REGULATION

Lawmaker wants to fight 'Big Soda' by taxing each teaspoon of sugar

Philadelphia's City Council recently approved a 1.5 cent-per-ounce tax on sugary and diet beverages to take effect Jan. 1, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., is urging federal lawmakers to take similar action.

"Despite extensive lobbying efforts by big soda, which employed tactics similar to those of big tobacco, Philadelphians and their health won," DeLauro said in a press release.

"Congress should follow Philadelphia's lead and enact the SWEET Act, which would reduce the human and economic costs of health conditions related to these beverages."

DeLauro's SWEET Act would institute a federal tax of 1 cent per teaspoon of caloric sweetener, such as sugar or high-fructose corn syrup.

But if the cost is entirely passed on to consumers, the cost of a 12-ounce can of soda increases 18 cents. A six-pack of 16-ounce bottles increases $1.44, according to the Associated Press.

"This Act is intended to discourage excessive consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages by increasing the price of these products and creating a dedicated revenue source for programs and research designed to reduce the human and economic costs of diabetes, obesity, dental caries, and other diet-related health conditions in priority populations," the measure says.

The SWEET Act was referred to the House Ways and Means Committee and the House Energy Commerce Committee in 2015. – Joana Suleiman

DRUGS

Microsoft, U.S. Senate offer more financial options for legal marijuana

Without banks, marijuana operations have been reduced to cash-only transactions, a dangerous way to work. A new push from Microsoft and the Senate may be able to change that.

Microsoft is set to partner with KIND Financial to give government agencies a means to track the operations of state-legal marijuana businesses. The Senate is also stepping in, as the recent Financial Services and General Government appropriations bill has recently passed the Senate Appropriations Committee, bringing access to general banking services to these marijuana-based small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

"The federal government should not be forcing Oregon's legal marijuana businesses to carry gym bags full of cash to pay their taxes, employees and bills. This is an invitation to robberies, money laundering and organized crime. We need to enable our banks to serve these legal businesses without fearing devastating reprisals from the federal government," said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore. – Joana Suleiman

EDUCATION

Report ranks best and worst states for kids

According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the best places to be a child are Minnesota, Massachusetts and Iowa. The worst are Mississippi, New Mexico and Louisiana. The foundation's annual study combines family and community, health, education and economic status to assess the overall well-being of children.

The report found that children are reading at a higher level now than in the past. A rise in single-parent families and childhood poverty threaten those gains, however. The report ranks Massachusetts as the best state for education, followed by New Jersey and Connecticut. New Mexico ranks last, with Nevada second-to-last.

The report cites the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress, which says 65 percent of fourth graders read at a level below what the test considers "proficient." That's an improvement from the 68 percent level seen in 2007. " By fourth grade, children use reading to learn other subjects," the report says. "Therefore, mastery of reading is critical for them to keep up academically."

The report also showed that about one in five high school students do not graduate on time. "High school graduates have better health outcomes, make healthier choices and are less likely to engage in risky behavior," the report says. – Jason Russell