the event.

WRCOG is an organization composed of representatives from 17 cities, two water districts and the Riverside County Board of Supervisors that addresses regional issues. No cities in the Coachella Valley are part of the organization.

Colin Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke at the WRCOG event last year.

In March 2011, Bush spoke at the Desert Town Hall speaker series in Indian Wells.

Poll: More than half of USA supports legalizing pot

Here’s a topical story today from Raju Chebium, The Desert Sun’s Washington Bureau reporter:

WASHINGTON — More than half of Americans favor legalizing marijuana, and support has grown among the young and the old, according to a national poll out today.

The Pew Research Center said it found that 52 percent of adults believe the government should allow people to use pot — the first time in four decades that a majority of Americans have held that view.

Forty-five percent oppose legalization.

The survey showed that 65 percent of people born since 1980 support legalization, up from 36 percent seven years ago. Half of the Baby Boomers – those born between 1946 and 1964 – also favor legalization, up from 17 percent in 1990, according to Pew.

Researchers polled 1,501 adults between March 13 and March 17, and the margin of error is 2.9 percentage points.

California, Colorado, Oregon and 15 other states allow marijuana use for medical purposes. Last fall, voters in Colorado and Washington state took the unprecedented step of allowing the recreational use of pot.

Ten U.S. House members, led by Democrats Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Jared Polis of Colorado, are working to overturn the 43-year-old federal ban on pot. But their bills aren’t expected to pass.

Political support for same-sex marriage continues to grow

The magnitude of media coverage regarding same-sex marriage has inevitably subsided. One week has elapsed since the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the case challenging Proposition 8, the same-sex marriage ban that California voters passed in 2008.

But two headlines Tuesday are reminders that the political support for same-sex marriage continues to grow not just in the United States Senate, but also around the world.

Here’s one story from the Associated Press filed from Chicago:

GOP Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois on Tuesday became the second sitting Republican senator to endorse gay marriage — a move that also could shift the political debate over legalizing gay marriage in Kirk’s home state.

Kirk, who has opposed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, said in a post on his blog that “same-sex couples should have the right to civil marriage.”

“Our time on this Earth is limited, I know that better than most,” said Kirk, who suffered a stroke in January 2012. “Life comes down to who you love and who loves you back — government has no place in the middle.”

Kirk went through months of rehabilitation before returning to work in Washington this January. He said in his blog post that he promised himself he would return “with an open mind and greater respect for others.”

Kirk is Illinois’ ranking Republican lawmaker. His announcement brings to 50 the number of U.S. senators — the vast majority of them Democrats — who are on record in support of gay marriage, according to Freedom to Marry, a group that supports gay marriage.

Here’s another story from the Associated Press. This one was filed from Montevideo, Uruguay:

Uruguay’s Senate on Tuesday voted to legalize gay marriage by approving a single law governing matrimony for heterosexuals and homosexuals.

Senators voted 23-8 in favor of the bill, which was passed by the lower house in December. It must now return to the lower chamber of Congress with changes.

If approved, the law would make Uruguay the second nation in Latin America and the 12th in the world to legalize gay marriage. Argentina legalized same-sex marriage in 2010.

It’s remarkable how quickly the landscape is changing regarding same-sex marriage. Who knows what it will look when the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the Prop. 8 case as well as the Defense of Marriage Act case in June.

Same-sex marriage: The waiting begins

With the arguments finished at the U.S. Supreme Court, it’s now up to the nine justices to rule on the two same-sex marriage cases they heard Tuesday and Wednesday.

In my piece Sunday, I laid out potential outcomes for the rulings on Proposition 8, the same-sex marriage ban California voters passed in 2008, in Hollingsworth v. Perry and Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law passed in 1996 that defines marriage as between one man and one woman, in United States v. Windsor.

It’s instructive to revisit those potential outcomes now that the arguments are over. As I laid out in my story, the possible rulings regarding Prop. 8 are more varied than DOMA, and after reading what Supreme Court watchers have written in the past 24 hours, it seems what will happen in the Prop. 8 case is more up in the air than in DOMA.

This post on the SCOTUS Blog neatly summarizes the inherent push and pull between the two cases. While DOMA could be struck down on the basis that it is up to the states, not the federal government, to define marriage, if that principle is applied to Prop. 8, then it will be upheld.

Justice Anthony Kennedy is considered the likely deciding vote in both cases, and he illustrated that position during oral arguments on Prop. 8 on Tuesday. At one stage, he addressed something that proponents of Prop. 8 have brought up in their arguments — the lack of research into the effects of same-sex marriage. “There’s substance to the point that sociological information is new. We have five years of information to weigh against 2,000 years of history or more,” he said.

But then he immediately grappled with a counterpoint, as a piece in Time magazine showed: “There are some 40,000 children in California, according to the Red Brief, that live with same-sex parents, and they want their parents to have full recognition and full status. The voice of these children is important in this case, don’t you think?”

One potential outcome would allow the court to skirt ruling on the merits of the case by dismissing it on procedural grounds. Justices could decide that Prop. 8 proponents don’t have standing — the constitutional right to argue their case — in federal court. If that happens, then Judge Vaughn Walker’s federal district court decision would go into effect. But the scope of that decision is debatable. Would it apply to only the plaintiffs in the case — two California couples — or to all same-sex couples in the state? Here’s a San Francisco Chronicle article from February that investigates this question more closely.

Decisions in both cases will come in June. When they are released, the headlines will likely be printed in large type — especially if Prop. 8 and DOMA are struck down — but it might be difficult to sum up the complexities of a potential ruling in those bold headlines if it comes down to an arcane issue such as standing.