Local: Ore. Senate relaxes ethics law
SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Senate voted Wednesday to relax certain requirements included in the landmark ethics reform it passed two years earlier.
Officials and volunteers from small towns had been pushing lawmakers to rethink some of the reforms, arguing that certain rules invaded their privacy. More than 200 officials resigned over the matter.
The Legislature passed the law in an effort to crack down on gifts from lobbyists, such as the free trips to Hawaii that some state legislators enjoyed. The reforms also added staff to the Oregon Government Ethics Commission and increased the fines for violations.
But some “unintended consequences”—as lawmakers have come to call them—emerged. Officials in small Oregon cities were asked to list relatives living clear across the country. They were also asked to report their top five sources of income; some listed garage sales.
“It got very rushed in that session,” Senate Majority Leader Richard Devlin explained after the vote. “It’s a complex bill and it’s inherent in that kind of legislation that you have unintended consequences.”
The new bill repeals the family listing requirement, perhaps the officials’ biggest concern. It also reduces the frequency of financial disclosures, makes clearer what officials must disclose and lifts an outright ban on free entertainment to allow for $100 each year.
“I think the intent of the reforms of 2007 are clear and evident in this bill,” Devlin said. “I think what we’re largely doing is making the law easier to comply with.”
Nation: Feds seize Madoff’s home, boats in Fla.
PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Federal authorities seized disgraced financier Bernard Madoff’s Palm Beach mansion, his vintage yacht and a smaller boat Wednesday, part of an effort to recoup assets to pay back investors he swindled.
Barry Golden, a spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service, said about five U.S. marshals arrived at the 8,753-square-foot, five-bedroom mansion late Wednesday afternoon, hours after marshals seized the boats. Authorities planned to enter and secure the mansion, change the locks and conduct an inventory of the property, which Palm Beach County records show had a taxable value of $9.3 million last year.
Golden said marshals will spend about three to four hours filming and photographing items in the house that might be removed at some point. The mansion was unoccupied when federal authorities arrived.
“It’s not an April Fools’ joke,” he said.
Palm Beach County property records show the mansion was purchased in 1994 under his wife Ruth’s name for $3.8 million. The 2008 property tax bill was $157,298. Golden said the estate would be “monitored and maintained” and is no longer considered Madoff’s property.
“Once the judge signed the order, it stopped being Bernie Madoff’s home,” Golden said.
Earlier in the day, Golden said Madoff’s 55-foot yacht named “Bull” and a 24-foot motorboat were taken from marinas on Florida’s east coast. The yacht, a 1969 Rybovich, is worth $2.2 million.
World: U.S., Russia call for nuke cuts in sweeping agenda
LONDON (AP) — The United States and Russia set a newly ambitious course for global cooperation Wednesday as presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev ordered negotiators into immediate action on a treaty to further reduce nuclear weapons.
Going into their first face-to-face meeting in London, Medvedev had voiced openness to Obama’s call for resetting the deeply troubled U.S.-Russian relationship, but few had expected the kind of sweeping statements that emerged from weeks of intense preparatory talks.
While setting in motion fast-track negotiations on a replacement for the seminal 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START, which expires at year’s end, the two leaders vowed at the same time to jointly confront other perceived threats. They specifically mentioned the nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea and al-Qaida militants who have found refuge in Pakistan.
They set a nominal July deadline for a substitute treaty for START, a date that coincides with Obama’s first presidential visit to Russia. That conceivably would leave time to get the new treaty approved in the U.S. Senate by the December expiration of the current agreement. But arms control experts say December is not a hard deadline so long as there is progress.
Sen. Richard Lugar, the Indiana Republican devoted to arms control, said the announcement of intent was “truly remarkable.”
Not known for overstatement, Lugar called the joint declaration “almost breathless in its optimism and scope.” He spoke in an interview with MSNBC.
Obama’s engagement with the Russians marks a stunning reversal from policies of the Bush administration, which was disinclined to take up deep arms control negotiations and had angered Moscow with its intention to install a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.