Local & VCU

Governor to get long list of reforms

On Monday, Gov. Bob McDonnell will receive the latest package of proposals designed to save state tax dollars and increase efficiency from his government reform commission.

In its second year of work, the panel has made nearly 40 recommendations to shed various boards and committees, consolidate departments and deregulate industries.

Unlike 2010, when the commission’s 133 recommendations included privatizing the state’s ABC stores, there are no bombshells this year.

Staff estimates that the recommendations would eliminate the need for 182 citizens appointed to boards. They also would affect the 53 state employees and 14 legislators who serve on those boards.

Brief by the Richmond Times-Dispatch


Virginia Power hits snag restarting nuclear reactor

Dominion Virginia Power said Friday that it will not make its goal of returning both North Anna nuclear power reactors to full power by Sunday.

The utility this week began the process of restarting the units, which had been idled since a magnitude-5.8 earthquake on Aug. 23 shut down both reactors at the Louisa County facility, about 45 miles northwest of Richmond.

When Dominion Virginia Power started the nuclear-fission process in Unit 1 on Monday, the Richmond-based utility said the goal was to restart Unit 2 soon after the first reactor began producing electricity and return both units to full power by Sunday.

Dominion Virginia Power spokesman Richard Zuercher, who confirmed that Unit 2 remained idle Friday, said workers at North Anna had discovered a problem with an electrical connector in Unit 2.

Zuercher said the goal of having both units operating at 100 percent of capacity by Sunday was no longer realistic.

Brief by the Richmond Times-Dispatch


Separated twins Teresa and Maria doing ‘very well’

Ten days after the complex, marathon surgery at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU to separate 19-month-old toddlers Teresa and Maria Tapia, who are from the Dominican Republic, doctors said they are doing “very well” and reaching medical targets.

“They are starting to show signs of their intestines working. They’re actually having bowel movements,” said Dr. David A. Lanning, chief surgeon for the Nov. 7-8 operation, on Wednesday.

Maria has taken sips of water and milk, but no solid foods yet.

“Teresa — we just removed her tube in her stomach,” Lanning said. She started drinking liquids Friday. Teresa didn’t have an active infection going into surgery.

The girls shared a liver and a duodenum, the top part of the small intestine. Their biliary systems and pancreas glands were also conjoined.

They were brought to the United States in late August by World Pediatric Project, a Richmond-based medical philanthropy, for the operation.

The girls have been in different hospital rooms since the surgery. They have had trouble sleeping the past couple of nights, and health care workers were considering giving them weighted pillows and each other’s blankets to ease the separation.

Brief by the Richmond Times-Dispatch


National & International

Gadhafi’s son captured in Libyan desert

Moammar Gadhafi’s son Seif al-Islam — the only wanted member of the ousted ruling family to remain at large — was captured Saturday as he traveled with aides in a convoy in Libya’s southern desert, Libyan officials said. Thunderous celebratory gunfire shook the Libyan capital as the news spread.

A spokesman for the Libyan fighters who captured him said Seif al-Islam, who has been charged by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, was detained about 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of the town of Obari with two aides as he was trying to flee to neighboring Niger. But the country’s acting justice minister later said the convoy’s destination was not confirmed.

ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo told The Associated Press that he will travel to Libya next week for talks with the country’s transitional government on where the trial will take place. Ocampo said that while national governments have the first right to try their own citizens for war crimes, he wants to make sure Seif al-Islam has a fair trial.

Brief by The Associated Press


House rejects balanced budget amendment

The House has rejected a proposal to amend the Constitution to require a balanced budget, seen by many as the only way to force lawmakers to hold the fiscal line and reverse the flow of federal red ink.

The 261-165 vote was 23 short of the two-thirds majority needed to advance a constitutional amendment. Democrats, swayed by the arguments of their leaders that a balanced budget requirement would force Congress to make devastating cuts to social programs, overwhelmingly voted against it.

Four Republicans joined the Democrats in opposing the measure.

The first House vote on a balanced budget amendment in 16 years comes as the separate bipartisan supercommittee appears to be sputtering in its attempt to find at least $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade.

With the national debt now topping $15 trillion and the deficit for the just-ended fiscal year passing $1 trillion, supporters of the amendment declared it the only way to stop out-of-control spending. The government now must borrow 36 cents for every dollar it spends.

Brief by The Associated Press


FDA revokes approval of popular Avastin for breast cancer

The blockbuster drug Avastin should no longer be used in advanced breast cancer patients because there’s no proof that it extends their lives or even provides enough temporary benefit to outweigh its dangerous side effects, the government declared Friday.

The ruling by the Food and Drug Administration was long expected, but it was certain to disappoint women who say they’ve run out of other options as their breast cancer spread through their bodies. Impassioned patients had lobbied furiously to preserve Avastin as a last shot.

But repeated studies found the drug had only a small effect on tumor growth. The research didn’t show evidence that patients lived any longer or had a better quality of life than if they had taken standard chemotherapy. The FDA concluded that the drug presented an array of risks, including severe high blood pressure, massive bleeding, heart attack or heart failure, along with perforations in the stomach and intestines.

“I did not come to this decision lightly,” said the FDA commissioner, Dr. Margaret Hamburg. But, she said, “Sometimes despite the hopes of investigators, patients, industry and even the FDA itself, the results of rigorous testing can be disappointing.”

Avastin is the world’s best-selling cancer drug, and also is used to treat certain forms of colon, lung, kidney and brain cancers. So even though FDA formally revoked its approval of the drug to treat breast cancer, doctors still could prescribe it — but insurers may not pay for it. Including infusion fees, a year’s treatment with Avastin can cost $100,000.

Some insurers already had quit covering the drug’s use in breast cancer after FDA’s advisers twice — once last year and once this summer — urged revoking the approval.

But Medicare said Friday that it will keep paying for now. In a statement, the agency said it “will monitor the issue and evaluate coverage options as a result of action by the FDA but has no immediate plans to change coverage policies.”

Brief by The Associated Press

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