Local Leads: 12/11/08

News you need to know

The following stories have been hand-selected by the Assignment Desk at News4:

New claims for unemployment benefits reached their highest level in 26 years last week, as companies cut workers at a rapid pace.  The Labor Department said Thursday that initial applications for jobless benefits in the week ended Dec. 6 rose to a seasonally adjusted 573,000 from an upwardly revised figure of 515,000 the previous week. That was far more than the 525,000 claims economists expected. (USAToday)

Health care advocates plan to introduce legislation during January's General Assembly session to increase the state tax on alcoholic beverages by 10 cents to deter underage drinking and to generate revenue for universal health coverage in Maryland.  The effort follows a similar script as last year's successful campaign to double the state levy on cigarettes to $2 per pack as part of a health care expansion initiative.  (The Independent)

Layoffs are already under way in the Prince William County government as officials scramble to cut the budget in the wake of the economic downturn.  On Dec. 9, supervisors approved a plan to eliminate 42 positions in development, transportation, public works and planning. Of those, 17 are currently filled by employees who have been told that they will need to move on by February. "It's driven by workload," said County Executive Craig Gerhart. "The development that's occurring in our community is substantially less than we anticipated." (Gainesville Times)

The debate over speed cameras has reached a fever pitch in the D.C. region, so much so that AAA Mid-Atlantic is calling for some of the devices to be removed. At issue is whether certain speed cameras are creating safer roads or simply generating millions of dollars for local jurisdictions. In Montgomery County , when a driver passes by a speed camera going more than 10 miles per hour above the posted speed limit, that driver is sent a $40 ticket in the mail. However, the controversy has boiled over because the vendor that provides the cameras, ACS, is getting $16.25 per citation. (WTOP News

America's historians are coming out full force against Wal-Mart's proposed retail center in the Wilderness battlefield area. In a letter faxed yesterday to the retail giant, 253 historians urged the Bentonville, Ark., retailer to scrap its plan to build a 138,000-square-foot Supercenter at Wilderness Corner in Orange County. Among the signers are many of the nation's top historians including Virginia professors William C. Davis, Gary Gallagher and James I. Robertson, the authors of dozens of Civil War titles; two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner David M. McCullough; James McPherson, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Battle Cry of Freedom"; Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker Ken Burns; and Edwin C. Bearss, chief historian emeritus of the National Park Service. (Free Lance -Star)

Demand is down for recycled materials lately, forcing the county's recycling center to spend more than it made selling reusable waste for the first time since the recession of 2001-2002. In October, the county spent $24,000 more operating the center than it was paid for materials it processed, recycling manager Tom Kusterer said. The county is sitting on 175 tons of steel cans, or roughly seven weeks worth, in hopes that it can get a better price in January, when its three-month contract with a buyer ends. (Gazette)

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