News from the Associated Press - February 19, 2014

Associated PRess
February 19, 2014


NY senators oppose expanding inmate college

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Several state senators are attacking Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposal to fund more college classes in New York prisons. One launched an online petition against it.

The program would offer associate's and bachelor's degree education at 10 prisons, which Cuomo says will reduce the likelihood of inmates returning to crime. He proposes spending about $5,000 a year for an inmate's education.

Sen. Mark Grisanti, a Buffalo Republican, says the petition mounted on his website Tuesday follows many negative calls, emails and Facebook messages about the proposal unveiled Saturday by Cuomo at the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic & Asian Legislative Caucus.

Sen. Dean Skelos, head of the Senate Republican Conference, says he doesn't believe taxpayers should provide prisoners with free college tuition while middle-class families struggle to pay for their children's education.


Pa. DEP fines Halliburton $1.8M for waste problems

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has reached a $1.8 million settlement with Halliburton Energy Services over solid waste management violations.

The DEP says in a Tuesday release that Halliburton's Homer City facility stored, treated and transported hydrochloric acid without obtaining proper permits between 1999 and 2011. That's about 50 miles east of Pittsburgh.

DEP says the waste came from various natural gas well sites, and Halliburton transported it without proper trucking records and without using a licensed hazardous waste hauler. DEP says there's no evidence the 255 violations caused harm to the public or the environment, and Halliburton signed a consent agreement on Feb. 7.

Halliburton, which is based in Houston, says it is working with DEP in an ongoing effort to ensure the safe development of natural resources.


Highmark looks to expand into northeastern Pa.

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania's health insurance giant, Highmark, hopes to grow by adding Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania at a time both companies are adjusting to the federal health care law.

The companies announced Tuesday that they submitted a merger filing to the state Department of Insurance. Highmark has 4.3 million Pennsylvania customers while Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania has 550,000.

Insurance Commissioner Michael Consedine says he'll review the proposal to ensure that it protects consumers and maintains a competitive insurance market.
In the meantime, a merger could open a new front for Highmark to compete in health care delivery.

Highmark took over the financially troubled West Penn Allegheny Health System and has been looking to increase its provider network because the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center won't renew its reimbursement agreement.


Volunteers from 127 countries join bird count

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Reports from tens of thousands of bird-counting volunteers show a southern invasion of Arctic-dwelling snowy owls has spread to 25 states, and frigid cold is causing unusual movements of waterfowl.

Results are still coming in from the four-day annual Great Backyard Bird Count sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, National Audubon Society and Bird Studies Canada. Sponsors say the event, which ended Monday, drew participants from a record 127 countries, surpassing last year's 110. Most were from the U.S. and Canada.

The information helps track the health of bird populations at a scale otherwise impossible.

Among early findings is that with the Great Lakes almost completely frozen, some species have left the lakes and stopped at inland locations where they're not usually found at this time of year.

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