Wednesday PM September 22nd, 2010

Experts discuss health effects of BP oil spill…Hurricane-battered school districts battered seek funding for higher insurance premiums…Texas ranks third nationally in Hispanic-owned businesses…

A group of doctors, scientists and public health experts are meeting in Tampa to discuss how best to study the health effects of the BP oil spill on cleanup workers and the public. The Institute of Medicine meeting started this morning. The Department of Health and Human Services asked the Institute of Medicine to gather a committee of experts to review the long-term physical and psychological effects of the oil spill off the coast of Louisiana that affected people in five states. BP is contributing $10 million to the study. Last week, a permanent cement plug sealed BP’s well in the Gulf of Mexico, five months after an explosion sank a drilling rig and led to the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Federal fisheries managers have approved a weekend recreational red snapper season for the Gulf of Mexico in October and November. The National Marine Fisheries Service set the season to run Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from October 1st until November 22nd. Officials say the daily bag limit will be two fish per person, with a 16-inch minimum. Tom Steber, general manager of Zeke’s Marina in Orange Beach, says the snapper season will be a big help to the charter industry, although it won’t make up for business lost during the summer because of the massive oil spill.

Some Hurricane Ike-battered school districts want state help in paying their higher insurance premiums. School district officials in Galveston County have had discussions with State Representatives Craig Eiland of Galveston and Larry Taylor of Friendswood. Eiland says the state should incorporate higher insurance premiums for school districts along the Gulf Coast when calculating school funding. The Galveston County Daily News reports Clear Creek’s premiums jumped 230 percent in 2006, the year after Katrina and Rita stormed ashore. Hurricane Ike walloped the Galveston area on September 13th, 2008. The Galveston Independent School District will spend $1.8 million on insurance this year. Finance Director David Dworsky says premiums increased 40 percent after Ike.

U.S. census figures show Texas is ranked third nationally when it comes to number of Hispanic-owned businesses. The number of Hispanic-owned businesses in Texas grew by 40 percent between 2002 and 2007, reaching 447,000. The government figures show Texas was behind California and Florida. The Austin American-Statesman reports that Texas was also third in percentage of businesses that are Hispanic-owned, with 21 percent. Gabriel Sanchez, who is regional census director for Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, says the figures are encouraging. Sanchez says the trends are self-evident to anyone who has spent time driving around Texas and “`in these times when people are so concerned about jobs, businesses create jobs, so growth of any businesses is good overall.”

The companies behind a new joint venture that will own several Texas racetracks are betting their partnership will help even the odds in efforts to convince state lawmakers to pass gambling proposals that would allow slot machines at such facilities. Penn National Gaming and the parent company of Sam Houston Race Park in Houston announced they have partnered to own and operate the Houston racing facility as well as the Valley Race Park in Harlingen and a planned racetrack in Laredo. The new joint venture comes as the state’s struggling racing industry is readying its efforts to convince lawmakers during next year’s legislative session to legalize slot machines at horse and dog tracks.

An oil refinery owned by a Texas company has been cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for lapses in safety measures at the plant, with proposed fines totaling $165,600. A news release from OSHA said the plant, owned by Martin Midstream Partners based at Kilgore, employs about 65 workers in producing naphthenic crude oil. According to the release, the Martin plant at Smackover is accused of one willful and 21 serious violations of health and safety regulations. The release said the alleged willful violation was failure to maintain safety information on various pressure vessels used at the plant. The other violations cite alleged failures to keep and maintain certain documents relating to safety, develop an emergency rescue process, and provide personal protective equipment, including respiratory gear. A message left at Martin Midstream’s headquarters seeking comment was not immediately returned.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says that U.S. banks are in a good position to meet new global capital standards because of the stress tests conducted in the United States last year. In testimony to the House Financial Services Committee, Geithner praised the new global rules on capital adopted at a meeting earlier this month in Basel, Switzerland. He said that stress tests conducted in the spring of 2009 in the U.S. forced banks to raise needed capital, the cushion that banks have to hold against losses. Because of those tests, Geithner said U.S. banks have been left in a strong position internationally and will be able to meet the new requirements.

The Securities and Exchange Commission’s chief enforcement official says the agency has toughened its efforts to shut down financial misconduct after failing to act quickly in the cases of R. Allen Stanford and Bernard Madoff. SEC Enforcement Director Robert Khuzami says in testimony prepared for a Senate hearing that “we have moved aggressively” to put in place reforms recommended by the SEC inspector general. The IG found that the SEC knew since 1997 that Stanford likely was operating a ponzi scheme but waited 12 years to bring fraud charges against the billionaire. Khuzami also tells the Senate Banking Committee the SEC is working to provide “maximum recovery” to investors hurt in Stanford’s alleged $7 billion fraud.

Liverpool’s managing director says a “small number of potentially interested parties” are still looking into buying the Premier League club but have yet to make offers. Christian Purslow also says that any attempts by current owners Tom Hicks of Dallas and George Gillett, Jr., to refinance Liverpool’s debts are likely to be blocked by the board. Liverpool was put up for sale in April and faces an October deadline to repay its debt, which has grown from $371 million in April to about $438 million. Purslow says Liverpool can “just about” afford to meet the interest costs and bank charges relating to the loans. But he insisted on Liverpool’s TV channel that the club “`is not going bust.” Hicks earlier this year sold baseball’s Texas Rangers, after the team emerged from bankruptcy protection.

More than 200 million people play games on Facebook each month. This means about 300 million members of the world’s largest online social network don’t. To ensure that those who love “Farmville” and those who can’t stand the constant invitations to play can stay friends, Facebook is making some changes. People who don’t play a particular game won’t get notices in their news feeds when friends send gifts of pigs or plum trees. Previously, they had to hide or block the game or the players to escape the steady stream of updates. Facebook will make game updates even more prominent for those who do enjoy tending virtual pastures, taking down rival mob bosses in “Mafia Wars” or cleaning out the fish tank in “Happy Aquarium.”

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